Founded on Buddhist principles of mindfulness by two Belgians, the centre opened 5 years ago to provide an affordable place of recovery for those suffering from a wide range of psychological issues, from addiction to depression. The Belgians actually met in a Buddhist monastery, both former addicts. Julien, now the Director of New Life, was a drug addict for 8 years before becoming a monk for 8 years, one for every year he had been suffering.
I have never met a more contented individual. At 37, he has never known life in the 'real' world, but having been here for a week now I count him lucky, or at least not lacking, in that.
To call the New Life community inspirational would be an understatement. Everyone comes here with their own story, strengths and struggles. Each brings an openness of mind and heart that is rarely encountered in the 'real' world.
This place exists for the residents, who enter a program consisting of all sorts of forms of meditation, life coaching and Western support groups such as AA. But the community is so integrated, meditating, working, eating and relaxing together, that there are no discernible boundaries between the residents and the volunteers.
The volunteers do double the amount of working meditation, which is 2 hours in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, on a range of tasks from construction to food preparation, house keeping and agriculture. Long term volunteers and residents look after the animals - cows for fresh milk and cheese, and ducks for eggs. It's a vegetarian diet here, though it wasn't always. The vegetarianism comes mainly from a drive to be sustainable, and even as it is the fruit and veg that's grown here has to be supplemented with produce bought from town.
Contributing to the process of growing and preparing the food adds an additional appreciation for it when it does arrive in front of you at mealtimes. Breakfast is always eaten in 'noble silence', giving people a chance to wake up and be still with their thoughts or concentrate on what they're putting into their bodies. This suits me down to the ground, not being a fan of talking to anyone early in the morning. It makes perfect sense not to converse with others when you've barely had a chance to reacquaint with yourself after waking.
Before breakfast, at 6.30 am, the whole community undertakes a mindful activity of their choice, from walking meditation or yoga to Tai Chi, seated mediation and T.R.E (trauma release exercises). After breakfast is the community meeting, a chance to welcome newcomers, say goodbye to anyone leaving, raise any issues, extend gratitude, make suggestions and find out what the days work shifts and activities are, before meditating together in silence for 15 minutes. This is not always seated, as I discovered to my abject horror last week on 'hugging meditation' day. Being disinclined to touch people unless I've made a strong connection with them or I feel particularly moved to, this was very hard for me and after two hugs I retreated, in fact in tears. Here, if something is too much, you stop. The notion of 'no pain no gain' doesn't apply, though it is of course encouraged to try something in the spirit that it may not be as bad as you think it will be.
After dinner, sometimes there are additional workshops, perhaps based on a suggestion from a community member or several that have a similar need, for example there is currently a public speaking workshop, since there are so many people here that suffer anxiety about speaking in front of groups of people, which is something that happens alot here in community meetings and workshops. Anyone that knows me will know this is not something I struggle with - give me talking to a room full of people over a hug any day.
There are some who stay here a long time, even indefinitely. And it's hard to see why you wouldn't. New Life is a home and a family for anyone that wants one. But it's not for everyone. Newcomers are required to pay a deposit to secure their booking and are allowed 5 days to get to know the program and acclimatise to life here before paying for the rest of their stay. And in fact, some do leave. A girl that arrived the same day as me departed after 2 or 3 days. I guess you either get it or you don't.
For those that stay, you are very quickly absorbed into the Foundation and become part of the furniture, making friends and sharing stories. Partnering in workshops, taking weekend excursions and just hanging out by the pool can create strong bonds in a short space of time, as can having the side of your head shaved by another member of the community...! ;-)
Another working week begins and I sink deeper into a more mindful existence. And I'm loving it.