by Karin Hallberg
When Tim found out that the medication the doctor had prescribed for his stomach problems was in fact highly addictive tranquilizers and sleeping pills, he was shocked and horrified. Looking back at the situation 30 years later, he doubts that he would have been alive today if it wasn’t for his meditation teacher and the tools he learned from her. As Tim says, “Life had a different plan than I could ever have imagined”. When we meet up for the interview he is comfortably sitting and enjoying a fresh coconut, convinced that the only way forward from here is the path of expansion.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and what brings you here?
My name is Tim, I come from Ireland and I am 61 years old. How I found out about New Life was in very roundabout ways. I was looking for a place to go for the winter where it is warmer because the cold weather in Ireland is not good for my stiff joints. At the moment I am a Workaway host, which means that I welcome people to stay with me to do some garden work in exchange for food and accommodation. I have people coming from all over the world and last summer there was an Australian guy who recommended New Life for me. I had no idea where I was going, I didn’t know much about Thailand and definitely not about Chiang Rai before I came here!
You have been practicing meditation for a long time, what role has that played in your life?
Meditation actually saved my life! Thirty years ago, when I first found out about it, my health wasn’t very good. I was in the hospital and the doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong with me. I was on a lot of different medications and they thought that what I had was a stomach problem. I trusted my doctor and the medical prescriptions, but while I took them my health was getting worse. I was getting more irritable, I was not sleeping well and I was hardly able to work. Eventually one doctor told me that I had to relax more and suggested me to try meditation. I had never heard of it before, but I looked it up in the local newspaper and started attending classes. The meditation teacher was a psychiatric nurse, and eventually she found out that the medication I was on was not for stomach problems, it was tranquilizers and sleeping pills which are highly addictive. When I realized what I was on I was horrified and it took me about two years to come off the medications. I would try not to take them but then I would be even more irritable and not being able to sleep, so I tried to cut them down bit by bit. Going on meditation retreats and practicing at home was the only time when I felt okay, once I went out again I was suffering. I would go as strong as to say that meditation saved my life, if I hadn’t had that tool at that time I don’t think I could have endured coming off the medications.
How have you felt about the yoga and meditation practice while you have been here?
I have been meditating a lot over the years, but sometimes maybe not as much as I should be. Sometimes life takes over and my practice wouldn’t be that regular. Coming here has given me a yoga and meditation routine, but it has also given me so much more than that! Here I have met people with the same mindset, people I can really relate to, people who are on the same journey in life. Initially I came here as a volunteer but I decided to swap into being a resident since I have recently felt that my life was shrinking and getting smaller, and as I get older I want to expand and not the other way around. I tend to be the eternal optimist, I always expect wonderful things to be ahead of me in my life, but in reality I am not always living like that. So I felt that my life was shrinking, I was not working full time as an engineer anymore so a lot of the social contacts that I used to have were no longer there. But it is amazing if you look at the whole picture of life, how all of that was meant to happen. Quitting my job made me become a host and that led me here, so it looks like life had a different plan for me than I had expected. Coming here has made me expand on so many levels, I feel like New Life found me rather than that I found it!
You have told me that you are a quite introverted person, what has it been like for you to live in a community like this?
It has been challenging, it has been times when I just wanted to run out of here, especially the first month since social contacts are a challenge for me. I like to be in my space and situations such as the dining hall where a lot of people are talking can make me feel isolated. In fact the reason I felt like that was not about the other people but rather something inside of me – my own inadequacy and my own uncomfortableness around people. Living in a community with 50-60 people is wonderful and challenging at the same time, and it took me three to four weeks to really settle in and be comfortable here. And now I feel the benefits coming constantly! For me, I don’t have any problems with structured sharing in groups, but more so with situations such as the chit-chatting after dinner, probably because of the way that my life has unfolded over the past years. As I get older, I have felt that the social contacts are decreasing and becoming shallower until there is only talk about football and the weather! Being here, I have felt that I can connect with people on a deeper level, knowing what is going on in their lives, what their journeys are and their visions for the future and for the world.
In the beginning you were struggling with social situations, and now you are the person facilitating the social anxiety group! How has that journey been for you?
It has been an incredible journey, and it is still challenging! One thing that I have learned is that social anxiety is not going to suddenly disappear, but I have learned to live with it and work with it. There will always be challenges, and what I have discovered from being in and facilitating the social anxiety group is that most people have some kind of challenge regarding public speaking, but the kind of challenge that they face are very different. Some people have been advisers in major companies but are used to read from a brief, and can therefore find social situations in everyday life very challenging. Others can find a three minutes public speaking to be a struggle. In the social anxiety meeting we sometimes share what situations we find difficult, and the diversity is just amazing! It has also been an opportunity to build up my self-esteem and self-worth and to be comfortable within myself around other people. It is me getting to know myself better, and this place has been incredibly beneficial for that! If I wanted to, I could challenge myself from six in the morning until nine in the evening here, it is an emotional roller coaster! I remember one day when I was feeling really down, and I went to the Awakening Hall a bit before the workshop to just lay down and rest. I laid there for a couple of minutes, and then suddenly a woman named Lien came and massaged my feet! It is amazing how that just changed my energy for the whole day, having somebody being so thoughtful. For me that is the miracle of New Life, things like that just happen!
What does a New Life look like to you when you leave from here?
I am actually excited, I am looking forward to put what I have learned here into practice in the outside world! I will of course miss the people here, the support here, it is very difficult to find a community like this anywhere in the world, with all these great people from different nationalities. One thing that I will take with me from here is the miracles in seeing people arriving and witnessing the change in them after two or three months. Some people who came in and were very closed and quiet are now being open and sharing and flourishing, that is incredible! I feel so privileged to have gotten to know these people, to call them my friends and to have walked a part of their path with them!