Kalani Honua Blog - Volunteer Life

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tiffany Manchester

Tiff the SurferIt started just over a year ago. I took it slowly at the beginning, even withholding a little bit to be honest. I knew myself enough to know that if I decided to be in this relationship I would commit to it 100%, and I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted. But in the end I was swept away. I seem to have swallowed the red pill and there is no turning back. Sometimes, when it seems like we are not connecting I feel defeated and I start to question our relationship. For a split second I’ll actually think about breaking up with her, but then I immediately remember the many sweet, divine moments that we’ve shared and I realize that leaving isn’t the answer. I just could never do it. I won’t. She is the Ocean, and I am a surfer.

She, the Ocean, is a great teacher and demands respect. Some days she is soft and gentle, while other days she is fierce and raging…but she is always in control. If I come to Pohoiki (the local surf spot here in Puna) and get my butt kicked, I know it’s because I came full of ego, holding on to my emotions and disregarding what she has to offer. Ultimately it means I am working against her because I’m working against myself. When I can be out there and let go completely of my thoughts and concerns with the world and the role I play in it, it means I can give her my full attention. When I feel the fear wash off of me and the peace settles in I can connect with her vibe and feel her movements, listening to her guidance. In these moments, ‘being’ is effortless, and the waves appear just in front of me.

She is my guru, and in this relationship I am learning how to live my life with more joy and trust in the process. When I have visions of being a pro surfer, I start looking ahead at what I want to be instead of where I’m at. She’ll tolerate my ego driven desire for a while, but eventually she’ll give me a gentle (or rough, depending on her mood) reminder to be right here, right now. And this is a reminder for me to have patience in all aspects of my life, to accept and love myself at every moment.

I understand now that the choice to be in this relationship really never was mine to make. I love her with all of my heart, she brings me peace and I am committed to her 100%. I could never leave her, I just couldn’t do it. She is the Ocean, and I am a surfer.


Monday, March 9, 2009

David Groth

kavaA recent `Ohana night, our weekly-ish get-together, was the eagerly anticipated kava ceremony hosted by our dear Auntie Lynda and her husband Ama. Lynda is a wonderfully sweet and sexy lady who teaches us lauhala weaving (google it!) and Hawaiian culture. She's very knowledgeable and extremely passionate, and always lots of fun!

Kava, or awa, is a root that is ground up and added to water, filtered out and then shared as a beverage. Traditionally, is tastes like muddy water, especially if you drink the last sip, and ya gotta drink that last sip. It's mildly intoxicating - you get a little giggly, wobbly and a bit numb around the lips, but you stay aware and alert and pleasant. As Lynda says, "it makes the men rough and the women soft".

It was good for meetings amongst the nobles, because you could relax and negotiate without declaring war on everybody all the time.

After getting the kava ready in a large wooden bowl carved out of a single piece of wood by Ama's brother in Tahiti, the task of serving it out in coconut-shell bowls hit a snag - where to find a virgin at Kalani? Or anywhere in the surrounding district? Virgins traditionally serve out the kava, I guess as their own personal offering, whenever people clap their hands together. Later, when I was playing ukulele, I encouraged people to continue clapping for the kava - I need all the applause I can get!!

After designating "serving virgins" (who changed through the evening so that different people could recapture their innocence, and so that we didn't exhaust any individual virgin), we shared laughs and kava and songs and dances. Lynda and Ama performed some traditional dances, Wailana (who teaches us Hawaiian Studies on Monday evenings) danced some hula with Lynda and played my uke a bit, and I played for a while and taught everyone to sing haole songs like "Tiny Bubbles", "Blue Hawaii" and the famous "Hukilau song", which is related to the famous "shaka" symbol (google it!!).

The kava was great for singing. It's mild on the throat, relaxing both physically and emotionally so there was no anxiety about performing, and I think it also made it easier for everyone to relax and sing along.

cliffside ukuleleOur lovely Missy got up and danced hula with Lynda to a Hawaiian song I've learned to play and sing, and even taught to our singing Charlie (see Oct 17, '08 entry). It's called "Holei" and tells about the beauty of Kalapana, the town down the road that once held the most magnificent black sand beach but is now covered in rolling waves of hardened lava. In fact, lava still actively flows to the sea in Kalapana - we can see the plume of steam rising in the distance, and sometimes it glows red with the reflection of the molten earth. Very beautiful and dramatic.

I learned the song from our hula master Kimo and received the music and words from our front desk man, Tim, who not only takes people out on excursions to see the lava but plays Hawaiian music on the ukulele almost exclusively (and quite beautifully). The song is fun and challenging, especially to keep playing it slowly enough for Missy to dance. Charlie sang with me and it felt like a very genuine Hawaiian moment, though none of us are actually Hawaiian by birth (except Kimo, but he wasn't there).

This was one of my most favorite `Ohana nights. It gaves us a chance to experience something cultural together where we shared our talents and our friendship. It was wonderful to see so many members of our Kalani family, from the youngest to the oldest, from under 20 to over 70, laughing and playing and enjoying being together, and doing something that brought us all to the same level of ability - though some of us kept the kava flowing faster than others!

Thanks to Lynda and Ama for the kind hospitality and wonderful memories. I gotta get back into the weaving classes. Lynda is so much fun.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Hello beautiful people,

Greg AndersonThis is a long blog so save it for a time when you are bored at work!

5 weeks has flown by filled with wonderful experiences flying in left and right. I was thinking about how I would structure this email as I can see it being a long one, trying to highlight the finer details of this new life I am living.

My usual day here begins at about 6am with a wonderful sunrise coming through my A frame. The sky is usually a deep blue and there is always a breeze that lends its cool breathe on my body. The retreat fronts onto the ocean and I walk along the coast or through the thick forest behind. I am usually already sweaty on my return thus hit up the outdoor showers. They are covered with lush greenery and makes u feel connected to the outside. The other day an avocado fell from the tree above the shower and nearly copped me in the head. A slight O and H issue. I would then head up to the Lanai which is an open dining room. Breakfast is a healthy mix of muesli, yogurt, fruit, eggs and I try to stay away from the pancakes and bacon. So good.

Work start at 8.30, goes through till 12pm, one hour break (usually we eat and lay in the hammock) and then work till 4pm. As I work in landscaping its mostly outside weeding, moving rocks, gravel, building paths, planting, mowing and clearing the jungle. Its great physical work using all the muscles I have been given and the results are really starting to show. I feel energized being outside in the fresh air and although its tough work its rewarding. The landscaping crew are a real mix of people, different ages, nationalities, work ethics. There was one girl from French Canada who was the hardest worked I have ever met. When I get lazy I think of her and push on. The sun can be brutal out here. I got super burnt the first week but now have the ideal golden tan and don't really need sunscreen any more.

By 4.30 I am showered and take a yoga class. Each day there are about 3 yoga classes that volunteers can take. About 4 or 5 styles of yoga are taught here, each slightly different. My favourites is Yin Yoga which is more relaxed, floor based and held for longer periods of time. It really gets into the muscles. My other favourite is vinyasa which is flowing movement and feels like a work out. Even though I usually feel a bit tired after work the yoga is something to look forward to and makes me feel great. The other morning I took a yoga class at the beach and while we were practicing dolphins came into the beach. They were doing these amazing flips and we got to swim with them after practice finished. I had a huge smile on my face when we saw them. There are also lots of turtles here.

Dinner is again up the lanai and very healthy. Mostly fish, chicken, and other vegetarian/vegan food. Lots of salads and organic foods. If you want to get your health on track Kalani is the place for it. Not really much junk food here except for this awesome local ice cream.

Nights there are always activities happening like dance class, hip hop, hula, movies, games. volley ball, live music and the more spiritual stuff which I have not really got into yet. There is also the pool which is great after a hot day at work. I have also been reading a bunch and learning Spanish for my trip to South America.

A few activities here have stood out for me. There is something called the DOLPHIN DANCE which is done in a special pool heated to the human body temperature. So I did not know what the class involved. I was in the pool with about 14 women and just me. They were mostly half naked. So the teacher says the class is about movement in the water trying to relax our bodies. The first song was solo based. From then on it was all partnered. So here I am with these women, paired up, in constant contact, breasts in my face, around my hands. I was a little shy to say the least. I lasted about 45 minutes in the class before I excused myself and left. It was all a little too much for this little gay boy.

Another activity which is amazing is called the GONG SESSION. So its a meditation practice which using gongs of various types to send vibrations through the body. I did this session at 6.30 in the morning. All wrapped up in blankets, the man starts to slight hit the gongs only noticeably. Gradually the sound increasing and the vibrations really kick in. You can feel them go through your body and its really a unique experience. The gong master takes you on a journey through the use of sound.

Lots of people here have unique skills like massage, reiki, shiatsu, psychic etc so its been a real learning experience to me being more open to alternative techniques. There is a real energy that the island holds and its a special place to heal people. I have been utilizing the massage service which is only $20 for an hour. Its so nice to finish work on a Thursday and start the weekend with a massage.

So with 3 day weekends it really does not get any better. I have been on 2 road trips since I have been here. The first trip was with the owner of the retreat and his friends. I did not realize his friends meant his friend and this guys mother, sister and sisters 2 twin girls. So there was 7 of us packed tightly into his van touring the island. By the end of the trip they were like my family and I had an invitation to visit them in Baltimore. He took us to a waterfall where we were about to swim up to the crashing water.

Next we went to a beach called WAIPIO Valley. It's the first sight I had of those amazing cliffs Hawaii is famous for. We hiked down the hill to the beach and went for a well deserved swim. The area is said to be where the first true King of Hawaii was born. There is an overnight hike that can be done to the next valley but would have been too much for the 80 year old grandma. She was such a trooper doing most things the rest of us did.

Hawaii seems to bring out the child in most people. That night we went up to the top of the volcano to see a performance by local actors. It was a really small intimate theatre which added to the emotional of the play. It was about the struggle the modern Hawaiians have to maintain their ancient culture while living in the current day. The Hawaiians are such a beautiful people blessed with amazing smiles and warm, inviting personalities. They have a real sense of community where everyone knows everyone and there is respect for elder. Kids and young adults call there elders either uncle or aunty. I caught the local bus to the city and young people get up for older people without hesitation and have conversations. The bus ride seemed to be like a local catch up session for most people. Even hitch hiking is safe here. Today I got a ride back from town in the back of a pickup.

Anyways so we stayed the night at the volcano state park managers house. The next day he took us on a hike into the crater and gave us a run down of the history. The volcano is rather baron except for some plants that have started to return. One thing to note here is the actual lack of wildlife in Hawaii. They really only have birds introduced wild pigs, chickens and cute little mongoose. There are no snakes or spiders which is heaven for me working in the jungle.

The second road trip we took leave of Kalani for the VEGAS style west side of the island. This was the first time in 5 years since my last trip to the US I drove. It took a while to get used to but now i know which way to look. We took the south road and stopped at the most southern point in the USA and jumped off this 40 foot cliff into the sparkling clear water. My friend stood there watching but I knew if I did the same I would not jump. Leaping off, i flapped my arms and plunged into the warm water. Thats the beauty about Hawaii is the warm water. None of this icy Melbourne water.

The city we were headed for is called KONA the major tourist spot on the BIG ISLAND. It was just a bunch of overpriced shops and hotels nothing really worth mentioning. I was there for scuba diving. I met the boat at the harbour at 7,30 and we were out in the water not much later. I chose the tour group because of its limit to 6 divers and more personalised attention. I had not dove in about 4 years and so i was nervous getting into the gear and then into the water. I got suited up, tanks on and then went backwards off the boat in. The breathing technique came back once I put the regulator in and headed under to see the sights of the ocean.

The first dive was to about 30 feet in depth looking at the gradual slope of the volcano into the ocean. We saw the usual colourful fish, coral, Morey eels but the special of the day was a huge manta ray. It flies so gracefully through the water. The area is famous for night dives when the manta rays come out to feed. The second diver was much better as we dove to look at these steep ocean cliff faces. Tones of ocean life live inside the wall and so we dove to about 60 feet which is the deepest I have gone. The freedom and weightlessness of scuba diving is spectacular. We spent the afternoon at a secluded little beach soaking up the sun.

The next morning my mates were hung over and because I did not go out I took the car for a cruise into the mountains. Only problem was the rental cars breaks started to smoke on the way down. I would push the brakes in and it felt like the car was not slowing down. I got it down to the bottom and the car was seriously smoking. Some bikies pulled up to the window and recommended that I use the hand break so that the breaks would not get stuck on the wheel. I made it back to the hotel, rested the car and then we managed to get it back to Kalani in one piece.

Yesterday I went on an adventure with my mate to the GREEN MOUNTAIN AND GREEN LAKE. Its a massive property owned by some guy and you need to call to be invited in. He did not pick up and so we decided to take our chances and walked around the fence through grass up to my shoulders. As neither of us had been there before we got a little lost. We took the track around the side of the mountain and decided to have a rest under these massive Monkey Pod tress. They are these huge trees with massive spans of branches and lush foliage. After lunch and a nap we went back the way we came and took another path which led us to the lake. I wish I had photos to show you all how magical it was. The lake in some sort of crater and surrounded by lush jungle. The afternoon light shone through the trees illuminating the water. I cannot get over how many wonderful natural wonders Hawaii keeps throwing at me.

Today I went with another mate into the local farmers market. Hawaii has a large Asian population and so we feasted on fresh green papaya salad, pad thai and fresh juice. I am loving the familiar Asian food as American food is just plain BAD. Fatty and tasteless. After lunch we went for a swim a beach close to town.

I feel really fortunate to have taken time of out my life and to be experiencing this opportunity to live in Hawaii. Living in this community is giving me renewed hunger for life and realization I have so much growth and learning ahead of me. The people living in this community give me courage to be vulnerable to my fears, conquer and leave them in my wake. There is so much love and support here it was really confronting initially. Back home we rarely show much emotion, lack human touch and are closed to ourselves. Here its the total opposite. People want to share to your story and have time to listen. Hearing what other people have gone through makes my life seem like a fairy tale. I have received so many hugs and smiles from strangers its just the norm here.

Living here is something I have wanted to do for 5 years but always had the voice saying that it was probably not for me. How wrong I have been. Kalani feels like home and there is a true family here. It needs to be experienced...... People said one month here you just scratch the surface and begin to open. How true they were. Even with just under 2 more months here I am already sad to be leaving.

Next week I take my holidays and have planned a solo camping trip to Kaua'i which is where films like Jurassic Park were filmed. Really amazing mountains and valleys. I am planning on doing some hikes, a kayaking adventure and probably another dive.

Aloha from Hawaii.

Love you all



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kalani `Ohana

Tiki Degenaro
1. What brought you to Kalani? What's your story?

What brought me to Kalani was a plan of Perfection I could never have orchestrated myself. Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years I was totally immersed into my family, my high-tech job, my community and the myriad of roles and activities, which accompany those things. At the very end of a yearlong medical treatment plan (throughout which I maintained "my life,") I woke up one morning with symptoms, which landed me in the hospital.

After days of tests my doctors came to talk to me. "So what's the prognosis?" I asked. They looked at me, shrugged, and said "Hypersensitivity?" Basically the yearlong medical treatment was finally showing it's nasty colors in the form of yucky symptoms. What my doctor said next was to be quite a "turning point." "Why don't you take a medical leave? You've been through a lot and went through it with flying colors. Now you must focus on healing."

Looking back now it's quite interesting and comical as I remember exactly how my mind responded. My initial thoughts were: I'm totally fine. I don't need to take a medical leave. That means I did NOT go through the treatment with flying colors.

He told me to just think about it and I promised I would. Within days it occurred to me that a "medical leave" would be FANTASTIC! What was I thinking? With the exception of two very short/just months periods in my life I had always worked. With the exception of a month-long trip to Thailand with my family, my vacations had been short -- limited to one or two weeks at the most because I was always working.

Okay, I'll take the medical leave and travel to one of the countries still on my list: countries in South America and Southeast Asia came springing up in my mind. When I told my Doctor about my plans he gently said it would be very irresponsible and unwise to travel out of the country in case I became in need of medical attention. Shoot! My plan was quickly abolished.

Then I remembered Hawaii. I love Hawaii. I have been fortunate to vacation in Hawaii many, many times. I had been to Oahu, Maui and the Big Island many times and lived on the north shore of Kauai when my kids were young. I hadn't been back to Kauai in about five years and realized this was a great opportunity to take a longer-than-usual vacation there. My plan was to again hike the Napali Coast into Kalalau Valley to see if I could "do" it in my new, recovering physical state.

Luckily my wonderful son, Mischa was available to accompany me. He loves Kauai, too, attended Hanalei School through third grade and had been hiking into Kalalau Valley since he was five years old. Of course he's one of the main loves of my life and he's in super physical condition that made me feel confident about the somewhat rugged, backpacking trip. We spent one month on Kauai and swam, hiked, snorkeled, and visited friends until we began the trek on the Napali Coast.

This was the time of Katrina and Kauai had been receiving more rain than usual, a kind of residual hurricane. We needed to wait until the seven streams needed to cross-receded below knee-level. The day finally came and we were off. Because of the perilous conditions there were only 11 people in the Valley and we discovered each other quickly.

As we introduced ourselves, one guy said "My name is Brandon and I live and work at a place called KALANI on the Big Island." "Oh, I know Kalani," was my response. I continued, "I've vacationed there, took a workshop there, and have friends who have been there also. It's a very special place. I've always told my kids, 'If you're ever in a life transition, consider Kalani!' So if this were a short story or vignette of some kind, Brandon's response would be the CLIMAX. "Why don't YOU consider it?" he asked. "Oh! I never thought of it." I said. Brandon, by the way, is a very special man and was a Kalani-veteran. He was a super asset to Kalani's Landscaping Department and their resident hairdresser, his profession in the default-world.

Before leaving the magical experiences found in Kalalau Valley, Brandon gave me Kalani's Volunteer Manager's name and number. I told him I'd give her a call. This was late autumn of 2005 and by the Holidays I was being given "bon voyage" parties by friends/family and the Company where I worked for 14 years! The timing was immaculate. My son was living on his own, my daughter had just been accepted to college and releasing myself from all the material possessions of a home happened so smoothly and effortlessly I was assured at every step this was my new direction. Everyone was so supportive and there was a mutual belief that this "new" life was perfect for me. My Manager, a Senior V.P. called my move "the end of the Tiki Era" as we were two of the four people who began a division which grew to 100, became international, and did over $1B worth of business!

My last day of employment was February 8 and I flew to Kalani on the serendipitous day of February 14, Valentine's Day. After days I KNEW this was my "new" home-away-from-home. I committed to a longer time and began my immersion into Kalani and the Puna community within which it resides.

2. How long have you been living here? What was the transgression of your roles/jobs here at Kalani? How long are you planning on staying?

I have been living here for two years but I left once for five months and a second time for six weeks. The first time I left I had an opportunity to do some traveling with my newly found freedom. My son and I went to Europe and toured five countries and several Greek Islands. We were especially impressed with the most successful, alternative community worldwide, located about an hour north of Turin, Italy called DAMANHUR. Upon returning, my daughter had one full month off between college semesters and we went to Panama, the only Central American country I had not visited. We loved it and especially enjoyed staying with the Kuna Yala Indians living on islands off Panama's north shore in the Caribbean. They are the last self-governing natives and continue to maintain their authentic, village lifestyle.

When I first arrived at Kalani I worked in the Kitchen Department. I loved working in the Kitchen. It was an opportunity to be in the experience of service and to meet and get to know many other volunteers, staff, and the on-going stream of vacationers and workshop attendees. I was in the Kitchen about nine months and played a variety of roles from scrubbing pots and pans to food prep to FOH/front of house to helping the chefs prepare an entrée, side dish, salad or dessert.

After the Kitchen I was asked if I would like to be the Cafe Manager. The Cafe is a wonderful place open daily for hanging out, events, and wireless connection. At night it is open to serve teas, snacks and the famous Hilo homemade ice cream. I loved being Cafe Manager. I was taking care of a special space appreciated by all.

Currently I am in training at Kalani's front/reception desk. I am so happy to learn all the details of the workings of this Retreat as nearly all "go through" the Office. In addition to my main jobs/roles I have really enjoyed performing other tasks. Shola is our resident tropical flower arranger and I'm her back-up/substitute. Every week Kalani buys a gorgeous assortment of tropical flowers and I've learned to create 30+ arrangements collecting greenery from our totally reachable jungle to accent the flowers to be distributed around common areas of the property. In addition, I am on the facilitators' team for our weekly Sunday, Ecstatic Dance. For six months I have been organizing weekly "`Ohana Nights" where a different activity is offered to the Kalani staff and volunteers.

My answer to the question "How long do I plan on being at Kalani?" is "Indefinitely." Having lived such a structured life, it feels so freeing and positive to even say that. Kalani offers a community/support system to enable anyone to continue on his or her path. I'd like to take advantage of its resources and pristine beauty while giving back with my involvement and dedication.

3. I love your name. What's the story behind your name?

My Father nicknamed me "Tiki" within minutes after I was born. It actually means small/tiny/petite/little in his native Italian dialect. My parents had only one child, my sister who was born 19 years and 10 months before me. Yes, you heard correctly -- almost 20 years before me and that's another story. Anyways, my parents did not know my sex but if I was a girl they planned on naming me Marilou Marie Elizabeth, a very Catholic name also honoring my Mom and my aunt, her only sister. At birth my sister weighed over 10 pounds and had coal-black hair and dark skin and of course my Dad was subconsciously expecting the same. When they handed me to him he asked for a pillow as he was a big guy and thought I looked smallish and different at seven pounds with light and hair and blue eyes. He began calling me little "Tiki" and the name stuck. To this day I warn new parents about the dangers of nicknames. I have a nephew who was called "Baby Tony" until he was nearly 30!

So I've been called "Tiki" all my life with the exception of one nun who did NOT believe in nicknames. Yes, I'm a product of 12 years of Catholic school. She actually called me "Elizabeth" as she believed everyone's name should be the name of a canonized saint. I was secretly happy to discover St. Elizabeth, the Queen of Hungary during the Middle Ages was the first "Robinhood." She collected money from the wealthiest and re-distributed it among the common people. Plus she was a real Queen! How cool is that?! I always believed saints were poor, tortured martyrs!

So many people re-name themselves and I'm often asked if I gave myself this name because I love Hawaii and live in Hawaii now. Actually, Hawaiians do not name their children "Tiki" as it's a god-name and would be considered irreverent. Kiki is common, however. I have met five other Tikis in my life. Three in Florida, all girls and two in California, one guy who lives in Santa Barbara and another in Venice Beach.

4. What was your life like on the mainland?

My life on the Mainland was full and wonderful. My children are my joy, work was satisfying and often too time-consuming, and my extended family/friends was impressive. It was a constant challenge to juggle all my responsibilities. Working out and having a social life had to be put on the calendar so it had a chance of happening.

Northern California is another seemingly endless playground so when you have free time so much is readily available. There's the dynamic city of San Francisco full of diversity and culture. To the south is "Silicon Valley," home of the first and largest high-tech companies. To the north is wine country and to the west are forests and the coast. To the east lies the Sierras, home of the second largest lake in the world which sits at almost 7,000 feet above sea level and hosts gorgeous pine forests, literally hundreds of smaller lakes, and hiking and skiing galore. These were our destination places when we found the time to take advantage of them.

5. How has living on the Big Island changed your perspective? How has living in our community changed you? What inspires you here?

Living on the Big Island has already given me more than I could have ever thought possible. I'm in love with natural beauty and this Island has it all. It is a precious reminder to wake up each day with the jungle surrounding you and the vast Pacific within view. Being here reminds you both of your insignificance and the immeasurable Perfection that gives you your life, breath-to-breath and heartbeat-to-heartbeat which lives within you.

The Kalani community is made up of so many different kinds of people; people of different ages, educations, abilities, backgrounds, etc but all learning and appreciating all that Kalani and this Island have to offer. I'm inspired by the stellar dedication and joy of the core staff as well as the love, which everyone who comes to visit -- and most return at some time -- has of this unique retreat in the jungle.

6. So you just recently took a trip to the mainland, where did you go?

Basically my return to the Mainland involved spending time with my family, especially my now very grown-up children/young adults, friends, and some doctors.

I attended some very special events including fundraisers for Democratic hopefuls including Dennis Kucinich. It was incredibly inspiring to meet Dennis Kucinich, an extremely bright, polished politician who uses words like consciousness and mindfulness. He has offered two, impressive plans to the Senate, one on America, strength through peace and a workable revamping of our healthcare system. What a fantasy to envision a person like him as President!

Also, I attended Burning Man, an annual art and community fest in northern Nevada. At the last Kalani staff meeting before I left, I found myself saying that if it wasn't for seeing my kids and continuing my annual trek to Burning Man for the past 10+ years I'd prefer to just stay at Kalani!

7. So Burning Man! From what I've heard already, we can spend a whole month talking about Burning Man. So let's narrow it down: What do you love most about Burning Man (why do you keep returning)? Top three moments, inspirations and/or epiphanies at Burning Man?

Burning Man is an epic, awesome, event showcasing the themes of art, community and responsibility. With some infrastructure in place, people come together and create a City. The City is a place to explore the artist within you. You can originate or participate in any art project, large or small. No money is exchanged/nothing bought and sold while there so sharing/gifting is part of the theme. At the end, the City is "taken down" leaving no trace of the nearly 50,000 attendees and literally hundreds of art installations and a wide-variety of living, class/workshop, art and party spaces, as well as a Community Center/Center Camp and buildings which every City needs including a police station/the Black Rock City Rangers, a Medial Center, an alternative Medical Center, a Post Office, a Bicycle Repair Shop, a radio station, a newspaper office which produces a daily newspaper, etc.

This year the theme was GREEN. Burning Man provided the venue to experiment, share, and learn about the changes we can make to be kinder to and further sustain our planet.
To witness what human beings can accomplish when given the freedom and space is mind-blowing! This year there were almost 200 major art installations.

I love everything about Burning Man: the art, witnessing it and participating in it, the extreme spontaneity of living there; a 24/7 fantasy adult playground, and the experience of no money, no driving, and living with the bare essentials while communing with the unpredictable weather of the high-desert. This year my daughter was able to go to Burning Man for the first time. At 21, she's always been in school and Burning Man begins when most schools' classes begin in late August. It was icing-on-the-cake to host her "virgin" year. I showed her that Burning Man is a live, community experiment on many levels. It's not just staying up all night partying which one can do anywhere. It offers a plethora of experiences all of which star YOU.

One piece of art, which was especially moving, was named ""Crude Awakening." I couldn't get enough of this mega-art installation. It took minutes to just bicycle around it. Weeks later I am still processing its poignant significance. Here's the exact description from the artists:

"Nine figurative steel sculptures, weighing 7 tons each and standing 30' tall, embody the faithful. In their various poses of worship from around the world, they bow down and reach forth to the Revered Oil Derrick, that icon of the religion which now stands above all others. The Derrick is a 90' tall wooden tower with stairs all the way to the sky. At any time, 200 people can amass on its upper platform while below, the nine faithful belch their fiery prayers from within and around their bodies. Each figure is bound by a participant-activated fire effect, created by Pyrokinetics. On Friday night at 10 pm, as the air raid siren wails and the battleship smoke generator pours forth its malevolent cloud, the Revered Oil Derrick will light up with a fire display like none before or ever after. A flame gusher will then explode from the center of the tower, creating 2.4 gigawatts of raw power in only one minute. You will bear witness to the largest flame cannon in history and the tower will fall."

8. What are you really into these days? What stimulates you? What's taking your attention?

These days I am focusing on my physical health and my spiritual growth. It is a never-ending process learning how to improve your health and deepen your soul's experience. I'm experimenting with various alternative healing modalities and implementing a daily meditation practice. I'm currently reading books by Eckhart Tolle/Power of Now, etc. and Dr. David Hawkins, the study of kinesiology. The extraordinary beauty of Kalani and this Island has inspired me to continue to learn about the art and skill of photography and to transfer that medium into creative writing pieces. My intention is to continue practicing being attentive to the perfection of my center as well as the perfection of my surroundings.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Beverly Mendoza

Beverly Mendoza“It sure as hell doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving,” Todd said today as we were driving down the Red Road, windows down, Al Green playing in the background, eighty-something degrees, sun just roasting our skin, typical day off, doing errands in Pahoa.

We’re both from Chicago and Thanksgiving in Chicago is more like: driving your car through crowded streets, shoppers everywhere getting their Thanksgiving Sale on, Christmas music ad nauseum spilling out of every store and restaurant, scarf weather, boots weather. Not a bad scene either, we reminisced.

So this is my first tropical Thanksgiving with this new group of kids and I couldn’t be more happy and thankful for all that has happened this year. For all the lessons, for all the tragedies, for all the moments of redemption, for all the people I’ve met, for the embrace of this beautiful island and I couldn’t imagine celebrating this holiday elsewhere.

tropical jungleWe’re all away from our families this holiday. And as one of my great friends, Marco, said today to me, “because we’re in the jungle and so far away from the mainland and our families, holidays like this bring us so much closer to each other, we cling on.”

There’s something about surrogate families. The family we create outside our bloodline. The people we choose to love and surround ourselves with are truly reflections of who we really are. They are our mirrors, they become our foundations, they become the fire within us to live the best and most compassionate lives we can. They come from all over the world (especially at a place like Kalani which seems to just be magnet for super cool folks) and imagine all the stories and fates and destinies that have to line up to get us all here at this time, in this moment. From a fated conversation to a lost job to a random article read in the New York Times – whatever the catalyst was that sparked the idea to come to Kalani, it is all connected to this larger and more profound web that is constantly being spun, that is constantly connecting us.

Todd is going to cook some turkey on the grill tomorrow which he helped build for Kalani years ago when he was here last. His name as well as this Japanese kid’s name, Ichiban, is carved into the cement. We bought the wine and the beer from town today and we’re pretty set. We’re going to set up Thanksgiving games on his lawn and have it be an all day affair. Corn hole (aka bean bags), football, Frisbee, dodgeball… you name it, we’re going to play it.

I’m also going to take this filmmaker, Alli, a guest here, who is doing a film on Kalani volunteers, on a real estate tour of A-Frame land tomorrow. We’re going right after breakfast and I’ll be playing host. My TV days have begun, apparently. As my friend Claire Cooey (aka Cooooooooeeey) says, “who am I?” It’s her signature motto when we wake up every morning and have our “morning meetings” about the day before and always there is a story which makes us both wonder “who are we?”

I took a guest from the Gaia group on a real-estate tour yesterday of A-frame land. She was just walking across the lawn and wanted to take a peek. So we A-frame hopped. She owns a healing center in Australia. She’s angelic --- long blonde hair, deep blue eyes, a flowing white sundress on, she practically walks as if she was levitating. She asked me what brought me here.

“Magic,” I said. “I got a random email from who knows who on the day I was laid off from my job. I went into my office and wondered what the hell I was going to do next and there in my inbox was an email about Kalani’s Volunteer Program. I still don’t know to this day who sent it to me, to my work email of all places. It was so illogical, it was so random, I knew it was the next adventure. “

buddhaShe asked if this was enough for me. If I was happy. That day (yesterday) I spent the whole day hopping from the sauna, to the pool, to the hot tub with my friend Marco and Chris Angel. We soaked up the sun, we made English Breakfast tea, we drank lots of water and I swam around the pool with my snorklers under water for hours pulling Marco around in his round float with just one finger linked to his. I did back strokes away from the reclining six-ton Buddha in our meditation garden existing between these beautiful bamboo trees. I’ve had the most wonderful conversations all day. I was told that this gorgeous man named Reese, a master of martial arts, covered in tattoos, with the lightest bluest eyes you just want to dive in and never surface, his friend told me in the sauna, “I’m not supposed to say anything to you, but my friend over there has been admiring your beauty all morning. He thinks you’re so beautiful.” I’ve gotten and given at least thirty kisses all day and who knows how many warm hugs. I live in a great lil’ a-frame. I love people so much that it hurts sometimes, but it’s worth it. Yeah, I think this is enough for me. Yeah, I think I’m happy.

“What did you used to do in your past life,” she asked.

“I was an editor for three magazines in Chicago,” I answered.

“Life was insane. And now I am here,” I said, as I opened my arms in the middle of the jungle encompassing “here” while Tangerine (our resident orange cat in our neighborhood) meowed at us as if confirming that yes, life is good, there is plenty to be grateful for. “Word.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Wherever you are, I hope you are surrounded by wonderful people, lots of laughter, and love.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Beverly Mendoza

Beverly MendozaFor Frank:

How can one of the worst days of my life be followed by one of the best days of my life? You’d think such days would be rationed out better by the Universal Council. Before I dive into it let’s rewind to two weeks ago during my daily meditation at the secret beach.

I sneak away there in the mornings to be alone and figure things out – be it a story, be it real life and I do so as I watch the waves crash against the rocks, watch the tide pools fill up. I’ve seen a Hawaiian woman begin the birthing process there with her midwife. I left promptly for it seemed too sacred for an audience. I’ve seen two teenagers roll around playing kissyface without a care in the world there. I’ve seen a battered old woman with long white hair stroll the sand with her mangy dog. And I remember thinking when she looked at me, that’s Pele.

It was that day that I saw her and her dog when I saw the heart in the sky. It’s my belief that all the knowledge we need in this lifetime already exists all around us, in every moment, especially in nature. In the elements. In the molecules and electrons that float around waiting for us to perceive and make them real, make them meaningful and therefore learn.

I was just bellyaching to a friend how my life since I’ve gotten back from Chicago has been so boring. I was writing, it was quiet. Life was still. And I realized that I should be grateful for that and as I decided on the beach that I was going to be grateful, how I was going to use this time and space well, I opened my eyes and above me was a cloud shaped into a perfect heart. It was hallow and deeply blue inside. And as this slow thick wind blew, it expanded and kept on expanding until it was no longer a heart but two separate long strands of clouds. It down-poured for about five minutes. I put my dress back on. And then a rainbow poured right into the ocean in front of me. An omen, in hindsight. A storm and then a rainbow

Coconut BeachThe storm: I got word shortly after that a great friend in Chicago passed away. He was 34. He was a force to be reckoned with in this life. A dynamic, handsome, talented man. We were roommates during the most bohemian period of my life in Chicago – the art school days. We’ve spent many late nights talking about ideal realities, about our dreams and everything else under the sun. We talked plenty about love. An Frank loved a lot. The news of his death hit me like a freight train

I once saw this documentary on PBS about a tribe of monkeys. When one monkey is sick and dying, the other monkeys from their tribe gather around him and form an unbreakable circle. They turn their backs from him and face the abysmal forest. And they stand there until the monkey recovers or passes away. Sometimes this lasts weeks. They do not eat, nor sleep as they stand guard.

As I have been grieving Frank’s death, my tribe here at Kalani stood around me and stared down the forces in the rainforest for me until I was better. It was overwhelming at times – the love that was shown. From energy work, to an incredible Watsu session, to laughter, to laying with me, to embraces, to the deep silences – it was such profound love. It was humbling and something I will never forget.

RainbowThe rainbow: The next day after I heard the news, I woke up heartbroken. Literally, this ache in my chest was climbing up my throat. *C, an angel, the woman with a white star tattooed on the side of her face, swept in and took me on a road trip to the City of Refuge on the other side of the island. Motion was the key to my survival that day, the destination was simply the cherry on top.

We stopped at the market to pick up food for our picnic. I stayed in the car. And Frank came to me. He sat in the driver’s seat and held my hand and told me this with his wily look, the type of look he gets when he’s meeting a beautiful young lady for the first time (I’ve seen it plenty of times during our late nights romping around Chicago):

This is it, he said. This is the ride. Enjoy it. I’m okay, I was ready. And he laughed and shook his head. I did all the talking and crying and laughing after that. Frank joined us for the rest of the road trip. Sitting in the back seat, driving around the Big Island with two women – I mean c’mon, he couldn’t have been more stoked. Even *C felt his presence. And I talked story about him all day. Glimpses of anything scarlet or red or orange caught my eye all day, for Frank was a red head. I fed red mohawked birds during our picnic and named the one that flirted with people the most, Frank. I saw red lights on the horizon from a cruise ship perhaps and figured Frank was on it having a cocktail or two causing a ruckus. I saw an orange and red sunset descend into the night. He was everywhere, even in the eyes of the dogs and people I encountered that day.

We arrived at Two Step and we snorkeled. *C swam with a sting ray that looked like an eagle. She told me to swim towards the horizon, until the ocean simply drops and maybe I’d see him. I took off, with my split fins, just cruising towards the horizon. I never saw the sting ray, but swimming towards the abyss was such a profound experience for me. All day, I felt as light as a napkin in the wind. When we stopped to get gas and fill up my tires with air, I had to hold on to my car, because as I stepped out, I felt like I would just be blown away. I don’t know why. But as I swam over the coral reefs, I felt like I was flying over hills and mountains. Totally invincible and weightless. And I realized something about perspective. Why is it, I wondered, that sometimes I feel like I’m simply drifting on a raft and floating on land and when I’m in the water I feel like I’m flying. It was as if the world flipped over. And it’s all about perspective. This breakdown that I was bracing myself for, what I thought I had no control over, well it’s all perspective I realized. When it is all paired down – the grief, the heartache, the loss – it all comes down to love. And love is a beautiful experience, a liberating feeling inside to go that deep with your emotions. Frank loved a lot. And I loved him so much. And we lived life so intensely, so deeply, so artfully and I will always be so grateful that I had him in my life and for those moments we shared.

It was a multifaceted road trip. For that same day, my friends in Chicago were driving four hours to Terra Haute, Indiana for the visitation. Being so far away from Chicago and my friends made me feel so unanchored, but during this drive, as *C careened down these snake-like roads cutting through the rainforest, I was transported to the flatlands of Mid-America. And I shit you not, I was in that car with my friends at one point. Staring at the half-moon, looking at all of their bright faces, feeling their pain, hearing their laughter --- it was so profound, I don’t even know how to write about it.

This road trip is also a first I took with *C, a friend I hold so close to my heart. Creating intense moments with this great friend, while at the same time reminiscing and grieving about the moments I had with Frank --- it just had so many layers to it. *C and I stopped a lot on our road trip. To buy fruit, to get coffee, to meet awesome dogs, to picnic, to watch the sunset, to stretch our legs and ask for directions, to talk a lil’ bit of story with some locals – it was a road trip after all. Each stop was filled with endless possibilities of experience, of epiphanies, of natural wonder. Motion was the key to my survival that day, to instill in me that life keeps moving. That dogs keep barking, fruit keeps growing, that the sun always sets, and the moon always shines, and love even when it hurts, always expands our hearts and the cloudy shapes in the sky always dissolve as the wind continues to blow.

At the end of this very long day, we stopped at my family’s house in Hilo for a bon voyage party. We ate such awesome food, it’s ridiculous – chicken papaya, mechado, pansit (Filipino staples) and even beer bread with lilikoi butter smothered on top. My cousin just arrived back from Chile and met his son for the first time. They were gathered around the table in the kitchen looking at photographs of our little Pablo in Chile. Kids were running around everywhere. I must have looked so haggard, so stretched out (I certainly felt like I had just been skinned alive), but I never felt so peaceful in my whole life, I don’t think.

The next day was Frank’s funeral. I worked a double in the kitchen at Kalani. My friends Claire and Nate took me on another road trip the next day. We walked through Lava Tree Park after spending an afternoon at the secret beach. We danced down the winding paths and they just kept me laughing all day. We set on the fault line, the “shelf” of the world and this man named Burp jumped out of a van filled with some Puna-style Merry Pranksters with balloon animals on their heads (I shit you not). And Burp was clad in a trenchcoat a la Hunter S. Thompson. He looked like he just landed from a journey from Mars. He had this beautiful red necklace on with a giant wooden tribal hook dangling on his chest. It’s been passed down from his Hawaiian ancestors. He spoke to us about the Universe, about God, about the Children of Mu --- about all sorts of things --- his outlaw nature reminded me of Frank too. He very much sounded like Frank, a man of many words who can talk endlessly about any topic the dart hits.

And why the hell not? It’s all perspective . We create our own realities, we color our own stories. Frank is everywhere now to me. I have proclaimed him my guru for love. And he shall lead me and laugh at me and be one of those monkeys in my circle and I for him.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Richard Koob

whale sharkOn my usual morning swim today, completely without any dramatic music, just a few feet below me passed a creature, much bigger than me and at least 10 feet long.

I had the sense of it being a friendly, or at least indifferent whale, but then recognized its shark-like features. It's blunt snout and beautiful light polka dots helped me surmise it was at least not a tiger or great white. So I relaxed a bit and watched it, but, being still somewhat uncertain, decided not to follow it, and continued on with my usual swim and a little extra apprehension.

Later, I searched the web and found the perfect-match image. Also I learned that whale sharks are gentle, but should not be touched or chased. More reassuring is the news that they eat plankton, not people. They're not likely to hang around long, and are rare to see on a regular basis in any single place in the world. As waters warm up they cruise the seas for cooler fare, and what could be "cooler" than Hawaii's naturist beach, right near Kalani. Hence, don't be duped by any tour operator who promises you a sighting!

diver with whale shark
As if there hadn't been enough excitement for one day, in the afternoon I took a couple of nature-loving Canadians to the nearby tidal pool sanctuary. There I saw the rare yellow-nosed chub with his rather plain chums. And I pointed our to Brian and Sharon how the yellow tail coris (see pics below) does a complete transformation from it's baby colors, Nimo-like orange and white, to it's glorious rainbow blue sequined yellow-tailed adult triumph. These fish start life as cleaners, removing parasites and dead tissue from larger fish, then, happy with the taste, start eating smaller fish as they get bigger.

Juvenile yellow tailed corvis Anilao yellow Coris

Fortunately whale sharks study at a different culinary school!


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Kalani `Ohana

It seems like a miracle to get almost everyone in one place at one time, but here they are: the July 2007 group of Kalani volunteers and staff.

July 2007 Volunteers


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lori Runkle

Lori Runkle is a writer and photographer who has chronicled her Kalani life and friends with pictures and words. Thank you Lori for being you, for being here, and for sharing so much with us!

Lori Runkle
Nice to meet you; I'm Lori Runkle.

I live in a small community in rural Iowa that could be described as conservative. I'm a liberal Buddhist vegetarian who earned her college degree in world literature. When I discovered that Kalani was a top-rated vegetarian vacation spot in the United States on the Vegetarian Vacations web site, I applied to the volunteer program immediately.

What I didn't know when I bought my airline ticket to Hilo was that Kalani would work magic on my mind, body and spirit- in addition to my tantalizing my taste buds.

As a photographer, I enjoy documenting my every day life in pictures. In these albums, community life at Kalani became my subject. Enjoy the trip through my days and nights on a piece of paradise in the Pacific.


Kalani photos I
Kalani photos II
Kalani photos III

Lori's web site: http://www.public.iastate.edu/~ljrunkle/homepage.html