Living - intentionally - in the moment

Zoe Gillbard '14 reports again from Shanghai where she is taking part in the Chinese Summer Language Institute (CSLI@EFZ). Following a weekend homestay, she reflects on regaining her wanderlust and living completely in the moment. Follow Zoe and her fellow students' progress by bookmarking

Although all four of us started out the trip in good health and spirits, we all had a bit of a rough patch at the end of this past week. We all got sick, probably due to a combination of exhaustion, too much food, too little water, etc. And of course, our discomfort was also probably related to the infamous Shanghai heat. As I headed off to my home stay, I had mixed feelings about leaving EFZ for three days; my dorm at EFZ has become a home base for me, and leaving it so soon after having settled in was upsetting.

For two days and nights, I was incredibly homesick. I was extremely appreciative of the food and gifts given to me by my kind and caring host family, and I knew there was no reason for me to feel uncomfortable, but still I could not shake the feeling. After many motivational emails from my parents, my will and want to experience the world resumed its usual place in my heart, and on my last day with my host family, I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day.  I reminded myself that the reason I decided to come to China, to have this experience, was to help me to grow. Being reluctant to accept and enjoy what I am doing is not a good way of growing. I told myself I would eat lots of new foods (physical growth!), speak a lot of Chinese (language skill growth!), smile a lot (emotional growth!), and most important of all, really take in every moment of my time here in China.

With wanderlust stronger than I have ever felt before, as well as my fully charged camera, I set out into the early morning heat to see the Buddhist temples of Shanghai with my host parents. Although he is not Buddhist himself, my host father has family members and friends who are, and he helped me to understand what I was seeing at the temples. This was all in Chinese (they speak almost no English whatsoever, so it was impossible for any words to be slipped in), and I was so incredibly proud when I understood the majority of the facts I was being told.

The first temple, Jing An Si, is in the heart of the city, surrounded by glass skyscrapers and other modern buildings. The temple was built in 217 A.D., and so the juxtaposition between the ancient architecture and the busy city around it, is incredibly shocking. Although it is a popular tourist site, Jing An Si is actually still a place of worship for the Buddhists of Shanghai. I was incredibly moved by the ceremonious, dignified, and spiritual way with which all of the people who entered carried themselves.
During the two hours I spent there, I watched hundreds of people walk in off the street to pray. They were wearing an incredible variety of outfits, from business suits, to party dresses, to a monk’s robes. Even though they were a diverse group, they were all, every single one of them, conducting themselves with a decorum I thought only existed in ancient times. I was so impressed that I wanted to take part in the rituals myself.

There were three modes of prayer that I observed there: the first was to light incense and bow in all four cardinal directions, the second was to throw coins at a large metal sculpture, and the last was to kneel in front of one of the many statues of Buddha. I handed my bag to my host mother, and sank to my knees on one of the red cushions in front of a golden Buddha the size of four grown men standing on each other’s shoulders. Although I’m not sure what I am supposed to have said, or if there is anything specific, I closed my eyes and centered myself. I lived completely, infinitely, in that moment. My prayer was completely stream of consciousness, and if there was someone listening, I apologize for its scrambled nature. I was moved spiritually, and by the time I had gotten up from that cushion, I was sure that Buddhism was something I would like to see more of in my life.