By Dr Lee Kingma,

My most magical www experience to date was finding the retreat in Thailand where I could volunteer as a teacher of the Enneagram and experience my own Eat, Love and Prayer. By simply searching 3 words – Thailand, Enneagram and Retreat – I found this non-profit therapeutic centre situated in northern Thailand, near Chiang Rai.

After a few e-mails and a Skype meeting with a faculty member, I booked my flights to Thailand. The New Life Thai Foundation is a community made up of residents, volunteers, and guests who stay for anything from a few weeks to even years. The activities are designed to cultivate mindfulness, a love of learning and spiritual growth. The community hails from all corners of the globe – people in search of a space for acceptance and learning the tools for moving forward. Calmness and serenity surrounds those challenged by stress, depression, anxiety, abuse, trauma, substance dependence or relationship challenges.

After a stressful flight which was delayed for 8 hours in Ethiopia, I had my own encounter with anxiety. Again, I learned that so often we imagine needless worst-case scenarios – in my case ‘one night in Bangkok to make a hard woman humble’ in imagining myself stranded on a Bangkok pavement as I had missed my connecting flight. My fears were allayed as the wonderful Thai staff whisked me off the plane, through passport control, put me up in a fancy hotel and arranged my connecting flight for the next morning – all with superb efficiency and delightful friendliness.

Mornings at the retreat start at 6h30 with the melodious sounds of a huge brass bell. The first daily activity is a choice of yoga or meditation. These activities take place in noble silence which started the night before, after dinner. I thrived on the yoga, set in an open air hall with views of the Thai fields and the sun rising and facilitated by highly skilled yoga teachers. All meals are vegetarian; prepared mostly with ingredients cultivated on the farm. The food was exceptionally yummy, varied and nourishing.

The morning meeting is attended by the entire community where the activities of the day are communicated, visitors are introduced or bid farewell, followed by a guided meditation practice. Most of the community then do a two- hour work session – this may be looking after the ducks or cows, recycling, cleaning, gardening, building activity or food prep.

My volunteering was teaching the Enneagram over 5 days during 90 minute afternoon workshops. During my second week I gave 23 members coaching feedback on their Enneagram styles. Further learning activities offered are therapies in art, Cognitive Behaviour, Addiction, Body-Centring and Biodanza. In the evenings community members develop leadership by facilitating activities such as drum circles, public speaking, Reiki and 5 Rhythms dance. I also facilitated Women’s Conversation Circles on the topics of Identity and Relationships. These discussions were rich and interesting as the women are from diverse countries, ages and contexts.

On the weekends we pooled to catch the local open taxis to Chiang Rai for a few hours of market visits, sampling delicious Thai food and sublime massages. A highlight was visiting a coffee shop – Cat n a Cup – where 14 cats ruled the show! Community members use the retreat bikes to venture off into the beautiful countryside, play soccer with the local school children or watch movies. I relished my walks around a lake and was entranced by flocks of crane rising out of the marshes into the early morning mists.

After two weeks I bid the community farewell. I felt restored with newfound hope, a sense of calm, gratitude for both the big and small things in relationships and nature – and richer for the immense learning opportunity of having met so many wonderfully curious people – all of us just walking each other home.

The last few days were action packed as I met up with my adventurous daughter who had been traveling in Laos. We visited magnificent temples, cycled through farmlands, caught local buses to Chiang Mai and visited the magnificent mountainous Chiang Dao.

The highlights there were visiting a forest temple with views as if planted on the top all Earthlings, a temple situated in a cave and wading with the locals in steam baths, visiting a barista who grows and roasts his own delicious coffee – and being a brave passenger on my daughter’s hired scooter!

Although I am grateful and happy to be reunited with my family, friends and countrymen – a wee part of my soul remains in Thailand where I hope to return at the end of this year for more loving, eating, praying, teaching and learning in my newfound community.