I’m walking down a lazy dirt lane at New Life Foundation in the late afternoon heat of Northern Thailand. A gaggle of ducks waddle about, making their way to a large pond for their afternoon dip. Rice paddy extends to low hills in the distance and as I approach the meditation hall where I am to lead the afternoon meditation, the canopy of teak forest provides a welcome relief from the sun.
Chiang Rai (not to be confused with Chiang Mai, her more farang inhabited big sister) is the frontier of northern Thailand’s hill tribes. Here is where you find tea and coffee plantations, traditional culture, and a slow taste of how Thailand was before tourism. The surrounding area is also one of the world’s most thriving opium and methamphetamine producing regions in the world. Which perhaps explains why a mindfulness based recovery center located itself here.
The New Life Foundation was founded by a Belgian entrepreneur 2010, as a place for people to come rest, recover, and learn about the healing powers of mindfulness practice. His own personal struggle found relief here in Thailand at the unique Thamkrabok Monastery Detox program, and his wish was to offer something in return, by creating a place where other struggling addicts could mend their lives through the miracle of mindfulness at an affordable, nonprofit organization. It is the foundation’s mission to help people cultivate a lifestyle that fosters inner growth so that they can find meaning and purpose in life again. The most important tools on that journey are yoga, meditation and awareness practices.
People come from all over the globe to become residents here, in order to establish new patterns and heal from a variety of issues: addictions, burnout, relationship issues, stress, mid-life transition, illness. Or they come to volunteer, sharing their skills as yoga instructors, life coaches, meditation guides, sustainable building engineers, or organic farmers. On weekends, residents and volunteers can participate in excursions to cultural attractions, hike to and swim in waterfalls, go trekking or kayaking, visit orphanages, or play football with the local villagers.
The facilities are located on 63 acres of land near the golden triangle in Chiang Rai province, which boasts plentiful natural beauty: lakes, mountains and hills, rice fields, forests, rivers, hot springs, waterfalls. On the land are two meditation halls, a swimming pool, organic farm, communal hall where three daily meals are served (with produce from the garden), consultation rooms for life coaching sessions, and around fifty single en suite guest rooms. Some of the communal buildings are built in traditional style, with teak leaf roofing and mud walls.
A new life through mindfulness
Though the word mindfulness has turned into a buzzword recently, there is a powerful message behind the buzz. The ability to steady the mind and bring it back to the present moment—which is another way of saying back to the breath, as we practice in yoga– is an important aid to healing. When you are able to stay with whatever is arising, whether or not you like it, then you train yourself to withstand the turmoil that life can sometimes dish out. With this strength and stability, you are able to sort through the muck and look for the hidden gems that have been covered up. Simply being fully in the present moment is a healing practice. By being more aware of body, thoughts and emotions you will receive signals about what’s out of balance. Mindfulness teaches you to respect these signals and welcome them instead of pushing them away.
Over the past decades researchers and mental health professionals have been discovering that mindfulness practices such as yoga can alleviate almost every kind of psychological suffering. The increased awareness that results from mindfulness helps you to see what lies at the root of your behavior patterns. Once you can see the patterns, you then have the power to make choices, and eventually transform negative habits that perpetuate suffering.
Eventually, the goal of spiritual practice is to remain present and aware during all our daily activities.
The best medicine is ironically the most simply: stripping away the distractions that keep us from experiencing the beauty of the present moment. Which begs the question: is spiritual growth different from healing?
While the mindfulness element is based on Buddhist principles, there is no religious affiliation. The practices are intended not for adherence to any particular lineage, but rather as tools to help people work with their minds in a more friendly way or you could say, for spiritual growth.
The foundation’s mission is to cultivate a lifestyle that fosters inner growth and helps people to find meaning and purpose in life again.
The foundation offers a unique learning environment based on mindfulness and sustainable living, where residents can learn to nurture and maintain their recovery—whether from substance addiction, grief, crisis or burnout. With support from the community and guidance from the staff, each individual develops their own action plan that enables them to discover their potential and develop a new healthy lifestyle based on mindfulness, personal responsibility and respect.
The approach is to use a combination of practice and coaching to help residents discover their potential, regain a sense of self-value and find happiness in a new approach to life. Everyone experiences obstacles and suffering at some point in life, but these experiences can serve as a foundation to gain understanding of ourselves and life in general. The most effective way to transcend suffering is through love, understanding, respect and trust, which are plentiful at New Life Foundation.
According to Buddhist philosophy, each of us has a seed of wisdom and goodness inside– everything it takes to create a peaceful, equitable and sustainable existence. All we have to do is renew our relationship to ourselves through awareness practice to let that seed grow. This sets a strong foundation for a new life.
The foundation sometimes needs volunteer yoga instructors. If you are interested, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the 2013 January issue of Namaskar.