It’s been a great month for me. I’ve been volunteering at New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The foundation is a place for people recovering from drug addiction, alcohol abuse, anxiety, stress, burn out and other mental health issues. The foundation provides residents a safe and loving environment to rest and restore, whilst practicing skills based on mindfulness to better equip themselves when returning to the matrix of life.
I arrived here on recommendation of a great friend I met in Thailand whilst I was travelling in November last year. She spoke so highly of New Life Foundation and the community that I had to come and experience it for myself. I wanted to understand what techniques were being used to make this place such a magical place.
Four weeks since my arrival I have had so much opportunity to join in workshops, meditation, yoga, mindfulness practice, sharing circles and more. There have been a significant number of exercises I have been practicing which have brought me so much joy and enlightenment that I couldn’t resist sharing these with you.
They have given me food for thought and have definitely prompted me to consider including aspects of them into The Humble Retreat schedule.
As a volunteer I have been offering 4 hours of my time each day to help around the community. My time are split in to two 2 hour work shifts and my duties can range from breakfast, lunch, dinner, maintenance, agriculture, office, cleaning and garden duty. No day is the same and each morning at a community morning meeting at 8:30am I find out which duty I have been scheduled on for the day.
The New Life Foundation community heavily influenced by buddhist principle. This means that every work shift is to be a working meditation.
I’m sure if you’ve practiced meditation or have a rough understanding you might imagine a mediation to be done with your eyes shut, legs crossed in lotus position with palms resting on your knees. True, this is a good way of meditating and one that we practice here too.
Something I have discovered much more powerful than that is to meditate whilst working. To me, this means being totally present in every job that I am delegated. It means to be conscious of every single moment during one of my work shifts, whether is weeding, washing dishes, painting, sorting through rubbish.
It’s easy during any job to procrastinate when there is something we do not want to do. It’s easy to stress out at something some one said or didn’t say. It’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to rush things to get the job done.
During working meditation I am giving myself the opportunity to work with concentration and dedication. I enjoy all interactions and observe other interaction and observe every feeling and emotion that crops up. I feel privileged to be helping however small the task.
A simple task of weeding, whilst working on the agricultural team, has probably been my most favourite job. Outside in all weather conditions (blasting heat or tropical storm), in the earth, with the insects, observing nature in all it’s glory and helping cultivate and nurture. I am mindful of every wonderful bit of magic that nature has to offer.
Every evening at 9:30pm we practice noble silence. With my bedtime being 9pm latest here (!!) this isn’t too much of an impact on my social chit chat. However, this noble silence lasts until 8:30am the next morning which means that when we are woken up by the gong at six in the morning we are in silence until our community morning meeting.
I have found this an incredible peaceful way to start the day. It’s such a wonderful way to greet the community in the morning with something as simple and beautiful as a smile. No need for words or noise. Just a gift from the heart.
Eating breakfast in this noble silence has also given me the opportunity to enjoy every mouthful and to eat in true mindfulness. This also assists with knowing when I am actually full, rather than eating for eatings sake.
Last weekend there was a dance mandala in the evening. It was described as a mediation. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I took myself along with another 20 people from the community who had chosen to attend. I mean, I figured we’d be dancing but perhaps we would be shown the dance moves?
How wrong was I.
For approximately 2 hours, in candle light and in an amazingly beautiful space at a forest hall (imagine a huge magical mud hut in the forest). Our facilitator for the dance mandala had set up a dj space and was already playing music when I arrived. She explained to the group that she would take us through a guided meditation through the sound of music. It was up to us how and where we moved.
A little conscious of my being at the start of the session I felt stuck to the floor and I just simply swayed my hips to the beat of the music. You know that obligatory sway to the rhythm of the music?
Within the next 2 hours I was able to truly feel the music. I felt euphoria and moved like a wild woman you might see at something like a dance mandala. I looked as though I had been dunked into a swimming pool due to the dripping sweat. The energy in the room from all my friends and community members was electric and it felt like one of the most memorable parties I have ever been to. I moved all around the room with movement and free style. It felt wonderful and I came away from the evening in such a trance. It was incredibly liberating to feel so comfortable and move to easily (eventually). It really triggered something in me which I haven’t truly thought about since I was 17…I want more of that dancing in my life!
TRE stands for tension stress and trauma release. We’ve all heard that someone can feel “shaky” after a stressful situation or when they are in shock. Shaking is the way that our body naturally releases tension. But these days, even in the stressful world that we live in or the stressful life we have created for ourselves we no longer use the bodies natural coping mechanism to deal with that stress. We know longer use shaking as a stress release.
I attended a TRE workshop not knowing too much about it. I heard that there was some shaking involved but that was it. Upon arriving and being introduced to the concept (as I’ve explained above) and I understood that the TRE session would be a form of meditation and a way of releasing any old stress that has been stored in my body.
Little did I know what was really in store for me.
Our facilitator took the group through a number of exercises to warm up our psoas muscle. The psoas muscle is where we hold a lot of stress and emotion. That’s why in yoga teachers tell us that a lot of emotion is stored in the hips. An example of an exercise is the one where you sit against a wall in chair position without a chair.
After about 5 gentle psoas muscle warm up exercises we were guided to the floor. I lay on my back with my legs flat on the ground and slightly apart. I then was guided to gradually bend my knees, keeping the soles of my feet flat on the floor.
I felt some tremors which were subtle automatic shakes mostly in my leg and groin area. However, after about 5 minutes of gentle shaking the shaking moved through the whole of my body, shaking me from side to side up and down, legs uncontrollably flapping everywhere, arms wobbling about. I’m sure anyone walking into that space without knowing about TRE would have though I was having a fit.
Not only did I shake uncontrollably – but apparently this exercise shook up my humour too. My laughter exploded into fits of belly laughing and I had streams of tears running down my face as I experienced pure and utter joy. Who doesn’t love a belly laugh? And for a solid 15 minutes? That’s quite some laughing!
My laughing ended up triggering some other laughter in the room from other people shaking uncontrollably on the floor. This was another experience that I will remember forever. The feeling post exercise, I can honestly say I was high. High on adrenalin and in a completely euphoric state of mind. It took me quite some time to come back to ground.
TRE is something I would certainly recommend as a way of releasing – whatever it is that you end up releasing! Whatever the emotion released, enjoy it. It’s an incredibly cathartic experience.
Every morning at 8:30 the community comes together to sit in a circle and we kick off our day with an open meeting for any sharing and announcements. At the end of the meeting we practice a seated meditation for 15 minutes. However, on a Wednesday morning our seated meditation turns into something a little bit more special, a hugging meditation.
The hugging mediation involves finding a partner to hug. During the hugging, three deep breaths are made. One breath in then out to know that one day I will die. One breath in and out to know that one day the person I am hugging will one day die. And one final breath in and out to acknowledge the very present moment of hugging. After three breaths the next hugging partner is found to enjoy this very wonderful experience with.
Post hugging meditation, I always come away feeling so connected and loved. I feel in love too. With the people I have hugged and shared my energy with. It’s amazing just how much a hug feeds my soul.
It is not obligatory to join in the hugging meditation and people can meditate whilst sitting on the outside of the hugging meditation, whilst serious magic is being created in the middle with all the hugging.
A sharing circle is a beautiful way to get things off your chest, share your story or just simply listen. Every Tuesday evening there is a “women’s circle” which involves ladies coming together to talk about a particular topic. At the same time, there is a “men’s circle”too. Since my arrival topics have been:
- body awareness
- identity and values
After a short meditation to open the circle everyone has an opportunity to talk about anything they might like to share,relating to the topic of the week. Alfred the duck (a teddy) is placed in the middle of the circle. Picking up Alfred the duck is an indication that you have something to share. You can say as much or as little as you like. There is no right or wrong in anything that you say.
The circle is such a wonderful space. No judgment. So much love. Electric energy. And safety. Everything that is shared stays within the circle and within that moment only. It’s powerful to know that your share impacts so many others in the room. Sharing and resonating with another person’s share shows that we are not alone on this journey of life. So many people can relate to our experiences and sharing those experiences takes courage and strength.
It’s been fascinating jumping into all the weird and wonderful workshops and practices at the New Life Foundation and each opportunity has allowed me to learn more about myself, what works, what doesn’t work and what I would like to share with those who are considering a weekend at The Humble Retreat. Life is for living. Life is for experiencing!