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  • I've never really been a spiritual person. Despite being raised Roman Catholic, I've never found anything but frustration in deities and higher powers. Praying has never offered me comfort and I find places of worship more prisons than sanctuaries. This is why I was so shocked when I reached the summit of Mount Emei.

    Mount Emei (峨嵋山) is the holiest of Buddhist mountains in China. It stands in Sichuan province, about two hours North of where I was living with my classmates in Chengdu.

    The day started off early (too early, for many of us). We had stayed in a mountain hotel the night before and many of us had difficulty sleeping in beds that were not our own. We drove in the early morning darkness to the base of Emeishan, the towering beast that so many come to pay their respects to every day. The cold mountain air provided much wanted relief from the muggy heat we had become accustomed to in our base town.

    Summiting Emeishan is a process. First you take a trolley, then you hike, then you take a cable car, then you hike, another trolley, another hike, another cable car, and finally you reach the top.

    The day was foggy and you couldn't see much past the massive statue of Samantabhadra perched on top of the mountain. There were temples, golden and silver, monks praying, people burning incense-- before these moments I had never really experienced anything that made me believe there could be something more. Everyone here seemed so at peace, with everything that they were doing. Chanting, quiet comments among my friends in my group, and beside that: silence.

    Everyone so entrenched in the place and being present-- this was a true exercise in what I have so often attempted to put into practice. There was nothing confining, nothing prison-like or alienating about this place. Everyone felt at home. This was total freedom. This was beautiful.

    I still don't believe in god. I still stand strong in my agnosticism, however I am left with a profound respect for those with faith and I'm left more comfortable than ever with my spirituality. If people can be so at peace with each other and a place, with their inner-selves, than this inner war that's been happening since I discovered the word "agnostic" is futile. Somehow, being in a place where everything was so centered on god allowed me to separate myself from the world and come to my own understanding of what I believe.
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