A cool breeze floods the mountainside, rustling the leaves and pine needles in the branches high above me. But as I walk up the path, I barely hear it. My brain is making too much noise of its own.
My eyes are down, watching my sneakers crunching along the dirt trail, but my mind’s eye is reviewing half-written emails. Deadlines are boiling on the front burner. Recent words from a close friend have me troubled. And what’s going to happen on the final episodes of The Voice this season? Will Meghan Linsey take the prize she deserves, or should we call in a first-ever victory for Team Pharrell?
I call it Restless Mind Syndrome, and it can arise regardless of your surroundings — even if you’re walking in the Leverett woods.
Visitors to the New England Peace Pagoda are encouraged to park in the lower lot and take a 10-minute walk up a relaxed hill to preserve the natural setting of the spiritual center. This is my first time to the peace pagoda. I get out of my car, and a sign at the entrance to the grounds offers some guidelines: No drugs, alcohol, smoking, dogs, or horses. When bowing, remember to “bow deeply with palms together.”
I climb, doing my best to leave my routine worries behind me. At the top of the rise there is a large clearing: flat, green and long, with a white domed pagoda in the near distance.
I walk across the meadow. The pagoda is beautiful — an enormous, shining white half-orb touched with small altars and alcoves painted gold. I pass by the statute of a smiling, reclining Buddha chilling in the shade. The expression on his face says there is no other place he’d rather be.
I wander near the white temple, where monks hold morning and evening prayers. Then I cross the lawn to the Japanese rock garden and sit by the edge of the lily pond. A magnolia tree is in bloom.
I close out of my mind’s inbox. My mental circuitry settles. I listen and, slowly, I start to hear the sounds of the world outside my head. Thin red, green, and yellow prayer flags, each the size of a sheet of paper, flutter in the wind. Half a dozen visitors wander quietly nearby. The bright sun presses down on the back of my neck. The air smells sweetly of soil and pine. Birds sing. My heart thumps softly in my chest.
Could I have taken the time to do this at home? Yes. In a crowd? Possibly. But fleeing the routine geography, climbing up above the trees and into the light, is a pretty handy way to loosen up and Zen out. •
— Hunter Styles, firstname.lastname@example.org
The New England Peace Pagoda hosts its annual Flower Festival, a celebration of the birth of Buddha , Sunday, May 31 at 11 a.m. The event is free and open to the public.