Monday, 12 March 2012

A New Life

Nearly 2 weeks ago we arrived at the New Life Foundation, a 'recovery community' 20km outside of Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand. The centre has been up and running for a couple of years now and supports people who are overcoming issues such as addiction, depression and relationship breakdowns. New Life isn't your typical 'rehab' centre however, as the focus of recovery is on mindfulness, meditation and personal development. Residents, staff and volunteers live, eat and work together, many staying for weeks, if not months at a time.

Our room
We had decided to come to New Life for a month for a number of reasons; to stay in one place for a while, learn new skills, meet new people, save money and have new experiences. I can safely say we've achieved all of those things and much much more even just in the first half of our stay. It's a really special place and even the most sceptical amongst us (John) couldn't help to be moved by what goes on here. New Life has over 70 acres of land with a number of buildings, a lake, rice fields, teak forest and large vegetable garden at its disposal. Local people are employed where possible to work the land and at the moment there are more than 20 volunteers all lending a hand.

Visiting monks
There are activities galore for both residents and volunteers to get involved with and in the last 2 weeks alone there's been yoga, meditation, salsa dancing, improvisation, and Thai massage courses available. Of course I couldn't let the opportunity pass to share the joy of knitting & so after a trip to the local market have taught about 15 people how to knit over the course of the weekend. It feels great to be sharing my skills and providing a useful and relaxing tool for the residents and volunteers. Now the dining hall is full of people happily knitting away.

We quickly got ourselves into a routine at New Life, and after a few days 'rest' have been waking up for the 6am yoga class every day. Arriving with a hangover made the prospect seem ghastly at first but after a few early nights we've begun to really enjoy seeing the sun rise over the fields while we gently wake up to yoga. Not wanting to learn Thai Massage myself has meant that I was quickly allocated the role of 'client' and have been receiving massages nearly every other day. Oh, and did I mention the swimming pool?!

It's not all fun & games however – there's hard graft to be done & we've been working 5 hours a day during the week. Sounds easy I know but being out of employment for a year means it was a bit of a shock to the system at first. We started out on the garden team & have since been working on the 'mud brick' team. For a week we were making & moving the mud bricks, and have since been laying concrete foundations and starting to build the new meditation hall. Although completely different to what we're used to it's been great fun & we've learnt lots of new things. Unfortunately I don't think our mud brick skills will be much use in rainy Manchester but maybe one day.

John the brick layer
The best thing about New Life is the people...everyone here is different and has really interesting stories to tell, either about their travels or if they're residents about their lives before coming to the community. Being here for a month means we can get past the usual traveller questions & really get to know people, so we've definitely made some good friends. Being here and living amongst recovering addicts has really been an eye opener and definitely makes us appreciate what we've got.

Sunrise over the meditation hall

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