The Present is a Present for you

Demystifying Mindfulness from the Perspectives of Psychology and Buddhism: A Half-Day Retreat @HKU + Lung Fu Shan

ASIAR - Asian Religious Connections
The New Mindscape
Published in
10 min readDec 29, 2021


“Yesterday is history

Tomorrow is a mystery

But today is a gift.

That’s why it’s called

the Present.”

With the Christmas bell ringing under the mistletoe, the year of 2021 is about to come to an end.

Each year at this time, we’ll have a strong feeling of standing at the intersection between the past and the future, the old and the new, the ‘history’ and the ‘mystery’. Every year of life felt like just passing us without notice.

Looking deeply, you may ponder, “have I truly treasured every day and every moment in my life as a present?”

Are you NOT doing what you are doing?

Many of us might have experienced the following situation in our hectic lives:

  • You forgot to get off the bus/MTR…
  • You are not sure whether you’ve used the soap or not during a shower…
  • You intended to send a message but got distracted after looking at your phone…

These are the symptoms of NOT being mindful of our present moments. Prof. Lam Shui-fong, the director of Jockey Club “Peace and Awareness” Mindfulness Culture in Schools Initiative (JC PandA), also our first guest facilitator of the event “Demystifying Mindfulness from the Perspectives of Psychology and Buddhism: A Half-Day Retreat @HKU + Lung Fu Shan” pointed out that our mind is constantly NOT with our body — when we eat, we are not eating; when we walk, we are not walking; when we sleep, we are not sleeping……

But what is mindfulness anyway? Prof. Lam answered, “Mindfulness is like honey; you can never know what the flavour really is until you taste it.” Although she provided a rather accurate definition on mindfulness, she also pointed out that understanding the definition intellectually itself is far from enough.

“Mindfulness means the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2013) Prof.Lam questioned, “Can you really understand what mindfulness is after reading the definition as such? And how can you apply it into your daily life?”

Ways of Mindfulness

There are many ways to “taste” mindfulness, such as through sitting, walking, eating and stretching. On the day of workshop, we were lucky to have Prof. Lam guide us to practice mindful sitting and stretching.

While sitting, we were told to sit in the front of the chair seat, upright our torso and pay attention to the breathing while mentally scanning our body from the feet on the ground to the head. We felt that the calmness is a natural manifestation of such process.

Prof. Lam guided sitting meditation

Mindfulness is about Accepting: it is not a game of self-criticism nor competition

Though with Prof.Lam’s clear and soft instructions, many of us still found our mind easily drifting away by many different things — either the past or the future. Once we were aware of that, we can’t help but criticise ourselves for not being in the present moment.

Prof. Lam told us that it is okay to have many thoughts. The key is about whether you are able to be AWARE of all those thoughts, emotions, or feelings that come to your body and your mind in the present moments. The awareness is the mindfulness. Mindfulness is NOT about emptying our thoughts — in fact, it is impossible to do that. Mindfulness is about accepting and embracing what is in your mind and body without criticism or judgments.

While practicing mindful stretching, Prof. Lam especially emphasised the “non-striving” and “non-competitive” nature of the actions.

“Stretching is not a competition with others nor even with yourself; everyone has his/her own limits, we should all respect our own limits. Just stretch your body at your own ease and at your own pace.”

This is a process of listening to our own body and thus healing it with our respect and love. Although these are seemingly simple postures, Prof.Lam helped us realise how often we would put ourselves in a competitive and striving mode in which our body are tight, and our mind are trapped in self-criticism and comparison.

Driven-Doing V.S. Mindful-Being. Which way of living will you choose?

Now we may have a clue of why practicing mindfulness is helpful and important to us. By being mindful, we can truly live our lives. While we experience ‘the present’ every day, every minute, every second, even every millisecond, we still oftentimes dismiss the value of the present, haunted by the nostalgia of the past and worries about the future. Such mode of being almost forms an internal loop in our mind, constantly enforced by our society, and leading to many sufferings and mental issues such as anxiety and depression.

By being mindful, we are also able to turn OFF the auto-pilot mode of our body and mind, and to avoid being the slave of our own emotions such as anger. Prof. Lam said, “When we are angry, we are irrational and prone to conduct regretful behaviours, whether to our beloved ones or to other people.” By practicing mindfulness, we’ll be more conscious of the consequences and energies of our actions. And gradually we’ll have more empathy with ourselves and the world around us and gain more capacity in growing love and happiness.

Mindful Walking: Grounding ourselves in the present moment

With the warmup practice in mindful sitting and stretching guided by Prof. Lam and her psychological insights, we were ready to experience the mindfulness in motion — by walking and hiking in the Lung Fu Mountain — and from a Buddhist perspective.

You may wonder: what is the difference between walking and mindful walking, and how could we know if we are walking mindfully? Indeed, walking is so ubiquitous that we often fail to notice it. It is an action we practice every day: we rely on walking to move from place to place, to battle with limited time, and to reach out for goals we set for ourselves in the life marathon.

Yet, according to Br. Trời Bình An (平安天), one of the monasteries from the Plum Village HK, mindful walking can fundamentally transform the nature of walking and the quality of being manifested in our daily life. It is not a competition for speed, but a spiritual process of grounding yourself where you are — right in the present moment.

Brother Bình An also demonstrated his technique of mindful walking: “While walking, we could group, say, every two to three steps into ‘breath-in’ and the other following steps as ‘breath-out’:

Step … Step …

(Breathing) In … In …

Step … Step … Step

(Breathing) Out … Out …Out

By naming the in-breath and out-breath while walking, we can regulate our steps by a certain tempo. And during this process, we can garner the support from the earth.

Mindful Hiking at Lung Fu Mountain: somewhere to go but no need to rush

After the demonstration, we followed the pace of brothers and sisters and walked into the forest of Lung Fu Mountain where we could experience the sound, the fragrance, the tactility… all the sensations awakened by nature.

Although walking mindfully does not necessarily mean walking slowly, we proceeded in a relatively slow but steady pace — a pace that many of us had no time and no chance to practice in our daily routines. We were so used to hurrying toward another destination. Now, we could have an excuse to just enjoy the process.

In the beginning, the feeling of impatience and unease might arise from the habitual patterns of rushing. But as we practice the mindful hiking collectively, the energy of calming and caring spread.

‘Be true’, ‘Be kind’, ‘Be grateful’, and ‘Go forward’…these are the blessings carved on the stone wall.
Hiking mindfully, we could feel our muscles tightening and relaxing; our noses inhaling the air and exhaling right before mounting up another step.
We could feel each footstep as it rolled from heel to toe, and our tendons stretched.
As we hiked deep into the Lung Fu Mountain, our eyes could capture the immediacy of the beauty of the trees, cherry blossoms, and the sea from afar.
We felt that we were rooting in the environment in a state of appreciation while mentally being at present.

Gradually we would realise that

Every step we made mindfully is a kiss to our mother earth.

Journey of Hiking as Journey of living: happiness is here and now

After about 2 hours’ restorative retreat in nature, we went back and sang joyfully with the melody of guitar and the beautiful songs from Plum Village. The songs are perfect reflections of our mindful walking journey:

“Breathing in, Breathing out

Breathing in, Breathing out

I am blooming as a flower

I am fresh as a dew

I am solid as a mountain

I am firm as the Earth

I am free”

— — — <Breathing in, Breathing out>

“Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Nowhere to go

Nothing to do

No longer in a hurry

Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Somewhere to go

Something to do

But I don’t need to hurry”

— — — <Happiness is here and now>

After singing, sister Trang Nghiêm (莊嚴) shared her own story to illustrate why we should enjoy the process of our life mindfully.

“This journey on Lung Fu Shan”, she said, “reminded me of my hike on the Phoenix Mountain, the highest mountain of Lantau Island in HK.”

“People said, don’t climb it. It’s too high.” recalled by Sr. Trang Nghiem with a smile, “but I decided to give it a try. I constantly took rests, drinking water, enjoying the beautiful scenery on my way to the top. The view around was so breath-taking.”

“Finally, I reached the peak. But I saw nothing because of the fog.”

She suddenly realised how lucky she was as she already enjoyed the process. Otherwise, it would be rather disappointing to find the emptiness of the destination. The journey of hiking is, indeed, a metaphor of our own journey of life.

“There’s no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” Sister Trang Nghiêm helped us to see how the practice of mindfulness is connected or even fundamental to the true happiness as it helps us to focus on the present, the most precious gift of our life.

Mindfulness: Our Common Heritage

Our participants are from diverse cultural and academic backgrounds; It is mindfulness that links us altogether.

After this half-day retreat and workshop, we as participants would find a lot of similarities between the perspectives of psychology and Buddhism in the understanding and practice of mindfulness.

In fact, “mindfulness is a common heritage from various spiritual traditions of various cultures and races.” said Prof. Lam. No matter in Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, or in Christianity and Islam’s traditions, you’ll find how mindfulness is deeply embedded in the traditions of introspection, reflections and ways in attaining inner peace and wisdom.

With the new year coming, let us treasure the universality of humanity and put mindfulness, our common heritage, into day-to-day, moment-to-moment practice.

Together, we are going to lead a mindful life :) Thank you all for participations!


The article is a recap of the community event “Demystifying Mindfulness from the Perspectives of Psychology and Buddhism: A Half-Day Retreat @HKU + Lung Fu Shan” co-curated and organised by The New Mindscape and The Art of Happiness.

Greatest gratitude to Prof.Lam Shui-fong, the director of JC PandA and Sr. Trang Nghiêm (莊嚴), Sr. Trăng Mặc Chiếu (默照月), Br. Trời Bình An ( 平安天), Br. Trời Phạm Trú ( 梵住天) from Plum Village HK for facilitating the workshop.

Lia Tsang, Kelly Wai and Ken from the JC PandA team helped a lot in the room booking and set up. Penny from the HKU Common Core Office and Steve Cheung, the instructor from CCHU9014 & 9061 offered their kind help in the event promotion.

Also many thanks to friends of The Art of Happiness — Georgina Chan, Mickey Chen, Tsering Lobsang and Ziggy Zhu in helping with the logistics of the day. Mickey Chen and Ziggy Zhu, as the intern editors of The New Mindscape, also contributed a lot to this article.

Coordinator and Editor: Lunar Tong

The New Mindscape is a space for knowledge-sharing and community-building on spirituality, religion and social change.

We explore different possibilities of realities and gain inspirations from diverse spiritual and religious ideas and practices, aiming to transform ourselves and our society in a better way.

The New Mindscape was initiated by Prof. David A. Palmer who’s actively sharing his insights by public writing and teaching.

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ASIAR - Asian Religious Connections
The New Mindscape

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