I am experiencing déjà vu. My suitcase lies open and everything that should be in it is sprawled on table, couch and floor. Rolled-up clothes, bottles of moisturizers, books I can’t bear to part with. This was the same scene eleven months ago in Chicago when I was making preparations to go to China. Now I’m onto the next destination.
On July 1 I leave for Taipei to spend the summer in a Buddhist temple. I would like to say that I’m going there to meditate and do some soul searching. Actually, the reason is more practical. My aunt is a nun there and I need a place to stay this summer before I start school in the fall. In return for a room and meals, I will do whatever needs to be done in a Buddhist temple, like the cooking of vegetarian dishes or perhaps the scrubbing of the meditation room floors.
The jobs won’t be glamorous, but I hope along the way a little soul-searching will in fact come my way. All my life I have been too hurried to arrive at the next place; I was never one to live in the moment. In high school I couldn’t wait to leave home and become a bona fide adult. I charged through college in a little over three years and a few months later landed my first job. But here I ran into the problem: I was unhappy. I should have “made it.” I had graduated and found a job. Wasn’t that all there was to it?
In the years since graduation, I have realized no one is meant to have a lifetime figured out at 22. I look back now at that fresh-faced graduate with a mixture of envy and pity. A part of me wants to return to that time, when I felt like I could conquer the world. At the same time, I was foolish and made the mistakes of an amateur -- in work, in friends, in love. I cringe when I think of that young woman, too eager to please and agree and let herself be taken in. I cringe, too, because though much has changed, there is still that part of me that wants to loved by everyone.
So the thought of spending six weeks in a temple in a reclusive town is, to be honest, terrifying. I will have people around me – monks, nuns, other volunteers -- but mostly I will only have myself, my thoughts and my neuroses for company. I will be forced to confront my weaknesses.
I don’t know where this experience will take me. To a more spiritual place? To insanity? Wherever it is, I will be open to trying something new. If China has taught me anything, it is that I will be able to handle it.