From my room I could hear a powerful voice and brahmari hum. The chants are designed to connect us with love, said one of my teachers. My stomach churned, I felt weak and light headed at the thought of sitting upright.
It had been one month since I returned from my trip to India, where I had left a panchakarma treatment [read https://www.thriveglobal.com/stories/21105-another-year-another-cleanse ] that I did not feel was serving my body, I had (six months earlier) committed to a retreat in Kona, Hawaii, intended to be a celebration of completing my MBA and restricted practice as a lawyer. I accomplished neither of those goals in the unexpected year that was 2017 although somehow found myself doing many things I had not imagined when I had set my new year intentions: walking La Francigena, a conference in Milan, inspired by a beautiful man, yoga teacher training, visiting Azerbaijan, walking the path of St Francis, working with a mining company.
Bed ridden, I questioned my decision to come on yet another spiritual / wellness journey – especially given that my illness had likely been triggered by an allergic reaction products used at the health farm that claimed to be organic.
Set in a pristine location in Kona, the retreat centre was touted as a Hawaiian sanctuary with organic gardens and cuisine. And for the most part I do believe that the fruit and vegetables were grown on the property. However, when it comes to food – I am well researched and know that even the US organic certification has little credibility. Most American (and even some Australian) “health food” is processed and laced with sugar or equivalents that are used to either preserve or create an addictive taste or flavour. My dietary requirements had been emailed well in advance – no sulphites, meat, sugar, soy products, dairy, gluten or preservatives. This may seem challenging for some but to me it was a lifestyle choice that fuelled me. Should I have been surprised when the toast served at breakfast contained several forms of sugar – in the form of syrups (corn syrup, the most common and dangerous), raw cane or juices?!
I admit that I had high expectations, having travelled to a number of international retreats – especially given the small fortune I had spent on travel and spiritual journeys over the past four years. At this price point, had expected the bread to be made on site by international chefs, not purchased at the store. It seemed that Australia had really taken health and wellness to the next level.
The greater surprise was perhaps the owner’s response to my request for alternative options – an additional cost for premium products would have been fine, except for the manner in which it was communicated and the little regard shown for my ideas that could have provided business improvement. Was this behaviour that of an enlightened soul? Even the staff at Kohala Coffee Mill in the small town of Hawi made me bulletproof coffee!
Scrimping on quality was not an option in this business. This was not the first time I experienced this. How can businesses brand themselves “wellness” retreats I wondered? If wellness is touted to be a trillion dollar booming industry, we need to discern the motivation driving people – I had this sensation of inauthenticity – that some people in the industry did not necessarily live and breathe health in the same way that I had built my life around it – although I disclose that I don’t always subscribe to a purely organic (fresh fruit and vegetables) diet. My research to date shows that unless grown in your own backyard, chemicals, such as copper are still used on this produce. Maybe in Trump’s America, it was ok to fake it?
This got me thinking about spiritual paths. There had been a pattern in the past three spiritual journeys that I had taken in the past six months: yoga teacher training, panchakarma in India and now this retreat. I knew well that no one has it all figured out – that the answers are within and that it is how we deal with what life offers us that makes the difference. So why had I signed up for another retreat?
Whether my illness was a reaction to the food or a purge that was part of my spiritual process – I am not sure. I only know that I felt defeated and that I started to question the process, the path, why I had travelled so far. I looked around the room. There were about 20 participants. I got the strong feeling that all were recovering from something, looking for something outside themselves or looking to heal. I felt like I no longer fit the yogi / spiritual scene – I had stopped “looking” a few years ago, probably after the Camino de Santiago when I realised that I had everything I needed in me and my backpack. Are we all reformed party people? I wondered as I flashed back to nights spent drinking and dancing. Have we replaced our vodka sodas and house music with caffeine free teas and yoga? The percussion from the Kirtan artists surrounded me. [I tested the idea with others on the retreat and it rang true for many…]
I reflected on my life. Writing. Making wine. Growth strategy for an app. It was work yet it felt like play. I felt only love in my heart – maybe it was the music, or the strong sense of clarity from the setting and practicing three hours of yoga each day – I channelled energy from one of my most beautiful encounters that would stay forever imprinted on my heart – maybe he was a player yet I saw his light that reminded me that life was about balance and living well. My muse. Maybe in him I saw a reflection of a part of my old self, a part that lived still lived inside me?
“I’m feeling doubt about my sincerity regarding the spiritual search… there are no chosen individuals. Everyone is chosen if instead of asking “what am I doing here,” people resolve to do anything that sparks enthusiasm in their heart!” [adapted from the author’s notes in Cohelo’s Pilgrimage.]
I had known for a while, in my heart that I no longer required an external source to guide my path – I thought back to the words of one of the retreat participants on the afternoon I got sick, “Belinda, you should be a coach,” and it occurred to me, sometimes life is not all about receiving, it is about giving too.
Maybe this time, right now, I was here to guide? If my life was play, I was indeed the coach.
I – like my teachers before me – don’t know the answers. Maybe it was time for me to step up? All I know is that I continue to show up for the journey, my daily training session.
When have you realised that it is time to start give back or step up? What steps have you taken?