My Stress Remedy: Jade Buddhas, Red Lanterns

I'm stressed. Now, you don't get to be a fully paid-up member of the College of Emergency Medicine without a fairly high stress threshold ('Doctor! Bed 4 is bleeding out all over the floor!' Me: 'Stay calm. Apply pressure.') (past colleagues - stop sniggering). But if there's one thing that makes me stressed it's having too much mental activity going on at once. Magazine deadlines. New projects popping up unexpectedly just as my plate is overflowing. Once-in-a-lifetime adventures to plan. Give me an old fashioned life-threatening haemorrhage anyday.

There  are five million things on my mental To Do List before I go camping for the next six months, and only sixteen days left in which to do them. Sixteen! Not enough time to do all the things I want to do, and definitely not enough time to do things I actually need to do. There are temples in Shanghai I've never visited! Street foods I haven't yet documented! We need to buy a solar-powered light! The campervan needs cool yet slightly retro home-made curtains! STAT!

When I sat my medical specialist exams years ago (a grinding two day ordeal for which most of us study for a whole year, foregoing friends, family, books, movies, and any social life, and losing hair, a lot of weight, or marriages in the process) my good friend said, as we walked into the exam - 

'A year ago I wanted five more months to study. A month ago I wanted five more days. Yesterday I would have been happy with just five more hours. Today? Five more minutes. Please! Just five more minutes!' as he broke into a sweat and turned pale. He passed first time, by the way.

That exam nearly killed us. Our brains felt like the overstuffed third drawer down in your kitchen - you keep pushing things in the front, but other, equally important things like your garlic press are falling out the back and behind the cabinet, never to be seen again.

And so it is here - if I could just have five more hours in each day, and five more pairs of hands to help everything will probably be just fine. My husband says everyone in the house needs to just calm down and prioritise a bit. Especially me. Particularly me, according to the rest of the family. 

So I'm thinking calming thoughts, and when that alone doesn't work what I really helps is visiting a calm place like a temple. I'm not really what you would consider spiritual, but there is something about Chinese temples I find calming. It's someting to do with leaving the busy noise and intensity of the street behind and stepping over a heavy stone lintel into the coolness and sudden peace, with the distant sound of the monks chanting. 

The Jade Buddha Temple is Shanghai's most popular Buddhist temple, yet always manages to feel serene and restful when you visit. The temple has a series of interlocking courtyards, each one taking you further and further from the madding crowds and gently guiding you slowing through high, darkened chambers where tall golden Buddhas sit cross-legged and implacable. Slight breezes shift the edges of the long embroidered silk banners hanging from the ceiling under the light of dozens of red tasselled lanterns. 

Passing to the back of the chamber and over another tall stone lintel, you step out into the bright light of another courtyard, filled with the gentle sweet smoke of incense. A monk in long mustard robes and cloth-soled shoes moves quietly across the courtyard.
All around the courtyard the lions, bells and heavy iron lanterns have been tied with red votive ribbons, wishes for luck, health and prosperity.

And where is the famed Jade Buddha? In fact, there are several, brought from Burma in the 1880s by an abbott. The most prized sits in its own heavily decorated chamber, a translucent white jade Buddha on a golden lotus throne, distant and lovely behind a velvet rope. You can't approach it, you can't photograph it, but as people pass by it a hush of reverence descends.

In other darkened chambers sit the many other Buddhas - golden, jade, marble - all masterpieces of craftsmanship.

Whether you're Buddhist or not it is a beautiful place to visit. When I leave the final chamber along a long covered corridor, I look up to see hundreds of round, red paper lanterns hanging in rows from the ceiling. I love red lanterns and never grow tired of seeing them bobbing gently in the air. And now I feel calm and cheery. 

Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple

Yù Fó Sì

170 Anyuan Road  Putuo, Shanghai

Open 7 days

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