“Do you want to visit a Buddhist monastery?” my mom asked one day as we stood in the kitchen.

I took a while to respond because I was mildly preoccupied making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — and because I wasn’t entirely sure I’d heard her correctly. “A Buddhist monastery, Mom? There’s a Buddhist monastery here?”

“Yes, there’s one pretty close to us. Apparently it’s one of the hidden secrets of our area. They give tours and lectures and stuff, and the pictures I’ve seen are really beautiful.”

“Okay, but why? We’re not Buddhist,” I said, laughing.

With that simple statement, I’d rejected her proposal to explore a beautiful religious site and take the time to educate myself on another culture and religion — simply because it didn’t seem obvious to me why it would be directly relevant to my life, my religious beliefs. And I regret that.

I thought about it later that day and actually looked up the website of said monastery. She was right. It really is absolutely beautiful, and it’s in very close proximity to us. They offer tours and lectures for people interested in learning more about the religion and walking trails for those who simply want to relax in nature for a bit. The more I thought about it, why wouldn’t I take the opportunity to visit and break out of my sheltered South Orange County bubble? I’m white and a Protestant Christian, and I attend a Catholic school. With the exception of a few of my classmates, nearly everyone I know from school with practicing religious beliefs is some sort of Christian; and, while my school isn’t all white, it definitely has a much lower representation of minorities than the general population of surrounding cities. Taking the time to remember that there are other cultures and belief systems out there would not only be a good thing for me, but would be important to my development as a person.

I haven’t visited the monastery with my mom just yet, but we hope to go in the next couple of weeks as soon as we can both set a day aside. Looking a bit more on their website, I found something that really intrigued me: a walking path called the Shrine Trail, which, one by one, honors many of the world’s major religions (Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and certain Native American religious traditions, respectively) and recognizes the truth that can be found in each. It’s a wonderful sentiment, one of respecting other religions and recognizing the good that can come out of each, even if your individual beliefs differ. This sentiment would probably provide us with a much more peaceful world if more world leaders subscribed to it.

Maybe there isn’t a Buddhist monastery close to your house (although you don’t really know until you search), but I can guarantee you that no matter where you are, with a bit of research, you can find little pockets of beauty and culture in your own community. If you’re in school, then summer’s your time to get stuff done when you don’t have all the responsibilities of the school year. It’s your time to unwind and binge-watch some Netflix, but it should also be a time for exploring the world around you, learning about yourself and other people, and taking the time to appreciate life. With how busy the modern world has become and how driven and ambitious Western culture pressures us to be — and with the political and social injustices we see every day on the news — it can be difficult to remember just how beautiful and amazing life can be sometimes―but it is.

One more tip: Watch a sunrise or sunset. No matter where you live — whether it’s miles away from civilization in a beautiful natural area or in the heart of the city where the air might be slightly smoggier — sunrises and sunsets are pretty much just universally beautiful. Simply sit down and watch one without going on your phone or bringing stuff to do or listening to music or talking to anybody. Just appreciate it. You won’t regret it.

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