My life wasn’t going to change until I made it change.
I’m writing this face down on a massage table while getting tattooed in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.
I’m leaving Sunday afternoon to head back home to Philadelphia. I’ve been on the big island for almost three and a half months, staying at an eco resort on the Puna side.
I came here in April, just two weeks after announcing to my first “big girl” job that I had decided to leave the company. Before this, my best friend Chelsea and I spent our lunch breaks eating ice cream and complaining how we were falling into the category of college graduates who were at a standstill in life. We had no real idea what we wanted to do or how to do it. We decided that we should treat ourselves—get away for a long weekend. Maybe a vacation would give us a creativity boost?
While searching for our get-a-way we noticed one hit kept popping up, Kalani Eco Resort, a retreat center based on the big island of Hawaii. Kalani offered one to three month volunteer opportunities where you’d stay and work 30 hours a week in a department and in return, live in paradise. We decided to apply.
We sent in applications and our deposits, not really thinking about it until we heard back, less than a week after requesting a phone interview. Chelsea was ecstatic; I was too, but a little hesitant.
Could I really quit my job to go live in the jungle for a month? What about money? What would my parents say? What would their friends say?
A flurry of questions floated through my head that all had me doubting my sanity, why I even decided to attempt to up and leave in the first place. I decided against going through with the phone interview, while Chelsea had gone through and been accepted to go for the month of May. She put her two weeks in at work and off to Hawaii she went.
I was jealous, but even worse, I was angry with myself for being so scared to take risks. I can remember sitting at my desk at work during a particularly tough day looking at a banana that I had packed for lunch and having tears well up in my eyes. I was crying over a banana. How I would never see where bananas grew or do anything daring because I was scared of taking risks.
The night that I made the decision that my life wasn’t going to change until I made it change. I put my two weeks at work and shortly after, received a text message from Chelsea’s mom saying, “I’m sending you to Hawaii to visit Chelsea. Not taking no for an answer. Send me your availability.”
I was flabbergasted. First of all, I should tell you that I’m terrified of flying. The first thing that came to my mind was that there’s no way can I do this; I’m too scared to cross the country, let alone go be sent alone, across the ocean for a week. Worry, worry, worry. It consumed me always.
Still, something was nagging me to just let it go (e ho mi—Google it) and embrace the unknown.
I should now mention that to top all of this off, I had broken up with a serious boyfriend of three years back in January and was having a difficult time moving on. Chelsea often reassured me the only way one can grow from any hard time is to try new things, be uncomfortable, embrace fear.
So that’s what I did.
When I landed in Hawaii something happened. A lot of people I’ve talked to, who live on the Big Island or have visited the Big Island, at some point, agree with me on this. I felt a pull. I immediately got off the plane and had felt more at home than I had ever felt in my entire 23 years. I found solstice in this place that was as foreign to me as anything. I couldn’t describe it.
I had tears in my eyes the entire hour drive from the airport to Kalani. And it was still dark out! We walked to Chelsea’s tent, a small four person. I met Majik, Chelsea’s next-tent-neighbor. He politely introduced himself. We made small talk until he said something that I’ll never forget; he excused himself to go off to bed because he had to get up to go to yoga in the morning. He quickly corrected himself though and rephrased his answer saying, “I get to go to yoga in the morning.” A simple rephrase is something that made me automatically switch my thinking from the negative to positive.
We went into our tent and fell asleep.
I woke up in the jungle. It was a chaotic layout of nature that literally brings me to tears. Chelsea has already planned out our whole day, a trip to Kole Kole beach and then Akaka Falls. I don’t think my mouth shut once that day. I was in awe of everything. People’s calmness, the stillness that exuded from them. The sense of rush and franticness was no longer apparent like it was back on the mainland. My father often joked that I drank the kool aid. My response is always, “Yeah, and then I asked for seconds.”
Hawaii had stolen my heart. I fell more deeply in love with a piece of rock than I ever had with another human being. For the first time in 23 years, my anxieties, worries and fears melted away like lava and I became at peace with life. I knew that I needed to stay longer than my scheduled five days. The island was taking care of me.
Chelsea encouraged me to speak with the volunteer office. I did just that. I scheduled an appointment to continue with my application, the office already had my deposit and paperwork, and since I was already staying at Kalani, I could interview in person.
I remember being scared: What if they didn’t accept me? It would be quite the awkward rest of the week. I sat with a gentleman who later became one of my dearest friends. I expressed to him my concerns about not getting in, there not being space, worry, worry, worry.
He asked me a simple question, “Do you want to stay?”
I replied, “I need to stay.”
He said, “Then that’s it, you’re staying.”
His confidence in me, a complete stranger to him at the time, was like receiving a hug from your mother after you skin your knee on the sidewalk. I walked into my interview with ease. I felt confident in myself. Sam (the gentleman from Scotland who interviewed me), and I spoke like we were old friends carrying on a conversation after years of not seeing one another. I remember the last thing that he said to me is that they would be honored to have me continue to stay at Kalani.
So I stayed. I stayed for three and a half months, and lived harder and did more than I ever expected I would ever do in my whole life. I lived where some people save their entire lives to vacation for a week. It’s in invaluable experience that I’m grateful for every day.
The island brings up lots of issues for people and really forces you to deal with things you’ve been trying to avoid. I had some of the hardest days of my life there and also the best. I swam with dolphins. I hiked to a waterfall. I lived next to an active volcano. I made family for a lifetime. When Majik says that he is blessed, well, and lucky—well it’s true. I am too.
So here I am on a massage table getting a tattoo on the back of my neck (sorry, Mom and Dad). It’s an opening lotus with a person meditating in the middle. I’ve blossomed here. It’s been one hell of a journey.
I’ve learned about the power of saying, “Yes!” and facing our insecurities head on.
Let me know how it goes when you do it.
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Ed: B. Bemel