Sunday, November 4, 2012

gagweonsa conclusions

The past couple weeks have been weird for me. I mentioned awhile ago in a blog post that certain aspects of living an ungrounded, relatively migratory lifestyle can be emotionally taxing. I'm sure that eventually, I'll adapt to this whole thing where people have a limited, brief impact on each other's lives, but I'm not there yet. I get so invested in anyone who will let me, and then, when they're gone, I revert to this hermit-like, detached state (people are starting to become annoyed by my refusal to pick up the phone, answer text messages, or charge the darn thing). It's not pretty.

So that's how I've been for a few days. I took a trip this past weekend, on a whim. Just me. I really just wanted to get away, you know? I'm not sure what it is I want to escape... I just want to. It's kind of relaxing to separate yourself from your life for a bit, lose your identity, and run. So, I went to the train station, covered my eyes, and picked a random city, ending up in Cheonan, which is a city about halfway between Seoul and Daejeon. I thought up an alter ego, in case anyone asked my name. No one asked. I'm not sure if I'd prefer anonymity or a new identity altogether.

I did a bit of people watching, tried some street food I couldn't identify, and did that thing in which I sleep in a sauna with a bunch of random strangers, just because it's so cheap. I read a little bit of Anne of Green Gables (my ultimate escape-from-reality book), tried the most ridiculous face mask I could find, and in the morning, saw one of the most beautiful things I've seen yet in Korea (second only to the sunset on Docho Island).

각원사 (Gagweonsa) is supposedly one of the largest sitting Buddhas in Asia, constructed over a period of three years in attempt to reunify Korea. At 15 meters (about 50 feet), it is a massive human construct, though oddly in perfect harmony with the changing leaves of 태조산 (Taejo Mountain). I've read a bit about Buddhist philosophy, but I don't pretend to be a practicer or understand its implementation and the little idiosyncracies between the little sects. I honestly don't know if the observers of Buddhism that paid tribute to Gagweonsa believe the statue to be imbdued with holiness, or if they view it on a more symbolic level. For a couple of hours, I sat a fair distance away from the statue, and watched people bow to the statue, roll beads in their hand, light incense, and make laps around the feet of the statue. For some, it seemed like a ritual. For others, it was different.

Sitting in silence with only the natural beauty of the surroundings, my thoughts, and numerous cultural barriers, I came to a few conclusions. First, I came to a realization regarding people, and it's a bit harsh: from the moment we break free from the womb, every person in our lives is expendable. Not the roles that they fill, but the people who fill them. I mean, don't get me wrong, people are still precious little snowflakes, it's just that there are an awful lot of snowflakes in the blizzard that is humanity. Yes, people need various forms of attention, affection, and love, but it's purely luck that the people who are involved in our lives are the ones to fill those roles. Any attachment that we have to those people is not an attachment to the actual identity of that person, but to their contribution to our lives. And they are not the only people capable of making that contribution. Sure, it's convenient to keep them around--trust me, it's frustrating to constantly replace the cast of your life's theater. But honestly, we are not in love with people, we are in love with the roles they play and ideas of people that our perception has pieced together. I found this thought to be oddly comforting, and simultaneously painful--it made me feel a bit more strong, but for some reason, also more guilty.

My other conclusion: I am so petty. So, so ridiculously petty. The world is this huge weight, this incomprehensibly complex system containing so many overlooked majesties and so many ignored problems, and the discretion I use to choose what to appreciate or what to lament is purely based on proximity to my own affairs. The most relevant example: when a person's timeline progress diverges my own, I care only about how it affects me--how my life is changed by time and the world. A self-involved being, it's very difficult for me to put the emotions of others in front of my own.

The only explanation manifesting itself in my mind at the moment is my constant struggle with the idea of reality. I have no way of knowing that the world around me is an accurate representation of reality--that everything I know isn't just my own mind or a massive hallucination, or that I'm not actually a psychological patient in an asylum who fabricated people and events or a character in an RPG that my larger, more complex existance may be playing. There is absolutely know way of knowing what in this world is real, and ultimately, all I have is myself. Only recently did I come to terms with the fact that, while an interesting topic of speculation, dwelling on the real-ness of "reality" does not benefit me one bit, as I cannot change the way I perceive reality on the grand scale. I'm still accepting that it doesn't matter whether or not people are "real", because this "reality" is the only "reality" I will ever know under my current capacity of knowledge.

Which brings me to the corollary of my conclusion regarding the pettiness of my concerns: I need to be more concerned with the way every entity interacts, observe the amazing structure of the microcosmic world, and find ways to benefit the grand scheme. Although I am but one actor in this massive system, infinitely large and infinitely small, I cannot be so naive that the best way I can benefit myself or the world is to be concerned only with things that are obviously relevant to me and my interests. There is so much need in this world, and it's so easy to ignore it unless it clearly applies to me. And yet, while there is so much to worry over, there's also so much to admire. Too often am I overwhelmed by worry, that I miss exactly how extraordinary my life is. How extraordinary everything is. Every. Little. Thing.

When I stopped, in front of Gagweonsa, underneath colorful lanterns dangling with prayers, sounds of chanting and distant gongs enveloping me, I was confounded. And when I stop now, typing on an artifact of human ingenuity in a mechanical engineering building representing the progress of an old culture into the advancement and formation of an entirely new cultural identity, I am also blown away.

That's the thing--people need to just stop more. The world needs to stop more. But it doesn't. The world moves so fast, and it's remarkably hard to cope with the rate things flash by. There is so much to take in, so many missed opportunities, so many problems and there just isn't enough time.

The world is just too much.

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