I was first introduced to mindfulness in my third-year university class in Positive Psychology. At the start of one of the classes, my professor shared his experience with meditation. He warned of the difficult memories and emotions that it awoken, that it was best to start under the guidance of someone with experience. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that sounds like powerful stuff! I need to try that for myself.”

I often experienced loneliness as the only student of Asian descent growing up. I didn’t think that the other kids would understand my unique challenges at home, so I didn’t share. Most difficult of all, I couldn’t talk to my parents.

I recall many occasions where I would sit on the floor in my bedroom, crying quietly to myself because I didn’t want anyone to know. Each time, my heart ached, and I felt a deep emptiness inside. This was the only way I knew how to deal with my anger and frustration.

It was not until I was in my final year of Naturopathic medicine that I decided I had to face my inner demons once and for all. As an intern managing patients, I quickly realized that most chronic physical ailments stemmed from underlying mental or emotional causes. If physiological imbalances are corrected for but the condition persists, well then, there must be a deeper root cause.

1603-mindfullness3I believed strongly that I could only take my patients as far as I have taken myself. That meant I had to sort through my emotional baggage first before I could help anyone else with their own.

I took many routes. I picked up books, saw my school counselor, and began meditating on my own. Finally, last year, I saw a Facebook post promoting a meditation retreat. The event was called Viet Wake Up, and it was aimed at teaching mindfulness and meditation to Vietnamese youth. I signed up.

What is mindfulness? Quite simply, it is the attunement to the present moment.  It is calmly observing what is happening inside and outside of us, without judgment. It is the acknowledgement and acceptance of our current feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, without getting involved in them. It is freedom from past regrets and future anxieties. It is being fully awoken.

Indeed, as my professor warned, engaging in a weekend of meditation stirred plenty of emotions, old hurts, and fears. I cried during a small circle sharing, I cried during my intimate talk with one of the monastics, I cried during the group meditation first thing in the morning on the final day.

I needed the release. I needed to cleanse myself of old energies that were buried deep inside. And unless released, these never go away. They remain – ready to be triggered by the next fight, disappointment or heartbreak. Or they are pushed so far out of consciousness that they wreak havoc instead on the physical body.

1603-mindfullnessOur lives are so punctured by stress and “busyness”. Not only from our hectic schedules, but also from our very own minds, which have been clouded by anxieties, resentments and fears. This retreat was the catalyst for my transformation away from anger, fear and loneliness towards openness, love, and freedom.

The battle is not over. Life is funny in that it always presents itself with new challenges. One thing is for sure; I am now more prepared than ever to face these challenges. I encourage anyone who is mildly curious to attend this year’s Viet Wake Up Retreat.