Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Tag: mindfulness

Gifts of the Moment

Walking along the fence of the allotment, a window opens into something like deep, foraging time. Walking carefully, steadily, gaze turned towards the edible potential to my left, with senses open to the wider environment. Calm, content, alert, I could keep going like this all afternoon. What is it that makes me think of an ancestor gathering berries into a container woven of grass, a hundred thousand years ago? The imagination renders this moment both less and more significant than usual. Gentle warm wind, intense brightness when clouds give way – a gift this late in the summer.

There is a mild burning at the inside of my third finger where it was touched by nettles and the rubbing with dock leaf hasn’t completely taken it away. A “be careful” message enlivening the skin. Thorns are ready to rip into my scarf, which I hold close to my body. There is barbed wire too and you have to reach a little further at this time of the year to get to the last crop of blackberries. Aware of the whole body, the reach, balance, in-breath, contact with the fruit, careful release, exhale. Some of them are too soft to come off the branch whole and dark, sticky red juice runs down the fingers into the palm. Others are too firm and don’t yield to a probing tuck. They are for later, or for others, whose anonymous presence replaces the “wanting for one-self.”

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Flying Mindfully by Air France

We had been flying to Madrid from Hong Kong with a layover in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. The purpose of our journey was to attend the conference “1st World Encounter Teresian Mysticism and Interreligious Dialogue: Theravada Buddhism and Teresian Mysticism – Meditation and Contemplation Pathways to Peace,” which was held from 27–30 July at the International Centre of Teresian and Sanjuanist Studies of the University of Mysticism in Avila, Spain.

As with many other airlines, Air France seats have a TV screen attached to the back of all seats, and I was browsing through the program for some in-flight entertainment. Although as a monastic, searching for entertainment might go against my conventional spiritual practice, this habit of searching for movies and songs helped me to relax, apart from meditating.

But this time I was astonished to see a clip that invited us to discover the benefits of mindfulness meditation practice via the mind app program. The program consists of twelve guided mindfulness meditations – six for children and six for adults – with corresponding videos for concentration and serenity onboard long-haul flights.

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Musings on Mindfulness and Metta

Graham Lock

Last December, I took part in an 8-day metta meditation retreat at the Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society’s meditation centre at Fa Hong Monastery on Lantau Island.

The retreat was led by Visu Teoh, an experienced and well-respected teacher of vipassana and metta meditation based in Penang, and well known in Hong Kong as one of the Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society’s main teachers. The retreat was organised by Peta McCauley and others of the Hong Kong Mindfulness Teachers Network and intended primarily for teachers of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Many of the participants in fact turned out to be students on MBSR and MBCT courses at the Hong Kong Centre for Mindfulness.

I am not myself a teacher of mindfulness but I am of course aware of the enormous growth in popularity of MBSR and MBCT courses, not to mention the many far less rigorous mindfulness “products” on the market. I am also aware of the reservations some Buddhist teachers have expressed about them. As is well known, at least among Buddhists, the kinds of mindfulness practices taught on such courses developed from sati practices as introduced to the West by people like Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, and further popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others.

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Make Something

Ratnadevi

When I joined Facebook a few months ago I was slightly concerned that it might turn into another of those addictions, like binge watching television series on Netflix (something I have to watch!). But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way, I am glad to say. The holiday adventures of a distant friend just aren’t that much of a page-turner, as it were. But every so often I come across a little Facebook gem; a link to an interesting article or a witty exchange that stays in my mind. Like this one, about a week before Christmas:

G: Don’t buy anything.

Me: Make something.

A: Like, what???

Till very recently, people constantly made things. They sewed, knitted, wove, embroidered and darned their clothes. They carved, hammered and incised tools, toys and weapons. They shaped stone into houses; clay into pots; grass into baskets; flour into bread; fruit and vegetables into conserves and mammoth ivory into talismans. Their bodies, in turn were shaped by the repetitious actions; as were their minds and communities.

I am sure some of this shaving, whittling and pounding was a bit of a grind at times. People must have got repetitive strain injury. (In an experiment a stonemason using Stone Age tools took 400 hours to make a replica of the 30 cm high figure of the “Lion Man.”) Maybe it was a bit mind-numbing as well, even if it was done in community, with plenty of chatting, chanting and storytelling going on. But it was also an enviably healthy way to spend one’s time: rooted in sensory experience, with a sense of purpose and belonging. The writers Richard Maybe and Kathleen Jamie visited an exhibition of ‘Ice Age Art’ in London in 2013, and, looking at small sculptures bearing the imprint of their Palaeolithic makers, agreed that they ‘felt something strangely akin to homesickness’.

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This is just to say

Ratnadevi

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

By William Carlos Williams

I was reminded of this poem recently when it was recited in the film Paterson, by Jim Jarmusch. The movie is as counter-cultural as it gets: nothing (or almost nothing) more dramatic happens than a bus breaking down. It has no sex in it, but breathes tenderness, right from the starting scene, where you see a couple waking up, entwined in each other’s’ arms; streaks of golden-white morning light playing on their skins. You see this scene repeated throughout the film, with variations in posture and light, as the days of the week unfold. He is a bus driver in Paterson, the town William Carlos Williams lived and wrote in, and also writes poetry, jotted down in spare moments around his shifts. She is a designer/artist in waiting, developing her style at home, by painting every large enough surface: crockery, curtains, clothes and even homemade cupcakes in black and white patterns.

This slow-paced, meditative film has generally been very well received, which, in itself, gives me hope for our media and action saturated world. Paterson, the film’s unpublished “hero,” doesn’t own a mobile phone or other screen device. He still writes everything by hand, into a notebook with un-ruled pages. As the camera bouncily follows the familiar bus route you are impelled to view the scene through a poet’s eye. Ordinary house walls in juxtaposition to other ordinary house walls, the rambling conversation among passengers or with his colleagues are given significance as potential material for poetry. They are worth taking note of.

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Wagging the Tail at Digital Dilemmas

Ratnadevi

Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Last week I had a Skype call with Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor’s senior writer, to discuss my new blogging venture. At some point I mentioned that I have trouble attracting interest for some of my courses. He replied that Facebook is now what the telephone and email have been in previous decades: if you don’t use it you are off the radar. He wasn’t the first person to stress the importance of social media for promoting one’s work, but something about his youthful, calm and confident presence, sitting there with this headphones in his sun-filled office in Hong Kong, tipped me into action.

Someone actually had already set up a Facebook page for me about a year ago, but I lacked confidence and conviction to use it. I mentioned the issue to my peer-coaching partner in Bangkok, Kanya Likanasudh, and she, bless her, taught me how to use Facebook via screen sharing in zoom. “And you need more friends!” she said.

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Reflections on Quality of Life at a Buddhist Studies Conference

Raymond Lam

Attendees at the conference.

Attendees at the conference.

Last Tuesday, the Buddhistdoor team returned to Hong Kong from Vancouver after attending the 6th Annual Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation Conference at The University of British Columbia (UBC). Jessica Main, the intellectually formidable and ever-kind chair of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Society, kept the conference running at an impressively smooth pace. What really struck me was how she and Ven. Tian Wen, the abbot of TLKY Canada, were so even-tempered and laid-back despite their significant responsibilities. I feel the same about Alan Kwan, Buddhistdoor’s Pure Land columnist and founding editor. He’s an easy-going Vancouverite who radiates an infectious enthusiasm and love of the city (he has plenty of experience showing visitors the best spots, from tourist favorites like Granville Island and the famous Silk Road-themed restaurant East is East to his personal favorite, a Cantonese-style cha chaan teng in Richmond).

Indeed, the whole environment felt relaxed and “chill,” despite the efficient running of seminars and lectures and a general sense of academic, no-nonsense purpose among the scholars at the conference.

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