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Columns > Annabel Lukins - Both Sides of the Rail

Published: 2009/10/22

At Budokan (Or Thereabouts)

I am not sure about all of you, but I am on a lifelong quest for enlightenment. That feeling of “reaching new heights” has hit me on numerous circumstances, but I have known each time that “ah-ha” moment hit that I wasn’t “done.” In fact, I hope that I never stop searching for that ultimate peace within my heart and soul.

When my mom died of brain cancer on August 30 of this year, time stood still and all of a sudden, I was stuck in a vortex unable to get back to the “center.” I am coming to realize that this profound loss is part of my enduring journey toward “light.” (Note: I am planning to write a column on what it’s like to lose a mom, but I’m not there yet)

My father, who is incredibly healthy at an impressive age of 73, loves to travel. I asked him a few years ago if he would take me to Japan. “Absolutely,” he replied with pride. In May 2008, he sent me an email titled “Japan: let’s get started.” One year later, the itinerary was confirmed and we were set to leave September 17. The problem became a reality: what about mom’s health?

I guess she wanted me to go…and I thought about her every step of the way while we were immersed in that magnificent country.

The mission we set out upon was beyond any of our expectations. The team: my dad Richard, his wife Karen, my husband Peter and me. The cities: Tokyo, Hakone, Kyo-san & Kyoto.

I’m sure you can tell from my previous columns that I am not really good at “sitting still or slowing down.” Well neither is my father, and the way he planned this trip, we were at breakfast by 7:30am and at our first site at 8:30am. That suited me just fine considering I don’t see myself getting back there any time soon.

Little did I know that along the busy 11-day adventure, I would meet an Abbott who would pretty much slap me upside the head with one sentence, leave me in tears, and change my life forever. Or maybe I did know deep down inside, and that’s why I was set on visiting Japan.

I consider myself a non-Jew Jew. I have pride in my religion, but I didn’t “practice” growing up and never had a Bat Mitzvah. I am much more assigned to the non-religion of spirituality. Spirituality is REALLY hard to define; it’s more of a feeling for me. I smile more than I frown, I love more than I hate, I give more than I take, etc….It is often seen as a path, along which one advances to achieve a given objective, such as a higher state of awareness. That’s me in a nutshell.

If I were ever going to adopt the ways of a religion, it would be Buddhism, which according to Wikipedia, is traditionally conceived is a path of salvation attained through insight into the ultimate nature of reality.

Being sober for 11 years, I have grown accustomed to continuously working of myself: analyzing my character faults, examining my behavior, and relying on a “power greater than myself” for comfort. But there’s a significant part of the basis of Buddhism and my own pursuit that I have been running from for a long time: meditation.

I didn’t forget to tell you about what the Abbott said to me. I just wanted to lay the groundwork for the story.

When we were in Kyoto, we visited a temple where this elder Abbott treated us to the Japanese tea ceremony, a preparation and presentation of delicious green tea. The experience for him is ritual. The experience for the guests is cathartic. Every move was thought out, from lifting the pot, to pouring the water, to turning the cup clockwise, to taking 3 gulps and so on. He focused on the task so intently that our presence became ultimately non-existent. From what we learned, Zen Buddhism was integral to the ceremony’s development and its influence spread into aspects of the performance.

After we had finished our tea in 3 gulps, he asked each of us what we did for a living. “I produce music festivals.” This Abbott took one look at me, shook his finger in the air and said, “You…you need to breathe more.”

I knew he was right. I began to cry, tears silently falling from my eyes as this man began to “teach us” how to breathe.

Breathing is an essential part of Buddhist meditation. And the purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and peaceful.

He said, “Air is free. Air is life. It keeps us alive. It never stops. Yet we don’t pay attention to it. If you take 10 breaths in the morning, you will begin to connect with that which sustains us.”

Air is life…

I’ve got a lot of goals in the next year: confronting and ultimately all very fulfilling. One of my greatest challenges will be incorporating the breath into my daily life, into my momentary life. I am seeking a spiritual advisor who has a basis of Buddhism and meditation to guide me.

I’m not looking for perfection with my newfound freedom, just a little bit of transformation at a time.

Our guide, who translated the words of the Abbott to us, took my hand after the service, obviously aware of my intense reaction to his words. I asked, “How did he know?” She said, “He reads the heart.”

He read my heart. That’s profound.

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