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Pink Lee Wai-ki, the founder of an NGO, Light On and also a meditation instructor, observes that meditation-related activities are becoming popular in Hong Kong.

This was not the case seven years ago when she started to meditate. Lee learned more about meditation on her backpacking travels and noticed that when she returned to Hong Kong in 2011, people around her were starting to talk about vegetarianism and meditation, which both required looking deep into the body.

After a year, Lee started to organise meditation camps and yoga classes, which received great feedback from her friends and clients. Lee thinks that Hong Kong people realise that mediation and yoga are not superstitious or necessarily religious acts but are more like a kind of exercise.

Although meditation has been secularised, there is a spiritual dimension to it and its contemporary forms emerged out of people’s growing need to find their souls in an increasingly materialistic society.

“Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong people are already quite satisfied [with their material life]. Therefore, they start to seek spiritual comfort,” Lee explains.

Lee herself was once lost in the materialistic and highly competitive society. Brought up by a single father, Lee had a poor relationship with him. She tried hard to escape from her troubles by working hard at school in the hope that knowledge could change her destiny. But her financial burden during her school years and competition among classmates for the most brand-name products and highest salaries after graduation created lots of pressure for her.

After working as a reporter for a year, she started to question the meaning of life. That was when she decided to go backpacking and find the key to happiness.

“Hong Kong people never pause to think about their life and just fill up their schedule,” says Lee, “They have a fear of being quiet.”

Now, through examining her own personality, attitude towards life and dreams during meditation, she no longer cares about the materialistic environment and understands that material comforts are not what she truly wants.

Celia Tsui Yuen-sze, a part-time lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was one of the Hongkongers leading a busy, hurried life. She was under a lot of pressure when she was pursuing her graduate studies at university. The workload kept her brain busy and hyperactive, which resulted in insomnia.

“I felt like I was a robot under a fully packed schedule,” Tsui sighs.

Yet in meditation camp, a world without work and smartphones, Tsui feels relief. When meditating, she is carefree and does not have to achieve anything. But she stresses that meditation is not like a psychiatric drug that can treat symptoms quickly. Realising and reviewing ourselves is a life-long practice, one that differs from self-reflection which involves self-judgement.

Tsui gives the example of a student who wants to improve her English. Rationally, the student knows she must study harder. However, when she recalls her past failures in learning English, she ends up sitting there doing nothing.

“It’s reasonable [to study hard], but your heart cannot follow,” says Tsui. “So you feel miserable.”

Tsui says people are usually stuck not because they lack ability but because there is an absence of emotional control. Through meditation, people must first face and acknowledge their emotions. For Tsui, meditation is neither a cure nor a way to release stress, it is a reminder to go back to the beginning and listen to your heart.

Edited by Karen Yu