One of the most unexpected challenges I experienced so far on our Southeast Asia Semester was been the meditation retreat. Prior to the retreat, I was under the assumption that this would be something to my liking-I mean how could it not be since I regularly practice yoga and I've gone to a couple group meditations, ya'know?

I suppose you could say I was expecting a breakthrough or an epiphany of some sort from the two day retreat (I know, ha!). In retrospect this sounds, ridiculous.

Well, turns out Buddhist meditation isn't quite my thing, at least for the time being. For me, the retreat offered too much solitude and general chillness - two things I'm normally comfortable with. But there was so much turning inwards that meditating became off-putting.

During our second day of the retreat, we had the opportunity to ask our mentoring Buddhist monk any questions. Previously our teacher had said that monks can't sing, dance, or go to parties. Not only did I find this surprising, but also a bit jarring.

I thought, so what do monks do for fun? Do they even have fun? I asked our mentoring monk these questions. He explained that for him, having fun is not what dictates his life. He has no desire for these "fun" activities because the happiness he finds through meditation and leading a devout Buddhist life are totalizing and fulfilling. He doesn't need fun to fill an internal void.

While I believe this sentiment is true - he has no need for what I deem as fun, I felt as though his life is not a life I want. How could he have no desire for fun? Doesn't he know what he's missing?

Later that day, Kate and I went for a run through the village hills. One of my favorite things to do is trail running. I love the movement of my body as I glide over the unfamiliar terrain, the strenuous uphills and forgiving (but sometimes unforgiving) downhills. There are moments when it feels as though I've left my body - that my thoughts and physical movements have separated and yet somehow they're still moving through space together. My legs carry on while my mind floats above the physical sensations. It's in these moments that I become a part of the landscape and the life surrounding me. I felt this while running with Kate that day. This is my happiness, and perhaps this is what our practicing monk was talking about when he said he has no desire for "fun." Meditation provides him with a feeling of being whole, and filled, and content. Maybe running is my version of least for now.

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Author Kristen Smith Posted

Program Southeast Asia Departure Spring 2017