Elaine Leibsohn's Learning Story


Lantern Floating Ceremony with the Shinnyo-En Foundation summer 2010
It is with enormous gratitude that I write this heartfelt thanks and reflection to my Shinnyo-En family.
When I was invited to attend the trip to Hawaii and the lantern floating ceremony, I almost didn’t come, as I was so busy with work and felt that it would be irresponsible to take off without my family for a week. So, I talked to my husband about going, and he said ‘you should do this…it’s a gift and it’s as important to accept them as give them’ And oh what it gift it was–a special gift, one I didn’t know existed, and one that changed the way I now exist.
When I arrived in Hawaii, my sister, Aimee, who I haven’t talked to in at least 15 years, greeted me, complete with the traditional lei flowers. My family experienced a great tragedy in 1988 and things kind of fell apart with regard to communication among many of us. It was too hard to talk. We all just picked up and moved in and to different directions. Seeing Aimee was a wonderful gift. But that was just the beginning of this awe-inspiring experience.
The environment and understated purpose of the trip made it easy for me to be my most authentic self. Because of this—and the Shinnyo-en teams openness to include Aimee in some of our activities’we had a wonderfully meaningful reunion. I am so thankful for that. Something about the air and the water had an inarticulable healing and calming affect on us all.
It’s not often in life that we find ourselves so totally in our ‘element,” described as the point at which our dreams and our actions unite as one. I was in my element in Hawaii. On my first night there, it was a full moon. I slept with my balcony door open so that I could fall asleep to the soothing sound of the ocean. The moon woke me up at 3am’I sat quietly and reflected with anticipation, as I knew that my next few days would be magical.
All of the guests in our small group were so interesting, kind, and wonderful. We started as complete strangers and left feeling as if we’d known each other our whole lives. The thoughtful agenda that was planned made it easy for all of us to get to know each other in a very meaningful way.
Aside from sharing meals and laughter with each other, we were also exposed to many activities to better understand the Buddhist way. On our first visit to the Shinnyo temple we were invited to make lanterns for the lantern floating ceremony. That was really special because it helped us all to feel connected to the purpose of the trip.
Our second visit to the temple was extraordinary, as we participated in a preparation ceremony with Her Holiness, Shinso Ito. This was a highlight for me as I will never forget how connected I felt to such unconditional love and service. It made me realize how huge quiet presence can be. And as their are no coincidences in life, as I was telling my husband about this and the art on display, he recalled something his best friend from college had written for the New York Sun a few years back–and sure enough, he looked it up and saw his friend Stephen Dignan’s article on the Shinjo Ito art exhibit in New York. He spoke with Stephen during my trip and Stephen informed him of how he was fortunate enough to meet Her Holiness as a result of his research and writing as well. Another connection, another point of purpose meant to be revealed and to unite my husband and his old friend again–even with seemingly disparate events crossing thousands of miles and moments in time.
On my visit, some of the most meaningful time was that every day we had reflection time with the group. I could literally feel change happening within myself and saw it happening for others as well.The lantern floating ceremony was the culminating event, and by the time it happened I was completely present, truly aware of my role and the reasons that G-d had given me this gift. I needed to learn how to just ‘be.” As the weeks have past since this amazing, thought provoking, and meaningful experience, I have tried to stay in that special place within myself and practice love and acceptance in all my affairs, including reading and thinking on the reflections and thoughts of Shinjo Ito.
From this trip forward, I now feel a renewed responsibility to be the best spirit I can be and always look for ways, however small, that I can be of service.
I will be forever grateful to my Shinnyo-en family for giving me the opportunity to learn a kinder more loving way to live. I especially love that this experience helped to enhance my own faith as the Buddhist philosophy is so inclusive’teaching us that no matter who we are, what we believe or where we live’we are all connected and have a responsibility to a power greater than ourselves to love each other and, simply, to do good.