We sat on cushions that were midnight blue with golden stars, as if sitting on the very heavens, nine of us in three rows.
In the front was the tiny Buddhist nun, Jun-San, who must weigh about ninety pounds when soaking wet, wrapped in a turmeric-colored robe over her white kimono-style jacket and loose black plants. With a shaved head and nearly unlined face, she is timeless and ageless, fierce and strong despite her diminutive presence.
I was in the next row along with a young woman from Japan, and behind us was a family from Sri Lanka, sitting clustered together on the oriental rug. There were two young boys, ages 13 and 5 as I would later find out, parents who were probably in their late 30s or early 40s, and the grandparents.
They all had serene and happy faces, easily breaking into smiles. The youngest boy ducked his head shyly when I offered him a drum, while his older brother gladly accepted it and drummed away.
Clara, another Peace Pagoda volunteer who is a globetrotter who moves from pagoda to pagoda and peace walk to peace walk, sat at the large drum on the left side of the room, keeping the beat as we drummed and chanted, nine of us from three different nations: Japan, the United States, and Sri Lanka.
Chanting The Prayers Aloud!
NA – MU – MYO – HO – REN – GE – KYO.
It is the chant that is used for prayer in the Nippozan Myohoji Buddhist order and it roughly translates to: To honour/devote oneself to the wonderful law of the Lotus Sutra.
The evening prayers at the Peace Pagoda in Grafton, MA, where we were gathered, last from six to seven p.m. At the end of the prayer session, after forty-five minutes or so of drumming and chanting, Jun-San asked Clara to hand out another sheet of chants to read from, printed both in Japanese and transliterated English.
It was a version of the Lotus Sutra, and Jun-San said we were offering this prayer for the children, since May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan. May 5th is also Enlightenment Day and the Buddha’s birthday, in Sri Lanka.
I had read somewhere that it was “World Liberation Day.”
Auspicious, any way you look at it! And there was much for us to celebrate.
Â Time for Ice Cream!
After the chanting, drumming and praying, Jun-San invited everyone back into the kitchen and living area of the temple. Jun-San sleeps in a loft bed above the kitchen area, and welcomes guests back to her kitchen and sitting area for tea.
This time, however, there was an unusual treat to be served up – ice cream. “We never have ice cream here,” Jun-San said to me, “but today we do for Children’s Day.”
It was a special sweet treat. I sat around a long low table, cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, along with the whole family from Sri Lanka, as we ate bowls of vanilla ice cream with crushed peanut butter cups in it (not what I had expected to do on my pagoda visit).
Jun-San pulled out a picture book with photos of Peace Pagodas around the world, including one in Sri Lanka.
The family gave me advice on where to go when I travel to Sri Lanka someday, since clearly this is something that I should do. They said I should climb the holy mountain of Sri Pada, and that it’s best to do that early in April.
The mountain is supposed to have the footprint of the Buddha on it. The grandfather told me that in the “Golden Days” it was elephants who first cleared the path on the mountain so that others could scale it. Now, he added, it is maintained in a more modern way.
The father said I should travel to Neelavela, a beautiful beach in Trinkomalee, Sri Lanka. Most beautifully of all, the grandfather looked at me with smiling eyes and said that when I travel to Sri Lanka, I will stay with them. You will be our guest, he said.
I shared with them how beautiful it was when I was in India, where the expression is “the guest is God,” to be treated with such incredible kindness and hospitality that I didn’t know how I could ever possibly repay it. Of course, the families who shared their love and hospitality did it not to receive gifts back from me (and I was constantly looking for “host gifts” to express my gratitude!) but because it is their culture and their way.
Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if we were all willing to welcome people of other nations into our homes in such a generous and loving way?
Gathering As One Family
I love being at the Pagoda, praying in the temple, and gathering there with others from diverse nations. It is what life is all about, I think: uniting as one global family, for the cause of peace.
I was there that day both to pray for global peace, and to seek peace within as well. It is a joyful and amazing dreamÂ life I live, in so many ways, and I have been so fortunate to live so many of my dreams already.
I am still in process on others, including finishing my book, building my life-coaching business, and doing more public speaking – all of which are works in progress!
Sometimes I am able to stay really present where I am and to enjoy simply taking the steps on the journey, since the journey is what it’s all about (not the “destination!”). I have my moments too however when I get impatient to be “there,” wherever “there” is, somewhere further along on my dream journey.
Since I have been feeling some of this energy lately, I wanted to go to the Pagoda to pray for more peace within my own heart too about the place where I am, right now.
Be here now, right?
How do you find peace within, no matter where you are in life? I am always curious about other people’s strategies to love and accept this moment now and live from that kind of love and peace space.
Here are some of my strategies that I use, when I’m not feeling 100% settled in the moment. Hope they bring some lightness into your day and help you find peace wherever you are!
1. Visit a sacred space, like the Pagoda, to absorb the wonderful peaceful energy that is always there.
I love traveling to the Peace Pagoda, or popping into a church to say a few prayers, when I am feeling restless. The energy there is so palpable and powerful and it can help make a shift right away, just by being there! Of course, just hiking or nature can bring that sense of serenity as well, for the nature-lovers out there!
2. Practice gratitude for all that I have, right now.
If I find myself feeling any sense of lack in my life, I like to stop and remind myself of all that I DO have: my health, home, friends and family who love me, and so many other tangible gifts. For many of us the problems we have are first world problems – we have enough to eat and a roof over our heads. So many people would wish for what we have!
3. Remind myself that everything is unfolding in divine timing, somehow.
I’ve had some very powerful spiritual experiences in my life that were a potent reminder that everything is perfect, somehow, even when it feels like it’s not. That everything is unfolding in divine timing and that even when we feel most lost, we are already found. Grace is unending. This brings peace.
4. Meditate and pray.
I have a daily meditation practice, and as someone who used to suffer from panic attacks and constant anxiety (symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, after some earlier trauma in my life, coupled with a Type-A neurotic personality!), I have found that this brings me more peace than anything. That and physical exercise, which just plain feels good and releases endorphins.
5. Focus on what matters most ~ which is being and giving love.
When I feel out of synch, sometimes all I need to do to make it better is to reach out to someone else and extend a loving hand, an ear, or a shoulder to cry on. “We are all just walking each other home,” as the saying goes.
I hope that wherever you are on the journey of living your dreams that you are at peace.
Wishing inner peace, love and joy for all beings!
Lisa Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on the Madam President Project or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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