Most urban dwellers who are still in the workforce lead a hectic pace of life and I’m no exception.
The stress can take a toll on health, but we’d rather ignore the symptoms and push through until the time bomb explodes.
Unless a medical ailment or catastrophe strikes, or you’re retired, finding moments to switch off and reflect is not a priority for us.
Discovering ourselves and what makes us tick can be an unnerving experience.
When an invitation landed on my desk to reconnect with myself by meditating in nature, I was initially sceptical to accept it.
I’m open to embracing a lot of things, but in two days, how can one possibly discover inner peace?
I seem to be getting a lot of meditation invitations lately – perhaps it’s the universe trying to tell me to slow down and appreciate the little things!
Basically, meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state.
Anyway, work commitments and other issues cropped up, and it was six months before I finally found time in December 2017 to check out the weekend Inner Peace Retreat at Kechara Forest Retreat in Bentong, Pahang.
“We actually started the retreat in 2014, but only one person showed up!” said retreat facilitator Phng Li Kheng when I arrived.
Nevertheless, the retreat went on though the sole participant was inevitably uncomfortable with the personalised attention.
Through word of mouth, more participants started attending the retreat, and now, the two-day getaway is held monthly.
“My guru Tsem Tulku Rinpoche always says that meditation is a tool to empower people to conquer the multiple challenges in life.
“I was also a sceptic before and thought it was a sheer waste of time. I always watch the time and doing nothing for 10 minutes was painful.
“Being kiasu, I made sure I tried it, but in the beginning, I felt nothing was happening.
“The changes only started taking place after a while.
“Let’s just say it wasn’t part of my plan in life to teach meditation. But I actually like myself better now.
“The power is equal in all of us and seeing people heal is very rewarding,” shared Phng.
Our motley group of participants comprised 25 people, young, old, and in between.
On arrival, we were told to surrender all electronic devices as it was a silent retreat.
There were “ooohs” and “ahhhs” all around, and you could see the anxiety building up in some people as they hesitantly handed their possessions over.
We’d get it back at the end of the day, but only for 10 minutes before we had to part with it again.
We were out to learn different types of meditation and apply what works for us.
After Phng briefed us on the meditation fundamentals, she guided us on some simple breathing methods to prepare us for the process of sitting meditation.
The breath pattern wasn’t difficult, but the sitting still was a challenge for some.
Sitting mediation redevelops discipline as we sit in physical and mental stillness to have clarity of mind to realise our maximum potential.
Eating meditation came next and for fast eaters, this was a torture!
We were served with a deliciously healthy vegetarian menu.
Before we could start eating, Phng gave us instructions.
“The purpose of this session is to create mindfulness that will help improve our digestive health as well as enable us to discover the flavours of the ingredients.
“For every mouthful you take, chew your food 27 times before swallowing it. It will also keep you full longer,” she said.
Again, there were murmurings of “27 times?!” all around the hungry group.
After all, how many people actually sit down to enjoy a meal, savouring all the flavours and tastes, especially during working hours?
Born a slow eater, I had no trouble with this. In fact, I sometimes chewed more than 27 times and would always be the last one to leave the dining table.
Imagine trying to chew one strand of noodle for that long!
We also got a taste of walking meditation where one focuses on both the breath and walking.
Phng took the lead and no one was allowed to overtake her, meaning you had to slow down your pace and take smaller steps.
“Every time you inhale, one foot comes off the floor, and with every exhale, it lands on the floor.
“Of course, the distractions from the beauty and sounds of nature added to the challenge – vital in learning how to tune out distractions in daily life while acknowledging that they exist.
“Being in the present is very empowering towards developing clarity of mind, which sharpens our senses as we learn to develop and hold clarity of thought while our body is moving.
“This method also relieves us from the tension and stress of the rat race because we are able to enter meditational mode quickly to realign and reground our thoughts in busy circumstances,” explained Phng.
Over the two days, we extended the meditation duration, meditated to watch sunrise, and also dabbled in paint, brushes and art blocks to express ourselves creatively.
No theme was given and everyone was free to paint whatever they desired.
It was interesting to note how our artworks were worlds apart.
For instance, the 10-year-old boy drew a scene out of a video game (not surprising!), while one 60-year-old drew a calm blue sea (she’s found acceptance), another put smidgens of dark colours everywhere (emotional turmoil?), and yet another drew herself on an island (she longed for a holiday).
The purpose: once we got to painting, we became so engrossed and focused that the outside world was blocked off.
Phng said, “Using different methods of communication like painting is a refreshing approach that taps into an area of our mind that has been long neglected.”
The retreat was a good learning experience and I’ve started to meditate for 10 minutes daily before I hit the bed, and yes, though I consider myself an amateur, I am beginning to reap some of the benefits.
Give it a try.