This autumn, I have taken up a teaching residency at the New Life Foundation in Northern Thailand for two and a half months. New Life is, a not for profit, mindfulness based recovery community based in a village close to Chang Rai.
At New Life recovery is used in the broadest sense of the word. Originally developed to provide secondary rehabilitation for people afflicted with drug and alcohol addiction, New Life now meets the needs of people suffering from burn out, depression, anxiety and a whole host of other life challenges.
The schedule is underpinned by the practice of mindfulness. Each morning begins with a 45 minute session of either yoga or meditation. The community meeting, held each day begins with a bell, and ends with a short meditation. Then there is mindful work, preparing meals, caring for the grounds, milking cows or feeding ducks or chickens. In the afternoons there is the opportunity for study and personal growth workshops.
The community is made up of residents, who participate in daily workshops to support recovery. Volunteers who support the community, and staff, administrative and psycho-educational – therapists and life coaches, who deliver the programme. I am here to deliver Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Intensive courses. As well as MBSR, I will also offer two retreat weekends of Insight Dialogue, relational meditation practice, and Sunday study groups.
The rural environment is conducive to recovery and well being. Nature is alive and well here. The surroundings vibrate with life – sounds of insects and birdsong. New Life is mostly self-sustaining with it’s own rice paddy fields, papaya and pineapple plantations, fruit and vegetable gardens, cows, ducks and chickens.
The community is very warm and open. New Life is a place for healing, and the people here are courageous and kind, tenderised by the challenges that they have faced in their lives. The illusion of ‘having it all together’ is not necessary here and this brings about a level of openness and transparency that is fertile ground for self-understanding and maturation.
I first visited New Life in January this year when invited by a colleague to co-teach an Insight Dialogue retreat of seven days. After a few days of being here, I had a strong urge to return. Upon returning to the UK, I scheduled my work and organised my finances to be able to return here for this autumn. It is no small thing to leave my beloved partner and working life to move to South Asia for a couple of months. I am lucky to be able to do this, and to have the support of my partner in doing so.
We rely on the support of others. This is so clear at New Life. So many hands and hearts work, and have worked to make this community possible. Take the Forest Meditation Hall, a mud brick building built by previous community members. The mud bricks were shaped and baked by their hands, subsequent community members then assembled these into walls. Thai architects crafted the thatched roof, and made the final safety checks. Now hundreds of people benefit from meditating and studying there.
Being here, I experience the fundamental reality of interdependency. It is so clear in the way that the community works together to maintain the surroundings and schedule. It is also clear emotionally and psychologically, the generosity and expressions of support, whether this is someone doing something for or with you, or the smile on anothers’ face when you are having a moody morning.
New life is a tribute to the power of community as a foundation for well-being.