In & out

I’m sitting cross-legged on the purple and red mats, listening to the sound of the bell slowly disappearing and in front of me is a bowl of delicious smelling food. This is my first experience at mindful eating, and I’m super excited. I feel like I’m 14 year old me and all I can think of is “oh my gawd this is so cool!” 

This dinner is the first time the group has gathered since arriving in Lotus Pond Temple. I’m at the Applied Ethics Retreat: An Exploration of Mindful Education, a weekend retreat to practice mindfulness, to mediate. One of the first things we are told is that when we eat, we eat in silence. I’m not used to eating queitly, coming from a family of three girls, when we eat together, we don’t stop talking. But here, it seems right, it seems peaceful, and I don’t feel the need to question why

We listen to five Gatha/rhythmic poetic verses, which are reflections of our meal and a reminder of being in the present. I’m in awe at how the brothers and sisters sit in stillness, at peace and they seem to emit positive energy. We continue to eat in silence, and after some time, we can leave the dining area or go get more food before the night activities begin.

After dinner we head to the hall and as a group, we sing (my now) favourite Gatha “Happiness is here and now”. 

Happiness is here and now
I have dropped my worries
No where to go
Nothing to do
No longer in a hurry 

I want to laugh, cry, smile and go “oh wow that is so true!” I have to agree, I have no where to go and nothing to do. I’m so excited! I sing along, off key and kinda revel (in my head) my new found awareness.

Before the actual orientation part of the evening began, the brothers and sisters sing a beautiful chant. I don’t know what the chant is called, but here is an example of just how soothing they and the whole place is:- Namo Avalokita – Namo Amitabhaya This film is very similar to what I was privileged enough to witness. The sound of the bell is how we start and end each activity. The accompanying guitar is gorgeous and the vibe in the room is contagious.

During orientation, Brother Thay Phap Kham [pictured] said “breathe in and breathe out, that’s what we do here. We breathe in… and we breathe out…” Simple right? Yes! I laughed at myself when I discovered that I was actually saying “breath in… breath out…” This little technique made me focus on my breath. And I have a lot of trouble focusing on anything.

The next thing we do is sitting meditation. In May last year, I started practicing mindfulness. I haven’t had much luck since. I get bored, I get distracted and the only time I think I can do it is during deep relaxation in yoga classes (but I fall asleep) or when I had breathing couch. But something about meditating here the temple makes me feel at ease. I start meditating,  trying to be very quiet and still so I don’t disturb anyone else. My mind wanders off, and although I’m thinking “this is soo cool!” I go back to my breath. Well, I try too. 

I sit there for the next hour, trying (not very hard) at meditating. By the end of it, I know I didn’t mediate for the whole time, but strangely, I don’t feel guilty. I feel ok. I did give it a go and there’s always tomorrow. Meditation doesn’t come easy for me, but I have to give myself time. One of the biggest things I did learn is that sometimes you just have to breathe in and breathe out, and everything is really actually OK! 

Are you breathing? Then you’re already on your way…

:: You may also be interested in: · On my way · My mindfulness retreat ::

On my way

I wave bye to hubby as I get on the MTR to go to Lantau Island. I’m buzzing with excitment at the unknown. I get on the train with other commuters, probably on their way to Disneyland. We head out of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong island and the closer we get to Lantau Island, the more the scenery and vibe start to change. The other passengers are families, tourists and teenagers on their way to anything other than work. As the majority of the people get off the train, I stay on, and realise whoa, I’m in Hong Kong! I’m on my way to the Plum Village Foundation, I’m about to have a weekend of mindfulness, my first retreat, and it’s a Friday! I start smiling from ear to ear.

I get off at Tung Chung station, and I’m amazed that I can see mountains in the distance, how quieter (although still busy) it is and just how green everything is. Not really knowing where to go, I head off in search for Bus 23. There aren’t any English signs, but I know I have about 5 minutes until the bus leaves. I find the bus pretty easily, get on, and I keep thinking “ooh wow” as it takes me into the heart Lantau Island. The bus weaves in and out of the mountainous terrain, skirts the coastline and goes through the luscious green 19th century landscape. It’s stunning. I start getting all excited. But all of a sudden I slightly panic because I don’t actually know where to get off. I whip out my phone and start following the bus on google maps (hurray for 3G everywhere). It’s okay, I’m en route.

I step off the bus and arrive at Ngong Ping Village. Tourists, everywhere. Not exactly what I imagined. I asked how to get to Lotus Pond Temple, but no one knows what I’m talking about. Panic. I look at the map, wander around then google for instructions. According to the website all I have to do is go towards the arches, turn left and keep walking until I see a sign. Okay, easy enough. I head off, the excitment returns. After 20minutes of walking in the sun, on a very humid afternoon, I start to get frustrated and think “ugh whatever, I’ll just go home now”. Annoyed, I start walking to the bus stop. Something stops me and I spot a lady in the distance so I suck it up and ask if she knows the temple. She does! She tells me the way and I’m off again. Turns out the sign is in Chinese, so no wonder I didn’t see it!

I walk through a windy, shady path, through the gates and I see the temple. Almost instantly I feel like I’m home. I feel so relaxed and at peace that I forget about my worries and for a moment, even what I had to do next. I walk past a group of very chatty monastic brothers and sisters. And to be honest, I’m taken aback, because I always think that monks and nuns are super quiet and serious. Not here though, there’s a group of about six, just hanging around a table, chatting. It’s like they’re having a nice afternoon beer, but for them it was tea 🙂 It looks like fun! I spot the registration sign, a sister shows me the dining area, sleeping quarters and leave me to be.

I choose a top bunk bed, literally under a fan, unpack Newton (my little teddy) then I sit, not really sure what to do next. Nothing came to mind so I get off the bed and start walking. I wander over to the temple, and stand on the balcony. I smile to myself. I look up and there’s the Big Buddha on top of the mountain. Ah, so that’s why there are tourists, here I am thinking they’re here for the retreat hehe. Despite being initially greeted by the crowds of tourists, being inside Plum Village is like being in a totally different world. It really is just oh so peaceful. I start to feel so positive and re energised. I can’t help but keep smiling.

This is my first weekend retreat, so I didn’t know what to expect, but instead of worrying of what’s to come, I think to myself, “let’s just try to let it be”. I want some down time after all, so why not make this weekend about that. Make it about me, let it be me time. And as it turns out it was the best way to start the weekend. Because little did I know, but I was well on my way to getting the most out of the practice of being mindful.

What do you do to feel at peace?

:: You may also be interested in: · In & Out · My mindfulness retreat ::

Settled in

This time last week we were hanging out at Sydney Airport all ready for our next adventure: two months in Hong Kong. Perhaps it’s all the travel we’ve been doing (or luck) but we had such a smooth transition from checking in our bags (total weight of 26.6kg) in Canberra to scoring top deck (economy) seats on the fancy Qantas A380. Regardless of the reason, it was a damn fine way to start our trip.

We arrived at Hong Kong airport with our (matching) suitcases and backpacks and headed to our airbnb apartment in Sheung Wan. Our host Amy is a photographer and man her photos so did justice to her place. We’re staying in a cosy but very comfy one bedroom flat on the second floor looking out onto the relatively quiet street. The unit itself is stunning and totally the type of place I can see us in (actually I thought that when I saw the pics). There’s a kitchen, a day bed, a couch and two large office desks, which is perfect as we both work from home so we have plenty of choices.

It didn’t take too long until we were settled in. I unpacked almost immediately and made our belongings feel like home. This is only our second airbnb place, but I’m a fan! Amy is awesome and gave us such a thorough list of recommendations, instructions and even had the fridge kitted up. I can keep raving about the apartment, the three aircon, the super comfy beds (mental note to upgrade sheets!) and the nice bottle of vino that awaited us, but that would be a long list! 

Since arriving on Friday night we’ve been to a bunch of cafes (organic, gluten free options too!), restaurants, made trips to the store, did Zumba and last night went to a local twitter meet up all within walking distance (maximum walk was 20 minutes, but that’s cause my legs are super sore from exercise). Oh and this afternoon I’m off to a mindfulness retreat at a monastery for the weekend 🙂 It’s amazing that we’ve only been here a week and we’re completely settled in, it feels like home and I’m so excited that we have another seven weeks to go!

I love it here. I do. When we tell people we’re in Hong Kong they look a bit skeptical, raise they eyebrow and go “but.. why?” I just smile and say, cause it’s fun 🙂

Isn’t life awesome?

Just stop

my newphews

Stop and smell the… just stop, take a breath, close your eyes, give yourself a minute, or just count to five.

I like to do lists, I get excited when I have stuff to do and I get way into making things super organised and “perfect”. I tend to get into a cycle where I start doing one thing, get distracted and start doing something else, try to make that better, then find something else to organise. Basically I often find myself being followed by a trail of half finished, semi looked over tasks and never at the perfectly organised state I want it to be. So inevitably I get to the point where all I want to do is sulk, stomp and grab my iphone and play an utterly useless game.

Last month I got to spend a lot of time with my older sister and her two little boys. They were one of my sources of happiness, whenever I was around them I got a energy boost, and gosh darnit, just look at them, wouldn’t you? I was just hanging out with them one day when all of a sudden two (almost three) year old Jacob cocks his head at his three month old little brother Matt and just stares at him smiling. They had this precious moment where they just stared at each other and I found myself brimming with pride. 

My little nephews reminded me to take time out, to take a breath, enjoy the moment and just be. I have a very short attention span, so when the little boys looked so darling together it just reminded me how precious time is. I yearn to be busy, then find myself in a flurry because I have “too much”, but in reality I just expect too much from myself that I forget to breathe and enjoy what I’m doing. 

Whenever I randomly see this photo, I smile silently to myself and try to remind myself to enjoy the moment, no matter what it is. And when stress levels start to rise (even just a little), I close my eyes and take a breath, because nothing is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

What do you do to take a break?

Fairy floss balloon

Fairy floss pink balloon

On the weekend, hubby and I were wandering around the lovely streets of Melbourne and this fairy floss coloured balloon caught my attention. It looked so pretty, relaxed and although completely out of place, it seemed happy, just dancing in the wind.

I feel like a floating balloon, but more from the movie UP, where there are heaps of coloured balloons all tied up together, fighting for space and wanting to go in different directions. I want to be more like the fairy floss balloon though. I want to be in the moment instead of planning about what’s next.

When I remember the little pink balloon, I can’t help but smile. Perhaps closer to where I want to be.

I had a two part dream…

The first was a lady coming into the airbnb apartment we’re staying at and “borrowed” a bunch of stuff because the owner said she could. Including the kitchen bench, oven, corner study table and a moped. When I got outside she also rearranged everything.

The second was me looking into an aquariam with a baby shark and three tiny turtles. I was so worried that the turtles were going to get eaten.

What is my mind grapes trying to say?

Smilies – May 1

A few smilies from yesterday…

  • Shopping at SM – Instead of going to a fiesta in the provinces my grandma opted to stay in the city and all she wanted to do was shop! Nanay is 83 and man when she knows what she wants to get there’s no stopping! We walked around the SM Department store (then later Hypermart) and I found it very amusing how Nanay kept asking for Tim’s advice on sizes and shirt patterns. No sitting down on the boy chair for Tim!
  • Skyping with the baby – Just before heading to the airport to fly home, we got to chat with my sister and her brand new little baby boy on skype. The little darling has a way to make everyone around him go awww. We watched him pull faces and squint at the computer. He was oh so very cute with his little squishy face. Can’t wait to head back in July to give him (and his older bro) a nice big cuddle.
  • Row 1 – The great thing about Cebu Pacific is that we always manage to score such great exit row seats! This was no exception. We settled down in Row 1 B and C as the flight took off. The trip was just over an hour but it gave us time to sit, read and chat. Hubby is the best travelling partner ever.