I arrived at New Life Foundation in March 2015. I’d been looking for places where I could do karma yoga and volunteering, so I searched ‘Volunteer Yoga Thailand’ and NLF popped up! Instantly I knew it was the right place for me to go, as I was intrigued by the idea of mindfulness and had been reading a book about it; it seemed like a broader philosophy for life than what I considered yoga to be at the time, which was appealing.
I was extremely stressed at work, and had been for some time – working for a communications consultancy in London. I worked in a small team but had a lot of responsibility, so I never switched off from work. I made sure that any of my free time that hadn’t been eaten away by work, was spent ‘living life to the full’ with my friends. In short, I burned the candle at both ends – hard.
“I’d been partying in order to escape being ‘Jo the communications consultant'”
It all caught up with me and by November 2014, the combination of stress and recurrent infections meant that I was in and out of my doctor’s surgery on a regular basis. I knew that things couldn’t continue as they were.
I began to realise that I’d been partying in order to escape being ‘Jo the communications consultant’, the work-focussed person I’d become. I handed in my notice, and was offered a 9 month unpaid sabbatical with the promise of a return to work at the end if I wanted it. A break is what I needed, so that’s what I took.
“I adored New Life from the moment I arrived”
I adored New Life from the moment I arrived. After only 5 or so days, I decided to extend my stay from 1 month to 2 months. I wrote this in my first blog post after arriving: “…you are very quickly absorbed into the Foundation and become part of the furniture, making friends and sharing stories. Partnering in workshops, taking weekend excursions and just hanging out by the pool can create strong bonds in a short space of time, as can having the side of your head shaved by another member of the community…! Another working week begins and I sink deeper into a more mindful existence. And I’m loving it.”
Tom’s creative workshops were invaluable to me, as was his life coaching using the Enneagram. I also really benefited from Vince Cullen’s Hungry Ghost wholehearted Buddhist recovery retreat. The four Brahmaviharas – loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity – that I learned of during Vince’s retreat, seem to me to be the very best tools with which to live life and ideals to which one can aspire.
“The idea that I could express myself freely in a unconditionally supportive space was a revelation to me”
The concept of community was especially eye-opening for me, particularly having come from such a corporate, competitive environment. The notion of non-judgement was something with which I was almost completely unfamiliar. As a performer and music scholar from a young age, and as the younger sister to a very driven and opinionated brother, I was motivated by other people’s approval; the idea that I could express myself freely in a unconditionally supportive space was a revelation to me.
Mindfulness had been a small part of my weekly yoga practice at home, but as a concept over and above movement, I had only read about it in some meditation books. At New Life I learned that Mindfulness is about appreciating and accepting the present moment just as it is. This has been so useful to me because I have a tendency to move relentlessly towards something else, always ‘doing’ or planning the next thing.
“A very personal struggle for me was allowing myself to be vulnerable and supported”
The meditation practice I learned at New Life allows me simply to be, without doing anything or judging myself. It gives me an opportunity to observe what is going on inside myself; it improves my ability to pause and consider, instead of reacting automatically.
Since returning home, I’ve been able to keep up my practice roughly every other day and have recently been on a Triratna retreat with the London Buddhist Centre, however I do find that my practice is more challenging when I suffer ill health, which, living in damp rainy UK, is quite often!
Of course, there were some challenges to living at New Life. A very personal struggle for me was allowing myself to be vulnerable and supported, which has never come easily to me.
“I can’t stress how grateful I am to New Life for the scholarship program…”
There was also the difficulty I had in learning to slow down, to not put pressure on myself to do everything and be everything that I imagined people wanted me to be. It was sometimes hard to find the balance between doing a good job and looking after my own needs.
Then while staying at New Life, one of my great friends, a mentor and really influential person in my life, passed away. It was extremely difficult to grieve when nobody around me knew him, or being unable to attend his funeral. But the support of two New Lifers in particular got me through this time, and I’m eternally grateful to them.
I can’t stress how grateful I am to New Life for the scholarship programme; without this, I would not have been able to stay at New Life for as long as I did. I arrived this burned out person, tired out from perpetually striving to meet everybody’s expectations, including my own. Within the first week at New Life, I was repeating old patterns by volunteering to do the marketing for the Foundation; after all, that’s where my knowledge and experience lay.
The scholarship program “gave me breathing space to heal”
At that time, I was a volunteer not a resident yet. I enjoyed doing a good job for the community, and was given the opportunity to stay as a long term volunteer to be in charge of all the marketing. I was pleased to accept, because I genuinely wanted to help, and I knew it would be good for me to stay longer. But it soon became evident that it was too soon for me to begin taking on such responsibility again. I felt extremely anxious about having to leave New Life, having run out of money, but after discussing it all with my life coach, she suggested that I might be able to stay as part of the scholarship programme.
I’m so grateful to New Life for seeing that I had a valid need, because it gave me breathing space to heal. After the death of my friend and complete burn out, it meant that I could stay and learn to avoid repeating past mistakes and be kind to myself.
“You’re not alone, a New Life is possible and you do deserve it”
Whilst I didn’t come to New Life to recover from addiction, I did used to ‘overindulge’ to distract myself from life. Since New Life, I have drunk less alcohol than ever before in my life, and the best thing is undoubtedly not waking up with feelings of shame and guilt – and a hangover!
As Vince Cullen says, “we’re all in recovery” and he’s right. You’re not alone, a New Life is possible and you do deserve it.
As a non-profit foundation, we are reliant on the support of paying volunteers and the generosity of our donors and supporters. Last year we were able to offer 28 scholarships thanks to your valued contributions. We need 900,000 baht ($25,000) in order to offer 3 full scholarships per month, with the average length of scholarship being approx. 3 months. Please help us to maintain the scholarship program for 2016 by sponsoring a resident.
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