do you consider 10 days to be a significant period of time? can you really shift and shape a profound amount in a mere 240 hours? i reckon you can. if albert einstein is right then “the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” this past week and a half whilst on retreat at a remarkable little place called bellbunya i endured a pivotal period in my personal world that has significantly influenced my course of thinking. i wouldn’t be doing the time or experience just if i didn’t share it with you out loud. thus, here marks the beginning of my ramblings …
“be who you are and who you have always meant to be and you will experience your special life of spirit.” (ken dowling)
nestled deep within the sub-tropics of the sunshine coast hinterlands lies an intentional living community; a commune of sustainability, permaculture and soul-searching (individual seekers). during my short stay here i am first welcomed as a visitor and then taken in as a friend by the members–the kind humans who reside here. slightly timid at first, my own conventions unravelled, i soon come to understand that my venturing here is an act of serendipitous bliss. upon my first day, my first gratitude circle and my first communal dinner it becomes apparent to me that i am about to have my body, spirit and mind opened (and challenged) even further. every moment, lesson and conversation to be taken in stride.
before i digress deeper into my musing i think it is important to convey the type of place that bellbunya is. its website describes it is a sustainable living (eco) retreat. its wooden welcome sign says it is a country retreat. its residents refer to it as an intentional living community. i see it as a place of peace tucked away in lush farmland blanketed by rainforest; a healthy space for indefinite self growth and development. yet to broaden the lens, intentional living communities can include ecovillages, cohousing communities, communes, alternative communities, cooperative living and other projects where people strive together with a common vision. intentional living is values-oriented and provides an alternative to urban dwellings and suburban neighbourhoods. it is in fact, as sacred groves suggests, “a co-habitual living space that is more akin to our traditional roots.”
where and how we choose to build our home is a personal choice. whether it is behind a white picket fence or amongst the trees in a gnome hut our abode is our space. our abode is our haven, our sanctuary, our very own retreat. in living a transient life over the years i have come to call home the place where i rest. but what bellbunya has reinforced is that home is more than a restful retreat–it is a sanctuary for slowing down; a haven for healing.
while the community gives me a courteous reception i spend my first couple of days with nervous trepidation. this is my own doing of course: thinking i am not comfortable or welcomed where in all actuality it is i who is being selfish, selfish of my time and my unwillingness to do any labour (i am residing as a wwoofer, contributing a 1/2 day of work in exchange for board and food). because i have just quit my job these days are not meant to be spent working. where have i placed myself? yet by the third day i pull my head out of my own ass and in order to observe with wide-open brown eyes.. and then i see it, i beging to understand. the labour isn’t ‘work’ so much as it is lending a hand to a community project to refurbish its main house, plant bokchoy, uproot strawberries and replant them. it is about giving a couple of hours each day to mutuality and comradery. it is a labour of love and like-mindedness. it is about making a contribution, being a member of a community–a feeling that evidently has become foreign to me.
once my stubbornness subsides my days become this beautiful routine of rising with the rooster (followed by the sun) to work on my morning papers and devour a book. by 7am the kitchen is alive with the other souls and i am able to enjoy the sight of galloping horses and smoky clouds from atop of the hill during my daily meditation. work starts at 830am where alongside a german lass we sing and dance the time away, broom and bucket in hand. it is then be time for a stretch and a run down browns road, home in time for lunch and the afternoon to gallivant, ponder, write and most importantly, reflect. the dinner bell rings at 6pm and we all circle up in the dining hall for a moment of gratitude followed by enjoying each other’s company until 9pm when the lights and chatter go out.
in-between all of this, my ego evolves from shy to awkward to resistant to open authenticity. so much so that by my tenth and final night i don’t want to go. i am tangled up in my (self) learnings, revelations and discoveries. i am high on serendipitous bliss. my inner orbit spinning as i feel the stars aligning. a clustered milky way of emotions, i rejoice in some moments that are as brilliant as einstein’s relativity. such enlightened illuminations include:
… a drive into the emmundi saturday markets with one of the residents and her tiny 17-month old beauty reminds me that strife comes from all different angles in life. listening to her journey reinforces my belief that we should not feel guilty about our past nor should we be anxious about the future. the power truly is in the now. the (self) power is truly about being.
… in speaking with a bohemian gypsy, i am told that a singing bowl is a keepsake that i need to integrate into my collection of wisdom and shared knowledge. according to the vagabond lady, the bowl (of tibetan origin) rings the voice of lost spirits. its hum, the kiss between two distant souls. i placed the bowl down just as it stopped singing.
… by my fourth day i am at ease. i have connected with a couple of people and the conversations are getting deeper. my breathing has calmed. i’m sleeping well. and then i realise that this is what i thrive on — connection and conversations. without it (for me) an environment is otherwise empty. after meditating on this particular day i delve inwards and realise that i am beginning my spiritual journey, a self experiment of sorts, and even if this community may be too much for me right now i am grateful to be learning. my heart takes note that this is something to come back to when perhaps i’m a little further on–further healed, further enlightened.
… i find the sustainable ways of living here (like how they make fresh loaves of bread three to four times a day; how they use basins filled with rainwater for washing, how the power goes out and candlelight brings about new faces and new shadows; how computers seem like foreign objects; how the alarm clock is the crow of a rooster; how the chickens are someone’s first priority of the day; how all meals are crafted with whole foods picked from their garden or provided by the neighbouring farmers) refreshing and slightly embarrassed at how commercial my own living has become. my grandfather (a great man and dairy farmer who left us too early) would be shocked by the urbanisation of his little girl. yet wallace, you will be delighted to know that i am returning to my rural roots as i explore meeting myself with grace and authenticity.
… in the nearby town of cooroy i go for a morning of healing. somewhere during the hour-long aboriginal-inspired meditation ritual it comes to conscience light that i want to channel my life into the realm of helping and healing. using my hands to infuse gentle positivity into other beings, to listen to people’s sorrows that linger behind sad eyes. to absorb other people’s pain. yes, to help others with a healing heart and hand. my reiki session with mary awakens me to this. at first i don’t feel anything but then as the woman moves her hands over my body i can feel warmth grow inside my belly. she nurtures my left foot gingerly. when i open my eyes she is able to detect that both parts (belly and foot) have been recently wounded. i am overwhelmed because in the past six months both have endured their own trauma. but her kindness leaves me with a lovely reassurance, “there is a lot of love in there (my body). you’re connected. you have a strong connection to the people you love and to the people who love you.” what a blessing to know that my life core, my centre of balance, is giving off such nurturing vibes. i’m transfixed to transform. and just in case i think it is all just some hocus pocus, a stranger says to me in passing on the main street, “my, well don’t you look rather happy.” external glowing, a sign of internal healing.
… one day while running the hilly terrain of browns road there it is, a hopping kangaroo, solely thumping through the pasture. her hop leaps ahead of my stiff stride. but i am merely mesmerised. why is this significant? because as we are both out for a morning jaunt i am reminded that animals are beings too. we should not hunt them, we should run alongside them.
… in talking every morning to the man who feeds the chickens i’m privy to listen to his theory about how our dreams reconnect us to our souls. i continue to listen intently as he shares with me how each day he makes an effort to not let too much distance flutter in-between the two. to mediate the noise, the mental clutter, he walks a lot during the day. as we all do. we walk from here to there and back again. but he doesn’t take hurried steps or lazy strolls. he moves with each foot, he practices conscious walking. by looking up and slowing down we see much more of the world this way.
… i learn that the community has recess too. not in the traditional sense but the playful one–recreational bliss. table tennis, lymphasizing (small bounces on a trampoline) and slack-lining is how we spend our time on the endless rainy days. the laughter and fun serve as innocent reminders that peter pan is right, adults should never grow up.
… after watching the sunrise one morning with good company sitting next to me i finally fold in seeking the answer to one of my favourite warhol rhetorics, “you have to wonder what makes people smile so pretty.” i say inner peace. and the man sitting beside me says self-love. i adore seeing humans laughing with such prettiness.
… a muddy splash about 15 minutes further into the woods away from the commune takes me to an open clearing. the sun is out but the rainstorm lingers in behind the clouds. it is a perfect setting for a two-hour vision quest, a rite of passage taken to meet the true self, discover ones calling for the next stage of life. with contemplation unfolding i tune into my subconscious mind and this is what i hear: birds laughing, frogs splashing and grass whispering. i hear my mind thinking, this ongoing conversation with myself. it says ‘you’ve finally released it all love, now go and be kind to your self. go ahead and be. go ahead and live.’
… and then there is the man who lives in the cob shed on the edge of the vegie garden–mr walden in real life. he teaches me about my inner energy receptor, artificial constructs and consensus realities; self-love and loving others. he strums some pink floyd and takes me for a hike. he’s a stranger to me but his energy is familiar. have i met him before? that i do not know. but what i do know is that i’m revelling in meeting him now.
in discussing this all with you (my kind reader) i am beginning to understand what alan jacobs wrote to describe henry david thoreau’s appreciation of the hindu scripture, bhagavad gita: “expressed simply [gita] could be called a general uplifting optimism about the progress of the human spirit. both self-reliance and simple communal living were associated with the doctrine that the soul is in itself a microcosm, reflecting the macrocosm of the entire world.” bellbunya may just be a micro-experience in my young life but it has made a macro-impact on my entire world(view).
so, what can a person really learn in 10 days? what is a life-giving experience anyway? some say it is when you give some of yourself to others, a cause or a place. some believe that it is to devote your entire life (self) to a higher purpose, a deeper meaning. to me it has been about giving a little bit of time and attention in return for a tranquil landscape that has enabled quiet contemplation. i definitely received much more than i gave.
as kathy freston, an international expert on wellness, says, “once you set your intention in a given direction, life has a way of getting you there.” i intended to retreat but instead i was led in a direction that has made me more aware of how to be; more mindful of how to live. my detour along the yellow mud bricks through the hinterlands apparently was my way of getting to here.