Kyoto Zen


For those with anxiety, may I recommend Kyoto.

The English language borrowed the word zen because we didn’t have an equivalent. After kneeling in a plain tatami room, paper-screened doors open wide to a garden of moss and maple trees, every rock carefully selected to enhance the view, waterfalls and birdsong softly in the background and the warming sun on my face, I realize I had never understood the definition.

Tokyo may be the frenetic future, but Kyoto is now. I mean literally now. This…very…moment.

Meditation always sounded like a good idea, but a running commentary in my head always got in the way. A to-do list, a why-did-I-do-that list. There was always something pressing about the last few days and the next two hours. But in Kyoto at Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, I looked at the way the sunlight hit a patch of moss in a particular way, making it glow, and my brain stopped.

Yes, I looked at moss and it stopped my brain. In a good way.

I started to like this time freezing, brain-rant-stopping, calm-washing-over-me trick. So I went to the Zen Buddhist temple Nanzen-ji and I looked at the way a simple wooden pavilion crossed a sand-raked garden. It was so deliberatly beautiful, so painstakingly crafted to be enjoyable, that it stopped my brain. I went to Shorenin and watched koi swim in a milky turquoise pond. I went to Kinkaku-ji and watched maple leaves fall in front of the famous gold-leafed temple. All brain stopping events.

Excited about my newfound superpower, I started strolling around winding paths (winding specifically to take in the best views) with my hands clasped behind my back, my eyes closed and face pointed towards the sun. It was deliberate, yet easy peace. There was nowhere else to be and nothing else to do but be grateful for the moment and hopeful that I will be able to recall it and lean on it when the world comes rushing back in.

P.S. For those with social anxiety, Kyoto is also for you. The customs are specific and confusing to be sure, but your faux pas will never be rubbed in your face. I can only imagine that each restaurant and shop has a back room specifically reserved for letting out laughter and frustration as we bumble through their refined world, but so far no one has let on.

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