The Importance of Bodily Routine. Aka: I want to lock myself up in a South Korean temple

The last two days, I’ve been getting all those familiar signs of an impending panic attack: heart palpitations, that tingly sweaty palm feeling, sudden bursts of dread, ridiculous bouts of worry over pretty far fetched things (IS MY BABY DEAD IN MY WOMB?!), terrible sleep, inability to concentrate, a nightmare last night, and general inability to look at my dissertation.  So this is why I’m blogging at 1am! Let’s get through this together.

Given my summer insomnia and the clustering of panic-inducing symptoms, it was a neat surprise when my dad randomly gave me the Summer 2013 issue of “Koreana,” a special issue on daily life in a Buddhist temple! (I think the whole issue is available to read online). My dad had no idea that I’d recently taken up meditation so it was a satisfying serendipity.

The magazine has a few articles discussing different aspects of the temple life and I won’t go into the specifics here.  In general, I was struck by how ordered their days were. Whether you’re an ascetic monk or just some random visitor, you all follow this general pattern:

Everyone wakes at 3am (three am!!) with the moon still shining.
They clean the grounds and set up for morning prayers, together in silence.
Morning prayers are held in the main hall.
Afterwards, everyone leaves the hall and has breakfast.
In the afternoon, the visiting tourists took a barefoot walk through the woods: a valley in between Tawhwa Stream, full of stepping stones and reeds.
Then, lunch.

Lunch was described as the most simple yet ritualistic process of nourishment:

“At a temple, even eating is a form of practice.  We place our hands together at the sound of the bamboo clapper, and then arrange the four bowls in front of us according to size.  We first pour water for washing out the bowls after the meal into the smallest bowl, then fill the remaining bowls with rice, soup, kimchi, and a few side dishes…

We take a piece of kimchi, rinse it thoroughly in the soup, and put it in the rice bowl.  Then we eat with as little sound of chopstick clatter as possible – and or course no speaking – and, when finished, we pour water into the rice bowl and wipe the rice, soup, and side dish bowls clean with the rinsed kimchi.  Then we eat this piece of kimchi and drink the water.  But this is not the end.  We then wash the bowls clean with the water from the smallest bowl.  Two-thirds of the water is thrown away, and the rest, filled with seasonings and grains of rice, you drink.”

Quote from This article 

Other articles point out that you never eat too much or sleep too much…but you are not deprived either. The point is not to indulge or harm the body but be attentive to your bodily presence. I used to think that mental stillness was about…the mind, right? But now it is clear that your mind can only function optimally if the rest of your body is regulated naturally. In order to calm the mind, you have to calm the body.  Eating, sleeping, resting, activity are all sort of established in an almost automated rhythm.

So lately, I can’t figure out what is setting off my weird anxiety issues. It seems to be a collection of all kinds of factors, overlapping and rubbing up against my migrainey temples. I realized that sometimes you can’t just analyze — in fact, that might be making it worse. The solution might be to just calm the body, my living routine.

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