Monday, January 2, 2012

Another Year Has Come and Gone

Watching the sunset on the 2nd day of the New Year. ‘Tis the season for reflection falalalalala. Looking back on 2011 I can be nothing but grateful. I have graduated college, worked incredibly hard on the GRE, applying to graduate school and research, made new friendships, fostered the old ones, won a Fulbright, traveled to Japan, India and Sri Lanka, had the blessing of participating in my mom’s lovely wedding, and, most of all, encountered so much, both difficult and beautiful, that has deepened my understanding what it means to be a good human being. My resolution for this next year: take that learning and implement it. There are others (15 to be exact) saved in a Word document of trivial things I want to accomplish this coming 365 days, but to be honest, if I can accomplish this goal in even the slightest form I am a happy lady. Putting what I believe in into practice. Enough philosophy for this lass, give me some sweet, sweet praxis!

In terms of an update: the few weeks have been a hodge podge of running around, Christmas parties, Buddhist monks, and travel. We just returned from Colombo where I rang in the New Year with my toes in the Indian ocean surrounded by a group of individuals who have been nothing short of inspiration since coming to Sri Lanka. Last year I spent New Years Eve alone, fasting, and meditating. This year I spent it surrounded by people who I have grown so much appreciation for. I think if anything is indicative of a shift in worldview over this past year this might be it. As nice as introspection and retreating might be, I’ve learned, at least from my tiny perspective, the meaning of life is connectivity with others. Therefore, I happily thank the circumstances that have allowed me to be where I am.

For Christmas a few of the other Fulbrighters, two of our Sri Lankan friends and Mike, a fellow American now residing in Kandy proper, all came together for what we called “An Ugly Moo Moo Party.” Similar to the uniquely American obsession with “Ugly Sweater Parties,” we decided to host a Sri Lankan flavored get together by encouraging the proud display of ugly housedress attire. My poor fashion sense, potentially shamefully so, was the source of inspiration for this idea, ever since my purchase of a certain orange moo moo the first week in Sri Lanka. Decorated with square snowflakes (because we forgot how to cut them), fake tinsel, and a branch (yes, just a branch, i.e. fragment) of a pine tree our landlords elusively found for us and left on our doorstep, and two dirty ankle socks we colored red with our names on it for stockings—the party was a hit. I made mulled wine and sweet potatoes and Bryanna made her infamous pumpkin pie.

Before Christmas we (Mike, Bryanna, Malia, Kelly and myself) partook on the revered climb to the top of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). Sri Pada is a cone shaped mountain in central Sri Lanka, famous for being the location of religious relics for Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims. To complete the hike before sunrise we set off around 1:00 in the morning, following a lit path of over 5,200 stairs, dotted with temples and avid devotees along the way. Despite the rain and frigid winds we saw everything from flocks of bare footed monks, grandmothers being carried up by their sons, a man with a catheter, and Buddhist with white strings they tied at the bottom of the mountain and strung all the way to the top of the 7,000 foot peak. When we arrived to the top we waited for the sun to rise, the winds to pick up and listened to the chanting from a puja inside the temple where Lord Buddha’s left footprint is said to reside (the right footprint is somewhere in Thailand. Yes, the physics of this is baffling to me as well). Not only was the journey epic in it of itself, but I was so very nourished by being surrounded by mountains. Roasting marshmallows in the fireplace of the hotel to make Sri Lanka style smores was also a crowning moment of the trip (shockingly, it was THAT cold).

Today I went to a Dana, direct meaning: generosity, at my friend’s Ken and Vishaka’s house for several monks passing through. Since monks are not supposed to deal with money a Dana is equally a giving of kindness to them through the donation of food, as well as a social occasion for swapping the dhamma. I was able to meet an American monk, now living near Colombo at a temple, who was very interested in my project and a former counselor and social worker himself. He told me about a meditation center in Colombo geared towards lay meditators that might be a good place for my research. One of the major roadblocks I am facing here is actually finding people who meditate! You’d be surprised how incredibly rare intent practice is being a Buddhist country. I keep joking that I came to Sri Lanka to find out that I would have an easier time finding participants in the USA. I am meeting with him and one of our mutual friends for lunch tomorrow to discuss this prospect. Regardless, mere exposure to so many interesting concepts and people is such an opportunity. I feel like my understanding of Buddhism, as both a religion and a method, has developed so much since being here. And although not much has transpired in terms of quantitative data collection, I am positive my ability to be a sensitive researcher in this field in the future is going to benefit greatly form all of these experiences. Learning, learning, learning.

This next month I plan on tuning my research design and finding proper places for testing, as well as welcoming my Dad and his wife June to Sri Lankan soil for two weeks (YAY!). There is so much to look forward to. And although this next year has so many scary unknowns in front of me ( i.e. not even knowing in what part of the continental US I will be living in) I am excited to see what happens. Sometimes there is great grace in letting go and seeing what presents itself. So with that I let off a big sigh and smile at the coming days.

I hope this year brings happiness to you all.

Great love from Sri Lanka.


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