An intense and beautiful stint at New Life wellness retreat and recovery centre in Northern Portugal just came to an end. New Life offers a wide range of therapeutic elements, including meditation, yoga, mindfulness practice, counselling, life coaching, personal training, workshops, the restorative benefits of being in nature, and a fantastically supportive community.
I originally came for 1 week to teach a handful yoga classes (as a holiday fill-in) but ended up staying 2.5 weeks in which I had the pleasure of giving 35 Thai massages, leading guided meditations, a women’s circle, 2 ecstatic dances, and a sing-along music night. I also organised and run a workshop on deep listening - which as a ADD-ish person I don’t excel at, but as widely acclaimed and highly honoured psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach says:
"If you want to master something, teach it. A great way to learn is to teach"
The morning meetings were one of my favourite rituals at New Life, and there were very few where I didn’t tear up in awe of the depth of human suffering and the height of resilience. To witness the inner journey of those who have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth and/or hadn’t practised decent self-care in many years time due to family life/busy careers/health issues and what have you. The licking of post-pandemic wounds. The halting acknowledgment of long laid unacknowledged truths on the lips of new arrivals. The moment the penny drops. The silence. The quivering breath. The allowing of oneself to speak the truth and to be seen and heard. The compassionate, safe space created for one another. To be a witness to this unfolding, the sacred cracking of the stories we tell ourselves. . And there was a lot of cracking going on. And healing.
Despite the countless hours spent in 12-step meetings in my early twenties and in the last 2 years as part of Recovery Dharma, a Buddhist-oriented recovery community, it felt like a new experience. Full immersion mode at a place like New Life is like a pressure cooker for personal transformation. I often marvelled at the transformation and breakthroughs people harvested after having spent as short as 2 weeks at the centre. The power of showing up for yourself by being vulnerable - it may feel like fragility or even weakness at times, but it is Strength.
It is by being vulnerable that we connect to ourselves and others. And it is through that connection that we feel whole again. That is my favourite definition of healing: To feel whole again. Because when we feel whole, we stop grasping outwards and instead plug into the greatest power source, which of course is within. "The longest journey in the world a human can make is from head to the heart". After spending 3+ years as a vanlife vagabond, I can attest to this reasoning.
A third quote that comes to mind while pondering the past weeks is “Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” I was oscillating between excitement, purpose and feeling in my element, and on the other side noting speckles of doubt and the looming imposter syndrome. The notion of being certified for a job vs being qualified. Certified, check. But what does being qualified consist of anyway in this line of work? What are your thoughts? Mine: I think it's being authentic, first and foremost. Having some relevant life experience and under one's belt and insights into the human condition. Teaching, guiding with candour and humour, the ability to engage and build rapport, create a safe space.
Last but not least, I really enjoyed the close-knit community and the fact that all guests were there for a minimum of 1 week, so you can get to know everyone or at least get a sense of everyone. I knew it was a high-end place with top-notch quality care and counselling before arriving, and this was confirmed during my stay through what I saw, felt and heard. The efforts and commitment made by the founder and staff are tremendous and no easy feat to be working and living together in a stunning but remote nature reserve 24/7.
If you find yourself needing to hit the brake to recover/reconnect/reassess under excellent and professional care, New Life may be the place for you. I highly recommend it.
Love, Thalien xx