Presence in Paradise
Part of our continued Summer Blog Series, you will read experiences from students who are participating in summer internships. This week you’ll hear from a student who is working at Kalani Oceanside Retreat, a yoga-meditation focused retreat center on the eastern coast of the Big Island, Hawai’i.
As I near the end of my internship at Kalani Oceanside Retreat, a yoga-meditation focused retreat center on the eastern coast of the Big Island, Hawai’i, I have mixed feelings about leaving. One the one hand, I love Wake Div and what I am studying. I am excited about starting a career and life in ministry and counseling. On the other, however, how does one find the desire to leave a literal paradise?
Not only do I live in paradise, but my experiences here have been so incredible they are hard to define. Small miracles in everyday occurrences seem to be the language of the Big Island, aptly known as the Healing Island. Officially, my position at Kalani is in the kitchen, where we make delicious healthy food three times a day for well over a hundred people who live, work, and play at the retreat center. It is not a thankless job in the slightest; we all feel appreciated and loved when in this service. Others often remark how our service of preparing healthy food (much of which is local and organic) and cleaning up aids them in their own healing as well as allowing them the time to focus on other healing activities. All meals are eaten in community. At the sound of a conch shell, everyone flocks to the outdoor patio, called the Lanai in Hawaiian, for an hour or two, where people from around the world get to know one another, make plans for later that day or week, and sometimes, hear something that is life changing or life affirming.
When I am not working in my service position, I am often found attending a class, like Kundalini Yoga, Huna Healing (a form of Hawaiian spirituality), swimming, or lingering at the Lanai steeped in those life-transforming conversations. At night, I retire to my tent in the jungle, surrounded by other tents of volunteers, and feel grateful for my own healing here, sleeping under the stars to the sound of Coqui frogs and the ocean crashing against the cliffs.
Strangely, I found this internship indirectly when practicing meditation. Not to say that this place appeared to me in a vision, but the pursuit of self-care became abruptly apparent to my inner self in meditation so that upon awakening, I searched for an alternative summer, that is, one that that made my heart sing. I yearned to be back in nature, specifically near the ocean, and with enough time off in order to enjoy it. What I did not fully expect to find was that in pursuing what called to me and made me excited aligned nicely with my vocational goals of ministry and counseling. In pursuing self-care, I stumbled upon the opportunity to care and be cared for by others. Wake Div, more than other schools I have attended and definitely more than any work force I have been part of, stresses self-care and community – what a gift to be part of such an institution!
Wake Div has transformed my priorities and helped guide me to Kalani. What can I say about this place? Things manifest here, miracles happen, I meet people and am astounded at their messages of power, hope, and healing. I am overwhelmed by their positive energy, their touch, conversation, and even their silence. Most significantly, I have experienced radical acceptance. Kalani is a place where you can invent or re-invent yourself. You can be whoever you want to be and people will accept you. You can be just who you are and people accept you. You can change your name, declare that you are an alien, an atheist, gay, not gay, unidentified, an addict, in recovery or less dramatic but perhaps more physically striking, choose to wear a hula skirt, dye your hair orange, not shower, howl at the moon, dance whenever and wherever, and people will love you. Kalani has taught me to be who I am because I am already accepted and to accept others as they are. It is the most important lesson I have learned here. It is the lesson Jesus teaches us in the Gospels and one that I will take with me as I pursue ordination in the Episcopal church and a license in counseling. True healing comes from being one’s authentic self. Just as importantly, I learned about the power of thought and words. My perception of the world is my reality, and energy flows where attention goes. If my focus is on being miserable, then I will receive more misery, but if my attention is on joy, then I will manifest more joy. Wonderfully, there is such joy in being present. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of being here is two sides of the same coin: first, choosing to be present, off the internet, email, and phone as much as possible and second, having to return to the use of technology in order to complete blogs, work, etc. Maybe it is not living in paradise that makes me feel so alive, grateful, joyful and connected to God; maybe it is just being present wherever I am – that is true paradise.
Marlena Del Hierro
Marlena is in the joint MDiv and MA in Counseling program and will be starting her second of four years in Fall 2014. As a Returned Peace Corp Volunteer (Nicaragua), wander lust and service work continues to be part of her journey. Her next destination is to be determined.