Updated: Jun 27
| This is the 356th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in rural Taiwan in 1985 and grew up in a traditional three-story house near the mountains. Three generations of my family lived under one roof. This included my mum, dad, my five siblings, as well as my grandparents from my father’s side. My entire family practiced Buddhism. For every holy day, one would see us together in the local temple. Life, in my family and in my community, was centered around temple, as this is where we would go to celebrate births and deaths, meet friends, and burn gold paper money to bring good luck. I was taught to pray daily and left offerings at the gold Buddha statue on a regular basis.
After graduating from high school, I moved to the city of Taipei to study accounting, but I soon felt overwhelmed by life in the city, scooters whizzed past and it was always noisy and crowded. What’s more, I had a heavy workload and would spend my evenings and weekends studying. I felt like I had no time for myself, let alone for my religion. I felt that skipping temple would give me some free time or allow me to do study a little extra. I let that part of my life slip away, with no intention of catching it.
With its absence, I began to question my religious beliefs and stopped going to temple. Where prayers and rituals had brought me good luck and got me through my childhood and teenage years, I now felt like there was no one listening. I wondered if it was all just make-believe.
That train of thought quickly led to another. When I looked at what I was doing, it was as if I was living someone else’s life. I didn’t really have any desire to study accounting and found it a bit boring, especially when I realized that I would be stuck in an office all day after I graduated. All this time, it was like I had been following the wishes of my teachers and parents. I had always been told to study hard and that I was a good student, and applying to university was what was expected of me. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
However, I could do the work easily enough and seemed like I would have a good career ahead of me. I wanted to be independent and be able to earn enough to support my parents when they grew old, so I stuck with the course.
During my time at university, I noticed a small, slightly raised lump growing on my neck. Initially, I just ignored it. I didn’t feel ill, so it was probably nothing. One day I looked in the mirror and realized that the lump was getting bigger, it was now the size of a pea. Over the next month, it kept growing and other people started to notice it. My friends and classmates started asking what it was and told me to go to the doctor, but they didn’t understand. I had always disliked doctors and felt nervous about visiting them. I also felt like I didn’t want to bother the doctor with something that was probably likely to go away by itself. So instead, I kept their warnings in the back of my mind.
It wasn’t until my best friend from high school came to visit me that I eventually visited a physician. After all the doctor’s prodding and poking, the lump on my neck started to throb, which prompted the doctor to make me an appointment for testing at the local hospital to get a sample of it. I wasn’t worried…until he mentioned the word cancer.
I left the doctors feeling shaky and a bit sick. Cancer? How would I tell my family? They would be devastated. What if I couldn’t take care of myself? The questions raced through my mind and I found it hard to concentrate at university the next day.
I had an appointment at the local hospital two weeks later, which is to say that I spent the next two weeks filled with dread and worry. I thought a lot about dying. I realized that I was scared of the unknown and knew that my family would be devastated if they lost me. Buddhists believe that people are reborn as an animal or another person after they die. Since I had given up on my religion, I wasn’t sure whether this was true. But even still, I couldn’t get the notion out of my head.
During this time, I realized that life was too short and that maybe I shouldn’t be studying something I wasn’t interested in. Maybe I should be focusing on what matters to me. I was still young and had my whole life ahead of me, I had things that I wanted to experience and achieve.
On the day of the appointment, the doctor stuck a thin needle into my neck and took a sample of it, which they would send away for testing. It was really painful and stingy. I then had a fiber optic cable with a camera on the end put down my throat to make sure that everything was okay inside. The doctor talked about what would happen if the lump was cancerous and told me that whatever the outcome of the test, I would need an operation to get it removed. I had never been in hospital before, let alone had an operation. Again, thoughts of death filled my mind.
When I returned home that day, I phoned my mum and told her what was happening. I hadn’t told her before as I didn’t want to worry my family. My mum begged me to come home. She said that she would take me to a doctor who practices Chinese medicine. They would try to heal me with traditional herbs and tinctures first and, if that didn’t work, I could go back to the hospital.
I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I went back to university but realized that my heart wasn’t in it. I began to make plans to leave.
Two weeks later, I returned to my home town and took my mum’s advice. Together, we went to see a doctor of Chinese medicine. I was given herbal remedies to take every day and had acupuncture once a week. I also started going to temple again with my family and friends. It was like I had my old life back and I felt happier than I had in a long time. Everyone I knew said they were praying for me, including friends, family, neighbors, and other acquaintances.
I felt an inner peace that I had never felt before, I began meditating twice a day and also started studying Buddhism. I would get up early so that I could meditate, pray, and read scriptures and Buddhist texts before anyone else was up. During this time, the lump on my neck started to slowly get smaller and smaller until it had vanished altogether. It was a relief not to have a lump on my neck anymore, and I felt that I could stop worrying and get on with my life. I began to make plans for the future and told my family that I wouldn’t be returning to my accountancy studies.
I returned to the Chinese doctor and he was happy with my progress. He told me to continue taking the herbs for another two months to make sure that the lump had totally gone and wouldn’t return. I felt better and knew that whatever happened I would be okay.
My religious beliefs had been restored and I decided to take a different path in life. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but my experiences had led me to believe that I should do what makes me happy.
I decided that I wanted to expand my spirituality and learn as much as I could about Buddhism. I went to live in a Buddhist center in China for three months. I studied the scriptures in depth and meditated daily. I felt whole and pure by the time I left. I briefly returned home, and after a chance meeting with an old friend at temple, decided to go to the UK.
I traveled to England and stayed at another Buddhist center, as I wanted to improve my English. The center had a café which I worked in during the day in exchange for my food and accommodation. I met many people in England and became interested in other religions. I also found out about the Camino de Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage across Spain.
In 2015, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago before I returned home. In total, I walked 560 miles across Spain from the French border to the sea in Finisterre on the coast of Spain. The walk took me five weeks and I met people from all over the world. I soon got into a rhythm of getting up early, walking during the cooler part of the day, and then checking into a hostel where I would wash my change of clothes. I lived a simple life and felt that I was able to connect to a deeper part of myself. I felt pure and refreshed by the time I reached the ocean on the other side of Spain.
My experiences changed my outlook on life. I have learned that there is always help available and that my religion provides me great comfort in difficult times. After returning home to Taiwan, I have now found my dream job; I’m working for a charity that helps disadvantaged children. I teach Buddhism, carry out administration tasks, and organize emergency accommodation for families in crisis.
Though the path is winding, I will keep walking and I only hope to take others with me. For now I know that the destination is serene.
This is the story of Wen-Shin Hsu
Wen-Shin was born in rural Taiwan in 1985 and grew up with her extended family near the mountains. After healing from a cancer scare, she felt an inner peace that she had never felt before and began studying Buddhism. A visit to the UK changed her life as this is where she met her fiancé and found out about the Camino de Santiago, a Christian pilgrimage across Spain. In 2015 Wen-Shin walked 560 miles across Spain. After returning home, Wen-shin spends time lending a hand at animal shelters and teaching people who were going through difficulties in their life about Buddhism and meditation. Wen-shin now lives in Taiwan where she works for a charity that helps disadvantaged children.
This story first touched our hearts on June 12, 2019.
| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Colleen Walker |