This interview is a really special to me.
I grew up with Grace in Toronto and our families had very similar relational dynamics. The shared experiences when Grace and her sister got together with me and my sister created a sense of comfort and safety that was hard to find. At the same time, there was endless play, laughter, and just downright goofiness that only a bunch of girls can create.
Our lives have taken so many twists and turns and so we haven’t lived in the same city in many years. Nevertheless, Grace is forever in my heart as the sweet, giggly girl who used to hide with my sister in my closet to eavesdrop on me and her sister talking about boys. She also had singing and dancing talent to boot!
Today, Grace is a Buddhist monk and scholar in South Korea teaching and learning, and I couldn’t be more proud and happy for her.
She has two Master’s degrees, one in Won Buddhist Studies and the other in East Asian Philosophy. Right now she is working on her PhD in Won Buddhist Studies.
I love the way she describes her typical day. It is just gorgeous. Grace emphasizes how her morning spiritual practice is what helps her to keep centered during the day.
TELL US WHAT A TYPICAL DAY IS LIKE BEING YOU!
My alarm goes off at 4:10am, but I actually get up at 4:20am.
I take a quick shower before I head to the meditation hall for morning meditation, chanting, and prayer.
At 6:30am I do moving meditation outside while looking at a nearby mountain usually covered in morning fog.
Taking full deep breaths early in the morning is a great way to refresh the body and mind.
6:50-7:15am is morning cleaning, so I clean my room and prepare for the day ahead.
7:20 is breakfast and I usually eat brown rice, various vegetables and soup.
Of course, I have to consume my morning coffee. The aroma of coffee just makes the day so much better.
8:30 is our daily faculty meeting where we update each other on upcoming events and other activities related to the university. 9am – 5:40am varies from day-to-day. I’m either teaching class, doing research, counselling students, designing marketing material for the school, or meeting other teachers from nearby schools.
The evenings are important to me, because it’s the part of the day when I can wind down and calm the mind and active energy in my body.
I usually do yoga or run for 30-40 minutes on the treadmill.
I try to shut down all technological devices by 9pm (which is challenging),
because I find the last thought of the day becomes the first thought in the morning.
Before heading to bed, I do some meditation, chanting, prayer, and journaling.
Journaling helps me to organize my time, keep track of expenses, prepare tasks in advance, maintain precepts, and remind myself of things I’m grateful for.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT AN A-HA MOMENT YOU HAD THAT GAVE YOU INSIGHT ABOUT LIFE?
I think one a-ha moment was the realization that you may not be able to control your external conditions, but you have the power to control your reaction to those situations.
This teaching gave me hope, especially in those ‘why me?’ situations.
It was Shantideva, an Indian scholar and practitioner of the 7th century, who taught me that the world is covered with thorns and thistles and stones and that if we walk barefoot across that kind of path we will always be stubbing our toes and hurting ourselves.
We can’t carpet the earth, but if we take just two pieces of leather and put them under our feet as sandals, then we can walk anywhere and we are protected.
But like trying to carpet the earth, if we try to make our entire external environment, perfect and smooth and without conflict, we’ll find that’s impossible too.
We are always going to meet people who annoy us. This is the way things are. If we learn how to tame and train our mind, then we can deal with everything outside.
Training the mind is just like taking two pieces of leather and putting them under our feet as shoes.
WHAT ASPECT OF YOUR SELF-DISCOVERY ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
I’m working on not separating practice from daily living.
Many people I meet who are interested in Buddhism or meditation separate the practice from their regular regimen.
They mistakenly believe that practice means sitting on a cushion in lotus position.
The whole purpose of practice, however, is to be able to integrate meditation in daily life so that it becomes timeless and placeless.
Washing the dishes, talking to one’s partner, preparing dinner, working on a project, driving to work should all be forms of meditation.
Sometimes I think to myself, “I should be meditating more and spending less time on work.” And then I realize that work can be a form of meditation if I do it mindfully, sincerely, and with complete concentration.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE HELPING YOU WITH THIS LEARNING?
My mentors have played a huge role in guiding me on this spiritual path.
I read books about the practice, listen to podcasts, but a mentor who I can meet and who can answer my questions is by far the greatest gift in helping me with this learning.
A mentor is someone you can surrender yourself to without hesitation and who knows you on a very deep level.
I have several mentors who guide me in different areas.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU TOLD YOURSELF TO GET YOURSELF THROUGH YOUR DARKEST HOUR?
“This too will pass” is a simple and completely true principle that applies to everyone on this earth.
You can be in a tough predicament, but causes and conditions change so situations do not last forever.
However, ‘this too will pass’ does not imply passivity. Getting out of suffering sometimes requires work, patience, courage, asking for help, and reflection.
‘This too will pass’ also requires the ability to see grace arise from harm.
When we encounter hardships, it’s easy to focus on the negative, which can then spiral into berating others and ourselves.
But if we accept hardships as an opportunity for spiritual growth, then we can gain the fruits of practice even in difficult situations.
WHAT HELPS YOU TO CREATE CALMNESS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE?
My morning ritual helps keep me centered, focused, and mindful.
Waking up early and starting the day in meditation prepares me for the busyness that lies ahead.
Also keeping a daily diary is extremely helpful in organizing my time.
When I prepare things in advance, I feel less stressed and rushed.
It could be ironing clothes the night before, or preparing a talk weeks in advance.
A FUN FACT ABOUT YOU THAT PEOPLE MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO KNOW?
Before deciding to ordain as a Won-Buddhist kyomu, I actually contemplated moving to LA to pursue a serious career as a hip-hop choreographer.
Nature is our greatest teacher.
ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO OUR READERS?
I once asked my teacher, ‘What is true dedication?’ He responded with another question, ‘What does dedication mean to you?’ I responded, ‘It means to be able to do something consistently and perfectly from A to B, without stopping.’
His response was not what I expected.
‘True dedication doesn’t mean consistency and perfection. It means going from A to B and falling sometimes, or stopping for awhile, or questioning oneself, but not giving up.’
My hope is that readers cultivate true dedication in every aspect of their life.
If you want to learn more about Won Buddhism, you can go to www.onecirclecommunity.org