No phone, no laptop, no internet, no Facebook!!!
First of all, I would like to thank Richard Tan, my boss, for allowing me to participate in the 49-day retreat.
It has been an amazing experience, and I am very thankful to Richard for making that possible.
To be honest, I didn't really complete 49 days offline, I did use the phone and went online on the 18th day. I will share with you the details later.
So, why would anyone want to take the time away for 49 days without phones and connection, and no talking?
Well, I can assure you, it is one of the most amazing experience.
For those who have done meditation before, you know, there will be pain...
And why would I want to attempt this despite of all the pain which I have already anticipated or even pain beyond my anticipation?
For me, I want to deepen my practice, and continue to grow and become the best I can be.
My 1st retreat was back in October 2011.
Since then, I promised myself to go for retreats, at least twice a year. And with the blessing from my boss, Richard and the company, I’m able to do that.
I always share this with my friends, attending a Chan retreat is the best gift you can give yourself.
Well, 49 days could be a bit drastic for a start.
But 7 or 14 days, it is only 1.92% or 3.84% of a year.
We thought it is a big deal, coz it is unconventional, and not many are doing it. Plus, it doesn't give us any immediate gratification, or physical rewards. Well, it does, just that human nowadays doesn't see intangibles as important as tangibles. Investing 7 days and get to know ourselves better, isn’t that a great investment?
How many 7 days has passed by our lives without us doing something meaningful to it?
I want to borrow a quote from Paulo Coelho:
“When you possess great treasures within you, and you try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”
We wish everyone could attend at least one retreat, to experience it, then you will understand why, it is such a great attraction for us to go, again and again.
It is not about the pursuit of enlightenment, it is not about trying to be different than the rest.
It is about practice, about cleansing the mind, and to be the best we can be, and be of benefit to others.
I believe taking time out from time to time is important, we disconnect to reconnect, at a deeper, and more genuine level.
To me, a retreat is a good time to pause, to introspect, to reflect, to find out any blind spots.
大死一番 to kill the bad habits and give rise to good habits, to get out of our habitual pattern.
I did fantasize / imagine that I would be fully transformed into a brand new me, like a caterpillar to a butterfly. Well, it doesn't happen that way. If anyone promised you that, please run away quickly.
So how did I survive and what did I learn?
I have summarized it into 7 points.
1: Beware of what you become in pursuit of what you want
Let me give you some background how this realization come about. When I first practiced meditation years ago, I had this tendency, I won't let go of my legs even if there were pain. I would fight the pain. And the coolest thing about meditation, it is a snapshot of how we deal with our lives in a mere 30-50 minutes.
Hence, if I am always fighting the pain in my legs, it means I am fighting against everything which is against my will.
Hence, this round, I told myself I want a change. Each time I felt a little bit of pain, I would release from my sitting position and changed leg, in the name of "not fighting" and “letting go”.
But after a few sittings, I felt something is not right.
Hence I consulted the Venerable, "am I creating a habit of not sitting still and not able to withstand the pain?" He said yes. Coz I am giving myself permission to change leg or posture each time there is a bit of pain and I am not practicing or tolerating.
He said, a better solution is to endure it beyond its threshold coz the body will adjust itself. This reminded me of what Jim Rohn once said, "Beware of what you become in pursuit of what you want."
Always be mindful, as we might create blind spot from time to time, and bad habits unconsciously by giving ourselves excuses or reasons that might seem logical and legitimate.
2: Pain is Pain, Suffering is Optional
Throughout my 49 days, I experienced pain which i never thought existed. Knee pain, bum pain, back pain, shoulder pain…etc…Don’t get me wrong, pain during meditation is actually good, so for those who wants to attempt meditation, please don’t worry :)
So how did I handle this?
“Face it, Accept it, Handle it, Let it go”
Here is a universal way to handle any situation.
Usually, we are reluctant to face it or accept it, and we fail to handle it, and we don't want to let it go.
Pain is Pain, but suffering is optional.
Leg can be painful, but I can choose not to suffer.
Instead, I use the pain as a support in meditation.
3: “I am sorry, I love you, Thank you, Good bye”
Remember I said I didn't complete 49 days offline? On the 18th day, I made a few phone calls and went online.
On 8th August, I got a note.
It said, "You got a phone call from your family, your aunt has passed away this morning. Please get in touch with your father immediately."
I was in shock when I got the news. My sister Emileigh and I quickly went to the office and made some phone calls to my parents and friends. My mum asked us to stay in Taiwan, to continue with the retreat. They would handle the funeral. I was so sad, and i cried for 2 days. I was very thankful, I was in the meditation hall and was able to practice the method, and handle the situation.
I learnt on that day, I was sad, because of guilt, feeling of not doing enough for my aunt. And we didn't say good bye.
In life, don't forget to say "I am sorry, I love you, Thank you, and Good bye."
Is there anyone in your life, who you have taken for granted?
Who you think will be there forever waiting for us?
Waiting for us to earn that million, to complete a project, to close a big sale...
Is there anyone who loves us unconditionally which we have neglected in pursuit of our goals and dreams and we convinced ourselves it is ok, we are doing it for "US"?
If you have someone like that in your life, I suggest you give the person a call, or meet the person, and tell them "I am sorry, I love you, thank you for everything you did for me, and good bye."
Coz we really don't know when will we see each other again.
4: Do it anyway, despite “I don’t feel like to”
I would love to tell you, my 49 days were all great and joyful. Well, the truth is, it was not. Apart from the passing on of my aunt, the rest of the days were very peaceful. But I couldn't help but find myself counting days. And it is not all easy. There are days I was even counting the hours... There are days where I don't even feel like waking up... The body was so tired and aching. But because that was a group practice, we had to follow the rules which we had agreed upon. 4am, even though I don't feel like waking up, I had to wake up anyway and do what is already set anyway.
Surprisingly, morning sitting is usually one of my best sitting. Hence, i realized, once we have a fixed schedule, or a mission to be completed, despite of "I don't feel like doing it", do it anyway, and the emotion and body reaction will soon fade away, and the joy of doing it will soon overtake the reluctance.
5: “I have given it my best”
There are days when I can't sit well. "Can't sit well" is a label I gave it. To me, if I couldn't sit well without much wandering thoughts or I had to face the pains in my legs, that is not well. But the truth is, at the end, each sitting was a unique sitting by itself. And each of them is perfect as it was. There is no such thing as a good sitting nor a bad sitting. The question is, have I given my best, made the best use of the time to practice?
I have learnt to answer to myself, "I have given my best" 我盡力了"
Before we go to sleep each night, ask ourselves, "have I given it my best today?". If we can face ourselves and tell ourselves, "I have given my best.", then it is a perfect and unique day which we have completed, with purpose and meaning, and with no regret.
Most of the time, people spend time dreaming of the future, or regret the past, and not living the moment.
If we can practice to live the moment, to give each moment our best, our 100%, then the next moment will take care of itself.
6: Regressing, is actually progressing
I expected my retreat to be better and better everyday. But I had pain, body aches, wandering thoughts, and even drowsiness... I questioned myself, WHY?? It should be getting better... So, I went to consult the Venerable again. Venerable said, you can’t expect it to be like linear. Sometime in life, regressing, is actually progressing. Just like climbing a mountain. When you reach the peak, you need to come down in order to climb another higher mountain.
Hence, regressing, is progressing.
7: Beginner’s mind
Beginner's mind refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.
Every sitting is a new sitting.
Every day is a new day.
Every breathe is a new breathe.
We might feel bored or tired, coz we feel it is like repetition every day. But if we can keep this in mind, the Beginner's mind, we will always be grounded, and not proud; fresh, and not bored.
With Beginner's mind, we won't forget our root, won’t get proud, we will always stay humble. And we won't be disheartened, we will always be grounded, calm, and practice sincerely, progressing at our own pace, and not competing with others.
It is a journey to be a better version of myself. In everything we do, whenever we feel bored or frustrated, we always go back to our Beginner's mind.
It has been an amazing experience and my wish is I can do it again and again every year. And i wish everyone will take the time out from the busy-ness of life, to discover life itself.
By: Lydia Tan
Event: Mo Zhao Chan49
Date: 2017 July 22 – September 9