I would like to share this story to shed light on some difficulties that might be relevant to other people from non-Buddhist cultures. It is very unusual in my country for young people to involve themselves in eastern religions, much less put them into practice. The first visible effect Buddhism had on me was when I stopped eating meat at age 17. Although my mother worried a little about my nourishment, my family and friends accepted this change--as long as it didn't lead to any further peculiarities. Everyone thought that it was just a phase and that in a year or so I would get over it. But I didn't! After reading a few books on Buddhism and participating in weekend Zen retreats, my interest deepened. I began doing sitting meditation each morning and my practice became fairly regular.
The results varied. Some of my closest friends became very skeptical. Although young people in Oslo generally regard interest in "the world of the unknown" as trendy, they become reserved when this interest begins to affect their friends' everyday lives.
I became worried about creating a gap between me and my friends. I also moved away from my parent's home at around the same time. Despite some fear of isolation, I felt very happy and released. Through the teachings of Thay Nhat Hanh, I learned about socially engaged Buddhism. By receiving this kind of spirit, my latent fear of begin isolated vanished.
This summer I visited Plum Village. I returned home with inspiration and a quiet calm. My friends understood the seriousness of my practice when I told them of the Five Precepts which I've promised to study and observe in my life. (Editor's Note: Next issue we will discuss the precepts in depth.) Some people thought I was going "nuts!" and I was automatically excluded from many usual weekend activities and parties.
One day while in the kitchen preparing supper, a friend stopped by unexpectedly. This fellow has always been quiet mannered and modest. Nothing dramatic ever happened to him .... Not until now! We shared a quiet meal together, and over cups of hot tea, he spoke about recent changes in his life. He was very confused because suddenly everything was happening to him at the same time. He felt like he was being tossed around by circumstances. He was engaged in several sports, recently became the student representative for his school, and was to make an appearance on public television.
I am not much older than my friend, nor do I have more life experience than he. However, acquaintances were beginning to learn of my practice to be more conscious in life. My answer to him was that the important thing is simply to be in touch with each moment, and to stay rooted in the notion of who you really are. We can be as busy as we want, as long as we are capable of meeting the world with our true hearts.
After our conversation, my friend seemed content and a little more at ease. For me it was delightful to realize that going through my changes enabled me to be of use to others. It's hard to find acceptance for being different, especially when you're young. But, the fruits of practicing mindfulness are so precious.
Hasse Krystad (19 years young) Oslo, Norway