Feedback of a two day beginners meditation training course

Ever since I read “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham, I started exploring meditation in the mornings after my yoga routine. Up until today (the end of my meditation retreat), my understanding of meditation was shallow. I thought the goal was to sit for a long time and not think about anything, and I attempted it simply to seek a peace of mind.
Last month, at my cousin’s wedding, I met her maid of honor, who has been practicing meditation for years. I asked her to suggest a meditation course or retreat I could try. I also asked an old friend who has been practicing meditation for years. They both recommended a few and strongly recommended checking out Dharma Drum Mountain 法鼓山. I found a two day beginners meditation training course up in SanYi and signed up: Jan 09~10, 2016.

Prior to the trip, I was chatting with Wayne about the different meditation centers – asking him which were cleaner, how strict they were, and what his experiences were, and he told me:
“Surrender to whatever comes up without trying to control everything. You let go a little and through the process, learn about yourself and surprisingly, experience some peace and happiness. As the famous Thai teacher, Ajahn Cha once said, ‘If you let go a little, you a will have a little peace; if you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely, you will have complete peace.’ “

His words meant a lot to me because I can be a control freak needing to know what is going to happen next, when, and how. I took his advice and packed a few simple items and drove up to San Yi with no expectations.
After a 35 minute drive, I arrived at the Center where the 100 other attendees were also signing in. We were each assigned a cohort and escorted to our rooms with wooden floors and set up our sleeping bags. The toilets and showers were really simple – I felt like I was back in girls scout camp in elementary school.
During the two days, we attended a total of eight meditation classes, ranging from 1.5~3 hours. I will spare the detail schedule so that if anyone who reads this wishes to participate in a meditation retreat, he/she will also go with no expectations like I did.

The courses were led by 果雲法師, this sweet and zen 80 year old lady that but
looked a decade younger. The teachings are of 聖嚴法師 who founded 法鼓山 in 1989. After two full days of training and learning about his teachings and philosophy, I feel that he is more of a philosopher than a religious leader, and I like that. I didn’t feel like we were praying to one god or idol, but instead learning how to live peacefully – 淨 *靜*敬 (clean, peace, respect) – how to 淨身 and 靜心.
She taught us 8 basic exercises called 八式動禪. These exercises remind me of the old people we see in the parks in the mornings – swinging their arms and twisting their waists. We joke that these are “old people exercises” but after learning how to properly do these exercises, which is verryyyyy slowly, I found it to be actually quite difficult. The key is to do it as slow as possible, without using your muscles, relaxing completely, and be aware of you body.

In meditation, DDM has seven sitting postures (and more for standing). The ideal is to be able to meditate in full-lotus position. I did most of my meditation in half-lotus position until after about 20 minutes, I would switch sides because my legs were numb from my toes to my knees.

On DAY 2, we woke up at 5am and lined up to go for a 80-minute trail walk. We were asked not to speak or make any sound during this walk, and to 活在當下 – 身在哪裡 心就在哪裡. Walking quietly and focusing on the moment allowed me to fully enjoy the fresh air, the perfectly planted tea farm, and the beautiful sunrise behind the layers of mountains.

In the two days of simple and disciplined routine, I was able to detach myself from my phone, which has become something I am too obsessed with – obsessed with replying emails and texts immediately, taking photos of everything, and checking my calendar and clock every few minutes. I’m surprised and how easy that was, and now, four hours after I’ve left the Center, I still haven’t checked my phone!

When I hear “meditation retreat” I think of this type retreat where you eat two vegetarian meals a day, don’t speak, wear white clothes, meditate, and just relax. Some fancy retreats might even include yoga, spa, walks, and add some meditation. This was nothing like that. This was a meditation training course, 12 hours a day, teaching us of Buddhist teachings of discipline, peace, and kindness.
A few lessons I learned:
1) 慢活 Patience and slowing down
We learned to walk, exercise, eat and breathe slowly – which I found to be slightly challenging. They teach of 慢活, which is similar to the SLOW MOVEMENT, but they emphasise that it is not to just move slowly and become inefficient and do nothing all day, but to do things with 細心, 靜心, and 專心.
2) 身在哪裡 心就在哪
Oftentimes, we are worrying about something else when we are brushing your teeth, driving, eating dinner. The lesson here is to focus on the activity that you are doing now and not be distracted by what you will be doing next. I am always rushing, planning, and thinking about my next meeting, weekend plans, next race…or doing five things at the same time, eating fruit, answering email while on a call.
3) Living in the moment 活在當下
Focus on NOW and not the past or future. We often get caught up with thinking about the past – how we could have done things differently, or the future – what we will/want to be doing next. This is the most important lesson for me. This is similar to Wayne’s reminder of letting go and not having expectations. I often get so focused on setting and achieving goals, and setting expectations for relationships or people (how they should behave or react), and oftentimes disappointed that things don’t turn out as I expected. This is a good reminder for myself to enjoy the moment and stop worrying about the past or future.

written by Shi Ting Wang

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