A Discovery of Self

Today was one of those days…the kind of day you don’t realize you’ve never experienced until you actually experience it…the kind of day that touches you. I’ve had moments like this before…when you feel or experience something so deeply profound that you’re forever changed.

I must admit, there have only been a handful of times when I’ve enjoyed this sensation…the first time I heard the drums beating in South Africa…that first view of Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto…the first time I saw a leopard in the wild in Tanzania…life experiences that I feel so deeply I almost cry. Today provided several of those moments for me!

From our arrival at Odaesan Woljeongsa Temple, a sense of beauty echoed in every scene. The environment changed…as do most journeys from south to north. The forest became more dense, bringing with it a feeling of elevation into the clouds. The air felt clean and the water flowed calmly. I truly felt like I was in a dream. The bridge to welcome us was adorned with lanterns so bright I had to wear shades. Cotswold came along for the ride and led the way.

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We walked the fir tree forest path and Cotswold felt at home in his natural habitat. He was ecstatic to be out of the hotel room! He took center stage for photos throughout the day.

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Iljumun, temple gate of the Four Deva kings, welcomed us with open arms. Cotswold jumped in front of all of us to be the first into the Temple. Crazy little monkey was so eager and happy just to be out on such a beautiful sunny day. I was too!!

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The week has been very informative and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people. We’ve had long nights and even longer days, but today was our day of rest, and for that I am thankful! I couldn’t have asked for a better place to “rest” and “rejuvenate”.

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The colors and decoration of this place…you just can’t capture in a photograph. The feeling itself is overwhelming as if it’s taking you back to an earlier time.

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After entering the Temple grounds, we were met by an octagonal nine-story pagoda. It is the tallest octagonal stone pagoda in Korea, representing the early Goryeo dynasty. The stone seems untouched as if nature hasn’t laid a hand on it. Apparently it is National Treasure #48. I definitely have to see what the first 47 are!

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We had jasmine tea with a Buddhist monk who shared his perspective on peace and his past 10 years of reflection and meditation. 10 years of reflection…with 3 months each year…in 10+ hours of seated meditation…with no talking and minimal eating. I guess there’s a reason why I’m not a Buddhist monk! 🙂 It really is amazing. He preaches “Give up the distractions…clean your mind…be at peace.” The ease with which he lives his life is inspirational.

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We experienced the making of Buddhist prayer beads. Freeing myself of 108 prostrations (repenting and vowing a new beginning free of 108 troubles of life) brought me a profound peace. It’s amazing what some introspection (and 108 bows from a standing position) will do for you.

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Following our prostrations we met with one of the senior monks at the Temple. He was very pleased to meet us and praised us for the work we are doing and our focus and desire to help Pyeongchang. He reminded us again of how much the people want and need our help. It truly made me feel like we’re making a real difference here for the lives of our new friends.

 

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The end of our Temple tour led to a random stop at a coffee shop along the river. In this moment I could see in all it’s entirety the reasons why the beauty and draw of this place is so powerful. The majesty of the water rolling down the stream, the air blowing through the trees, the birds whistling in the air. I felt like I was in my happy place. As we departed our Temple tour, I felt a sense of peace and relaxation.

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As if I hadn’t had a good enough day thus far, we followed our Temple adventure with a visit to Bobae Dairy Farm in the Southern part of Pyeongchang County. Bobae is known for producing milk, yogurt and cheese, and for their pizza and ice cream making experience.

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We spent a touching afternoon with several local children and their families. I was fortunate enough to enjoy the company of two little girls, aged 8 and 4. They started off very quiet…the youngest one didn’t say a word for quite a while. That soon changed! The 8 year old thought I understood her as she kept trying to speak with me in Korean. We did settle on lots of smiles, grunts and laughs. 🙂 We even counted to 10 in English and Korean. They were quite amused. The younger one reminded me so much of my little man. I miss him and Livy SO much!

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It is amazing how a short business trip (which is my usual) pales in comparison to 3+ weeks away. I was just saying to Vince last night how far 6,000+ miles really is! It’s not like I could hop on a plane and be home in 2 hours. And the 15-hour time difference presents its own challenges. When I’m on a short trip I always know I’ll be home in a few days to put the kids to bed or relieve my poor hubby. Weekends are always ours as a family. It’s very hard being away but this experience is worth it!! Thanks again for being supportive babe!

Cotswold made a celebrity appearance. As soon as he said hi the girls were hooked! Something about a stuffed animal and little kids. With the help of Ji-Hyun (our fearless leader) I explained Cotswold’s story. The girls were intrigued and they both started to open up. We made string cheese together, and all the girls could do was laugh. Their giggles were contagious. Cotswold made quick friends!

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The pizza assembly was a blast! The girls enjoyed stretching the dough, putting on the tomato sauce, and sprinkling on the cheese and all the ingredients. Watching children with no inhibitions drop cheese from 2 feet in the air, making the biggest mess, but giggling the entire time, can’t help but make you smile.   They even tried to feed the cheese to Cotswold.

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I showed them pictures of my children and they wanted to know more. They were very intrigued and the 8 year old asked some very pointed questions. At the end of it all she told me she liked me….although I honestly think it was mostly the monkey…but I’ll take it!!

We made ice cream and it was truly a team effort. We had one large bowl with ice and salt. Inside it we placed another bowl with milk and chocolate. Our job was to agitate the top bowl into the ice and salt in the lower bowl to create friction…all while stirring the milk and chocolate. I’ve never made ice cream like this, and I was skeptical at first…but it worked. And it was SO good. The girls had so much fun eating it and I honestly think it was the first time they’ve ever had chocolate ice cream. The smiles said it all.

We stopped at the market on our way home to get supplies for the evening. It was fantastic to see all the unique items. I love shopping in other countries, especially seeing all the things I can’t get at home. The cinnamon sticks were a site to be seen…I swear the things are over a foot long!

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As the day comes to a close I reflect on our team.

One of the things that amazes me most is how close we have all become in such a short period of time. We’re taking selfies and cheek-to-cheek photos like we’ve been friends forever. We comfort each other when we’re sad or distressed, we laugh at each others off-color jokes, we encourage each other when needed and we converse as if we’ve been friends for years. Nothing seems to be off limits. We have all offered our home to visits at any time…secretly hoping we will all have the chance to be together again in our home countries. Some of us already have plans to make that happen. There is also the threat that we may never leave this place…”don’t worry” (to our spouses)…we will return as the budget runs out at the end of our stay. 🙂

And to each individual…

Justin – who is the idea man and the outspoken one of the bunch.

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Souvik – who grounds us with his knowledge and kind demeanor.

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Sunny – who blesses us with her laughter and immense understanding of the English language and all our idiosyncrasies.

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Antonio – who brings an immense appreciation for life and our new experiences.

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Stephanie – who guides us with her experience and passion for this country.

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Ji-Hyun – who keeps us on track and puts up with all of our crazy requests. Bless her!

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We all bring something unique and special to the team and this is just the beginning….

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