I’ve walked by it a thousand times — a Zen Buddhist temple on a busy corner of my neighbourhood. Always intrigued. Always too busy, or had the dog with me, or bags of groceries. Curious for YEARS, but really, actually, just a bit scared to check it out. Shy and reverent. Reverently shy.
Until a recent Sunday. Walking home from the lake, the temple was open for business and buzzing. “I could blend with the crowd,” I thought. I went to the foyer altar and inhaled the incense. And… I about-faced and left. Chickened right out. Then I felt it — that ominous grey cloud of potential regret, with one of my daring, beneficent Angels sitting on it, saying, “Danielle. Come on. Carpe diem, babe.” About-face. Back to the temple.
Context: Dozens of Asian oldies shuffling about, laughing and directing each other. Some in their long, brown ceremonial robes. Not one face under sixty. I’m the only whitey. And I’m certainly the only one in muddy sneakers and RayBans, wearing a tight shirt that says, IT’S OKAY, I’M WITH THE BAND. Blending in.
“Um… Is there a place I can sit? Is meditation happening upstairs?” I asked the sweet man at the door, making it clear, I’m not here to voyeur, I’m here to do some work. “On break now. Go up.” he answered with a big smile, “It’s good. Go. Go.” He nodded to the second floor.
This nondescript concrete building I’d been walking by for over a decade is a magnificent temple inside. Ornate and sacred-soaked. Three giant Buddhas, a twenty foot gold-guilded altar blessed with bowls of fruit, rice, and money.
Just as I tip toe’d into the room, break time was ending and the ceremony was reconvening. Doh. Time to about-face again. But then this gorgeous, silver-haired Asian man in robes points at me. Eeeshk. I’m so busted, I thought. He points at the rows of saffron kneeling cushions and with his eyes says, “You.” And then the tide of brown robes had me and I fell into line. “Good,” he nodded. Oh God… I mean Buddha. I might be here for days.
The whole ceremony was led by a head-shaved nun, not more than 4 feet tall. She ruled. I followed along, ALERT. Hum-chanting. Prostrating. Up. Down. Mostly humming. Watching out of the corner of my eye for when to bow.
And I began to melt to the place where you vibrate. I melted into not knowing why I was there, exactly. Not understanding the chants, one step behind everyone else. Hands clasped to my heart — like we all do when we worship. I felt the grid pattern that holds my perspective into place begin to bend. My past sloughing off of me. A new smile surfacing. I felt the calm that is so calm it’s electric. You know…
I felt that centering rush when I walked on fire for the first time. And when I cliff dove and swam with dolphins in Kona. The first time I got on stage and instead of launching into my talk, I just stood there and looked everyone in the eye. I felt it with that first dirty dance with the man-boy that one night. And lots of times after. It’s the edge of the new that burns the old. It’s how we expand.
And that’s the one reason to try the new thing. It’s not a proving, and it’s certainly not a commitment.
Here’s the beautiful unifier: We’re all scared of the new. Shy and reverent. Reverently shy. But jump. Fall in. The angels and the oldies, and the tide will catch you. No matter where you go… It’s okay. You’re with the band.