Open Homes Workshop

The Open Homes Workshop I attended at the Tampines Regional Library yesterday  is one of the programmes organised by the National Arts Council for the Silver Arts, a festival that offers opportunities for seniors to share their stories that shape our collective memories. This practical workshop is based on the methodology of Open Homes, a theatre-in-the-home experience, first commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of the Arts in 2015.

The workshop leader is Jeffrey Tan Chye Leng, a theatre director , drama educator and arts producer.

This workshop focused on what Open Homes is, how to Open our Homes, how to tell stories about our homes and how to share with others. To start off, Jeffrey got us (the participants) to introduce ourselves and then play a game with him, a version of ‘blow-wind-blow’ (supposedly popular with children but which I’ve never come across). This was very interesting and set the right tone for the rest of the workshop – doing what we were comfortable with, with Jeffrey asking questions and leading us.

Yesterday’s workshop was the first compressed workshop in three hours; normally, there would be three rehearsals of three hours each for four shows so that the participants would gain more confidence interacting with people and go wider and deeper into the experience.

We were then shown a Trailer (2015) , a one-minute clip. Back then, 25 families took part, including a mixed-race couple and a couple who had an arranged marriage. There is a vulnerability in opening up your home to so many people and sharing the stories : how do we take the strangers and get them to be friends? How do we find the time? What is the story that we want to share? What does it take to present an Open Home? Next, we watched the Trailer for 2017.

Being OPEN means: an invitation to share stories that are meaningful to us, that will inspire others, to be engaging, with a vision that life must be better; there must be a reason to share certain things.

LISTENING means quick-thinking. For this exercise, we played a game called 1-2-3: we had to really listen for the groups and know what to ask in order to help clarify the story. The stories are all real; not fictitious, because life is too short.

ACCEPTANCE: If we don’t want others to judge us, we shouldn’t do the same to others. For this, we played a game called “Yes, let’s”, all about accepting an idea and agreeing to it.

IMAGINATION: A simple exercise – what if a chair is not a chair? Each of us came up with different ideas of what it could have been (eg an exercise bar, a ballet bar, a notebook/computer, a table, a piano…)

What story would we tell? Jeffrey listed five examples, and there was an activity/game for each one:

Story 1 – Story of your name (to learn about life, philosophy, vision and  aim; having a different purpose in life and to play it forward; a sense of time being captured; feelings, acceptance and finding a way out; humour; twist in the story; intrigue; background; culture; decision-making; family relationships etc)

Story 2 – Memories of growing up, first job, friends; i.e. location of the story. For this, we had an exercise in drawing a map of our home and bringing the members of our small groups on a tour; here, we learn about similarities, differences and choices.

Story 3 – Highs and lows of life

Story 4 – Inspirations in your life

Story 5 – Story of your family, eg support

Due to time constraints, there was no game/exercise/activity for the third, fourth and fifth stories. Before the workshop came to a close, the participants shared their reflection on what they learnt and the one thing that they would take away. Among these are: we all have stories to tell, these could be challenging, relationships are important, it is an interesting as well as stimulating experience, it is good to have an opportunity to share experiences and learn and appreciate each other and make improvements.



Mindfulness Based Stress Management 4


Perhaps because she spent too much time on activities and recapitulation in the last two sessions, the facilitator did not spend much time recapitulating today (maybe 5 minutes) but went straight into the topic for the day. After all, in the overview, there is a lot of reference to the previous materials when the discussion is about Negative Interpretations, Your Authentic Self and Further Benefits of How Mindfulness Reduce Stress.

Negative Impressions would involve the topic of  Choices in respect to People, Places, Position and Possessions. Negative Impressions are unhelpful (eg making assumptions, when in most times these are unfair and not true, as what happened is what happened). This in turn is related to the A.C.T. of Mindfulness (Acknowledge/Accept, Choose, Take Action) mentioned last week.

Your Authentic Self : “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are” (Brene Brown, author & researcher). Some questions for authenticity are: What am I afraid would happen if I share my experience with this person right now? How will I feel if I don’t share what I am thinking and feeling? If I weren’t afraid, what would I most want to say to this person right now? How can I share this with even more vulnerability? There are several ways to Be True to Yourself : Speak up for yourself, Maintain alignment between what you feel & need and what you say & do, Don’t put up with abuse of any kind, Give up designing your behaviour to be liked, Do something each day that reflects your deepest needs, wishes & values, Forgive/encourage yourself, Laugh with others but laugh at yourself.

Wrapping up, Mindfulness Based Stress Management not only reduces stress but helps to build an inner strength, Future stressors have less impact on our happiness and well being, We become more aware of toxic thoughts, Helps us be more sensitive to the needs of our body, We don’t immediately react or overact, Our “being” mode is activated, We are better able to focus, and We become more relaxed, calm and at peace.

Finally, we are given “homework” (which need not be handed up) – four pages on which we’re supposed to write about / reflect on how Negative Feelings  impact on others & ourselves , and Love Notes to others (‘action plan’ /something nice to others) & ourselves (say something nice & good).

I hope to attend a similar course in the near future as I found I’ve not only learnt something, but enjoyed myself in the process.

Mindfulness Based Stress Management 3

Yesterday’s workshop began with an ice-breaking exercise that got everyone in stitches. Then there was a very short recapitulation of the last session before the facilitator continued with the areas she wasn’t able to cover due to too much time spent on recounting the previous session.

Thoughts, Feelings & Behaviour – Our basic emotions are ‘glad’ (happy, joyful, uplifting), ‘mad’ (angry, irritated, upset), ‘sad’ (disheartened, down, downcast), ‘scared’ (afraid, frightened), ‘numb’ (“bo chup”) & ‘disgust’ (yucky feeling). These emotions and thoughts are intricately related and can be experienced together, but they are distinct. How we think will affect how we feel and how we behave. The SATIR model and ICEBERG metaphor were cited, without explanation nor elaboration; good thing I had attended another course on this so I knew what the trainer was talking about when she said how our self-esteem is at stake, and how it’s when negative and self-defeating thoughts come in (such as ‘I am not good enough’, ‘Why didn’t I do this?’, ‘Nobody likes me’, ‘Nobody cares about me’, ‘I never get it right’, ‘I wish I was someone else’, ‘Musn’t let them down’, ‘Just got to hang in there and endure’, ‘Only me can do this right’). She then briefly mentions the Johari window, a technique used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others:

I  Know                   I Don’t Know


You Know                             open *                            blind ***


You Don’t Know                 hidden **                     potential ****


where * is Acceptance

** is Self-disclosure

*** is to be Humble

**** is Self-reflect, meditate & get feedback


What then influences emotions? These are

  • cultural traditions and beliefs that can affect the way a group or an individual expresses emotions
  • genetics which can affect the emotional expression of an individual or famiily &
  • physical conditions which can cause a person’s emotional responses to change dramatically

Can we change our thoughts and emotions? Yes. By

  • altering an external situation
  • shifting our attention &
  • re-appraising a situation

This was introduced through an activity and a small group discussion, leading to the topic of Choices (involving People, Places, Possessions, Positions), which would be further elaborated upon in next week’s session.

The one takeaway from this session is: If you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you can choose to change them.



Mindfulness Based Stress Management 2

I was looking so much forward to the second session of the Mindfulness Based Stress Management (MBSM) this morning that I ended up quite disappointed, because the trainer spent at least half the entire duration repeating last week’s session, not just for recapitulation but for the benefit of the three participants who were absent.

It was only when the Responses to Stress was discussed (in small groups) that things got a bit more interesting. All the males were in one group, and the females were split into three groups; this was in order to find out how differently men and women would response to stress. It seems that men talk from the head, as their brains are comparmentalised, more structured and logical, whereas women talk from the heart. The discussion was lively, and brings us to the explanation of Body Sensations (such as Anger, Anxiety, Envy, Fear, Happiness and Surprise) and Body Scan Descriptors (such as Balanced, Cool, Dizzy, Dull, Relaxed and Tense). Mindfulness requires us to step back and reflect on our feelings; and we need to pay attention to our body sensations.

What followed was perhaps the highlight of the day’s programme: exercises for Stress Management and PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) involving scrunching up our faces then relaxing it, tensing our arms and relaxing them, tensing up our shoulders and chest then relaxing them, tensing up our legs then relaxing them and breathing in relaxation and breathing out tension.

Another set of exercises is called Mindful Movement Meditation where we have to be mindful of our breathing and our body sensations. This involves having the feet apart, arms raised, fruit pick, side bend and shoulder roll. I shall make an effort to incorporate all these into my daily exercise routine. I may also look up the book called Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World the next time I visit the library.

It was only after this that the trainer embarked on what was supposed to be today’s topic: going into detail the Being & Doing Modes. Being is “what we are” & Doing is “what we can accomplish”. Being Mode is letting go, being still, observing and regaining perspective and helps to put us back in contact with all of our senses; Doing Mode is action and immediate responses (hurry up, faster, quick) and can result in being ‘automated’. More often than not, many of us are in the Doing Mode; we need to think of the kinds of emotions both states exhibit and what the impact is on others. More will be elaborated in the next session, though they are supposed to be covered today.

I hope next week’s session will be better than today’s.

An Evening In Autumn

I remember the first three lines of this poem by Li Qingzhao (d. 1155) from forty years ago. So I decided to do a translation of the entire Song Lyrics by one of the greatests poet in Chinese history:

An Evening In Autumn


Searching and seeking,

Quiet and bleak,

Desolate, bereft and forlorn.

The Autumn warmth has suddenly turned chilly,

It is most difficult to keep well.

A few cups of light wine,

Are no match for the strong morning wind!

Wild geese fly past,

While I’m grief-striken,

But they are friends from bygone days.

Fallen chrysanthemums pile up all over the ground,

Withered and scattered,

What else is there to pluck?

Leaning at the window alone,

How do I pass the time till dusk?

Raindrops fall on a parasol tree,

That becomes wet by evening.

A time such as this,

Is filled with sorrow immense and immeasurable.

Flowers They’re Not


Many have translated this Bai Ju Yi (772-846) poem as “A Bloom Is Not A Bloom”, but I translate it as


Flowers They’re Not

They look like flowers, but they’re not.

They look like mists, but they’re not.

They appear in the middle of the night,

And are gone by the break of light.

The spring dreams come,

like transient joy;

And leave like morning clouds,

no-where to be found.

Mindfulness Based Stress Management

I attended the first session of a four-session workshop on Mindfulness Based Stress Management (MBSM) ograninsed by Family Central this morning. The facilitator is Evelyn Khong, a trainer (also a counsellor) from Fei Yue Community Services. Because I’ve attended another workshop conducted by her, I knew I was going to enjoy the 12 hours (4 x 3hrs).

Evelyn explained the 7 Dimensions of Wellness (physical, intellectual/mental, emotional, social, spiritual, financial & vocational) before conducting an activity that helped explain the definition of MDSM (The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something) and the learning outcomes (Understand what MBSM is & the benefits, Difference between being & doing, Identify thoughts, feelings & sensation, Be mindful of stress & employ stress management techniques, Recognise and apply the ACT of mindfulness).

This was followed by another activity that would explain The Suitcase Of Our Mind, and leading to Integrity or Despair in the Later Years. According to Erik Erikson, there are 8 stages in life: Infancy, Toddlehood, Pre School, School Age, Teenage, Young Adult (20-35), Middle Adult (36-50) & Older Adult (>50).

The questions to ask are: What have we been packing in all these years? As we look back in life, did we find integrity or despair? What are some of the thoughts that run through our mind every day? Do we reflect on our day at night?

We need to be mindful about the suitcase of our mind. Even letting out a sigh is a mindfulness technique. We need to step back and check: why are we sighing, what is causing us to sigh? We must remind ourselves of the benefits of MBSM (Better self control, Be more objective, Increased tolerance, Improved concentration, Less stress & reduced reactivity, Relate better with others); otherwise, if enduring outweighs enjoying, the system will soon give up.

We also need to differentiate between the Positive Stress Cycle (positive behavorial response, decreasd stress symptoms, improved mood, beneficial thoughts, relaxation self-talk) and Negative Stress Cycle (automatic thoughts, negative moods & emotions, maladaptive behaviour, negative physical symptoms).

To unpack our suitcase, we have to be aware of the causes of stress (children & family, chronic worry, financial problems, major life changes, negative self talk, over scheduled, relationship difficulties, rigid thinking & lack of flexibility, unrealistic expectations/ perfectionism, workload). The non-verbal cues (tone 38% + body language 55%) overshadows the words used (7%) in causing stress.

For “homework”,we have to be more mindful, think about the factors that make us stressed/uptight and how we react to situations. And remember to do deep breathing exercises.

In the next session, we will learn more about Good Stress and Bad Stress, our response to stress, body sensations, and stress management & some exercises that help relieve stress which is what I look forward to most.