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

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