Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Engaging the Explorer

This week, I did a small thing that made a big difference: I took a solo trip to the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburg, New York. It’s only an hour from home but in an area I’m unfamiliar with. I just learned about the Grafton Peace Pagoda after visiting the New England Peace Pagoda last weekend, immediately upon learning about it. Below are a couple photos of the New England Peace Pagoda and surrounding grounds. (The water lily I wrote about in my previous post was in the pond that appears in both pictures.)

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After visiting the New England Peace Pagoda, I did a little research and was surprised to learn that there are only four peace pagodas (Buddhist monuments to inspire peace and non-violence) in the United States, and two of them are located within a 2-1/2  hour drive of my house! And the Grafton one was, by far, the closer of the two.

So I just had to visit.

As I drove, something in me felt very different. After the initial exhilaration of resigning from my teaching position, I hit the ground hard and felt lost, fearful, and down. It was like literally falling down and feeling dazed prior to getting your bearings, finding your footing, and standing up again. I had no idea what my next step would be and felt completely lost but had a very strong and pervasive sense that I was on course and needed to have a little patience and faith in my ability to figure things out.

As I drove to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, it felt like I was embarking on a real journey even though it was just an afternoon trip. It had nothing to do with anyone else and was something I was doing only for myself, to satisfy an inner longing. Some people might need to hike on foot for 1,000 or more miles (as Cheryl Strayed recounted in her memoir, Wild). But you can go on smaller pilgrimages, too. When you feel the need to escape from your life and most of the people in it, it could be a clear indication that you haven’t heard your own voice in a while and need to find it and follow it. Perhaps every journey is ultimately a journey back to that inner source. To the inner temple. Perhaps that’s what my journey to a physical temple – the peace pagoda – was all about.

Only ten minutes into my trip, I felt energized and hopeful and began having insights about where I could consider going from here – activities for which I have skills and experience and could engage in to generate income right out of the gate. The most obvious things! But they didn’t come to me until I set out on this solo journey. The act of embarking on the journey seemed to activate the flow of ideas.

It occurred to me that when I get away and into my own groove where I can hear my inner guidance, I know where to go and what to do. It’s very different than being in the presence of other people and influenced by their agendas, schedules, preferences, and opinions – however well-meaning. When I’m following my own guidance – completely independent of anyone else’s voice –  I feel absolutely confident that I will lead myself to exactly the right place. There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when you heed the call of your inner wisdom with an adventurous spirit.

For example, I came across a sign for a you-pick farm for lavender, flowers, and herbs a mile ahead. I love lavender! So why not stop? (The Peace Pagoda wasn’t going anywhere!) And so I did.

At Hay Berry Farm, I struck up conversation with the young woman working at the farm stand, and when I mentioned that I was headed to the Peace Pagoda, her eyes lit up! She told me she had wanted to go there for a long time, and it seemed so many of her friends had been there lately and told her about it. She actually had planned to go the previous day but didn’t make it. I loved her energy and enthusiasm and enjoyed harvesting a bundle of 100 sprigs of lavender (and buying some beautiful shiitake mushrooms). It was a gratifying and worthwhile stop. The connection with the woman working there felt somehow magical and seemed like an outward indication that I was on the right track. And I was inspired by the beauty of the dried flower arrangements created by the owner of the farm and the huge display of lavender and floral bundles hanging from the beams overhead.

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Then I continued on my way, feeling even more peaceful and energized than before and eventually arrived at the Grafton Peace Pagoda. There were two signs at the entrance of the dirt road on which it was located. One sign was for the Peace Pagoda, and the other read “Free School.” That felt somehow significant, like following a path of spiritual breadcrumbs! I knew of the Albany Free School and had referenced it several times in recent conversation as an antithesis to public school but wasn’t aware of a Free School in the Grafton area. (I learned when I got home that this was land that had been given to the Albany Free School for a wilderness learning center and forever-wild sanctuary. How cool is that?)

The Grafton Peace Pagoda was only a six-minute walk from where I parked my car on the road. There was a clearly marked forest trail with many stacks of rocks along the way. I was the only visitor and immediately came upon a Buddhist nun who was walking around. We bowed deeply to each other, and she welcomed me warmly. (I learned later she is the resident nun, Jun Yasuda, who is quite well known for her peace walks and was a student of the late Nichidatsu Fujiiwho, founder of the Nipponzan Myohoj order of Buddhism.) The only other person there was a man who was doing some repair work on the temple. When he left for a conference call, I wandered the grounds around the pagoda in complete solitude.

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At the top of the steps is a large statue of Buddha touching the Earth, in the moment of supreme enlightenment.

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The inner walkway that encircles the pagoda includes 11 friezes that depict important events in the life of Buddha.

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I took my time exploring the temple grounds.

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I drove home feeling energized and inspired and reflected on how different this energy is from the energy field I felt stuck in for a week or so prior. My overall takeaway was that when I set aside time for myself and (quite literally) put myself in the driver’s seat, I enter an entirely different story and state of mind. I know what to do. I’m alive in ways I’m not when I’m running around trying to fulfill obligations and please others.

This is so important to remember!

This state of consciousness is totally available when you make the space and time to honor yourself – even if it’s just a two-hour round trip to a place you feel drawn to. It’s like when the clouds pass in front of the sun. The sun is still there. You just can’t see it because of the clouds, the obscurations in whatever form they take.

I found that I was able to enter into that hopeful, inspired state when I gave myself the freedom to explore. Doing so, you notice and gravitate toward things that will take you in a certain direction – that you wouldn’t have noticed if you were hurrying around or had your sight locked on a particular destination or outcome. There’s so much you miss along the way when you travel on autopilot and act without stopping to consider whether you’re engaging what really feeds your soul.

It’s about being the artist of our own life rather than the servant of someone else’s. It’s about how much magnificence we are willing to allow into our life – which ultimately is a question of self love (in a higher sense, not a selfish sense). Is how you are spending your energy and time enriching or depleting you? That is a worthwhile question to ask.

My trip to the Peace Pagoda was quite a journey. But it ultimately wasn’t about the destination (even though it was quite wonderful). It was about being an explorer, looking out for new opportunities, and realizing I am quite capable of navigating my life and engaging an energy that is always available. In the end, it really wasn’t about the destination at all. It was about how I got there.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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