Before I left in August, I had the goal of volunteering at some point during my trip. During my trip, I discovered there were many volunteering opportunities to teach English; but I felt like doing something with my hands. Eventually I chose farming – something about working with my hands, simple tools, and the earth, to cultivate life. There are a dozen farming opportunities to choose from; I chose New Life Foundation because of its focus on mindfulness, and the community. There are daily programs like yoga, tai chi, meditation. This seemed like it would be perfect after my ten-day retreat, to have an environment where I could continue my practice of mindfulness. Also, the community consists of volunteers and residents. Residents go through rehabilitation of disorders like alcoholism, stress, burnout, or depression. I didn’t know what to expect being in such a community, but I was open to the experience. I wanted to explore opportunities that I didn’t back at home. If you’re interested, read more about New Life Foundation and how it came about.
On November 16, 2013, I arrive at New Life Foundation to begin my two weeks of volunteering. I’m greeted by Catherine, who had arrived at the foundation two weeks earlier. She had quit her job in the UK to come volunteer at New Life Foundation for one year! My two weeks of volunteering felt meager in that moment. When I asked Catherine “why one year?”, she responded that for her, it felt like the right amount of time to commit to things. Respect.
After I check in, I’m pleasantly surprised by my room – clean, minimal, simple, modern. This will be my room for two weeks, which provides luxuries I haven’t experienced in a while. Privacy – no bunk beds, no dorm mates. My own bathroom. Sleeping in the same bed for an extended period. Fourteen sunsets and sunrises will greet me in the same location.
The foundation property is lush and green. Below is a rice field.
There’s a beautiful lake in the middle.
There is a path to Forest Hall, which passes a flock of ducks. These ducks lay about five-dozen eggs daily inside the rubber tires. The eggs are used for breakfast every morning.
I became fond of one duck; I call him the Lone Walker. He differs from the other ducks in physical appearance and personality. The other ducks are white; he is black. The other ducks huddle together; he is content on his own. The other ducks would flurry away when approached; he just stood and stared. And so every time I would walk to the Forest Hall, I would always stop and stare at him, wondering what made him different from all the other ducks. And he would stare back at me, thinking his duck thoughts.
After having a delicious vegetarian dinner, I go to an Alcoholics Anonymous talk in the evening (all are welcome to attend). There’s an American speaker, now living in Bangkok, here to tell about his struggle with alcohol. The room is filled with about twenty people, all Westerners. The speaker tells us about his first drink as a kid in New York, to fit in with the other kids; as the years progressed, he had associated drinking with comfort, and so he was always drinking. Years later he was drinking on the job, trying to hide it from his employer, and trying to hide it from his wife. Ultimately alcoholism ended up ruining his marriage and relationship with his children. Later, a friend also fighting alcoholism referred him to Alcoholics Anonymous. He went, stuck with the program, and successfully quit. He has now been sober for 18 years!
Afterwards, others in the room share their stories. I learn about the people around me, their struggles because of alcoholism – bad childhoods, ruined families, failed attempts at quitting. As I hear story after story, I’m taken out of my bubble, being exposed to the deeper sufferings of my fellow beings, normally hidden beneath the surface in daily interactions.
I think about my life back home, how socializing revolves quite a bit around alcohol. I think of how when I am out and socializing at a bar, I may be drinking socially, but someone around me could be addicted to this substance; it goes undetected in that environment. What may be fun and relaxing for some, may be quenching an addiction for others.
After the meeting ends, I reflect on how it created an environment of vulnerability. Everyone could freely share their own unique story of becoming addicted to alcohol, the resulting pain and suffering, without fear of criticism. Through the night my knowledge and appreciation grew for the AA program as I learned more about its structure and processes. It is designed to help people break alcohol addiction, and it works.
I end my first day at New Life feeling good about my decision to come here, already having experienced a deep and meaningful day. I look forward to my two weeks here!