今年四月份邀請了我的斯里蘭卡禪修老師Upul Gamage，替「綠活地圖 」http://www.wherevergreen.hk 在荔枝窩搞了一連串靜修籌款活動後，温暖人間找我寫了這篇記錄—「我的綠色靜心之旅」, 有關跟老師這些年所學習靜修的得著.
- Upul 老師多年來對每位學生細心的指導
- 温暖人間Mable的邀請, 讓我借此機會整理十年間所學習的得著
- Katherine Chen 及 i-Leaner Education Centre www.i-learner.com.hk 很專業的翻譯此文章至英文版本, 讓老師能原汁原味的去閱讀我的文字!
After I invited my Meditation Teacher Mr. Upul Gamage hosted a fund raising retreat in Lai Chi Wow during April this year for http://www.wherevergreen.hk , the magazine Buddhist Compassion invited me to write an article about my benefit from learning meditation through my teacher’s teaching.
I’m happy to share these words with you here!
Special Thanks to:
- Teacher Upul’s attentive teaching to every one of his students
- Mable from Buddhist Compassion’s invitation to write this article, she granted me a chance to review what I’ve been learning through the decade
- Chi Kin and Pin Han for proof reading
- Katherine Chen & i-Leaner Education Centre www.i-learner.com.hk for translating this article
Please scroll down to read the English Version.
My Journey to Meditation
I have been advocating green living for more than a decade. Indeed I am a perfectionist and a frank person. Thinking back on the first half of my life, my resistance to change exerted a lot of pressure on my family and friends. I had not been aware of that until I encountered my teacher – Mr. Upul. His teachings changed me and made me start to enjoy my life and learn to get along with others and understand myself. Advocating green living has led to myself and others becoming more at ease and self-assured.
Ten years ago, my elder sister was the first family member to learn meditation. When I saw her sitting still, meditating, I thought it must be extremely dull and I made a resolve not to follow her. Ironically, at the end of the summer holidays of 2007, my phobia of summer holidays resurfaced and I became eager to leave home and find a place to escape. At that time, I learnt from a Yoga teacher that a meditation teacher from Sri Lanka was going to hold a ten-day meditation retreat in which participants had to observe a ‘noble silence’. I enrolled in the activity right away, but deep inside I was worried about whether ten days of consecutive silence and stillness would lead to my mouth becoming overrun with bacteria and mould.
The meaning of meditation
I had never expected that silence could lead to such deep self-understanding. Though my mouth was closed, I became aware of my tendency to be judgmental and my obsession with food, as my mind wandered to the curry I had missed during the meditation period. More fortunately, I was inspired by how important my father was to me and that made me strive to spend more time with him while he was alive. After my father’s death, I have been able to live a life without regret, focusing on the good memories of our time together. After appreciating the effects of noble silence, whenever I travel alone nowadays, I choose to visit places where I don’t speak the local language. In this way, I can spend time directing my attention inside towards self-reflection.
During the early stages of meditation, I did not understand its purposes or benefits. However, my teacher reminded me that practice takes time, and that it would only be through many years of constant self-reflection that I could feel its benefits. All I needed to do was to trust the benefits of meditation, and then this process would train my patience.
一直聽聞學習靜修的好處：能深入了解並認識自己，學習增加性格上不足的彈性；培養覺知 (mindfulness)、增強直覺 (insight)；減輕生活壓力，處理情緒問題；對事物有多角度的了解；生活比以前更快樂、生命更有意義；與家人朋友相處更和諧。國際間多方面的研究都證實靜觀修習 (mindfulness practice)的確能治療身心的疾病。我也因而認識多位從事心理治療，並且把靜觀 (mindfulness)技巧帶進工作領域的心理治療師。知道了這些後，更令我堅定不移地繼續修習。
I have learned about the benefits of meditation. They include deeper understanding of oneself, increasing personal resilience, cultivating mindfulness, enhancing insight, relieving daily stress, better managing emotions, seeing things from different perspectives, leading a happier and more meaningful life, and building harmonious relationships with family and friends. International research has proved that mindfulness practice is an effective cure for physical and mental illnesses. I know a few psychotherapists who carry over mindfulness skills to their therapies. Knowing all of these has given me the determination to continue practicing mindfulness.
Although I am only a beginner, over a few years of study I have recognized that in the past I lived solely to satisfy the basic needs of life. Now I have started to enjoy life, to embrace benevolence and to improve my concentration. I imagine that I am drawing a perfectly round circle: the most essential point is the very centre of the circle, from which every other point within the circle emanates. Similarly, we are the centre of our own lives. We must first truly understand and value ourselves, and only then should we allow ourselves to spread outwards. By doing so, the energy we bring into the world becomes more positive.
(It is us who make our life complete and fruitful. Therefore, we have to understand ourselves and care about ourselves from the bottom of our heart. By so doing we know how to care about others and impact others positively.)
Grasping some of the fundamental concepts of meditation helps dispel some common misconceptions we may initially have. In fact, meditation is part of our lives. As a philosophy, it goes hand in hand with psychology in helping us to understand ourselves, nature and essential rules about the universe.
老師是斯里蘭卡「尼南毗禪修中心」（Nilambe Meditation Center）導師。他經常於斯里蘭卡、歐洲各地及香港教授禪修。近年他知道本人在港推行綠色生活，樂意為綠色人士分享靜修技巧。2010年10月曾為本人主持的網上電台U on live「綠活搖搖板」節目——「都市生活小休亭」接受訪問，講授禪修基本知識。他亦曾於2014年10月替本人發起的「綠色生活地圖製作小組」辦了一場一天的「心靈綠色之旅」靜修活動。
Upul Gamage is the resident teacher at the Nilambe Meditation Center in Sri Lanka. He has been teaching meditation in Sri Lanka, Europe, and Hong Kong for years. In recent years when he knew that I have been promoting green living in Hong Kong with the organization, wherevergreen.hk, he was happy to share his green living and meditation knowledge with the participants. In October, 2010, he taught us basic meditation knowledge in a radio program called “A short break in city life” I hosted on an online radio station Uonlive’s “Green Living Teeter Board”. In October 2014, Upul taught a one-day meditation activity titled “a green journey for the mind”. I was fortunate to have more opportunities to learn from Upul and made significant progress in my learning.
Upul is a very approachable teacher with a great sense of humor. He lives a simple and slow life. He is a conscientious teacher; he uses clear and easy language when he teaches, and he spends a lot of time answering students’ questions. He has an exceptionally good memory: every time he comes to Hong Kong, he remembers each and every one of the students. When we want to arrange for him to do some sightseeing, he only ever wants to go to places where there is nature. He is a very knowledgeable man; he knows much about astronomy, geography, what kinds of plants are suitable for eating or for medicinal use. He’s a very good cook as well! I found him to be an environmentally conscious philosopher as he lives what he teaches. Inspired by him, I am determined to keep wherevergreen.hk as a marker of my progress in meditation and learning.
由於自己得益甚深，眼見香港現時複雜的社會問題，加上身邊的綠色朋友都有一些共通難處：大家生活都太繁忙，承受無比壓力；心裏都想有所改變，同時充滿無力感，甚至有時還帶著憤怒及情緒去推廣綠色理念。我認為每個人都應學習這套生活態度，先要鍛鍊好自己的心，才有能力改變外間，並有效地以和諧的方式去改變世界。就如甘地所言"Be the change you want to see in the world"，所以當新綠色網站平台「綠活地圖」（wherevergreen.hk）剛成立，我便立即邀請老師來辦一連串「擁抱自己、擁抱地球」靜修籌款活動。
Personally speaking, everyone should learn the living style of Mr. Upul and there are several reasons for my recommendation. First, I have benefited a lot from meditation. Second, complicated social problems manifest themselves in Hong Kong. In particular, some of my friends who lead green lives and I share similar difficulties––suffering a lot from hectic lifestyles, overwhelming stress, and the insurmountable frustration of not being able to change. Sometimes they even advocate green principles through the use of anger or negative emotions. I believe that we need to strengthen ourselves before we can change and improve our world in a peaceful way. This echoes Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s words, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. After the launch of wherevergreen.hk, an online platform used to promote green living, I immediately invited my teacher to organize a series of fundraising campaigns entitled “Embrace Yourself, Embrace the Earth”.
* 「尼南毗禪修中心」http://nilambe.net 是我所到過，使用最少資源的地方。中心不設電力供應，夜間使用爉燭照明。中心內有有機耕種、天然堆肥區等。我在那裡體驗不用衛生紙的生活, 體會到原來用最少物質的生活是可行而滿足快樂的!
Out of all the places I have visited, Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre is the one which consumes the least resources. The centre has no electricity and candles are the only light source at night. The Centre is installed with organic farms and a compost area. I experienced not to use any toilet paper in the centre, so I realized that it was still feasible and satisfying to live with such scant resources.
*綠活地圖 wherevergreen.hk 是一個非牟利的網上平台，讓人人都可以發掘和分享社區裡的綠色生活地點、資訊和故事，促進社區的資訊交流、資源共享、社群互動及計劃協作，藉以推動綠色公民的實踐。
(wherevergreen.hk) is a non-profit making online platform which allows people to explore and share information, locations, and stories relating to green living in the community. Hence, the platform encourages the circulation and exchange of information, prompts interaction among members, and initiates projects. This provides a greater incentive for members to put green living into practice.
活在當下 (Be Present)、身心合一、培養覺知、奉行慢生活
Be present, harmonize body and mind, cultivate mindfulness and slow down the pace of life
營內的訓練無時無刻都著重培養覺知（Mindfulness Training）。即使課堂後，梳洗時間、伸展運動期間、工作禪時段，甚至獨處時間、行住坐臥，老師都提點我們盡量保持覺知；用心去做好每樣功夫，避免例行公事、機械式地進行。時刻把焦點集中細心觀察自己心的狀態；若有負面的感覺出現，不排斥、不逃避、不批判 (not to be judgmental/not to judge)，只需觀察它，如實接受狀況，嘗試接納及包容任何情緒生起。老師解釋，情緒是沒有好壞之分，如果我們明白心的運作機制，當情緒出現時，當下只觀察，不反應，慢慢地情緒便會過去，練習一段時間後，心的彈性就會越大，日常生活便不易被情緒所操控。
The retreat focused on mindfulness training. Even after class, the teacher reminded us to remain mindful in whatever we do, for example bathing, doing stretching exercises, meditating, and even when we are alone or lying down. We should throw our whole selves into every task we undertake, and avoid considering the task at hand as routine or mechanical. At any given moment, we should direct our focus towards state of mind. Try not to reject, avoid, or be judgmental against any negative emotions which may arise, but observe, accept and tolerate any kind of emotions. My teacher explained that emotions are emotions – there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We only have to understand how our mind operates, so that when emotions arise, we can observe them without adverse reaction, and let them fade away. After a period of practice, we would become more adaptable and less susceptible to our emotions in daily life.
Later, by reading some books about psychological health and the lateralization of left- and right-brain functions, I learned that we often use our left brain, keeping our sympathetic nervous system active. This leads to our organs running constantly. The fact that our body and mind are thus deprived of rest can cause imbalance. In contrast, when we train in mindfulness, we can activate our right brain, which in turn activates our parasympathetic system. This will relax our organs, help us strike a balance between body and mind, and relieve stress. Hence, mindfulness cultivation is an effective cure for physical and mental illnesses. In addition, maintaining the state of mindfulness can clear the path to our subconscious. I finally understand practitioners of Yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi get benefits only when they reach harmony between the body and the mind.
Whenever a meditation retreat comes to an end, my teacher always reminds us to bring mindfulness to our daily life. It is important that we only do one task at a time, since we can only perform well if we stay focused on that task. I used to multitask and view it as a good and efficient practice. For instance, we love to eat at the same time as watching TV. As a result, we are not aware of the food we consume and the flavor of it. However, if we concentrate on the eating itself, the food will be digested better and more nutrients will be absorbed. Furthermore, if we appreciate the people who provide us food, its energy and nutrients will be absorbed and integrated into our body, thus nourishing our body and making us healthier. In this way, we will gain a lot more from eating.
My teacher taught me how to lead a slow-paced life. This makes me think about how a piano teacher taught my daughter to play the instrument. She used to say that a fast performance is born out of slow rehearsal. Only after concentrated slow practice can a pianist come to play at a more natural tempo and control the pace of his performance. Similarly, if we adopt a slow living style, we will better manage the pace of our life.
Practicing loving-kindness and learning to appreciate
My teacher is always concerned about how students cultivate their minds. He has led us to take care of ourselves first, learn to listen to the voice in our mind, understand our needs, and helped to make ourselves our own best friends.
在練習慈心禪 (Loving-Kindness Meditation) 環節中，他帶領我們把靜修中獲得的平靜和祥和感與一切眾生分享（包括身邊的朋友，甚至自然界中所有物種，乃至小昆蟲們）。他經常提醒我們，人類是互相倚靠的，就像我們能置身營內，應感恩在背後支持我們、為我們填補崗位的人，而不應視作理所當然。
The loving-kindness meditation has brought us to share the calmness and peace acquired from meditation with every other life form we encounter, from our friends to even natural species like insects. He often reminds us that humans are dependent on each other. Therefore, we should not take it for granted but appreciate those who supported us going to the meditation retreat. Those who filled in our vacancies should also be valued and not taken for granted.
He taught us to convey loving-kindness to those in suffering or distress, yet what impressed me further was that he led us to extend the same loving-kindness to those who you hate, or those who hate you. This made it clear to us that hatred afflicts those on both sides of an argument.
In one of our previous discussions, we concluded that women in Hong Kong were generally considered less gentle. A girl who claimed to be ignorant of the concept of being gentle asked the teacher how to change and become more gentle. Our teacher asked her to imagine the feeling of silk. At that moment, I also wished that my rough character could be softened, and that I could be gentle to both myself and others.
Our teacher often asked, “How do you feel now?” and “Are you happy?” Indeed, he heightened our self-awareness. Thus, I have learned the importance of checking in with my state of mind at any given time.
Sitting still can train us to be sensitive to our feelings. Whenever our legs go numb from sitting still, our teacher would tell us to keep that posture and feel the numbness. After a certain amount of time, we could stand up and the discomfort caused by the numbness would vanish. Of course, the discomfort would return after sitting still for some time again, and thus we see that the world around us is in constant flux. All people, objects, events or feelings are transient “visitors” who never linger for our whole lives. Hence, we ought to learn to accept changes, cherish the present and abandon stubbornness as our attitudes. I remember a speech made by a lama, who posited that one would feel fortunate if he believed he would have a short life. It is no doubt that we will cherish the present moment more if we realize that our life is coming to an end.
Changing our attitudes and living freely
Once when I failed to sit still because I was irritated by mosquitoes, I asked my teacher for advice. His answers were very inspiring. He replied, “You should not be so self-centered to believe that mosquitoes are coming to bite you. In fact, only female mosquitoes feed on blood. If you killed all the mosquitoes that fly around you, you would needlessly be killing the innocent males! Instead, we have to accept insects’ sounds and respect their right to fly. They are like passers-by and we normally don’t think that other passers-by will attack us. In fact, if you get annoyed by mosquitoes, they will sense the heat produced by your increased blood circulation, and will be attracted to bite you. Besides, since the purpose of sitting still is to train your concentration and benevolence, you should take the sound of flying insects to be a way of testing yourself in these qualities.”
Then, my teacher raised an interesting question, “If you were a mosquito’s last dinner, would you sacrifice some of your blood?” Since then, whenever I was bitten by a mosquito, I would regard myself as a ‘donor’ instead of a ‘victim’. After some practice, I gradually adjusted my attitude from one of panic, fear and anger to that of acceptance, despite the mosquito bites becoming swollen and itchy. The acceptance of being bitten alleviated the itchiness. Now, I understand that I can take on every challenge in life with a change of attitude.
Dealing with people and things through the principle of ‘no expectation’
Expectations about other people are often the reason that arguments arise. The arguments with our family members may be particularly serious, as we have higher expectations about them. Thus, we should learn to hold no expectations about other people or things, which can help us to avoid feelings of disappointment and unhappiness.
The weather has little influence on me. Of course, fine weather makes us feel cheerful; but we should understand that rainy weather is a natural phenomenon, and good and bad weather must occur in alternation. Rain water is what enables plants to grow and adjusts air temperature. If we learn to accept every phenomenon as a natural process, then any given time or any given circumstance can only ever bring us cheerfulness. Everything is relative and exists within the rules of nature. Things will develop in the opposite direction when they become extreme, and we should not make a distinction between the good and the bad.
Generate wisdom and see the value
City dwellers usually think that they lead busy lives, and they have no time to spend on meditation. But our teacher said that the busier their lives were, the greater their need for meditation was. It was because meditation would help them find some space in their hectic lives and at the same time enhance their efficiency at work. Why? Our teacher explained it is easy to lose oneself in the confusion of city life. People often sacrifice time which should have been spent with their family and friends, on their own interests or on rest. But meditation would make them realize what is truly important to them, and they would make wise choices in pursuit of a life they wanted to lead, rather than submitting themselves to the external environment and misjudging that they had no choice. An analogy might be the control of traffic in a tunnel; vehicles might be asked to stop at the entrance during peak hours until a jam is cleared. This policy aims to avoid blocking the tunnel or slowing down the speed of vehicles. I learnt this example from a drive with my husband and our teacher. Therefore, the busier city people are, the more time they should set aside to allow themselves to pause and rest. By keeping their minds clear, they can have the mental space and wisdom to face upcoming challenges.
Sticking to the central path, and avoiding stubborn or headstrong attitudes
Someone asked about stubbornness, “I am obsessed with coffee. Should I stop drinking coffee so that I stop being stubborn?”My teacher answered, “Quitting coffee is just a jump from one extreme to the other. Those who are not stubborn should enjoy the coffee at the present time. If there is no coffee at that moment, they still feel comfortable. Besides, if we are flexible enough, our minds can be free. We have to accept changes in life, and believe that what is happening at any given time is the best possible option. Although this perception sounds a bit unrealistic, it prepares me for any unpleasant situations, and enables me to feel more comfortable in this ever-changing world.”
仿效孩子對事物的初心 (Beginner’s Mind)
Imitating the ‘beginner’s mind’ of a child
When we are exposed to anything, we should learn in a way a child would do. Children are curious, humble enough to learn new things, and will readily build upon previous learning experiences with an open mind. By adopting their attitudes, we can deepen our understanding of the world around us.
Illnesses stem from the heart and mind
A poem written by my teacher expressed that we, not others, have the grip on our happiness, peace and health. If we suffer from distress, pressures, negative emotions or illnesses, we are responsible for all those sufferings. As I remember, many people claim that it is the doctor’s responsibility to secure their health, and attribute any illness they may catch to an infection from others. They never associate the illnesses with themselves, for example an unhealthy lifestyle. We should learn not to lean on others and not to let others lean on us. More importantly, we must not disturb others to the extent of exerting pressure on them and causing them to fall ill. Children, however, are an exception, because parents are wholly responsible for keeping their children physically and psychologically healthy.
老師強調絕大部份的生理疾病都是由心理所影響的。如果我們懂得從訓練覺知開始，調適自己的心，把內心變得柔軟豁達，便能預早化解心理上的種種疾病。這令我頓時明白對應情緒治療的花藥（Bach Flower Remedy）的原理，以及其他整全醫學（Holistic Health）如中醫、印度阿育吠陀（Ayurveda）、順勢療法（Homeopathy），香薰療法（Aromatherapy）等，都從個人身心出發去醫治疾病。
The teacher often highlights that our mind is the origin of many physiological illnesses. If we learn to adjust our mind and become flexible from the mindfulness training, we can prevent many psychological illnesses. He led me to realize that the Bach Flower remedy and Holistic Health treatments, for example Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Aromatherapy, can all be used to cure patients’ body and mind.
I would like to share one of my experiences. I have been restrained myself from consuming food with additives for years now, and so I believe that my allergy to monosodium glutamate (MSG) has stemmed from this mental rejection of additives. Recently, I have tried to reintroduce additives back into my diet, and have found that my allergy has been alleviated.
I think that falling ill is an invaluable learning experience. Illnesses and pains are our friends, not enemies. They come to remind us to rest and care about ourselves. Hence, when we get sick, we should try to listen to, appreciate and take good care of our body.
Learning to be humble and tolerant, and avoiding confrontation
My teacher taught us to be humble and tolerant because every doctrine must have its positive side from which the world can benefit. Nevertheless, if we are not humble enough, and put forward that a particular doctrine should have been the best, such a move might deviate from the positive intention behind that doctrine. Here is an example to illustrate this point. I have some friends who have chosen to be vegetarians in order to protect the environment and show kindness to animals. Of course, eating vegetables is good for the environment and one’s health, although for various reasons I have failed to adopt vegetarianism myself. Unfortunately, some extreme vegetarians have upset me because they want others to follow suit, and show their intolerance by criticizing meat-eaters. In fact, being a vegetarian is a personal choice. If someone chooses to be a vegetarian because of his love for the environment, he has to apply green living to his life. If he does so because of being kind to animals, he should be kind to people too. There is no point of rejecting people who are different from us. This is something we should consider carefully.
I have applied this principle of tolerance to my advocacy of green living. It is probable that environmentalists may make greater progress than the ‘unconverted.’ They should approach others with humility, and share how tolerance is beneficial to the environment, society, the family and environmentalists themselves. As a result, advocacy of green living will be more appealing to others, and will continue to spread.
Integrating meditation into our lives and work
The teacher stresses that the lessons we learn and the books we study in class are external skills, that is to say, information that exists outside our heads. Without proper processing, the knowledge would be similar to unused tools in the tool box. Therefore, we have to process and internalize these principles through understanding, applying and experiencing them in our lives. Our teacher also reminded us that we should not consider the retreat as the only occasion for meditation. If so, that would be similar to people who repeat work-holiday cycles as the only means to relieve stress. Ultimately, the best practice to adopt is that of blending meditation into our daily life, so that we can learn to adjust ourselves to whatever trials and tribulations may present themselves along the way.
The local meditation retreat I joined had working meditation sessions, which assigned participants various different tasks to train them to cultivate mindfulness in their work. In contrast, at the teacher’s meditation centre in Sri Lanka, participants are free to join and to select their favourite tasks. There, they can take the initiative to do everything. This self-driven initiative truly embodies the spirit of encouraging participants to serve others. What is so valuable about this initiative is the chance to see participants of wherevergreen.hk take their own initiative to promote green living in the community according to the various needs and situations of different areas. This is what makes the results particularly impressive.
Since there was no electricity in teacher’s meditation centre and we had to light candles at night, I learnt to create candles in the working meditation session. Originally, I had thought candle-making to be a laborious task, but in the end I realized the benefits I myself had gained.
The part of working meditation that I appreciate most was the so-called ‘toilet cleaning meditation.’ There were two levels to this: that of toilet users, and of toilet cleaners.
Users appreciate the work of the cleaners, so are careful about how they use the toilet. They keep in mind that they should leave the toilet in the same condition or cleaner than how they found it.
Cleaners do their job with a clear focus that they are serving others. Throughout their work, they feel satisfied that the effort they put in provides users with a clean and comfortable space.
I took the initiative to clean dirty toilets in the Thai meditation centre, which gave me a great sense of satisfaction. It is perceived to be a sacrifice to be a cleaner because toilet-cleaning is often a disgusting task that people are unwilling to do. Therefore, in order to take this job, the cleaners have to put aside their pride. In my opinion, whoever can put aside his pride in fact attains the highest status. Can you imagine how much better the world would be if everyone shared this attitude?
An impediment on human health –distance from nature
Nowadays, people in cities are distanced from nature. Most necessities are artificial. We live in air-conditioned concrete jungles, choosing to stay up late instead of following the natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset, as was done in the past. Our lives are brimming with synthetic chemical products and electrical appliances that emit radiation. The food we eat has become artificial too. Food is made through artificial processes, and agricultural produce is full of fertilizers and pesticides. Factories that treat meat with hormones and the appearance of genetically modified foods have turned agriculture into agribusiness. People think that information technology improves their lives but the truth is it brings about many problems. We live out of sync with nature, and this actually threatens our health. This can explain why citizens in developed countries suffer more from health problems.
A healthy lifestyle requires us to get back in sync with the laws of nature. It takes time to change our routines. If we recognize the laws and the importance of nature, we will reflect more on our lives. By slowing down our pace, we will become less dependent on high tech, and will connect more with nature. In addition, we will live greener lifestyles, for instance through reducing, recycling, purchasing local and environmentally friendly produce, abiding with the principle of ‘permaculture’ and consuming in a green way, etc. Furthermore, smaller details in our lives will improve, instead of simply putting a priority on convenience. We may even seek to make changes in our fields of specialism.
The generation of high-tech dependence
It seems inevitable that people in cities will rely on technology, and people from every corner of the world are constantly glued to their mobile phones. Indeed, the advancement of modern inventions has brought its advantages and areas of convenience, but if we are unaware of our addiction to technology, we will be controlled by electronic products and lose track of ourselves. People easily get addicted to mobile phones because of their attractive designs but the problems caused by this addiction become more prevalent and detrimental. Obviously, it is vital to cultivate awareness, which can help us choose what is beneficial, and encourage us to use high technology sensibly, live wisely and ultimately enjoy more freedom without the control of electronic products. Let’s imagine that resources ran out; how would life be for those who are used to relying on technology?
Since it is hard to completely avoid the use of mobile phones, we can still develop mindfulness with them in our lives. We needn’t rush to answer the phone when it rings. Instead, we may leave it for a few seconds in order to focus ourselves on the present. This practice not only helps enhance our mindfulness, but also makes us able to express ourselves better and more clearly on the phone.
When traveling, I try to use a mobile phone as little as possible. In this way, I can avoid being disturbed and learn more knowledge by getting involved in the places and their culture.
“Embrace Yourself and Embrace the Earth” – preparations for the meditation activity and its benefits
I faced a lot of difficulties when arranging for our teacher to come to Hong Kong to help organize our fundraising activity, “Embrace Yourself and Embrace the Earth”. Since wherevergreen.hk is a newly registered organization, the teacher’s first application for a visa was declined by the Immigration Department. When this threw me into a panic, the teacher reminded me to relax and accept the result. In addition, my friend told me that if the teacher’s second application was rejected, that might prove that it was not the time for him to come. His words were insightful. In the end, our teacher did get a visa.
Furthermore, although we had strived to promote the activity ahead of time, the number of participants was still below our expectations. During the preparation, we met with all sorts of logistical concerns. For example, we had spent a lot of energy coming up with contingency plans for bad weather, and were concerned about the financial losses incurred by low participation numbers. What shocked me was that the things that I had worried about a lot occurred gradually, and my emotions were adversely affected. This understanding taught me to try my best and let things go. Therefore, I tried to keep calm on the day we entered the retreat when the amber rainstorm signal was issued. Our teacher reminded us to face unexpected circumstances in a relaxed way,
“We cannot predict the weather, and should believe that whatever happens is the best possible outcome. Our training has started before the activities have even begun. Please be present, accept what we see, hear and feel. We have to enjoy the present, forget the past and not worry about the future.”
The result of the fundraising activity made me realize why our participation numbers were low. The activity was an opportunity for us to practice and build up experience. Although the money we raised was not as much as we had hoped, we didn’t incur any losses. I adjusted my attitude and felt content with what I gained. This itself was a priceless experience.
Some green living advocacy organizations and groups have been offering sites for us to organize activities, and for this we are extremely grateful to them. In particular, the retreat which participants benefited most from was most probably the four-day meditation retreat in Lai Chi Wo.
荔枝窩村是一條擁有三百多年歷史、本地其中一條保留得最完整的傳統客家圍村，由曾氏和黃氏兩個客家宗族所建立的。荔枝窩位於幽幽深山之中，被船灣郊野公園及印洲塘海岸公園包圍。因為地勢環境，這裡的村民自70、80年代起已搬走， 原本只剩下一條沒人住的鄉村；在2013年尾，香港大學嘉道理研究所、香港鄉郊基金、綠田園基金和長春社，聯同荔枝窩村民，由香港上海滙豐銀行有限公司旳支持下，在荔枝窩舉辦了"永續荔枝窩——農業復耕及鄉村社區營造計劃（計劃網站： http://www.kadinst.hku.hk/sustainablelcw/ http://www.hku.hk/press/c_news_detail_14539.html )"，為荔枝窩帶來新氣象。
Lai Chi Wo Village boasts a history of over three hundred years, and is one of the best preserved Hakka villages in Hong Kong. It was jointly built by the Tsang and Wong Hakka families. Lai Chi Wo is situated inside the Plover Cove Country Park and Yan Chau Tong Marine Park. The departure of residents from the village since the 1970s and 1980s has left the place deserted, but the end of 2013 saw the launch of the “Living Water & Community Revitalisation – An Agricultural-led Action, Engagement and Incubation Programme at Lai Chi Wo”. This was undertaken with the support of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC), the Kadoorie Institute of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation, Produce Green Foundation, the Conservancy Association and inhabitants of a traditional Hakka village in Lai Chi Wo. This programme definitely rejuvenated Lai Chi Wo. You may refer to the following website for details:
Lai Chi Wo is nestled among hills, farmland, woods, rivers and the sea. It is like a quiet corner cut off from the outside world, and so is a perfect spot for meditation. The camp’s participants stayed in residents’ simple village homes. Since we did not want to pollute the natural environment around the village, participants were reminded to use environmentally friendly toiletries, and keep rubbish to a minimum.
最令人忘懷的，要算是多餐高質天然生態、幾乎是村內自給自足的有機膳食供應。村內能飲用山水已是得天獨厚的恩賜，為我們預備膳食的是幾家不同的村民，由於村內的復耕計劃，田中出產有機米及時令有機蔬菜（幸運地，有時我們還能看到村民們把從田中現摘的菜蔬送上餐桌的過程呢！），加上本土製的雜糧食品，現焗天然健康麵包，配以自家製的醃製醬料、果醬等。如果要計算，這多餐from farm to table的健康「串門餐」的食物里程之近，令參加者都感到今時今日享受到這頓豐富的「簡樸盛宴」，實在太不能令人相信能在本港發生！
The most unforgettable thing about Lai Chi Wo is its natural ecology, which yields organic and sustainable crops for residents. Mountain water is also a blessing. A few local families prepared meals for us. The programme enabled farmers to produce organic rice and vegetables, a variety of food, natural bread, home-made sauces and jam, etc. in their fields. Sometimes, we were fortunate enough to see the vegetables that had just been picked from the farmland. It was incredible that we could enjoy such rustic yet wonderful meals from farm to table in this day and age, and in such a modern environment such as Hong Kong.
One interesting scenario was that we squatted on the ground and washed our own utensils after our meals. This gave us a real flavor of how life would have been for people in the past.
The activities of the meditation retreat
To make the experience more fun for the participants, activities were planned according to each of the participants’ specific interests and strengths (which, of course, also helped solve our shortage of labor). The tasks were very diverse. Participants cleaned the campsite before the activities, delivered materials, did administrative jobs and escorted other members into the village. In the retreat, yoga tutors led members to do stretching exercises, while some participants were responsible for audio and video recording. Farming was regarded as ‘working meditation’. We were both the organizers of and participants in the activities.
Using mobile phones and talking are prohibited in the retreat, so that participants could rest completely and did not disturb others. Keeping silent enabled participants to concentrate on every detail of activities and be free from distraction.
Eating meditation requires participants to be aware of and concentrate on their eating. Our teacher reminded us not to rush to eat before a meal. To be mindful, we should first feel our stomach and ask ourselves how hungry we are, and how we feel about the food. We should then consider food to be a gift from nature, formed from the elements of sunlight, water, air and soil nutrients. Food is also the fruit of hard work on the part of producers and manufacturers. Therefore, we have to eat with appreciation so that we deserve the food we have. When eating, we must pay full attention to the food’s flavors and temperature, chew it slowly and savor its taste. We should form correct eating habits too; that is to say, avoid binge eating, and reduce waste to protect our environment. By consuming this food which nourishes us and keeps us healthy, we can go forward to serve others and contribute to the world around us.
In the retreat, we followed the natural rhythms of work and rest. We woke up early in order to breathe in the refreshing air and enjoy the tranquility of the morning. In addition, we learnt to relax ourselves completely through hypnotism. Under our teacher’s instruction, we observed our mind and learnt to love ourselves through seated, walking and standing meditation in the tranquil environment.
Reflections on the last day of retreat
Since it rained on the first few days, our course took place indoors. Fortunately, the weather became clearer on the last day and we were all thrilled once teacher asked us to go outside. We applied walking meditation and proceeded slowly to an open clearance. After the walking meditation, we sit still in meditation. But after around fifteen minutes, we noticed outside visitors coming. They visited this countryside because that day was Saturday. Tour guides asked tourists to gather together and take group photos with the aid of a speaker. Meanwhile, some visitors took pictures of us sitting still. The peace of mind that had come from the meditation over previous days was broken. In a total reversal from the previous days, we became impatient, irritated, helpless, or even let our emotions overcome us. Our teacher made us sit for a little longer before he led us back, still in meditation as we walked. It was surprising to see that the visitors dispersed as we left, as though their sudden appearance was a specific move to irritate us. Back at the retreat, the teacher explained that we felt irritated because we perceived the visitors as intruders. But he advised us to consider the event from a different perspective. The visitors came there with their families only to reduce the stress in their own daily lives. In other words, they did not intend to harass us. We were inspired by our teacher’s explanation, and so tried to see things from different perspectives, which relieved our negative feelings.
The teacher’s reminder to green living practitioners: mindfulness and environment
Since modern people lack mindfulness, many environmental problems come about. Hence, we need to identify the main reasons for the problems, and invest time to cultivate mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness cannot be achieved overnight, but really does take time to perfect. With mindfulness, every problem can be solved; without it, our emotions swing when we encounter any given problem, and we act irrationally under these emotional swings. As a result, the problems themselves become more complicated. Tackling environmental problems requires everyone to be aware of the life they are leading and make collective efforts. In fact, individuals, groups, organizations and countries all need to cultivate mindfulness, so they can effectively solve whatever social problems they may encounter.
What is ‘high-quality life’?
From the planning stages to the implementation of the meditation retreat, I kept reflecting on what ‘high-quality life’ was. It is widely perceived that a high-quality life implies luxury and riches. It involves living in a luxurious house, eating expensive food, as well as receiving the best services that money can buy. All these definitions are peddled and spread by the media, but they stand in total contrast to what I interpret high-quality life to be. In my opinion, a simple life can be one of very high quality. If you have fewer ‘high-quality’ possessions, you will be more willing to give to others. Then, you will feel happier and more satisfied.
According to our teacher, there are two types of simple life:
The first type of simple life is determined by one’s circumstance. For example, people living in the countryside, who have limited materials and choices in life, lead simple lives, irrespective of what quality it may be. If they are given more choices, they will probably choose to lead a more complicated life.
The second type of simple life is derived from one’s motivation. This incentive favors the environment, others, oneself, and all the myriad things in the world. It is important to ask ourselves whether we want to lead simple life. Before making a decision, we should understand the disadvantages of a complicated and hectic life, such as the bad impacts on our emotions and relationships with each other. In fact, we have choices and the right to choose. We have to remind ourselves not to be misled by the information circulated by the media. For example, we ought to ask ourselves if a certain item is really necessary before we go out and purchase it. If we are mindful, we will recognize that what we need for survival can be very little but we can still be happy with very few materials. Happy life is not dependent on how much you have. The problem is that we have thought too much and this makes our mind and life overcomplicated.
If we keep being mindful, being present, and practicing, we will discover that happiness is internal, and does not come from external material items. In addition, humans are insatiably greedy. Meditation makes us learn not to rely on material items. When we think about poor places in the world, even though people’s lives are simple, do they not live happier lives?
We will be happier if we learn to share our materials, time, money and knowledge with, and show love and concern to others. This kind of happiness will not be taken away by other people. So, what is happiness? We cannot be happy if we feel stressed. To solve this problem, we have to adjust ourselves, our mind and relationship with others as well as adapting ourselves to our environment. If we fear losing happiness and try to obtain happiness from external material possessions, then the happiness that we receive is not true. The most valuable quality is being satisfied with what you have. People who are not satisfied with what they have in life do not feel happy, no matter how much they possess. Instead, satisfaction with what we have makes us truly happy, but not jealous of others’ achievements. We will even be happy with others’ satisfaction. Although we may not be very rich, we can still be happy when other people are satisfied. This kind of happiness is spiritual. True happiness does not require us to own too much food or too many material goods.
Although I have shared with you what I have learned from our teacher, it is difficult to put these teachings into practice. To be frank, I am practicing these teachings, and have not been able to put into practice each and every one of these principles. In fact, our teacher keeps reminding us that we have to understand the meanings of the principles thoroughly before putting them into practice.
This road to meditation takes us on a long journey. Over ten years, I have gradually absorbed and learned the knowledge of meditation, which is a process that most certainly hones one’s patience. I tried to set no expectation for my progress (since I have not been able to progress as fast as I would have liked to) and studied meditation little by little. I feel fortunate to have been able to compile and share with you here what I have learned from our teacher, and would like to thank Mr. Upul for the care and love he has shown to his students.
My mind has become clearer by compiling my experiences here. Now, I would like you to join together with us, and help us to learn and build a loving and peaceful world together.
Prayed and written by Lam Lai Shan in Chiang Mai in May 2016
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