Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nesting bug has hit me

Today is a spring cleaning day for me. The nesting bug has hit me - I woke up with a sudden burst of energy with a sudden urge to clean and organize. Last night I dreamt that I was about to deliver and in the dream I panicked that I have not packed my hospital bag yet. I woke up feeling anxious. I know I have been procastinating alot lately. 

Today I woke up at 5.30 a.m. despite the usual unable-to-sleep-nights. Most of the time I could only wake up at half past nine. I woke up this morning and brought the dogs for a walk. Then, I went to Mydin hypermarket to buy mild detergent soap to wash all the baby clothes and napkins. I came back home and washed everything my baby will be using - playpen bedsheet, pillowcases, booties, mittens, baby hat, shirts, pants, hankerchiefs and napkins. Then I cleaned every nook and corner of my room; I wiped and disinfected the storage space for all the baby items. I used up every bit of my energy for today and it felt so good to have everything cleaned and ready for the arrival of our new bundle of joy. Finally, I've packed the hospital bags *a huge sigh of relief*

Monday, September 20, 2010

5-Day Mindfulness Retreat "The Walk of Peace and Joy"

A few weeks or so after reading The Power of Now, Alfred mentioned about this 5-day mindfulness retreat led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced "tik nyat hawn") and the Plum Village monastery from France. We signed up for the retreat the very next day. The retreat is held from 15th to 19th September 2010 in Tiara Beach Resort, Port Dickson. The main purpose of the retreat is to help weave mindfulness into all  our daily activities. In this way, we can practice meditation throughout the day - while eating, walking, working mindfully, and sitting in meditation.

A brief introduction of Thich Nhat Hanh (or commonly known as Thay by his students, which means 'teacher' in Vietnamese):

Zen Master, poet, peace and human rights activist, Thay was born in central Vietnam on 11th October 1926 and joined the monkhood at the age of 16. His lifelong efforts to generate peace moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Exiled from his native Vietnam because of his antiwar activities, he lives in a southwestern France where he founded a retreat center. At the centre, Plum Village, he continues to teach, write, garden, and work to alleviate the suffering of refugees, boat people, political prisoners, and hungry families in Vietnam and throughout the Third World countries. His philosophy is not limited to preexistent religious structures, but speaks to the individual's desire for wholeness and inner calm. Thay's teachings and practices appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds. Thay offers a practice of "mindfulness" that is beneficial for people of all faiths, by helping us to resist and transform the speed and violence of our modern society. His key teachings is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment instead of in the past and in the future. Dwelling in the present moment is, according to Thay, the only way to truly develop peace, both in one's self and in the world. 

Here is an inspiring poem "Kiss the Earth" by Thay:
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each steps makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.

The following are the details of our program during the 5-day retreat.

Day 1 (15th September 2010):
  • Arrival at about 12.30 p.m. at Tiara Beach Resort.
  • Registration and room check-in.
  • Buffet lunch at 1 p.m. 
    • A vegetarian fare throughout the 5-day retreat was instrumental in realizing the way towards compassionate eating. 
  • 3.00 p.m. - Total relaxation
    • This is where all of us lied down comfortably on the floor and a Venerable nun  spoke to us with a gentle and soothing voice and sang us beautiful songs - it's so relaxing and therapeutic - most of us actually drifted into a deep and peaceful slumber - it felt so rejuvenating :) We were definitely looking forward for this session for the next 3 days!
  • 5.00 p.m. - Exercise
    • Some light stick Qigong and Yoga exercises.
Stick Qigong exercise
  • 6.00 p.m. - Dinner
  • 8.00 p.m. - Orientation
    • A briefing of the purpose of the retreat and the program for the next few days and the dos and don'ts during the course of retreat.
  • 9.30 p.m. - Bedtime/ Noble silence
    • We were asked to maintain noble silence throughout the night until after breakfast the next morning. 
    • Maintaining noble silence is indeed very therapeutic. It allows us to be mindful of our thoughts and reflect on the lessons learned during the day.
Day 2 (16th September 2010):
  • 5.15 a.m. - Wake up.
  • 6.00 a.m. - Guided meditation and chanting
    • Even though it's very early in the morning, the moment we entered the meditation hall, we felt peace and calmness permeate us. And even with my pregnant belly, I managed to sit down on the floor and meditate effectively - it must be the collective energy from Thay and all the monks and nuns in the hall - I felt the energy strongly within the hall. The whole hall exuded  a sense of peace, calmness and serenity.
Meditation Hall
  • 7.00 a.m. - Walking meditation 
    • The practice of walking mindfully - be mindful of every step that you take. Thay said: "The miracle is not walking on water; but the miracle in life is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive". How beautifully said!
    • We walked with Thay in a big group - inhaling the fresh morning breeze, watching the birds flying freely, and be mindful of every step we take - I felt so liberated and free! The whole atmosphere in the morning was filled with peace, calmness, and joy. It feels good to find joy in a simple act such as walking. 
 Walking meditation with Thay
  • 8.00 a.m. - Breakfast
  • 10 a.m. - Dharma talk given by Thay
    • The moment Thay enters the hall, I could immediately sense calmness and tranquility radiating around him. Every step he takes evoked peace, tranquility and joy within me. His tranquil presence is felt very strongly. 
    • Thay's message is deep and profound, penetrating straight into my heart. His Dharma talk is filled with love and peace. Every word he utters brought about a deep insight and revelation within me. His message rang so true and deep - and the way he says it with love makes it even more special. I feel so connected with him - a deep level of connection.
During the Dharma talk
Thay during one of the Dharma talks
  • 12.00 p.m. - Lunch
  • 1.30 p.m. - Total relaxation - time to unwind and relax and rejuvenate!
  • 3.00 p.m. - Dharma sharing
    • This is a session where a smaller group of participants (around 20 participants in a group) gather and share their thoughts, feelings, and insights gained from the retreat. We were accompanied by a nun and a monk from the Plum Village monastery.
    • Our Dharma group's name is Mother Earth.
    • It feels wonderful to open our hearts to total strangers and feel utterly comfortable in their presence. Everyone shared their thoughts and what they have learnt throughout the retreat. Some shed tears when sharing their  innermost thoughts and feelings. There is a strong connection with each and every person in our group.
  • 5.00 p.m. - Exercise
  • 6.00 p.m. - Dinner
  • 8.00 p.m. - 5 mindfulness trainings presentation
    • "Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha offered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome and happy lives. They were the 5 Mindfulness Trainings, and at the foundation of each of these mindfulness trainings is mindfulness. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others".
    • 1st Mindfulness Training: Reverence for life
      • Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
    • 2nd Mindfulness Training: True happiness
      • Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
    • 3rd Mindfulness Training: True love
      • Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. 
    • 4th Mindfulness Training: Loving speech and deep listening
      • Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations.
    • 5th Mindfulness Training: Nourishment and healing
      • Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am commited to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations.
    • After reading through the 5 mindfulness trainings, we decided to undertake and incorporate the 5 mindfulness precepts into our daily life. The 5 mindfulness training transmission ceremony will be held on the last day of the retreat, i.e., on the 19th September.  
The 5 Mindfulness Trainings presentation: where some of the participants shared their experiences
  • 9.30 p.m. - Bedtime/Noble silence
Day 3 (17th September 2010):
  • 5.15 a.m. - Wake up.
  • 6.00 a.m. - Guided meditation and chanting
  • 7.00 a.m. - Walking meditation
  • 8.00 a.m. - Breakfast
At the dining area
  • 10.00 a.m. - Dharma talk
  • 12.00 p.m. - Lunch
  • 1.30 p.m. - Total relaxation/ Touching the earth
  • 3.00 p.m. - Dharma sharing
  • 5.00 p.m. - Exercise
  • 6.00 p.m. - Dinner
  • 8.00 p.m. - Beginning anew presentation
    • The power of forgiveness and surrender is discussed.
  • 9.30 p.m. - Bedtime/Noble silence
Day 4 (18th September 2010):
  • 5.15 a.m. - Wake up
  • 6.00 a.m. - Guided meditation and chanting
  • 7.00 a.m. - Walking meditation
  • 8.00 a.m. - Breakfast
  • 10 a.m. - Questions and answers
  • 12.00 p.m. - Lunch
  • 1.30 p.m. - Total relaxation
  • 3.00 p.m. - Dharma sharing
  • 5.00 p.m. - Exercise
  • 6.00 p.m. - Dinner
  • 8.00 p.m. - Sitting and chanting
  • 9.30 a.m. - Bedtime/Noble silence
Day 5 (19th September 2010):
  • 5.15 a.m. - Wake up
  • 6.00 a.m. - 5 mindfulness trainings transmission ceremony
    • Alfred and I decided to undertake the 5 mindfulness trainings. One of the Buddhist precepts is not to kill or cause suffering to other sentient beings. I have stopped consuming meat (chicken, lamb, and pork) for almost a year now. I was consuming seafood now and then but ever since I got pregnant, I have drastically reduced seafood from my diet. I don't call myself a true vegetarian since I still consume the gravy from a meat dish. I call myself a flexitarian; which is basically no consumption of animal flesh. I've stopped consuming meat ever since I became aware of their suffering and the way they are killed - it's just inhumane. After knowing these facts, how could I still continue consuming chicken and mutton, especially? In today's world of mass production of meat, the sufferings of these poor animals have alleviated to incomprehensible degree. There are so many video clips and articles that create awareness on the source of food that we are consuming. Knowledge is power and it's in my prerogative to decide what to consume and what not to consume and to know where and how my source of food comes from. Alfred has always been a meat-eater and I have never questioned his choice of food and neither have I told him to stop eating meat. It came as a big surprise for me when he told me that he has now decided to stop consuming meat. This retreat has brought about a huge change within him - he is mindful of his eating habits now.
    • The transmission ceremony involves bowing and touching the earth. With my 9-month pregnant belly, I was initially struggling to kneel and bow and touch the earth with my forehead - but eventually I managed to complete the whole transmission ceremony. During this transmission ceremony, we basically make a public vow to accept and incorporate the 5 mindfulness trainings into our daily life; this choice is left entirely to the individual. That's what I love about the practice; there is no coercion involved; everything is done with our own free will and choice. Around 3/4 of the participants who attended the retreat decided to undertake the 5 mindfulness trainings.
During the 5 Mindfulness Trainings Transmission Ceremony
  • 8.00 a.m. - Breakfast
  • 10.00 a.m. - Dharma talk
    • Thay spoke about the oneness of all beings and how everything originates from the same source. He reminded us that Buddha is within us - and not to search for Buddha outside in the temple. When we become mindful and aware of our being, we are following the path to enlightenment - that is the teaching of Buddha.  
Thay during the Dharma talk
  • 12.00 p.m. - Lunch/ Farewell
This retreat brought about many changes within us. It made us reflect on the beauty of the present moment and to be grateful for every breath and step that we take. And to realize the freedom and happiness to be found in a simple act such as breathing and walking. The sound of the bell at every interval to bring us back into the present moment was a good mindfulness practice for us - where we will stop whatever we are doing, stop thinking and be totally present upon hearing the bell.

We loved the songs sang together throughout the retreat - it brought back the joy of music in our soul. Two of our favorite songs are as follows:
1st song: Breathing in, Breathing out
Breathing in, breathing out; breathing in, breathing out;
I am blooming as a flower; I am fresh as the dew.
I am solid as a mountain; I am firm as the earth; I am free.
Breathing in, breathing out; breathing in, breathing out;
I am water, reflecting what is real, what is true,
and I feel there is space deep inside of me;
I am free, I am free, I am free.

2nd song: Happiness is Here and Now
Happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries.
Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no longer in a hurry.
Happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries.
Somewhere to go, something to do, but I don't need to hurry.

My favorite quotes from Thay:
"Happiness is here and now"
"This is a happy moment; smile, breathe and go slowly"

Short meditation quotes from Thay:
To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem.
To meditate means to observe.
Your smile proves it.
It proves that you are being gentle with yourself,
that the sun of awareness is shining in you,
that you have control of your situation.
You are yourself, 
and you have acquired some peace.
Some pictures taken on the last day of the retreat:

Children singing session
With one of the monks in our Dharma group

Our Dharma group members: Mother Earth
With the participants in the retreat

Receiving the dried Bodhgaya leaf from Shantum Seth (Shantum Seth is a Buddhist scholar and practitioner and an ordained teacher in the Zen lineage of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh)

The Finale

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Outing with Best buddies

We finally managed to meet up with Ai Lin during the Hari Raya holidays. It seemed like ages back since I last met up with her. It was good to see her - and the tiga sekawan met up and chit-chatted -  just like the good ol' days.

We had lunch in Sizzling Stone Grill in Jusco AEON. Had a great time bonding and catching up. It was the first time we are going out with Renee and Ai Lin as a couple - and we had a great time together. Renee especially seemed to know alot about pregnancy-related symptoms - I was impressed! He asked me questions about my pregnancy symptoms - I never knew a man would be interested to be equipped with such knowledge. He is definitely more than prepared to be a dad soon - HINT HINT to Ai Lin, hehe.

Tiga sekawan at the Sizzling Stone Grill restaurant

After lunch, we walked around the shopping complex and as a finale had some coffee and cake at Coffee Beans. I know with our busy schedules (except for me; hehe, I have been having just too much free time on my hand this year), it's hard to find a common time for all of us to meet up. So this outing was something to be tressured :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Power of Now: My guide to spiritual enlightenment

The past few months had been an awakening spiritual journey for me. First a book and then the meditation retreat. 

My spiritual quest started when I was 18 years old. That's when I attended the 7-day awareness program which thought me about positive thinking, the power of unconditional love, and guided meditation. Ever since that, I've practiced meditation on and off, attended courses on self-awareness, read books on spirituality and meditation, and tried different meditation techniques. I've always been searching for the right answer. And I finally found it from Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. This book contains the ultimate truth - the simple truth; something that my soul resonated right away. I first read his book The New Earth sometime last year. However, that book didn't have the same transformative effect on me as the The Power of Now had. Probably I wasn't ready to accept the truth then. 

This year has been a tough journey for me emotionally. I felt depressed on some days; and then I'll pick myself up by doing whatever I enjoy doing; and then I'd feel empty again; and the cycle repeated. The fact that I'd left my job and felt lonely was aggravated by my pregnancy hormones. I felt lost and empty. I didn't realize what I was doing to myself and to my husband. Some days I will lie on bed the whole day not having mood to do anything; feeling sorry for myself. I found that it became increasingly difficult to control my negative thoughts - it was spiraling beyond my control; and I was constantly battling against my thoughts - it was mentally and emotionally draining. I felt that I've fallen into a dungeon and there's no one to help me to get out. My husband just didn't know how to help me. I blamed my husband for the way I felt - I didn't realize that my misery was contagious - and he's only human. There's limit to how much he could take - and I continued blaming him for not understanding my feelings. 

It was at this point in time during my emotional downturn that I picked up The Power of Now which has been sitting on the bookshelf for quite some time. Every word, every message in the book pierced straight into my heart - my heart knew that the message is true. Rather than playing the blaming game, I started embracing the way I felt; and that felt so liberating. I could immediately sense the deep-seated peace and joy within me - it's truly amazing. I learned to still my mind and be the silent observer of my thoughts and emotions. It's so powerful I started noticing change deep within me; I started understanding my actions and emotions; I started embracing everything around and within me with love. It's truly liberating, I suddenly felt so alive. And this wasn't the same kind of short-lived euphoria I felt when I read other self-help books. 

Reading the Power of Now felt like going straight to the core of my Being; my being became instantaneously connected with the author's message; the message rang so true to my soul. Probably it's because I was in intense emotional pain; the suffering catapulted me to a new level of consciousness upon reading this book. Rather than dwelling in pain, I became aware/conscious of my pain and began to embrace it unconditionally. And I felt FREE. It also helped me to understand my relationship with my husband better.

However, as Eckhart Tolle pointed out, not all readers might feel the same transformative effects after reading the book. Sometimes, the message from the book will act as the seed of enlightenment/consciousness sometime later in a person's life. After reading the book, I realized that all the spiritual teachers in my life have pointed to the same message (only the way of imparting the message was different) - and I begin to appreciate the unison of message in all the religions and spiritual practices in the world - the message/lesson imparted points to the SAME SOURCE.

I accept that some days are good and there are some not-so-good days. Rather than brooding over the not-so-good days, I've learnt to accept it as it is and it feels liberating. As with all conditioned thought processes and mental habits, change is about taking one step at a time. Whenever I find myself dwelling in the past or anxious about the future, I remind myself to come back to the present moment; the here and now - that's the secret of being.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vegetarian Butter Cake

I was in the mood for baking and this time around I wanted to bake without using eggs. Ever since Mages introduced me to the eggless butter marble cake that she orders from a home bakery in Brickfields, I was hooked to vegetarian cakes. It was difficult to find a good recipe on vegetarian butter cake and when I finally found one, I decided to give it a try. 

Herewith is the recipe:
1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/3 cups of unsalted butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet you want the cake to be)
1 1/4 cups of evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celcius.
2. Grease and line a round cake pan. 
3. Sift together flour and baking powder. 
4. In a medium-sized bowl, beat butter and sugar until the mixture doubles and turns pale yellow. (It's important at this stage not to overbeat the butter - otherwise the butter will separate. When the butter separates due to overbeating, you can store the mixture in the fridge for a while before creaming it again).
5. After creaming the butter and sugar until it turns pale yellow, mix evaporated milk and vanilla slowly into the creamed mixture. 
6. Mix in flour one spoonful at a time until well blended. 
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan. 
8. Bake at 190 degrees Celcius for 40 minutes to an hour, or until a tester is inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Atlantic 1 Cafe

 I used to love the pineapple rice served at the Atlantic 1 cafe. It's situated next to the Shell station in Jalan Portugis (Jalan Kubu), Melaka. I used to go there for lunch when I was teaching in Ranger College back in 2003. After so many years, I had been having this craving for a good pineapple rice. So, we went there for dinner and it was packed with tourists.

A framed newspaper article of Jonker Street in 1890 at the Atlantic Cafe, Melaka

 Pictures taken using our new compact camera - LUMIX Panasonic DMC-ZR3.

After waiting for quite some time, I finally got to savor the pineapple rice which I had been craving for so long. But, I was a little dissapointed with the quality now - I remember it had much more ingredients and tasted much better back in 2003. Probably that's the price of over-commercialization - the quality of the food is compromised.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Grown Ups

This is the funniest movie I've watched this year! We laughed uncontrollably throughout the movie - my pregnant belly almost couldn't take it! We got so addicted to its good humor, we watched it for the second time - and laughed just as loud as the first time. A great movie about friendship, family and the importance of having humor in our lives; I would rate this movie 5/5. I'd consider watching it for the third time.