by Mara Saunders and Jojo Furnival
If you were to drop by New Life Foundation on a weekday anytime between 2 and 4 pm, you’d find community members enrolled in the residents program taking part in an afternoon workshop.
These workshops are normally facilitated by a life coach, but are sometimes peer-led, and are a key element in the resident experience. Thursdays are extra special, as instead of doing afternoon working meditation, volunteers are invited to join the residents. The simple act of bringing the whole community together for a shared learning experience is powerful in itself.
Workshop topics and formats can be hugely varied. Here we give you a tiny taster of the four most popular workshops, as nominated by community members themselves.
‘F*ck you, Thank you’
This workshop is based on the assumption that when we hold onto resentment we experience pain; by venting our anger and frustrations, we ease this suffering.
Through letter writing, attendees can first let go of the resentment they harbour towards something, before looking again at the experience to find the good in it.
One participant said of their session: “It made me cry because I got to write the things I could never say, but I was also given the opportunity to examine what I’d learned from the person I wrote to”.
Rolando Torez, a Chilean therapist, proposed that in today’s Western society, the basic human craving for physical, non-sexual touch is being left unsatisfied. Consequently, he created Biodanza as a safe, playful way for the core need for intimacy and connection to be met. This is done by engaging in a series of movement-oriented exercises, accompanied by carefully selected music. The workshops held at New Life are typical of a beginner Biodanza class. Talking is discouraged as these sessions place emphasis on dis-inhibiting our bodies, and not our minds.
Certain exercises involve moving and dancing alone, while other exercises encourage attendees to engage with a partner, as one participant related: “My favourite exercise involved finding a partner and pretending to play hide and seek while fast tempo music played in the background – I laughed non-stop!”
Another attendee described the essence of Biodanza beautifully: “I love the music, and the connection. It’s just pure, lively, child-like fun!”
These sessions incorporate art therapy into New Life’s resident program. The life coach facilitating the workshop will propose a theme and residents are then given approximately one hour to represent the topic in their medium of choice.
Attendees are then invited to share their creation, after which the rest of the group are given the opportunity to provide feedback.
“When I was using drugs and alcohol I lost the connection to my creativity. Being at New Life has allowed me to fall in love with poetry and music and art all over again,” said one resident.
Push and Pull
In this workshop, residents can cultivate an awareness of ‘blind spots’ in their own characters. Although the experience can often be extremely challenging, is essential for increasing our self-knowledge and growth.
One resident described how this workshop actually helped her to form connections: “When I arrived at New Life I was very socially anxious, so this offered a safe place for me to talk to people on a one-on-one basis. I left that workshop feeling as though I had really connected with other community members.”
Whatever the topic, workshops at New Life are about self-discovery and personal growth in a supportive environment. There is always something for attendees, whatever their story or suffering, to learn, and which can help to add another piece to their jigsaw puzzle. No aspect of the residents program is standalone – what we learn in today’s workshop could be the foundations of tomorrow’s addiction support group or personal meditation practice. Not least, it may simply give us the confidence to move forward in a totally new direction.