It is important to have an intent or aspiration when we set out to do something. An aspiration can make a mundane task a life-altering experience. An aspiration ripens the mind and makes it more fertile for growth. Yet, looking back, I am not sure what my aspiration was when I came to Sravasti Abbey as a participant in the week-long “Buddhist Practice and Community Living” program for young adults. There was a big part of me that wanted to explore monasticism, another part of me that wanted some contemplation in a new environment, but the largest part of me was desiring to look at my own life and see how “I” worked.
I was fortunate to meet five other Buddhist “twenty-somethings” during my week stay at Sravasti Abbey. Living in the Midwest, the Dharma path seems very solitary. Then, add all the things that youth have to deal with in the modern age. Drugs, disease, media frenzies, war, and violence all serve as bleak faces of our attachment to samsara, and we are just fledgling sprouts in the big garden that is this chaotic world. Yet, one by one, the young Buddhists started walking through the door and there was this realization of “These are my brothers and sisters … this is my community.”
We shared the same issues, we pondered the same questions, and we followed the same path. However, we were all at different places in our lives. Some of us were students, some of us were struggling, some of us were successful, and some of us were everywhere in between. We were straight, gay, bisexual, athletes, nerds, and the kids next door; we were not, however, ordinary. I could see, so evident, each person’s conviction in the path to liberation—no matter how studied or how new—and I could see that for us it was a way to look at the world with compassionate eyes.
We shared laughter and tears, and most of all self. Our week-long word was “transparency.” We wanted our cards to be out on the table, and we wanted to look with open hearts and minds at what went on inside. We stripped ourselves of what we used to make ourselves “us.” We skipped showers, we proudly wore “bed hair,” and we smelled nothing like the designer scents waiting for us at home. We were just these raw people, with issues and triumphs all just airing out in the Washington breeze. Amazingly, what I found was that raw self that is so often covered by brick walls of emotional protection is a beautiful fresh flower needing sunlight to bloom.
I hope everyone else walked out of this week with some of the things that I have. I know that through seeing all the facets of people who are willing to be up front and honest, I have come to respect my own inner self even more. It was healthy to see that none of us were “perfect,” that we all had a lot of work to do on the path, but that our imperfection and realization of it is a gift. A gift that says, “Yeah, you’re right here … but there is so much room to grow, and right now … your imperfection is the best thing you’ve got.”
So perhaps I came in wanting, too badly, to examine life. What I’m walking away with, however, is an honest chance to live it.