by Roberta Margison
Alex had been experiencing extreme anxiety for more than ten years and had developed a phobia of speaking in public. He describes coming to live at the New Life community as being very difficult, as it exposed him to the very thing he was trying to avoid: people. However, within four short months Alex had become a very active and vocal member of the community, channeling his considerable talents into making the New Life Foundation video (which involved interacting with many people) and leading the social anxiety support group. His renewed zest for living is an inspiration and he is looking forward to going back to the UK to embrace a new life.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from Devon in the UK, I’m 29, and I’ve been making music for most of my adult life. I’ve played in bands and written a lot of songs and for the last seven to eight years got into electronic dance music. I had some horrible jobs at home just to make money to let me make music. I’ve released my tracks on various labels and have been DJ-ing too.
How did you hear about the foundation and what made you want to come here?
I was in a bit of a despairing state at home for various reasons and had come out of a long relationship and was feeling pretty heartbroken. I decided to come to Asia, so I quit my job, and got rid of my music studio and house. I had booked myself into doing two vipassana meditation courses but decided that the way I was feeling, meditating for ten days alone wasn’t the answer. So I Googled ‘anxiety retreat’ as that was my biggest struggle and found New Life. I’ve now been in Thailand for 6 months, with 4 months on and off spent at New Life Foundation. I initially came here as a resident for 6 weeks, then I did some travelling and came back as resident again. During my second visit I started making the video about New Life and got so involved in it I opted to be a volunteer after 2 weeks, so that I could have more time to work on it.
Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation before you came here and what did you think of it?
I had panic attacks when I was 18, and my mum was interested in meditation and gave me a book by Pema Chodron called, When Things Fall Apart, which introduced me to meditation and Buddhism. I tried to meditate but it was a struggle as my mind was so active. About 5 years ago I went to a Zen group on a weekly basis. I tried to keep it up but because my mind is so busy, it was a struggle.
I think meditation is beneficial as it stills your mind. It’s helped me to meditate in the morning at New Life as I wake up feeling so anxious. It’s so easy to just be constantly going from one thing to the next. Doing the meditation daily is really important, as is being mindful the other 23 hours of the day which can be more difficult!
What have been your greatest joys and greatest challenges while being at New Life?
When I first arrived here it was a huge challenge because I’d avoided any kind of community or group of people for so long. I was so scared and so low when I came here, I was just desperate. Speaking in public was a huge challenge. I met a lot of people here and we made progress in the public speaking meeting together. I now realise this is part of who I am, but that I’d built it into a phobia.
My joys are being out in sun, the swimming pool, opening up and speaking in groups. Making friends has been a huge thing. I think I’ve made lifelong friends here and I’m hoping to get a few of them together when I leave here and maybe we’ll live together. I’m leaving this week to go back to the UK. I’m feeling slightly apprehensive about leaving but also ready now that I feel my life has opened up again. I’m facing fears and I’m excited to go out there and deal with it. I’d like to come back here one day (maybe when I’m older) in a different capacity to help out a bit more, maybe as a long term volunteer or a life coach.