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Writing the book that Kalani began
My story is a familiar one, with a twist. My first visit to Kalani in 2003 made me want to come back. No surprise there! What is more unusual is that I returned in 2005 not to volunteer, but to do anthropological research on the culture of retreat centers.
Kalani launched me on this journey, and now it has called me back to spend two weeks as an Artist in Residence writing a chapter for the book that has grown out of the research. The working title is Journeys Through Centers. In the book, my intention is to share the voices of people who work at a variety of retreat centers, explore the paths they follow, and suggest why such centers matter to us all.
Here is a taste of the Kalani chapter. This excerpt draws on some of my earlier writing. It is a work in progress, so I welcome your corrections, and suggestions. I look forward to your input as I write the 2010 update on volunteer life at Kalani. If you want to share your thoughts or read more, please email me at (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My research suggested that time was the key privilege that Kalani volunteers enjoyed. For North Americans in the work force, money can seem easier to get than time; but volunteers at Kalani often had more time than money. They needed some money, true. Volunteers in 2005 paid $1500 for three months. But their privilege was to be able to spend months or even years in a place most could visit only for a few days or weeks.
How did people get the time they needed to be resident volunteers at Kalani? The key was to trust their gut feelings or intuition, and to see time as a very precious choice. A variety of paths led people this twofold realization.
I interviewed forty-two resident volunteers and paid staff at Kalani in the winter of 2005. The first question I asked was, “How did you come to volunteer at Kalani?” The responses emphasized the importance of following one’s intuition as well as acting decisively to break old patterns and step into an experiential space that opened people to new possibilities. Larry (all volunteers names have been changed) was going through a marital breakup when he came to Kalani. He told me, “I thought it was really beautiful. I met the person who was in charge of personnel at the time, and I just had an amazing feeling about her, and I thought well if everyone here is like this, this is where I’d like to be.”
Ironically, time is the key resource that makes it possible to volunteer at Kalani, but volunteering also buys people time. As Alex put it, he has the luxury of time at Kalani to allow what he should do next to unfold:
[Many volunteers] are here to have fun, but also to “figure it out”, whatever it is they have to figure out. You know, what do I want to do for work? That's a big question in my mind. I have a lot of different ideas, but nothing really has gripped me yet. I have the luxury of staying here or traveling for a while until it does, which is great. I feel very fortunate to have that luxury, to not have to keep going.
Some volunteers had no career or permanent work when they came to Kalani. But many others left or sold their businesses to free up not only the cash but the time to volunteer. Fred sold his catering business. Alex sold his construction business. Mina left a high power job in New York’s fashion industry. Dale’s dot com business was thriving. He got out and came to Kalani as a volunteer just before the tech stocks crashed.
Personal transformation, then, arises partly from making the time to step out of ‘normal’ life. Traveling, as a temporary state, seems a low risk way to do this because one can keep traveling, return home, or find a new place to live. But travel to Kalani opens volunteers to new possibilities, including more permanent lifestyle changes that critique the normalcy of the work-a-day world. For example, for Amy, who left the solar panel business, being at Kalani changed her attitude towards work and possessions…
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