There are certain books that get passed around here at Kalani like a hot potato. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is one book you’ll often find someone totally immersed in on a hammock, or on the lanai, or even in the laundry room. I was reading it once by the pool when two people in passing both whipped a copy out of their bags and proclaimed, “I’m reading that too!”
We’ve even joked that the Kalani Volunteer Program should hand out a copy of Chodron’s book to first time volunteers along with their letters of acceptance. It would be a kind gesture equivalent to saying, rest child rest… without knowing the details we know what you’ve been through.
I’ve been wondering why Chodron’s book is so popular here. I’m beginning to think as I get to hear more and more of the people’s life stories here that perhaps the common denominator of our stories and fates and destinies (and we’re a mighty eclectic bunch, I have to tell you) is that sometime before we’ve committed ourselves into coming to Kalani, our lives have broken or at least come to a halt and we arrive a bit damaged. Nothing that a yoga retreat can’t patch up, we think in our moments of hope during these breaking points. And so we untangle ourselves from our worlds, we pack our bags and we get on a plane and we take this humungous leap of faith across the Pacific Ocean to the Big Island.
Oh, the Big Island! The land of the Goddess Pele! Whatever research you’ve done on this legendary woman, you ain’t seen nothing yet until you experience her magic. I see her as the supreme real estate agent. I believe Pele calls people to the Big Island to experience whatever life-altering lesson(s) she wishes to teach you. She calls the ones who belong here and she sends the ones who don’t back.
So we arrive. We’re just bug eyed, jet lagged, little balls of excited and nervous energy and we are so ready for change, we are so ready to feel and look fabulous, we are so ready to retreat and get it together.
If anything, the “red road” heading to Kalani should be a warning of what awaits you on your journey. It is the most stomach dropping, spine tingling ride I’ve ever been on with manic up and downs. It beats the notorious San Francisco hills, no doubt. They are these short, never-ending hills and no matter what speed in which your volunteer driver takes them (although fast and reckless is always a good time) you’ll feel your stomach tickle your throat a few times. As you drive you are surrounded by lava and cliffs that look like slabs of dark chocolate. The ocean is so voluptuous and she sprays the whitest mist you can ever imagine. The sound of the waves crashing takes all your anxiety away, as if absorbing all that noise in your mind. The clouds are fluffier here too, you’ll see. And the aroma of saltwater air intermixed with the scent of flowers and fruits is what heaven must smell like. And just when you think your senses cannot take on any more you notice a canopy of lush green trees as you drive through the jungle. Specs of sunlight shine through as you go deeper and deeper towards Kalani. You look around for Tarzan and Jane, for somebody’s gotta be swinging on these vines around here. Trees with lush red flowers miraculously grow from the lava rock. Nothing makes sense here! This can’t be! You are Alice in an exotic Wonderland. Where are we? You can’t help but become a child again in such wonderment. And perhaps you’ll feel the mana (the spirit and power) from the land spiral up your spine. I did the moment I stepped off the plane. It’s the awakening of your chakras, it’s the feeling of being tapped into a very energetic land.
So you are surrounded by beauty and you’ve got some serious stuff to work on within yourself and your fate is about to intertwine with the fates and destinies and lives of some very incredible people. Are you ready?
Here’s a lesson I learned in my third week here as a volunteer. To leave your expectations and agenda at the gate (which by the way is very “Jurassic Park” – you’ll see). Whatever it is that you feel like you need to work on, whatever it is that you expect to get out of Kalani --- drop it. Enter with an open heart and mind and soul. It’s as if you’re coat checking your agenda to a higher power that has plans for you that you cannot ever fathom. If I had known that earlier, the adjustment period wouldn’t have been so agonizing for me. To be as present as you can be and to truly appreciate this experience necessitates dropping your agenda and your ego. I know, I know, it’s way easier said than done. Especially for a neurotic city dweller still dealing with the shock of being unplugged from that urban fast paced socket that necessitates control for survival. Depending on where you’re coming from, there may be many layers you need to shed here. But remember that Kalani is your blank canvas though. It is very much the real world here as it is “out there” but here you can start fresh from the get go. Your slate is clean– just like that. Be mindful of the baggage you packed with you. You don’t have to keep those here. None of us know you, or expect that from you so you can easily drop it and try something new. Changing who we are is much harder amongst people we’ve known forever. It is instant freedom to be here in that respect.
A good friend here who was on her fourth month once said to me when I thought I wanted to pack up and get out, “I came here with all of these plans of what I wanted to accomplish and I did none of that, but instead I learned all of these other lessons that I could have never imagined I would learn or even needed to learn. And in hindsight they were even better lessons.”
By the way, my name is Beverly. I’m a three-month volunteer here at Kalani and I serve in the kitchen. It’s my first time at Kalani and I’ve been here for about five weeks now. I’ve been asked to blog about my experiences here to paint a picture of the volunteer experience. And I’m assuming the readers of this blog are people that may be considering coming to Kalani (at least that’s who I had in mind while writing this first entry). I will be doing some Q&As with other volunteers who have some pretty amazing stories and perspectives to share in future entries too. And my personal experiences will most likely get much more personal. I wanted this first entry though to be a reflection on what connects us all here, to show the broadest spectrum of the Kalani volunteer experience so that you may begin to imagine your experience here, if you choose to leap of your cliff to join us.
So I hope you come back again every Monday for a new post or perhaps you’re filling out the application now and we’ll be meeting soon.