the river at Dada Atma's farm
I had intended to take a retreat in Palawan last week to be on my own for awhile and practice my yoga and meditations daily on some beautiful deserted place by the ocean. I would eat nothing but fruits (and vegetables, if available) to cleanse my system. So I got tips from my Kundalini teacher on what practices I could do without being under her guidance, and I was set.
I had no idea how the plan would turn out, as I really didn't have much cash saved, and I was planning to sustain myself on this retreat for at least a month or two. Honestly, I would have about P3000 (75 USD) left on me after purchasing the plane ticket to Palawan. All I knew was that I needed to be by the ocean again, where I've always felt closest to God in the aspect of Mother Nature. But I went ahead and bought myself a tent anyway. In a way, I wanted to test my own faith in life to protect and provide for me while I take this solitary retreat. It's been said that the Universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf.
Well, my faith was answered quickly enough in the form of Dada Atma, my monk friend, who invited me to stay at his farm by the sea in Aurora, Quezon Province (Northern Philippines) for as long as I wanted. In fact, he said I could live there if I wanted to. Sheesh. All I can say is that God works fast, and will serve you not one plate of food, but a thousand! I was pretty much offered a lifetime pension, and all because I was willing to throw away all sense of future security to commune with the Universe. Such is life's paradox, I guess. It reminds me of that old Bible verse, which comes flooding from my distant childhood memories of Catholic worship now: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
So I went to Aurora, but only for a few days this time around, since my yoga trainer, Lokesh, also asked me to stay in Manila at least another two weeks to iron out my training. I stayed in Aurora for 4 days, with 2 additional days spent on the 9 to11 hour trip there and back to Manila. It turned out not just to be the most tranquil retreat for me, immersed in solitude in vast, sandy shores, mountains, and jungles of green, but a daily existence in roots living as well.
not-so-serious yogis (although they tried to be)
Dada Atma's farm was filled with fruits and vegetation, so our meals were only picked straight from the trees: coconuts, bananas, papayas, malunggay leaves, banana blossoms, beans, and even the edible part of the coconut tree trunk, called ubod. Our meals were mostly cooked with coconut milk. Even the rice was grown from the area. Our water came fresh and abundant, straight from the stream. We would also gather firewood along the beach for cooking.
yummy meals are cooked outdoors
the resident carabao who helps gather building materials
Dada Atma, the monk-turned-farmer that he was in Aurora, mostly built the cottages and bathrooms himself, with the help of some assistants. We helped make roofs for the cottages by weaving coconut leaves, and then picked nice rocks along the shore, which were then placed on the bathroom floors for a sort of Zen look. It really did have a nice effect, so I have to give props to Dada's aesthetic taste. For sleeping quarters, some took the available cottages, while the rest of us camped in tents on the shore. Apparently, this was the purpose for my buying a tent.
me and Dada Atma, monk-turned-farmer
Dada purchased the land in Aurora through campaigning efforts at donation when he was assigned to work with the tribal people there, the Aetas, who had lost their ancestral land to capitalists. He's been supporting these Aetas on his farm, and they gladly give their domestic and farm services in exchange.
me and the cutest tribal kids ever!
A 2-day youth camp was also arranged during the time I was there, which made me an initially reluctant volunteer. I had been expecting no less than a frazzled, hair-pulling experience with rowdy adolescents. But instead, it turned out to be an extremely enjoyable experience for me in volunteer work. I was asked to teach the kids yoga. Unlike the usual adult yoga classes, seriousness was not the order of that class. Later, I was asked to join them in the games organized by Yoti and Dada Ashiish. I haven't run around, excitedly racing to grab chairs with other kids in a game in years of course, so that was a nice return to childhood, save for a few scratches and bruises on my arms. At night, we had a program of dancing and singing at the public school's multipurpose hall. If I could summarize these kids in two words, I would say, Gangnam style.
yoga classroom lessons
On the second day of camp, we visited Bulawan Falls. I thought it would be just any old falls, as there are quite a few in the country, but thought it worth checking out anyway. I wasn't disappointed! The falls were huge, and cascaded down for miles into a number of other smaller falls with large pools, and we were free to choose which pool we wanted to swim in. The water was beautifully clear and green. I only dipped my feet in though, because it was also freezing cold! Anyway, I was entertained enough, just watching the kids jump off the cliffs 20-30 feet high at the mother falls. Not a feat I'm willing to accomplish myself.
more and more of the waterfalls
our souped-up ride
the not-so-souped-up-but-probably-more-fun ride
Afternoons were spent just messing around at the beach with the kids in all their free-spirited, high energy. At sunset, I would steal away from the crowd to my favorite contemplation spot further down the shore. The sunsets are awesomely fiery red as the sun sinks behind the mountains. Unfortunately, my camera-phone didn't do an inch of justice to the natural beauty around me...but just to give you a good idea, I took pictures anyway.
my favorite meditation spot
One night, as I enjoyed time to myself, some kids passed me sitting by the jungle, meditating with a shawl around my head. They bolted away, stumbling over each other and screaming “White lady!” I don't blame them. I was the perfect image of a ghost, sitting completely still, with a white shawl wrapped around me.
The trip back to Manila started with a full view of Nature from the roof of a minibus. Aurora is surrounded by the giant, majestic mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre, so as we zigzagged our way up and around the mountains, I got a bird's eyeview of the lusciously green, mountainous surroundings, complete with the Pacific ocean on our other side (and of course, the sun and wind in my face, how I've missed that!). I have to say that Northern Philippines has its own unique beauty. Different from my own home island, Palawan, yet just as starkly beautiful in its own way. I was really glad to have taken the time to see it.
the only shot I got of the view going home
(too little too late, we were already at the valley below by this time)
I'm now back in Manila, with a bad burn from lathering coconut oil on my skin before going under the sun for hours on end, because I had stubbornly refused to use chemically-manufactured sunblock. I figured that since coconut oil is one of the ingredients often used in sunblock, it would protect my skin. Big, stupid mistake. Coconut oil just made the sun burn my skin a lot faster. But I'm not surprised I made that kind of mistake anyway. No, not at all...So I have to put up with the skin-cancer-look for awhile, while my skin slowly peels away before my eyes.
Well, Manila it is, for another couple weeks, and then I'll see what goes from there. It's so far been an adventure of unexpected turns, which suits me just right. I've regained that zest for living on this planet again. Life just doesn't run out of new experiences, even when I think it's all been done. How I could even have thought that in the first place is beyond me. If I were God I'd be scratching my head at the sadness of a human being's utterly limited perceptions of what I could do. I mean, imagine a being who created the entire cosmos and thinking, “Nah, he can't possibly do this one little thing for me.” It doesn't make sense, does it?
Believe what you want, but I've had far too many experiences to call it coincidence, that I should be led to places I never conceived of going, literally or otherwise. There's something more, constantly at work. We call it God, the Universe, the Higher Self, Intuition, Mother Nature/Kali, Allah, Krishna, Life. All the same, we feel it, no matter who we are, what we've done, or what religion or culture we've been brought up in. Without a doubt, that 'something more' has been leading me along the way, offering signpost after signpost. And when I listen despite my mind's fearful protests, everything turns out better than I could have even conceived, myself. So as an old song goes, Que se ra, se ra, whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see...(and that's perfectly okay by me).