As I shared in my earlier blog on my trip to Plum Village, I was really excited counting down to the Christmas retreat. I thought what a great time to take a chill and be with the amazing community there. On the first day upon arrival, storm hit us in Thailand and temperature dropped below 20 °C. My Christmas was spent shivering under the blankets despite having three layers of clothing on. I felt like my tent was about to be blown away any time, as the tent cloth flapped loudly with the strong winds gushing by non-stop!
Through the night, while I was getting used to the tent’s mattress (which I am totally grateful for that there was even mattress provided) and trying to survive through the cold, I thought to myself: wow, I have another 9 more days to go. How am I going to survive this trip! I felt terribly awful then. I spent next couple days thinking about how cold the weather was, what was lunch going to be, and if there was hot soup served, how am I going to brave through the winds at 4.30am and walk to the meditation hall which is some 200meters away, let alone morning walking meditation when it is so frigging cold out in the village!
So what happened to the joy I was experiencing before coming? The anticipation and excitement soon sizzled from joy to frustration and gloom. It was temporary joy.
Instead of focusing on what can be presented to me at the present - current moment, whilst at it, my mind is somewhere else thinking about everything relating to the cold. I was sacrificing my present for the future!
At retreat, the purpose was to practice mindfulness, and there was this classic unconscious habitual energies I was displaying – thinking ahead and not being present!
Often, we may have fantasies, thoughts, hope, anticipation and expectation of what is to come in joy and excitement, which may not always turn out the way it is. Just like my case at the start of the retreat.
Most often than not, we are always busy thinking ahead of what to do while eating or playing with facebook, planning tomorrow’s meals while showering or trying to sleep, that even enjoying a ‘happy sleep or nap’ can be difficult for many for we are never really present with our mind.
Pure happiness, pure joy can simply be felt when we allow ourselves to be fully present. Observe and appreciate what is being presented to us here and now. At the retreat, I took my mind off about battling the cold. Instead, I allowed myself to accept the cold as it is, be fully present with my community of friends in our fun sharing, mindfulness walking, singing, it was simply pure joy! Appreciating the warm concern my friends had for me when I looked so dull on following days, feeling grateful for the extra sweater I borrowed from my friend, the warm thai soup cooked by the monastics (wow there was actually tom yum vegetarian style!).
I loved the moment when I walked towards a huge field with a Buddha’s statue under a tree. By being fully present, I could hear the most beautiful wind chimes dancing with the wind! The inner harmony and bliss I felt, it was sheer joy. I felt a tranquil atmosphere settle around me that literally took my breathe away. Imagine if my mind was thinking about something else, even with ears, I would not have heard and be gifted such a beautiful sound and bliss by simply being present. Even with eyes, I would not have spotted the wind chimes hung on the tall and unique looking bald tree without leaves. I would not have spotted this one and only tiny plant blooming below Bhudda’s feet surrounded by dried leaves, had I not truly look! Where did that young shoot come from! It was beautiful and that just made me smile.
Pain - is definitely ‘least joyful’ for we are feeling frustrated, unease, sad or angry. This can be due to issues we face whether with our loved ones, work, or an unpleasant situation.
Neutral - When we are not sure how we are feeling, it potentially reflects boredom. When we are not sure what that feeling is, neither happy nor sad, and when we leave it, it can soon become a painful feeling, depriving ourselves from feeling pleasant. As I learnt about this in dharma class at the retreat, I suddenly realised that I was feeling exactly like this for the first few days. I was in ‘neutral’ mode. Why was I not feeling happy at all? Soon after, I broke down. I realised that feeling I had was not happiness afterall, but a sense of restlessness. I was not allowing myself to enjoy the retreat and let the cold bite me all over. The environment had full control over me, as my energies continued to vibrate at a low. So much so that one of the ladies in my group said I looked so bad and grouchy, she wasn’t sure if she should come talk to me!
So when we are not in check with our own feelings, we can let it slide into the ‘painful’ side of it.
Real joy comes from being FULLY PRESENT TO BE IN TOUCH of what is really beautiful. What our eyes can see, ears can hear, sense and touch. Happiness needs you to be there 100% present and it can nourish me, you and everyone.
Through my deep looking and contemplation, I realised how much I was unconsciously rushing all the time, the need to be moving forward and doing something. I wanted to be solid like a mountain within me, but was unable to achieve it.
When I realised the need to slow down internally, not just via actions, I am actually regaining my own power from within. The ability to slow down and just listen first, without my mind thinking about what should I reply or say next, what to do later, I was in a lot more control of my own energies, my space, and in fact more confidence from within!
I remembered how I used to fumble speaking to some people whom I was uncomfortable with. They could be people of high seniority in position and status, overly aggressive people or friends even who could be quite intimidating. As I returned from this trip, I met some people whom I would typically be uncomfortable with (given above scenarios), I was able to find the solidity within me as I connect, and communicate in mindfulness. A monk was said this to me: would I prefer to be the fire or charcoal that burns within? Fire comes and goes quick. The charcoal takes its time to burn, and is very hot and strong.
With so much solidity and peacefulness within me, I decided to date my mom out for marketing followed by breakfast with her. I then had a deep heart to heart talk with her. Usually, in such situation, my mom’s immediate reaction would have been either yelling, brushing aside my comments and not listen, or up her defence wall and say something negative back. This time round, she calmly listened throughout, agreed with everything that I said!!! It not only lasted that fateful morning, but ability to listen calmly continued for weeks. She even surprised me with two long sleeve tops as present!! WOW! What a change! I am really by the improvement in bonding and communication between me and my mom. I cannot change her, but I can begin change within me and the energy will vibrate outwards.
I am very happy to see the transformation within myself and having a local community (we call it Sangha) to practice and support one another through our mindfulness sitting once a month or weekly. If you would like to experience mindfulness practice in Singapore, you can visit this facebook group for updates:
For plum village retreat, do look out for details as there would be a mid year retreat in Singapore.
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain
Breathing out, I am solid as a mountain.