Growing up in Millbrae, California, a suburb 20 miles south of San Francisco, I never really imagined that I would travel to exotic places. Just going into “the City” for a rock concert seemed like an edgy, scary move. But as we travelers all know, the more you travel, the more confident you become; the more confident you become, the more eager you are to “up the ante” with your next trip. My first trip anywhere was a college semester abroad in Paris, leading me to purchase an Interrail Pass and travel around Europe. With Europe under my belt, I next ventured to Japan to teach English. Reaching beyond the land of sumo and sushi, I next took a jaunt to Thailand, which eventually led to an 11-month journey around Asia. You see how that works? Each trip is a stepping stone to something more difficult, more exotic, more adventurous.
Thoughts of stepping stones are in my mind, then, as I arrive at Kopan Monastery, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. My stay at a forest monastery in eastern Thailand inspires me to do a 7-day meditation class on Koh Samui (an island in Southern Thailand). And now here I am at the top of the world, preparing to sit for 10 days at a Tibetan monastery. One Buddhist stepping stone after another.
To be honest, the meditation at Kopan retreat “isn’t all that.” First off, the, the classes are all taught by westerners. Second, people are allowed to talk during the retreat (unlike the more-austere session in Thailand). Third, my cot in the dorm gives me bedbugs (which are quite nasty and itchy). The capper for me is when an instructor asks if we all believe in reincarnation. I respond, “I don’t really; is that important?” and he responds, “If you don’t believe in reincarnation, then there’s no reason to practice Buddhism.” Hmph! As someone who is just beginning to enjoy the benefits of meditation, this guy’s opinion just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. So I leave after 7 days, eager to get trekking in the Himalayas.
Yeah, my meditation experience at Kopan isn’t the best. But that doesn’t diminish how totally cool the monastery is! Red-clad Tibetan monks are everywhere, from child novices to aged masters. The main meditation room is filled with golden statues and objects of worship. I feel like I’m really in Tibet, awaiting an audience with the Dalai Lama. The monastery, which sits on a hill, has a great view of the mountains as well.
Who knew that my college-age decision to go study French in Paris would eventually lead me to a Tibetan monastery just this side of Shangri-la!
(To borrow the expression, the journey of a thousand stepping stones, begins with one step. What’s your dream? What’s the first step? Imagine where it might lead you!)