Continuing an annual tradition, I am staffing for a retreat this summer, and the first week of it just came to a close (I wrote this in June). Every Monday is my day off, and during the week, I had been planning it as my perfect day. Desirous thoughts arose—oh how I craved my matcha latte, a longtime favorite drink that was nonexistent at the austere monastery (I mean, there was definitely lots of tea, but the vanilla syrup and foamy milk was missing). There was a café within walking distance from the temple, and a mall right next to it. So I planned to head out right after breakfast and spend my day shopping and eating.
It got to the point where I laid in bed dreaming about the experience. Oh how wonderful it would be to get out of this uniform, wear my street clothes again, and blend seamlessly back into society. I’d go and treat myself to a nice (vegetarian!) lunch at Souplantation and possibly see what’s going on at the nearby arcade as well.
And so, bright and early Monday morning, I changed into jeans and a polo and started on my trek. Upon arriving at the mall, I realized how surreal the experience was. I walked around Macy’s for a bit before settling down on a comfy chair outside the store. There, I sat for a moment and realized none of this was what I wanted. None of this was what I craved so much just a day ago. It wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t terrible. It was just meh, for lack of a better term.
It was then that I realized what an important lesson that day was. What we seek for and desire is often just a thought—the reality of things is never quite right when we have an ideal fantasy in our minds. It was then that I wanted to turn around and head back to the temple, but seeing that I had already come, I might as well get lunch and bring some snacks back.
When I ate, it wasn’t as ravenously as I had anticipated. It was more of an acceptance of the food. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t spectacular either. It was just a salad I put together at the salad bar. Ever since my beginnings in Buddhism I had always wondered how to see the frivolousness of desires, what it meant to loosen desire’s grasp. Now, I realize that through monastery life, I see the world with a very different perspective. Nothing at the mall really stood out to me, as I didn’t have a need for it. None of the food stood out to me, for it was just as nourishing as what was provided at the temple’s dining hall. These objects that I had craved for, felt like I absolutely needed, were nothing to me at that point.
And it felt so liberating.