written by Tavy
When I first traveled to Northern Thailand with university friends in 2006, my expectations of the region conjured up admittedly superficial and limited images of the magnificent Mekong River, the Golden Triangle, and exotic hill tribes. When I eventually returned a couple of years ago, it was for a meditation retreat with a Tibetan Buddhist nun at a fantastic haven for those interested in meditation, mindfulness, and sustainability, called New Life Foundation.
Tucked away amidst scenic mountains and lakes, in a small village called Baan Samarnmit about half an hour from the city of Chiang Rai, New Life is an international recovery community for people who are suffering because of addiction problems, depression, stress, burnout, relationship issues or abuse. As a registered non-profit organization, New Life aims to provide affordable support for all in need.
Like myself, many are attracted by this unique combination of activities that the foundation offers in its program. New Life offers a rich learning space for those who would like to work on self-improvement and personal development. After the retreat finished, I returned from my vacation to resume my day job in Germany as a researcher, but have come back regularly to do volunteer stints working on the marketing, blogging, and fundraising team, as well as to join other meditation courses and workshops.
Within the community, there is a wide mix of people of all different ages (from nineteen years old to sixty-plus) and from all different cultures and walks of life, who come to New Life to join either the resident or volunteer program, or to visit for a short time as guests. There are short-term visitors and well as long term residents and volunteers who stay from several months to a year or more.
Some of the travelers who come to the foundation are taking time out from work or study and looking to spend a specific period of time learning about mindfulness, meditation, yoga, sustainable agriculture, Enneagram, life coaching, mud building, massage, Reiki, and all the other things that can be found here.
Others visit as volunteers and decide to switch over to being residents in order to take full advantage of the life coaching and self-development workshops available here. Many of the people who end up here are exploring Asia or doing around-the-world trips whilst on vacation, or as part of their gap year. They often continue traveling with good friends they’ve made at New Life.
And like myself, there are regular community members who come back year after year to support the foundation’s work. People are coming and going all the time so the atmosphere is always very dynamic. I really enjoy the fact that there are always plenty of new people to get to know. It’s a great place to meet other adventurous people who share the same interests.
Plenty of people come to New Life in need of healing or recovery, and with the intention to change their lives dramatically. Their stay here is more open-ended, and oriented towards exploration, openness, and discovery. They’re attracted to the peace and simplicity, and find it helpful to be part of an understanding community, where there are plenty of others who are similarly feeling lost. Here at New Life, in a part of the world often very far from their own, they find the space as well as the support they need to discover the next step in their life long journey.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer, resident, or guest at New Life Foundation, visit their website.
All photos courtesy of Ani Könchog Lhamo.
Tavy is a cultural anthropologist from Sydney, Australia. She spends a great deal of time at New Life Foundation in Northern Thailand. A regular volunteer/staff member, she writes for and edits the blog, helps organise meditation retreats, and generally pitches in as needed in between meditating, duck-watching and weekend trekking.