The Perks of Being Invisible

The Monastery  |  The Tribe   |   Audrey Lin  |   March 2, 2011, 1:00 pm

When I was a kid, I loved to hide. Playing in my bedroom, I’d sneakily dive under the covers and sit there, a smiling, smug child, thinking I was invisible.

“Audrey’s hiding again,” my older sister would proclaim, in a rolling-her-eyes type tone.

“That’s okay. Let her hide,” my mother would respond, allowing me to remain unseen.

Today, this memory resurfaced in my mind.

After three weeks at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB), I’ve gone from a week of stillness (completely immersed in the Chan Meditation Session, oblivious to the world outside me) to a week of wide-eyed wonder at starting something new, to a week of uncertainty and emotional highs and lows.

Recently I’ve been noticing the unfilled spaces in my life here. When I first arrived, I found myself enchanted by the mountains, the vast sky, and radiant wildlife. I found it amazing how people are so nice here. How the elementary and high school students are so good—such diligent students, kind and warm individuals who lead smart, talented, and wholesome lives. I was excited at having discovered a place where so much happens out of one’s genuine volition—out of the goodness of people’s hearts. I still am. But as the days pass by, I notice a familiar sense of emptiness creep up in me. In moments when I’m walking to the Buddha Hall or cleaning dishes or just sitting at a desk—I find myself struck by the empty pang of unfamiliarity. Immersed in the newness of being here, among the familiar yet unfamiliar culture, people, and routine, I notice myself struck with a desire to leave, go back to something familiar—something comfortable and tangible.

But when I think again, I’m not quite sure who that person is who wants to run away. Living out my days here, I almost feel like that child who loved to disappear. As a volunteer here, I learn and practice how to live a life that is not just about me. Before, life in society had allowed me to plan out my days as I wished—to partake in the activities that suited my personality, buy and eat the foods I like, spend time in the company of my choice, and so on. Now, each moment here is lived for a force much greater than myself. All the work I do—from flipping pancakes to brainstorming plans for a retreat—is in service to not only the community here, but the energy of cultivation. Each step forward, every thought that arises or word escapes my mouth, arises and dissolves in it.

I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s funny, I don’t consider myself Buddhist. I grew up without any particular religion or spiritual beliefs (other than maybe agnostic or atheist). But it doesn’t matter. There is a flow of energy here that speaks to me in ways I can’t translate or put into words. When I open a chapter of a sutra, listen to stories of cultivators from ages passed, or experience the lightness in the air around some of the nuns and laypeople, there’s a sense of eternity that pulses through my core.

And in those moments, between the highs of enchantment and the lows of homesickness, I am a 2-year-old child, smilingly invisible. A small drop in the ancient oceans of life and time and energy. And I can suddenly recall the rhythms of an eternal home.

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