Instead of rotating through all of the different working meditation duties, I now have regular spots. I'm leading the marketing team (let's face it, it was going to happen) and surprisingly I spend most of the rest of my time on construction.
Everyone here at New Life is clean and sober, including the volunteers, as substance abuse and alcoholism are some of the serious issues addressed here with residents. With everyone in the same boat, the community is unified; there's no 'us' and 'them' or special privileges. And we have huge amounts of fun together without intoxication. I have belly laughed more here in the past 2 weeks than the past 6 months I would wager, and I have a new appreciation for the smaller things, the less obvious fun, like playing Ping Pong after dinner in the style of a tennis pro, or OTT enthusiasm in a community meeting announcement, the gentle comedy of singing meditation with accompanying hand movements, or simple storytelling; New Life has an abundance of fascinating life stories, an openness to sharing and an appreciation without judgement in listening.
So, if you find yourself either at New Life or seeking sobriety in Thailand, here are 3 fun things that work for me.
1. BUILD SOMETHING
This is alot of people's favourite working meditation here at New Life, so the fact that I've been singled out as someone capable, strong (I've now been described twice as "freakishly" so), with the ability to get on with it without debating the method, is a result. I get to work outdoors (unlike maintenance) without the bother of bugs (as in agriculture), using my entire body and wearing myself out; since we're in noble silence from 9.30pm until 6.15am the next day when we get up for meditation, feeling tired enough to get to sleep early is a good thing.
The building I'm helping to construct is going to be the new recreational hall. At the moment, we only have the dining hall to relax in in the evening away from the mozzies, which houses the ping pong table, games like jenga and chess, computers and all the books and musical instruments. It's pretty noisy when it's not noble silence, so a quiet place to write or think that isn't your bedroom will be a great addition to New Life.
We're building it out of mud bricks, made of mud (unsurprisingly), rice husks, water and a soupcon of cow dung. The mortar is the same recipe. Yesterday, my buddy David* and I measured up and put in the lintels for the windows and prepped the area for when the frames go in. My Dad, who's built every family home I've ever lived in, I hope, would be pretty proud and probably a touch amused at all the manual labour I've been doing.
Every other Saturday, there's a dance in the Forest Hall. You're probably thinking 'I can't think of anything worse than dancing at 8pm totally sober'. Nah, it's amazing!
Last night, Alex* was DJing a mix of deep house, minimal and techno. I can't tell you how surreal it is to watch a former Buddhist monk of 8 years getting his kicks out of house music on a dance floor. Being mindful can be alot like being intoxicated, in the sense that you're totally in the moment. And if you vibe the music, then it actually feels like the most natural thing in the world to lose yourself in the beats, moving your feet on the hard earthen floor, surrounded by others doing the same.
When a large seated Buddha is watching it all from a Shrine behind the DJ's table, a strobe light flickering across his serene face, while you're getting a serious sweat on to Smash My Bitch Up, well, take it from me, it's a little bit special.
3. TAKE A RIDE
Adrenalin junkies will know all too well the buzz that comes from speeding down a clear road with the wind in your hair, tingling skin, heart pumping. Well, in Thailand, one of the best natural highs I've come across is riding on the back of a songthaew. Here at New Life, there's a town trip every Tuesday and Friday evening for AA meetings and again on Saturdays for shopping. I left it a couple of weeks before making the trip, thinking to myself that I had plenty of time to go and I didn't need anything right now. But if I'd known the town trip meant the possibility of 20 minutes flying down the A road to Chiang Rai with a buddy by my side, drum n bass in our headphones and adrenalin coursing through our veins, I'd have signed up for every trip.
Our journey is around 350 baht for a songthaew that can carry 10-15 people, depending on how many go on the back, and the drivers'll take you anywhere you wanna go. Consider this for a cheap thrill!
Gotta go; we're inaugurating the new pizza oven today. Consider me excited.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of other community members