About two years ago I was in New Zealand sitting on a hillside looking down at this huge blue lake, thinking about my life and how I got to this place.
Not physically, but mentally.
I was sitting there asking myself why I felt so numb. I thought I was doing the right thing, I was following my dreams, traveling the world, yet I still had that lingering thought, ‘this can’t be it’.
For the first time, probably in my life, I made a decision for myself.
I took nobody else into consideration, I didn’t think about whether this decision would make other people happy, I didn’t do it because someone else wanted to or because I thought I should.
I did it because it was what I had always wanted and this time, I was putting myself first.
I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting at my laptop booking this month-long stay at a monastery project in Thailand.
Where I would wake up at 5 am every day to meditate for an hour, then practice yoga for an hour after that. Then spend the morning in mindful silence until it was time to build and dig and plant.
A place where I would eat only two meals a day which would be completely vegetarian and raw. Then at the end of the day sitting in a circle around a fire of people who I had just met and answer questions from a man who I had just met.
After all of this, I would sleep on a mat on the floor with no pillow and no blanket, just a mosquito net.
Once my trip was booked I was so excited and happy. It wasn’t until I saw people’s reactions to me telling them where I was going and what I was doing that I had the thought
‘Ah right, yeah this will be very different from the life I live right now’
That didn’t matter, I wanted something that was different from the life I was living, Because to be honest, the life I was living was not good enough.
I had been practicing yoga on and off for a year and knew I wanted to deepen my practice. I had never meditated before in my life, I didn’t really understand it or know what it was for. I had never been vegetarian, in fact, I was a full on chicken wings and ribs addict.
I suppose I lived an average life of a 24-year-old, I ate junk sometimes, cake more than sometimes. I went out, I drank alcohol, I bought clothes, I wore makeup, very rarely but I did. Sometimes I would exercise sometimes I wouldn’t. I was not religious and knew next to nothing about Buddhism. But there I was off to the forest in northern Thailand to volunteer in a Buddhist project.
It is easy to write about how excited and enthusiastic I was before I left New Zealand.
It is not easy to write about what happened during and after my time at the Mindfulness Project.
It is not easy because it is hard to find the words and express how much this place helped me change my life.
It is not easy because what I realized in my time there, changed the way I see the world and myself.
It is not easy because although I have always rejected this thought, I am scared to put myself out there, I am scared to share, I am scared of what people will think of me.
I have realized that being scared, fear, it is not real, we create it ourselves.
I have learned that in order to become the best version of yourself you have to face your fears, use them as motivation.
This is why, over two years after my stay at the monastery, I finally feel like I am strong enough to use this huge fear of expressing myself, to drive me to share my experience and my thoughts on the Mindfulness Project and give it the review it deserves.
Rewind to my time there. My first impression was, ‘I don’t think I can stay here’.
Once I had a good night’s sleep and got over the traveling I woke up and had the greatest day, I knew that this place was everything I thought it was going to be. I was so happy.
It literally was one building on a bit of land, with two rooms full of mats and mosquito nets. A kitchen and three toilets, ‘Thailand toilets’, squat toilets, those toilets!
Oh, and no toilet paper or running water.
There were water drums scattered around the land that we had to fill up from the well down the street every day, twice a day. This water well is where we got our water to drink, clean, cook, wash, water plants and seeds, also to flush the ‘Thailand toilets’!
The showers were little cubicles outside made of bamboo, the ‘shower’ was a water drum with a little pot that you would use to chuck water over yourself.
Due to water from the ‘showers’ filtering through to the plant life on the land, no chemicals were allowed to be used at all.
The work we would do would be on the land, here I learned about permaculture and natural building. We would help the community, we would help at the main monastery in the city.
Most weekends we would hitchhike to the city to stay at the monastery for Buddha Day.
Whilst here we had the opportunity practice meditation alongside monks and with their guidance. We would be involved in events and ceremonies. We would spend hours chanting with the monks, nuns,and locals. We even had a chance to go on alms rounds with the monks, something that had never been allowed before.
I met people from all over the world, from all walks of life. People my age, older and younger. People like me, or who I thought I was, to people who had lived this way of life for a long time.
At the time when I was meeting these people I wondered how it is that for some people, this way of life is normal.
Some people had never used shower gel, some struggled without their ‘toni n guy’ shampoo.
Some had bags full of paracetamol and some had bags full of essential oils.
Some had herbal tea bags and some had a stash of Coca-Cola.
Every evening all of these different but similar people would sit and answer the question ‘what was the best part of your day?’ And one other that was different each day, such as
‘What is your biggest fear’
‘Why are you here?’
‘What are you ashamed of?’
These questions might not seem difficult as you read them here, but when you actually have to think about what your answer will be, whether you are brave enough to answer at all, whether you can be that open in front of all of these people or most importantly to yourself.
During these times I saw people cry and laugh, I saw parts of people that they had hidden or lost and I saw people find themselves again.
During these times I lost who I thought I was and everything I thought I knew about my life and my world.
I had to reconsider everything I thought I knew about myself, my values, my beliefs, my relationships. I learned about myself in a way that I never thought was possible. Probably because I was ignorant to the fact that there was anything to learn. I thought I knew myself so well.
I don’t know quite how to explain what happened to me at the Mindfulness Project.
I think it gave me space and security to finally break the chain of the treasure chest that I had been trying to open since I left home 3 years earlier, although I was not consciously aware.
I had to go back to basics, from there, I grew again but with more awareness, a connection to the world around me and everything that lives within it. I was no longer ignorant, to the world or myself.
Since I have left the Mindfulness Project I have lived a much more conscious life.
I have a completely different way of life. Now I practice yoga and meditation, I am vegetarian, I care about the environment, I love nature, I do not use chemical or animal tested products, I am conscious how and what I spend money on. I have a confidence I never had before.
I try my best to live mindfully. I am not perfect, I am not the Buddha himself.
But the difference in my life from then to now is that I see, I am aware and I do try.
The past four years have been a transition. A transition from what I was so sure that I was. To what I am now.
Which is… open, undefined. I don’t have all the answers or any answers but I love that, I accept that.
The Mindfulness Project is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for this place and the people involved in running it. The things I saw and learned, the compassion and love I felt, this way of life I was introduced to, it all lead me to the most interesting and enlightening journey.
One within myself.
Which in my opinion, is the most important journey of all.