Everybody loves Kyoto, but most tourists give it a miss during winter. But I would never forget the pure magic of its moody, dark weather, crystal clear, fresh air and occasional wet and sticky snowfall. There was this amazing and essential bareness in everything, like the world was stripped clean of anything non-essential and there was only THAT shining through, so pure and unadorned, inexpressible crystalline quality of being.
I remember reading about hermits of old times living in caves for years and wondering: don’t they get lonely, scared, felt abandoned and not needed? In my younger times, these were the major sticking points of suffering – loneliness, lostness, the feeling of being somehow forgotten by the world and society. I thought that more friends, more involvement, more attention, more love would make me happy.
And yet, many years later, here I was, totally alone in a foreign country, with not a single friend, living in a tiny room and stretching every dollar in 100 Yen shop – intensely and blissfully happy!
For three months I spent my time wondering the hills behind vast Daigo Temple or walking for hours along the river watching sleepy fish lazily drifting in the water. Went to the city ones or twice. In the evening, I cooked and watched some movie. That’s all. Never talked to anyone, never even felt the need for any connection. Actually feeling grateful for being forgotten, for being so simple and obscure, for being Nobody. There were just me, winter Kyoto and this immense peace shining through everything.
I totally understood those hermits. So little is needed, when you have IT…
At some stage of our spiritual journey, we might feel this intense need for solitude. It is very natural and actually can be really necessary. Our system needs some cleansing, not physical, but cleansing by deep silence. Time away from everything, friends, relatives, time away even from Dharma and Sanga.
South East Asia is the best place to go for an extended retreat (especially for someone on a tight budget), either in one of many monasteries or meditation centers or just by renting a room and be completely on your own.
Surprisingly, Japan, and especially, Kyoto is another alternative. If you are not in downtown, it is very peaceful and quiet. Staying in Kyoto is affordable (by Western standards). Renting a room in a share house is very easy and straightforward (Kyoto appartment is good). I paid something around 400$ (all inclusive) a month for a room on the outskirt (15 min to downtown by a subway). You can buy cheap ingredients for cooking at 100 Yen (1$) Lawson, or a simple Bento (rice, meat or fish) for 3-4$.