I clearly remember the day when I heard the sound of a gong while I was in an evening chanting ceremony in a remote temple in Korea. It was not just the sound of a bell, it was the sound of awakening for me.
I thought that if I became a monk someday, I'd come back to this temple. Two years later, I came back and became a monk. Through many years of sincere practice and everyday life in the monastery, I have learned so much. Of course, it had its own challenges, joys, frustrations—the same as mundane life. I know things are always changing, but I never thought I'd come back to mundane life.
But the winds carried me in a different direction. Sometimes we need a different direction for our growth. I faced many struggles, emotions and fear about this change, but I learned something that I want to share with you here.
My master in the temple told me that I had to finish my degree in Buddhism, so I decided to come back to my college and study there. In my free time, I also studied English and Japanese at a foreign language institute nearby.
That's where I met my wife.
I never expected this would happen, but as we got to know each other, I found that we had a deep connection to one another. It was not easy for me and it was also not easy for her to come all the way here—to this point where we are now. I was a Buddhist monk and she was an English teacher. But also, I am just a human who feels different emotions in me. I don't want to tell all the stories here. You can read all about those in her wonderful book, coming soon, called Lessons from the Monk I Married.
Ultimately, I decided I wanted to be with my wife because of the deep connection and love I felt for her. I had to leave the monastery and start all over again. I also had to face my fears in that process:
How can I make money?
How can I pay bills?
What will other people think of me?
I struggled with all of these questions and had to face each one of them.
Shortly after I decided to leave the monastery, I moved in to Kathy's apartment. However, she had plans to meet her family in New York. These plans had been set months before. After she was gone, I was all alone in her apartment. There was nothing but miso and cabbage in the refrigerator, so that's what I ate. Perhaps this was her test for me. Could I survive on my own without the temple and without her help?
Somehow I needed to make money. But what kind of work can an ex-monk do? I didn't know what I had to do. I looked in the local newspaper and found a position posted for a sushi waiter. I had an interview and got the job. They needed people, also I needed money. But I didn't survive very long there. I moved too slowly and messed up on many orders which resulted in yelling sessions from the manager. I had become his servant. In his eyes, I was just a stupid server who was good for nothing but fetching cigarettes for him.
So I quit. I was back to nothing again. But I started to think about my training and all that I had learned. I had been trained in yoga and meditation in the monastery. I knew I had so much to share about this. So I put up some posters around the apartment building, and before long people were coming to practice—both Korean and foreigners alike were coming. By the time Kathy returned from New York, her apartment was full of people practicing yoga.
So it became my career. I became a yoga teacher. I operated two yoga schools in Korea and am now the owner of Yoon's Yoga Bliss near Seattle. I have met so many wonderful people through this yoga adventure. I found a life where I am able to share all that I am. I learned how we become authentic and at the same time universal. Through creative energy and love, we become the embodiment of who we are, and that authenticity also continues to evolve through our own searching.
So don't be afraid of the different winds that come to your life—even the unpleasant winds. Life is an adventure. Sometimes we find treasures and sometimes things fall completely apart. If things aren't working the way you want them to work, maybe the universe wants to offer you something better, but you can't see that right now.
Be strong. Don't give up searching and you will find those treasures that are beautiful and priceless.
Seong Yoon Lee studied Buddhism at Donguk University in Korea. He was trained as a monk in the Chogye order at Songgwang Temple. He met his wife in 1996 and later they married in 2003. He owned and operated two yoga schools in South Korea, one in Seoul and one in a nearby suburb. He has taught yoga to hundreds of students and his yoga school and unique approach to yoga were featured on a major television network in Korea in a documentary about stress. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife and is the owner of Yoon's Yoga Bliss near Seattle.