13 Things I Learned At New Life

by Andrea Pientka / Photo @Caroline Fabbro

Andrea PientkaI have been at New Life for almost six months now and the end of my stay comes closer and closer. I have lived through the almost obligatory honeymoon phase, before I hit the ground hard. I have worked through a ton of shit here, and there were times when living in this community and having the role I took on in the office were not easy. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything: There were days that really sucked. The bottom line is though that it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life and way more and better than anything I could have ever imagined or wished for!

I learned so much here and grew as a person as I have never grown before. And I will be forever grateful for that! The lessons I learned are too numerous to write down in a single blog post, but I wanted to give it a try with the 13 that are most valuable to me.

Please bear in mind, that these are my personal, very subjective experience and views.

  1. Everything is impermanent: This lesson was taught to me every day here. At first I had some doubts about it that eventually turned into resignation and then acceptance. My biggest teacher was the daily “Hello/Goodbye“ in the morning meeting. It happened quite regularly that it broke my heart to see somebody who had become dear to me leave. Sometimes it took me by surprise when I suddenly choked on tears while trying to give them some kind and loving words to take along. The last hug, the last smile through the taxi window, before the stabbing, bittersweet pain of parting hit me, always came too soon. And yes, I am still pining for some of those who have left – weeks or even months ago. I am not saying it’s easy, but by now I sit with the heartache and embrace it. It only shows that I shared something special, something precious with another person – therefore I am deeply grateful.
  2. Making yourself vulnerable has a lot to do with strength, but never with weakness! If I were asked to describe the magic of New Life I would start right here: People. Human beings living together in a community, all of them wounded in one way or another. For me it is childhood trauma, which caused fear, anger, and left me with very low self-worth. Being open and talking about my issues comes to me easily, but it took a while for me to realize that I don’t have to have it together all the time. I was allowed to stop pretending that I am strong when I actually felt like shit. I was able to let go of my masks, some of which I hadn’t even been aware of wearing, and found that despite being „just me“ I was met with acceptance, understanding, compassion and love. When I told my life story later on, including some of my darkest secrets, things that I was really afraid of sharing, I found to my surprise, that I wasn’t judged afterwards or treated differently. Actually, I realized that I am not alone with my issues, I am not as weird or broken beyond repair as I believed myself to be. Experiencing this is the magic of this place – and it helped me to heal.
  3. It is true: Beauty comes from within! On my journey I got to know people with truly dark pasts whose light shone so brightly that I am at a loss for words trying to describe it. I am still standing in awe of those people. They radiated warmth, love, kindness, compassion and were among the best listeners that I have encountered. When I looked at them, I saw brave warriors, survivors, oftentimes wise beyond their years and with an understanding of and appreciation for life that humbled me. Their age, height, weight or nationality couldn’t have mattered less to me in this regard. Surprisingly and at the same time not at all, most of them aren’t even aware just how beautiful they are.
  4. My heart is endlessly expandable. It usually goes like this: A new person comes into my life. Sometimes it’s just a brief, but significant encounter, other times we will have the time to get to know each other better, maybe even start growing a friendship. No matter which, love, compassion and gratitude pile up, sometimes within mere seconds, stretch my heart to its temporary limits – and then it breaks, making place for more. Sometimes it’s a small crack and other times it’s a gaping hole. It usually hurts, badly at times, but the pain is bittersweet. Eventually, new tissue grows.
    By now, my heart has been expanded so often that it feels like a patchwork – and I couldn’t be more grateful and happy about it!
  5. Never underestimate the power of random acts of kindness! I remember days when I had tears stinging in my eyes because an old scar of mine had been torn open again by some random trigger. On each one of those days (there were many!) there was at least one person who looked at me and truly saw me. I have been offered hugs, ears that listened and shoulders to cry on. I was allowed to just be and in doing so I felt heard and seen. At other times I woke up in the morning to chocolate or a kind note on my doorstep and it put a smile on my face before the day had even started; or somebody would surprise me by doing my dishes. Those random acts of kindness helped me heal, because I felt appreciated without having to accomplish anything. It also never failed to fill my heart with immense gratitude.
  6. Everybody is my teacher. Yes, I mean everybody – and especially those people who triggered me. I remember them all: Those who left me gobsmacked and speechless with their snide remarks, or fuming because of their thoughtless, ignorant behavior, or just feeling sad and misunderstood and those who – by just being themselves – annoyed me to no end. The latter ones mainly being those in whom I ironically saw a part of myself being mirrored in an extreme way. Actually, all of them were my mirrors in one way or another. And I can say from the bottom of my heart: I am grateful for each and every one of you! You have forced me to look closely where it hurts and by doing so, I got to truly know myself.
  7. The only person I can change is myself. I wish, my dad would put down the bottle. I wish he hadn’t beat me. I wish my mum had never told me about all the suffering in her marriage. I wish, she would get help to work through her shit and eventually re-discover the fun-loving, easygoing, adventurous young women that she once was. Wishing for things to be different won’t get me anywhere though. I am fighting reality there. As much as I long for them to change, it’s not within my power – or my responsibility for that matter. What a relief! The only person I can change is myself. And this I can do: I can choose to let go of my resentments. I can sit with my pain, work through my own shit, take really good care of my inner child and eventually, bit by bit, I will heal. I can change how I relate and respond to others and set my boundaries where necessary. For now, that means no contact with my parents.
  8. “Holding onto a resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.“ It’s quite a well known quote, but I hadn’t heard it until my very first life coaching session with Samina. It made total sense from the very beginning, but knowing something intellectually and actually letting go are two very different animals. Samina sent me on my way with two questions: What do I get out of holding these old resentments against my parents? And what does it cost me? I actually had to do this exercise twice, because I wasn’t truly ready the first time. The second time around I was able to be brutally honest with myself. It hurt to acknowledge that I do get to feel like a victim (and that I sometimes revel in that feeling), while at the same time feeling superior to my parents, because was strong enough to walk away and build my own life; sometimes I wear my past like battle scars, it gives me a sense of validation, and being proud of how I turned out because of or despite my past, helps me dealing with my insecurities. There are a few more things on that list, and one last deal breaker: Is letting go of my resentments, maybe even feeling some compassion and love – from afar! – truly safe or will it make me prone to get hurt again? Looking at the other side of the coin I had to acknowledge that holding those resentments costs a lot of energy, prevents me from fully healing, from truly moving on and limits my personal growth. It also prevents me from being truly seen and heard when I hide behind my past. There is more to me than that story! In a way, by holding onto those resentments, I also give my parents control over my life. And I can do well without that. The exercise alone did not completely do the trick (I still needed some more loving and patient guidance by Samina), but just realizing those things helped a great deal to loosen my death grip on them.
  9. People are doing the best that they can. I first heard it from Samina and it got me thinking. It’s basically the same as the benefit of the doubt. I can’t prove anyway that people acted like they did or treated me a certain way because they specifically wanted to be malicious. Looking at it from that new perspective was one of several steps that helped me to let go of some of the above mentioned resentments. It’s also a great tool for dealing with somewhat difficult people in everyday life. Or as Brené Brown, a bestseller author and research professor at the University of Houston, who inspired me deeply, puts it: “To assume the best about people is almost an inherently selfish act, because the life you change first is your own.“
  10. My feelings are my responsibility, and mine alone. It took me some time to let this sink in. I can’t blame anyone anymore, because nobody can make me feel anything or make me react in a certain way. I choose how I (want to) respond to triggers or the outside world in general. Actually, it would be frightening, if I didn’t have that choice. There would be no free will. This is not always easy to accept though. I still catch myself saying on a quite regular basis, “S/he made me so angry today by doing this or that! *rant* (…)“ But by now, I eventually pause for a moment and ask myself quietly, “Would I really be comfortable giving another person so much power over myself?“ Actually, being fully aware of the freedom of choice on how to deal with and respond to other people and situations, is pretty damn awesome.
  11. Having strong boundaries is essential for my wellbeing! This realization didn’t go well with my eagerness to always please and be liked by everybody. Being confronted with a person asking for my help or for a favor (e.g. working that extra shift), I had always been easily convinced to say “Yes“ – despite someone deep inside me screaming “No“ very clearly. It brought me close to burn-out more than once. I was constantly exhausted, became unhappy, grumpy and anti-social. In the end I didn’t fully recognize myself anymore when I looked into the mirror.
    A boundary is me letting my environment know, what’s ok and what’s not ok. Sometimes that means saying “No“ and putting up with somebody’s disappointment, because I didn’t meet their expectations. I am learning to be ok with that. Brené Brown put it this way: “Boundaries are not easy. But I think they are the key to self-love and they are the key to treating others with loving-kindness.“
  12. Me-time is absolutely invaluable and therefore should not be negotiable! I love living in community, but I also treasure my alone-time. It’s very precious to me. At the same time, it’s extremely tempting to numb myself out whenever I get the chance to do so – no matter if through watching a series, surfing the web or reading a good book. It’s oftentimes easier than checking in with myself: How am I feeling right now? What triggered me today? What made me think twice? Did I do or say something that I regret? What am I grateful for? And then taking the time to sit with the answers, listening deep into my body, just feeling what’s going on there. I really have to make an effort to get out of my mind, which is usually racing back and forth and in circles. If I don’t take this me-time and avoid working on myself for too long, I get too caught up in the stories that I tell myself in my head, become agitated, easily irritated and eventually completely disconnected. That’s why I recently built one hour of me-time into my daily schedule. It’s a gift to myself and by now I am looking forward to it (despite knowing that the stuff that comes up is not always easy to deal with).
  13. I am enough. I am worthy. And nobody – no matter what they do or say – can lessen that or take it away from me. Period.

I am and will always be a ‚work in progress‘. Somedays it seems natural to me to put into practice all those new lessons that I have learned. On others I struggle with old beliefs or behavior patterns – big time. Maybe the most comforting thing is that this too shall pass, because everything is indeed impermanent.

Afternote: I owe a great deal of those lessons and my growth to my life coach Samina! I am short of words of how grateful I am that you accepted and chose to be my teacher, that you listened compassionately, witnessed my struggles oh-so patiently, guided me on my path and showed me your love. So a truly and deeply heartfelt thank you goes out to you! You know, that I love you too!

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