I didn’t expect to learn so much from this workshop. At first, I thought it was going to be a meditation workshop. But as soon as I saw the schedule, and how much it emphasizes relaxation, I thought we were just going to learn about how to ‘feel good’.
So, at the beginning of the workshop, when I was given instructions on how to relax my body, I didn’t pay too much attention to that. Neither did I feel there was any use for having a group discussion on our states of relaxation. However, the next activity quickly convinced me how ignorant I was. In this activity, each participant was given a straw and a ping-pong ball.
We were asked to place the ping-pong ball on top of the straw and walked around in a circle. Our task was to carry the ping-pong ball without letting it fall off. It wasn’t an easy task.
Even though the straw was a thick bubble-tea straw, a slight wobble would drop the ball. This was indeed training for concentration and mindfulness. However, the most challenge part of the activity was that all the participants were asked to relax.
I could not relax. I thought gazing and focusing on the ball would make it easier to stay on, but since that was what we were told, I decided I would give it a try. Strange things happened. When I was relaxed, my mind could still maintain the awareness that I was holding a straw with a ping-pong ball, but it became effortless to keep the ball on. I walked slowly, only focusing on the movement of my body and feet.
I felt how the centre of gravity of my body shifted when I lifted my foot, and I could also feel the sensation of how my feet were touching the floor. The ping-pong ball didn’t fall off. However, as soon as I broke that mindfulness and started wondering why the ball hadn’t fall off, it fell off. How interesting!! In the group discussion, many people echoed my discovery.
Lunch at DDM Vancouver Centre was a blessing. Not only were we served a free delicious vegetarian buffet, we were given a live demonstration by Venerable Guo Shu, the Abbess of the Centre, on how to eat mindfully.
The idea was to only do one thing at a time. We should only pick up food when we were not chewing; when we were chewing, our hands were at rest. With my eyes closed, I could observe the delicate workings of my teeth and tongue and enjoy the taste of the food. I was taught to eat like this when I was at grade two, but I couldn’t recall if I’d ever eaten like this. Of course, relaxation was emphasized during the whole lunch period, and the more relaxed I was, the food was more tasty.
Activities in the afternoon were fun and meaningful. The first activity in the afternoon was on communication. One person in each of the three groups was given a piece of paper with an odd sentence on it. This person whispered the sentence to another group member, who would do the same until every group member had heard the sentence.
The last group member who heard the sentence would whisper the sentence back to the first person, who would show all the group members how different or similar the sentence ended up. For example, the first sentence was ‘the man in the grey suite walks across the street’. Our group produced exactly the same thing, but one group ended up giving ‘my mom baked a hot cross bun’. This activity showed we often don’t hear what others are saying. And relaxation is the key to mindful listening.
The following activity summarized what we’ve done all day. At the beginning of the activity, we were asked to relax. When everyone was quiet, somebody’s phone rang.
I was quite annoyed at first until I realized it was just a tape recording. I was able to let go of a couple more annoying sounds, including the sound of a crying baby, breaking glass, and a noisy market place. The purpose of this activity, this workshop and even meditation, as the activity leader, Jen-ni, explained, was to develop our awareness of our surroundings and attend to things accordingly, but in a relaxed and mindful way.
Too often when we hear a crying baby or a ringing phone, we attend to them with a lot of anger and anxiety, thinking only to get rid of the disturbance that cause us pain. Under such mind set, we cannot focus nor concentrate. We may misunderstand other people or the situation and end up hurting others and ourselves.
These pain remains and accumulates inside ourselves. Eventually, we can take no more. Our bodies grow ill and die young, and our minds suffer from guilt, frustration and depression. However, all these can be avoided by simply being relaxed and being aware of staying relaxed. When we are relaxed, mindfulness, concentration and eventually compassion and wisdom follow.
The day went by quickly. At about five in the afternoon, workshop was finished. We took a group photo and we were also given some materials on cultivating a fruitful and peaceful life. I am sincerely grateful to all the volunteers and the Abbess at DDM Vancouver Centre, and I wish everyone who took part in this workshop has a fruitful and peaceful life.
(by Martin Lin)