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“Test does not exist! We only think she exists!”
The pale pink room was filled with too-bright morning light. High up on the Himalayan mountainside, the monastery had a sweeping view of the fog-covered village below.
The portly monk continued, in strained English, why I wasn’t real, and everyone laughed good-naturedly. This specific topic had taken up the better part of our meditation class today. My eyes wandered past him. In the center of our meditation room stood a six-foot decorative altar, inside of which a particularly pious monk’s mummified body was preserved. There was even a small window, displaying the shrunken, linen-wrapped head. Long ago, he led a gruesome journey across the mountains, escaping occupied Tibet. The young man used his holy monks’ robes to rappel down jagged cliffs, and tore them into pieces to wrap around his bleeding feet. The petrified body was considered quite holy, and inspired reverence in the Buddhist visitors. Despite the shimmering array of lotus flowers and bright paint, the blatant display of death unsettled me. I resisted the urge to stare, focusing once more on our teacher; he was still lecturing about my state of existence.
“Test is an illusion! Nothing, nothing is real. To realize this, you must let go of your eggo! Let go of your eggo!” His quiet, accented voice resounded through the small room, and he looked directly into my eyes with a somber gaze, as if he knew that his wisdom would be discarded. The class giggled at his mispronunciation, both of my name and the word ‘ego’, thinking of the Kellog’s Eggo Waffles we had eaten as children. I didn’t laugh. In that sunny monastery, with the dead leader’s mummy above us, waffles seemed very far away. The monk moved to a new topic, but his words stayed with me. I considered what the monk was trying to make us understand through the language barrier. To let go of my ego means to break down the perceptions I hold about the world and myself. Let go of my self. Let my self go. This is what the monk was imploring me to do, urging me on with his dark, unreadable eyes. I had never considered my self as something that could be removed, or that my place in the world wasn’t actually that significant. As the year following this encounter passed, I found myself thinking of the lesson and trying to truly unravel it, and in turn, to live it. Whenever I think of that moment, I think of the intense morning sun illuminating the mummy’s face, the wooded smell of incense, and the golden altar shining unnaturally as the air hummed with an unspoken energy. Most of all, though, I think of the monk’s wide, implacable face, saying my name, “Test! Test! Test!”, mispronouncing it and putting a fervid emphasis on it that I still struggle to understand.
Do I exist? Do the choices I make have an impact? The heart of the monk’s lesson says that I am insignificant. Yet, I’m not truly an illusion. I do exist, just like the mummified monk did, and my meditation teacher, and my fellow students. The only thing without lasting significance is my “eggo”, or ego.
How do I know that I exist? Simply, by the impact my life has on the lives of others. Whether it’s big or small, positive or negative, our impact is the most relevant part of who we are; it’s perhaps the only significant thing we leave behind. In some ways, I agree with the monk’s philosophies; letting go of my ego and perceptions allows me to be open to new possibilities, people, and ideas. I continue to wrestle with his lesson, and realize that the more I learn, the more my personal manifesto will probably evolve. But the monk inadvertently gave me a precious gift: he has fueled my understanding of my place in the world, and how I am truly relevant.
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