I have just passed the 6 week mark of no alcohol, which isn’t a first for me having done two months clean last year. The first month of this, however, was spent in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand – which does technically make this my longest stint in the “real world”.
However, the thought led me to reflect back on my time spent at the Mindfulness Project in Khon Kaen, where I joined a group of individuals from around the world in an adventure that none of us could have expected.
Having found myself at the Project after a bad break up, quitting my job and two months of island-hopping and partying in Thailand, to say I was in for a physical, mental and spiritual shock would be an understatement.
Not only did I have my last cigarette the day before I arrived (one year ago exactly today), I arrived without a cent in my bank account, and remnants of who I knew I was, or wanted to be.
Each day followed a similar routine
- 04:30: Wake Up
- 04:45 – 05:45: Yoga
- 06:00 – 07:00: House chores and breakfast team to cook
- 07:00 – 07:30: Breakfast + Teaching of the day
(all of the above done in total silence – such a pleasure in the morning)
- 08:00 – 13:00: Chores of the day kick off – natural building / mosaic work/ planting/ weeding/ helping locals with various projects
- 13:00 – 15:00: Lunch team to cook + serve a big vegan meal for lunch / dinner
- 15:00: Free Time to relax, nap or take a walk to the village nearby
- 17:00: Buddhism teachings and group sharing where we discussed what’s on our minds/ what we felt that day/ what we learn – best and worst parts of the day
My body went through all the usual kinds of detox – headaches, rashes and sweating, but luckily my cigarette cravings weren’t too bad. The hardest part of the detox however, was the sudden silence, and slowness of the pace of life – the introspection, and having to face what had happened in my life the previous months – without alcohol, partying and other distractions. It hit me like a ton of bricks. What I thought would be a fun, ‘zen’ experience suddenly got very real, very fast.
The first few days were not fun, and I planned my escape several times. For those who have stayed at the Mindfulness Project you will know that living conditions are harsh. About 20 of us slept on the floor under homemade mosquito nets (often with big holes), early starts to the day, working in 40 degree weather doing physical tasks and for myself, being a part of the cooking team, meant a LOT of cooking – for 30 people twice a day. And that’s just the physical side. Mentally and spiritually there is nowhere to hide here, and I felt exposed, displaced and very confused.
Many of the people who found themselves at the Mindfulness Project were not very different to me. I watched some go through violent detox from partying binges in Brazil (screams/ spasms/ pools of sweat), others recovering after tragic events such a loss of a loved one/ break-up, and those, like me, who had traveled far and wide to try find meaning and purpose in their lives. We all were all there for a reason and although on very different paths, and from very different walks of life, we were in it together, and this formed a powerful sense of comradely.
The week that I arrived coincided with Songkran (Thai New Year) which is essentially the biggest water fight in the world spread over 4 days. We headed to the city to partake in the festivities which was one of the craziest experiences I have ever had. Of course this was done all completely sober – a very new experience for me having enjoyed most social situations with some form of alcohol. However, at this early stage I didn’t feel ready to be in the “real-world” yet, which made it a very challenging time.
Returning back to the Project for the weeks that followed were full of ups and downs – emotional turmoil, and self-discovery. I started to realise how unconscious I had been living all these years. Apart from this, these weeks were packed with the most amazing activities such as walking 23kms with Monks (BAREFOOT) from Monastery to Monastery (I could write a book on this), a trip to the most beautiful temples you can imagine and visiting neighbouring provinces to run English teaching camps for kids.
After my fourth week at the Project, I had exhausted my finances, my Visa had expired and it was time to head home and apply what I had learnt. I was terrified.
The events that took place that afternoon the day before my departure were like a scene from a movie and shook all of us all to the core as a massive monsoon headed our way, rapidly and without any warning.
The storm came and went in the time frame of around 30 minutes. However, it was long enough to blow the roof off the building four of us were in, tear down other houses in the village, rip power-lines and destroy all the electronics that were used to keep the Project running. Finding shelter under a mattress, we watched as everything blew away around us – our roof, sheets of corrugated iron roofs from neighbouring houses and massive trees de-rooted and flung across the sky.
At this moment I felt the power of Mother Nature, and the smallness of all of us, our problems and our complexes. We were not special, and at any minute our lives could be over.
Before we even had a chance to understand what was going on, the storm passed, and everything became very quiet. We emerged from hiding and slowly stepped outside to witness the devastation the storm had left – everything was flattened.
What followed next was just as surreal. We immediately got to work, abandoning our houses to help our neighbours, to help the community. We set off on foot, equipped with tools, saws and adrenaline – checking on the locals to see if they were OK, helping them cut trees that had fallen and picking up debris. Thankfully no one got hurt in the village, but word that some monks had been injured in neighbouring towns started to emerge. [We posted a video about the storm here]
With no electricity we sat together in darkness in the common room trying to make sense of the day, and reflected on teachings of the morning which ironically had been, “Today is your last day on earth, how do you choose to spend it?” A harsh lesson for all of us that day. All I could think about during this time was that all I wanted was to be with my family, and I just had to make it through this day so that I could go home and see them.
And I did.
The next day I made my way back to Bangkok on a bus, guilty of not being able to help out in the aftermath at the Project, but also relieved. I couldn’t be more ready to go home.
Returning home was more challenging than I could imagine. Re-acclimatizing to city life, surrounded by old people and places, the usual temptations and perhaps a small dose of PTSD thrown in the mix.
In many ways I returned to my old ways of living and old habits – not ready yet to make the leap just yet. However, one year down the line, these teachings are flooding back to me and I feel ready. To aspire to lead a life more consciously, and treat each day as if it was my last.
The storm affected us all in different ways, but for me it was symbolic. I was embarking on a new chapter of my journey, the beginning of a new life, a rebirth. The storm had come and gone, washing away all that had been, and making space for what was yet to come.
A year ahead and I realise more and more the impact my time at the Mindfulness Project had on my life, all that it taught me, the incredible people I met as well the amazing work they do for the community and our planet.
So…let me ask you something.
What would you do today if it was your last day?
[Excerpt from the website] The core of the Mindfulness Project is to create a sustainable, healthy and ethically conscious community that serves as an attainable and attractive model for the rest of the world. We believe this initiative can spark a flame of change in the minds and hearts of everyone, beyond cultural, religious, social and geographic boundaries, resulting in a new global consciousness. The foundation of our project is to bring people together in a symbiotic community that incorporates science into alternative living. Permaculture is our compass and following it allows us to produce more energy than we consume and to revitalize soil, water and forests. This philosophy also supports a hands-on way of life perfect for personal and community development.