Feature Story: Mai Linh Pham
MY NAME is Linh and I am from Vietnam. I grew up in the province of Gia Lai. Our house was near the river and surrounded by coffee farms. I was very active as a child: I would dance, sing, and play every time I could.
After high school, I went to Ho Chi Minh city to study in college. Ho Chi Minh city is the biggest city in Vietnam. The people were always in a hurry. It was a big shift; big shift in the environment and also in lifestyle. But the biggest shift was my perception. I saw myself as lower compared to my classmates who grew up in the city. In order to fit in, I followed what was popular with my classmates.
It was very stressful and I lost my confidence. I did not belong. I did not know who I was. I was unhappy, but this gave me an opportunity to seek what I was capable of. I can’t do all the popular things, but I am sure that I am good at something. So I started challenging myself.
For the challenge, I biked from Ho Chi Minh city to Vung Tau and then back. The biking trip was around 300 kilometers long, and it took four days and three nights. To give you a comparison, it is the same biking distance from the North to the South of Cebu and going back to Cebu City. I did the same for a walking trip. I walked with a group of friends for around 100 kilometers. It took three days.
I knew I was capable of more. I learned English and won a Marketing competition. My family was very proud of me. My confidence level went up.
However, I faced the biggest challenge of my life a few months later. My parents divorced. Weeks after, my younger brother was captured by police and landed in jail. My family was broken, I was broken.
This took me into a deep depression. I stayed in my room and cried all the time. I even thought about depressing thoughts, and suicide. It was a complete turn: From “I can do anything” to “I don’t want to do anything.” However, that situation gave me time to deeply reflect on what is happening in my life.
Finding Myself Again through Meditation
There’s a quote in Buddhism that says: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
At that time, a friend invited me to join meditation class. I have never heard of meditation before, but was curious what it was. In meditation, I learned to minimize the negative thoughts that was always in my head. I went to meditation class as often as I could. Meditation changed my lifestyle. I naturally transitioned into vegetarianism, and got into yoga and practiced daily. Meditation connected me with people who had the same passions as I had. Slowly, my depression faded away.
During this time, I started working as an assistant for a health coach. Hue, my boss, taught meditation, yoga, kung fu, and nutrition. Working with her was great. I was happy with my work. However, even with the new environment and good support at work, the situation with my family still affected me.
Hue noticed this. One day, she said, “Linh, stop your work now. You need to heal yourself first.” Hue later on encouraged me to join the Vipassana retreat at Dong Nai province.
Vipassana Silent Retreat
Vipassana is a silent retreat where we aren’t allowed to talk or communicate, or even make eye contact. Everything should be silent including your footsteps. We mostly did meditation and listened to the dharma teachings of the monks. We were silent for 10 days straight.
After the Vipassana retreat, I went home to my province. When I saw my mother, she looked more beautiful. I haven never seen her as beautiful like that before. I saw the beauty of her eyes, her face, her body and I finally saw the beauty of her soul. In Vietnam, it is rare for us to say “thank you,” “sorry” and “I love you” with parents. But when I saw her after the retreat, it was the first time I said “I love you” to her. My connection with my mother became stronger.
Hue suggested again that I should level-up my meditation practice and go to Plum Village in Thailand where Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh built the Sangha Monastery. In the monastery, there are 200 monks and nuns housed to train practitioners the life of mindfulness: on how to be conscious with breathing, with our step and whatever we are doing. The meditation retreat lasted 30 days.
During the meditation retreat in Plum Village, I understood my situation better. I cannot help my mother, father and younger brother, but I realized I can’t change anything and help others if I myself am not happy. Only one thing I needed to do was accept what happened to my family, to heal myself, and to be a happy person first and foremost.
I start to figure out what I wanted in life: I wanted to be a yoga teacher. So when I went back to Vietnam, I looked for a yoga teacher training program. I saw one in India and the class starts in one week.
Being a Yoga teacher
So I enrolled. But I had one big problem: the training cost $1,250, the plane ticket to India cost $500. The total cost in pesos was around P90,000! You know how much my monthly salary at that time was? In pesos it was only P10,000 per month.
My beautiful mother let me borrow money from her. It was a big amount, but my mother saw my dedication and the positive transformation that happened recently in my life. I applied for a scholarship, too, but was not assured if I would be granted the scholarship.
With the money borrowed from my mother, I went to Nasik in India, just days after getting back to Vietnam. Every day I woke up early, did meditation, did yoga, ate vegan meals, did chantings, helped clear the ashram, cooked for beautiful people from over the world. My heart was now more open to accept whatever happens, to stay in present moment, release the sadness and improve self-understanding. With the training, I learned that real yoga beyond the asanas. Yoga is a lifestyle: it’s in what you eat, how your behave with others, your attitude, etc.
I graduated top of the class with distinction. Aside from that, the scholarship I asked for was granted. That means I only had to pay $250 instead of $1,250!
I went back home to Ho Chi Minh, and I felt like I turned to the new page of my life. Hue, my boss, planned to move to Phu Quoc island, south of Vietnam. She gave her students to me. They weren’t just ordinary students, they were all company owners. It was a very big challenge for me. Before I was only a yoga student, and now I’m a yoga teacher for CEOs and business owners. I met a lot of great people I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet before.
I continued practicing meditation and mindfulness. One more time, I’m lucky to join Transforming Art class with Master Ojas from India in Diviners Center. I understood myself more, had less fear and sadness, and acquired more happiness in my life.
In the Transforming Art technique, various artistic & mindful exercises are practiced to relieve you from emotional blocks and let you free, realizing your true self. I stayed in Diviners Center for eight months to volunteer. I helped Master Ojas organize the classes and some festivals to spread the conscious lifestyle to more people.
Coming to Cebu
The reason I came to Cebu is to spread the conscious lifestyle with more people here.
Because our eyes are limited, we can’t see the energy and hear the vibration, but it’s more effective to our life than the body. We can see the body, we always take a bath for our body, so how about the mind? How we can take a bath for the mind, how do we refresh it? Let’s think about it.
I replied: everything is about energy. If our energy level is pure, high and full of love, we will attract great people, happy people. Great things will come to us. If our energy level is low, we will attract normal people and terrible things.
For me, Meditation and Transforming Art is all about energy. I will keep sharing this with people I’ll meet in my life.