Tomorrow, I leave the safe cocoon of the New Life Foundation to move to Chiang Mai.
Beginning my trip at NLF was perfect. I got used to being alone on the other side of the world, without being alone at all. It’s like I’ve been wearing traveling training wheels. But, after four weeks, I feel ready to head out on my own.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the experiences I’ll take with me from NLF:
Since I arrived, I have been
falling asleep, dying of boredom, squishing ants with my toes, learning to meditate. I am really really not good at it. In fact, the more I do it, the worse I get.
The only session I enjoyed was one where the guy next to me started laughing and then we all started cracking up and had to call it off. See! Wasn’t that more fun?
I know there is the cliched parable of the Westerner who travels to Asia and struggles to calm his or her overstimulated, technology-consuming-mind, but, after weeks of hard work, has a single blissful experience that changes life forever. Or at least that’s what happened in Eat, Pray, Love. That is not what happened to me. I still suck at it.
The picture to the right is of the meditation hall. You’ll notice, I am not there.
My general understanding is that the only people who aren’t crazy are the people you don’t know well enough. So, I thought it was great that NLF offered its life coaching sessions to everyone.
My first session took place the day before I was supposed to fly to the hospital in Bangkok. I explained to my life coach that I was having a hard time staying calm and needed to stop my internal dialogue about being sick and alone.
She said that I actually needed to embrace my fear to move forward. To accomplish this, we would do a visualization exercise to comfort my scared inner-child….ok.
“Imagine you are in a forest. You can smell the earth and feel the leaves under your feet as you walk. You hear birds singing.”
This is silly. But fine. I am in a forest.
“In the distance, you see another person. Someone small. A child. You realize this child is you. What does she look like?
Seriously? Ok um…I guess I was a cute kid. Aw, well, I mean maybe she looks scared? Big brown eyes holding back tears… she looks so sad…
“Does she tell you something?”
She says she is afraid of being sick. [cue sobbing] And that she needs someone to hold heeerrrrr.
I proceeded to totally break down and we spent 15 minutes mentally consoling my inner-child.
I walked away from the session feeling a little ridiculous. And a lot better. Apparently, sometimes you just need to walk in a forest and hug yourself.
While I admit I may be prone to hyperbole, Thai massage is the best thing ever. It was developed Way Back When to help monks prepare to sit and meditate for hours (not what I’ll be using it for). It’s often called the lazy man’s yoga, because it’s essentially another person stretching out your body, using every part of their body, from hands to feet.
We got the chance to learn the technique as part of a three-day workshop. On the first day, our teacher sat in the middle of the room smiling with his eyes closed. He rocked gently back and forth describing the abject pleasure he felt from giving massage. This naturally caused a ripple of suppressed giggling from the girls, who had never seen a guy quite so excited about…giving.
But he was right. It was awesome. To do Thai massage properly requires very little effort. It’s sort of like you’re dancing with the other person’s body. Every time my partner sat up relaxed and smiling, I got a sort of happy “giving buzz.”
Living in a Community
This was my first experience living in a “community.” Up until this trip, most of my ideas about this sort of life were of the dreadlock-ed, peace-loving, hippie-variety. And that vision wasn’t entirely off.
There was plenty of discussion of energy healing, manifesting, and spirit animals. But there was also a lot of hanging out by the pool, trips to the coffee shop, and walks around the lake. It was how you’d imagine any giant, off-beat, slightly dysfunctional family would feel.
There were awesome days: One Saturday, we had a huge cook-out by the pool. The Australians built a grill and made homemade bread, cheese, and salad from the garden. There was a chocolate cake for the six birthdays that week and it was generally lots of warm-feel-goodness.
There were bad days: One of the volunteers discovered that a bag of Kit-Kats for children from the Agape Orphanage had been taken from the refrigerator. So basically someone stole chocolate from orphans. There were also a few incidents where residents relapsed and were sent home without warning, leaving the atmosphere unsettled for days.
I would absolutely do it again. I liked the sense that everything had a direct benefit (or detriment) to the community. If we ran out of jam for breakfast, someone had to go down and pick mangos and make more. If you didn’t bother sorting your own recycling, you’d have to watch the person with compost duty do it the next day.
In the “real world,” the results of our kindness or laziness tend to fall into some anonymous void. With cause and effect so obvious at NLF, I learned to approach everything a little differently.