When I arrived at Kalani Oceanside Retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii one warm, rainy November afternoon, I thought my story would be startlingly unique. I mean, how many people in the world quit their jobs, pack their lives into storage units, and fly to Hawaii to spend their days peeling carrots at a tiny resort tucked into a tropical jungle—with no idea of what they'll do next, or even where they'll live when three months are up? At age twenty-five, I'd recently quit my job as an assistant editor at a successful publishing house to test the waters of freelance writing. After six months, I was ready to kiss my keyboard good-bye, leave the mountains for the sea, and get my fingernails dirty. "Why was I working? What, other than paying the light bill, was I accomplishing?" I thought, frustrated. I sought a life with meaning and direction, and I had no qualms about leaving job and home security to find it.
Much to my surprise, neither did anyone else at Kalani! My first evening dining on the lanai, or outdoor patio, I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by fellow work-scholars who had come to Kalani for exactly the same reasons I had: to escape the push-button, digitized, ATM-everything, mile-a-minute lifestyle that has become so rampant in the world and the computer-keyboard-phone-desk-chair routine of daily office existence; to find a place where nature's sweet and soothing song could be savored one fragrant pau-kini-kini blossom at a time; and, most of all, to become quiet enough to hear our inner voices speak, and to slow down enough to listen to them. For many of us, Kalani held the promise of a new direction, a new adventure, and a new way of life.
Kalani's volunteer program, as it turned out, was a magnet for individuals in life transition—as well as those who simply desired a sabbatical from fulfilling careers or a three-month vacation in the sun. From burnt-out New York City dot-commers to carefree Kansas retirees, the staff I grew to know and love was home to all kinds. I worked in the kitchen, putting my interest in culinary school to the test. Slicing pineapples and bananas as the sun rose over coconut palms and doing dishes by candlelight when the generator shut down was unlike any other restaurant experience I'd had. I also helped on the waitstaff, coaxing tiny geckos away from the sugar bowl and serving bountiful plates of whole-food meals to delighted guests hungry after a day of yoga or snorkeling. Other volunteers toted their weight in sheets and towels on the housekeeping crew or built new A-frame huts as grounds maintenance staff.
When I wasn't working, I walked or rode a staff bike a mile and a half down the Red Road (a two-lane road that retains its familiar name, despite a recent coat of black asphalt) to Kehena Beach, a secluded strip of black sand accessible only by descending a winding, stairstep path along the black lava cliffs. Clothing on the beach was optional and the water sparkled, brilliantly blue and clear. I swam with dolphins in the small bay twice during the winter months, and once, pedaling home, a friend and I stopped and stared, awestruck, at a humpback whale a short distance offshore. She was slapping her huge tail against the water over and over, as if in a greeting to us. We hardly breathed until she disappeared beneath the blue water, and even then we looked at each other so full of joy and amazement we couldn't speak; instead, we whooped and sang all the way home.
I spent early mornings, late afternoons, and moonlit nights on the point, a grassy knoll perched above thrashing white foam where the sea crashed into black cliffs. It was the perfect spot to watch the sun rise out of the ocean or to gather for a drum circle after dark. Riding bikes to the tidal pools and thermal baths, we often stopped to pick fresh guava from the lush green foliage on the roadside. The fruits were bright yellow like lemons, with a pink, succulent flesh full of seeds. I trekked across a lava field to see hot, flowing, orange lava, and placed a red leaf in its path—an offering to Pelé, revered goddess of the volcano, who hungrily engulfed and accepted it. Lying in bed in my open-air A-frame hut after such full days, I could hear the waves of the ocean and see banana trees silhouetted in the moonlight.
In the midst of captivating beauty and activity, I learned many new things: the basics of Zen Buddhist meditation, Reiki healing techniques, the songs of Sufi dancing. Yet the most important thing I brought home from Kalani was a strong certainty about something I already suspected: that the universe operates perfectly, and that by trusting my inner guidance and a higher universal power, I will be guided along the path I am to walk in this lifetime. There is no need to worry. I am a wonderfully powerful being, capable of creating my own reality with my thoughts and actions—for better or for worse. The most magical part of my Hawaiian experience was being surrounded by people who embraced this view of the world in everyday life.
I left Kalani in May, two months later than planned, but at exactly the right time. My homeward journey was a complete test of the faith I'd strengthened during my sun- (and rain-) drenched days on the Big Island. I had to have faith; I had no job, no money, and nowhere to call home! I was not disappointed. Thanks to my family, my college degree, and the infallibility of the universe, I followed my path to a job in college public relations and a perfect apartment just blocks from my childhood home in a city I never dreamed I'd return to. It all fell so beautifully into place that I now feel sure of a truth I didn't even realize I was seeking: I'm in the writing business for a reason greater than paying the light bill. And, my curiosity piqued, I plan to stick around and see what it is.
Article contributed by Catharine S. (who can be found below outside her open-air A-frame hut at Kalani)
To learn more about the Kalani work experience:
* Kalani Honua means harmony of heaven and earth
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