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.
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 actually 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.
Information: The templestay program at Golgulsa Temple is 50,000 won/night (cash only, payable at check-in) 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. For more information on the temples of Korea, visit Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.