It was about a five hour trek from Seoul to Golgulsa Temple that required two bus trips, a bit of waiting around, and a short walk to the temple grounds from the final bus stop.
Once I had arrived, I was given a brief introduction to the program, a map of the complex, and special clothes that I was to wear during my stay. I was then directed to my room where I would be spending the night with about fifteen other women.
The room was a rather large common area with pillows and blankets spread out on the floor for sleeping. There was a bathroom with a toilet, a few open showers, and sinks that were to be shared. I’ve become use to this arrangement after living in Korea for a few years but wondered how other Westerners not used to copious amounts of nakedness would handle the situation.
I’m not sure if it was the spiritual setting or my commitment to starting the new year off with a clear, positive mind, but I have to admit that I was proud of myself for maintaining my concentration.
We learned that the foundation of Sunmudo is the way in which one inhales and exhales so a lot of our training revolved around exercises to control our breathing. We did a lot of intense stretching and held our bodies in a variety of positions, not unlike those in yoga.
Eventually, we worked our way up to punching, kicking, then jump kicking. By the end of it all, my metaphorical butt had been kicked and I had stripped down to everything but my undershirt and temple clothes, but felt amazing. There is not a lot of exercise that I actually enjoy or get anything out of; this was one of the few “workouts” I’ve done that I loved.
Many families had already gathered around makeshift bonfires, sipping on canteens of coffee and tea. They invited us to join in, which we did while we waited for the sun to rise. Just before it did, we gathered together for some Sunmudo exercises as the monks chanted.
As we went through the fluid movements, the sun began to rise over the horizon in the form of a dripping red fireball. It took its place in the sky while we all stood in awe of the incredible scene in front of us. All of it was extremely cool (except for the weather, which was freezing). Very few times in my life have I been a part of such a beautiful spiritual experience than on this day.
At this point, my entire body was aching from the previous night’s workout and I can say now that I’m quite confident that I am not cut out to be a monk. But, I’m okay with this, as a day in the life of one was enough.
My templestay at Golgulsa wasn’t exactly the peaceful getaway I had expected, but it was a unique experience for the books. And I picked up at least 20 or so karma points to start off the new year in good graces.
Information: The templestay program at Golgulsa Temple is 60,000 won/night (cash only, payable at check-in) per adult and includes accommodation, three meals, and all activities. To get there, follow the detailed directions listed on this page.
You can reserve a templestay for this temple and others throughout the country at the official Templestay website.
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.