Three new expats, two human, one canine, countless adventures
During my first stint as a volunteer at the New Life Foundation I managed to land myself the job of looking after the ducks. As a big fan of ducks this was a great start to my working day. After 6am yoga, a silent breakfast and the daily community meeting I would rush down to the lake to feed over a hundred hungry birds, release them from their pen and collect their eggs.
It’s a comical sight to watch a hundred eager ducks rush out of their enclosure towards the lake. Some stumble in an ungainly fashion down the embankment. Others are so keen they launch themselves off of the top but they can’t fly so they have to take a running (in as much as ducks can run) jump and flail downwards towards the water. I’d worry every morning they were going to impale themselves on one of the stiff stems poking out of the bushes by the side of the lake.
The New Life Foundation is a healing and recovery centre near Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand. What I really like about it is that it’s run on a not-for-profit basis which means it offers affordable options for people seeking help with all sorts of problems, including drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, depression, stress/burn out and often combinations of several of these issues together. Very few of the people there would be able to afford the fees that some nearby rehab centres charge their rock star and CEO clients. New Life has ties to Thamkrabok monastery, a donation-based detox centre, so some of the residents arrive having done the famous, or rather infamous, herbal detox offered there. One of the residents gave me a hilarious if toe curling account of his time there detoxing from heroin – ritual group vomiting included.
I got to try out yoga for the first time while I was there. Considering I’m about as flexible as a wooden post I was surprised how much I liked it and vowed to keep it up afterwards. My yoga mat is now sitting, forlorn, in a corner somewhere gathering dust. As well as yoga I tried out tai chi and attended some evening workshops. I tried again to get into meditation. I know it’s something that I’d get better at if I was consistent with it but patience is not a virtue I’m overly blessed with. I do still meditate, not as often as I would like but I’m trying – hey, I’ve even got the cushion and it’s nowhere near as dusty as my yoga mat.
At New Life I worked in the morning and afternoon and could choose between many of the jobs necessary to keep the centre functioning like working on the organic farm, helping the Thai cooks in the kitchen, collecting and sorting the recycling, marketing and fundraising. I started off working on the farm but wimped out in the hot sun and was happy to retreat to the office to work on a fundraising appeal. I worked in NGO fundraising in the UK for a long time and really enjoyed writing up an appeal again.
Volunteers are not in the recovery programme and work morning and afternoon while residents do community work only in the morning and in the afternoon attend workshops designed to aid them on their road to recovery. They also get one-to-one life coaching sessions from specialist coaches.
I find New Life to be such an inspiring place. Community life is no utopia, some people I liked more than others, just like outside in the ‘real world’, but given the diverse range of people and the very difficult life issues many of them are dealing with it’s a surprisingly harmonious place.
The centre is run on the Buddhist principle of mindfulness and often has discussion groups around Buddhist texts but it’s not a Buddhist community. You can stay no matter what your religious background – if you have one or not. I love the fact that people stay at the centre for many different reasons, from many different backgrounds but find common purpose in supporting each other in recovery and there is no judgement of, say, recovering drug addicts who are generally not highly thought of in the outside world – to put it mildly. Now that I live in Chiang Mai I’m a regular visitor to New Life. Every week I visit for two days to provide hypnotherapy and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) coaching sessions to residents. It’s incredibly fulfilling and quite different to my work in private hypnotherapy practice in Dubai and Chiang Mai. I love the not-for-profit ethos behind New Life and I’m really thrilled to be able to contribute to the centre and hear the stories of people there who are changing and growing.
New Life is set in 63 acres of beautiful, lush countryside including a lake and a farm, half an hour by taxi or bus from Chiang Rai. You can stay there as a resident if you want to undertake the full recovery programme, including all workshops and individual life coaching sessions; as a volunteer where you work morning and afternoon and can still attend the yoga, mediation etc; as a guest where you don’t work and can spend your days lazing by the pool and attending the same sessions open to volunteers. There are also regular weekend retreats/workshops on meditation and self development.
For more information see the New Life Foundation website.