by Roberta Margison
Madelaine is a family therapist more accustomed to giving rather than receiving therapy. Her time at New Life Foundation as a resident has given her the opportunity to develop compassion for herself and the joy of living living in the moment.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I come from a tiny little town on the Southwestern coastline of South Africa. It is a beautiful place with mountains and the whales come here to calf. Its quite a spiritual community, there are many self-sustaining communities there although not exactly with the same principle as NLF – but self-sustaining communities with permaculture and teaching marginalised communities to look after themselves. It was a very nice place to raise my children because it was safe, they could still walk to school in the morning and walk to town and play in the streets and you didn’t have to worry about them going surfing at the beach. The community is small enough that everyone knows each other. I’ve been living there for the last 19 years of my life. Africa is very diverse, it’s a very beautiful country. We have many different cultures with 11 national languages and 9 different provinces. Since apartheid was abolished 20 years ago there has been an ingrained culture of “Ubunto” and we live by this principle which basically means “I am because of others”.
I am a therapist and specialise in family therapy where my main aim is conscious parenting, mindful parenting and mindful teaching. I am involved when there is conflict in a household between parents and children or between teachers and children. I do functional assessments where I physically go in to the situation and watch how people interact with each other and do behaviour analysis. It’s really effective and rewarding as the results are quite quick: by maybe altering small things in the environment or changing tone of voice or how you approach people, you can create an opportunity for success.
How did you hear about New Life?
In the past 2 years I’ve been working with cases assigned by the court. In most of these cases the conflict in the household was caused by alcohol abuse. In the Western cape, wine is very much part of the culture, people drink it for breakfast, people get paid in wine instead of money. There are quite a few rehab centres in South Africa that specialise in addiction but I found that people relapsed once they left the rehab centre. I started doing research on the internet on mindful recovery and found NLF. Everything made sense, I could understand why this would really work as the responsibility is given back to the person in a mindful environment.
What made you want to come here?
My first objective was to do research to be able to duplicate a community like this in South Africa. To see how they integrated principles of Buddhism and mindfulness in a community and recovery centre. Through doing research I realised that I could personally benefit by joining the community. As a resident it has been a joyful experience being on the other side – instead of giving therapy I am receiving.
Had you tried mindfulness meditation before you came here? What did you think of it?
I did meditation and yoga, even the NLF diet is similar to mine, but recently it became more challenging for me to continue this lifestyle. Although I could be compassionate towards the children and families I work with I realised I wasn’t extending it to my self. Now after 8 weeks of practising mindfulness in a daily routine I am maintaining it and its been a great joy for me to be here. My daughter arrived a couple of days ago and noticed immediately that I was walking slower, talking slower. Just being able to practice daily has helped me slow down instead of rushing from moment to moment without noticing what happened in the previous one.
What have been your greatest joys and challenges while at New Life?
My greatest joys and challenges have actually been the same thing: vulnerability. I have a hearing disability which caused great challenges when arriving in NLF with all the different accents and different cultures. Although I read lips I had to continually make people aware of this. There’s a huge influx and cycles of people arriving and leaving so you have to retell your story, so you are made aware of your vulnerability over and over. Through the mindfulness practice I have developed great compassion for myself and kindness of others, and my greatest challenge turned out to be my greatest joy by discovering balance. Instead of always being proficient I am now capable of accepting strength and vulnerability. I like to the use the metaphor of bamboo, which is strong because it is flexible.