“Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
It’s not just a Belinda Carlisle song to ironically play at your neighborhood hipster bar.
It’s a reality found on the verdant Hilo side of the Big Island, Hawai’i. Part resort, part wellness center and fully an intentional community, Kalani Honua is paradise. The name itself means “Heaven on Earth,” and with good reason. Want to live on the Black Sand beaches of Hawai’i among coconuts, avocados and papayas? I did.
Come play for a week of you-time. Or stay as part of the community volunteering in the work exchange program anywhere from one month to the 35 years Richard Koob, owner and founder, has been living on the property.
Boasting 120 acres of diverse plant life, Kalani offers three open-air studios for yoga, ecstatic dance and meditation, an organic aquaponics system where kale, basil and tomatoes (among other things) grow year round and a pristine pool fully equipped with a dry sauna and hot tubs. There’s a rotation of classes in a variety of disciplines (yoga, hula, aerial dance, lauhala weaving, woodcarving, fire spinning and more). And there’s nightly events when one can gather around with the “Ohana” (Hawaiian for “family) for kirtan, themed parties or group processing.
So, how did I find the place? It’s simple enough. This past winter I relocated from Boulder, Colorado back to my hometown of Philadelphia. I have never been a cold weather person, but as a city girl I found the miraculous beauty of nature so compelling I managed to rough it through six Colorado winters…in pure bliss.
Philly’s winters are not so blissful. I was at a friend’s house practicing yoga one winter afternoon, and by the time we rolled up our my mats I looked out the window and could not even identify my Subaru from a fire hydrant let alone any of the other vehicles flanking the city sidewalks. I was snowed in for three days.
On the third day, frustrated and recalling the winter I’d spent on Maui years prior, I busted out the MacBook and Googled “Hawai’i Yoga Retreat Work Exchange” and, to my delight, that obscure combination of words brought up Kalani Honua. Images of dense green and deep water gripped me, I booked my ticket.
I spent weeks imagining each morning walking to practice in an open-air studio of my choosing while the gentle fragrance of night blooming Jasmine gave way to Plumeria thick in the air. Eating an organic breakfast surrounded by an eclectic group of beautiful people from all over the world before heading off to care for the land as part of the work exchange program or enjoy a morning Vinyasa class on my days off. Perhaps on any given day I would feel like walking off property to “the point” to sea-gaze for turtles. After dinner and the sun set why not take a cruise in the darkness of a new moon to go see the surface flow of molten lava only a few miles away?
And when I got there that’s how it was. Of course all of this is quite heavenly, no doubt. But more than the amenities provided or the proximity to natural wonders Kalani offers something very rare in this world. An opportunity to live in introspection and grow into one’s own wonderment. This place I had intended to vacation became a home in an otherworldly reality.
Those of us who live there jokingly refer to the place as “Camp Kalani” from time to time but the title really hit home for me. Every summer as a child my parents would send me and my three siblings away from the outskirts of Philadelphia and into the woods of Pennsylvania to nature camp. It was a good fit for their hippie-in-recovery Jew-Bu ideals and so every summer was spent at “River Bend.”
It was there that I first learned about CFCs, recycling, tie-dye and solar ovens made of cardboard boxes and tinfoil. Also, too, I learned to sit quietly and listen to the creek. And, once a week, we would go to our “special tree” (all the kids chose one at the beginning of the summer) to reflect in our journals while the crickets and cicadas created the backdrop of summer sounds. When we sat around to sing camp songs my favorite was always “Dirt Made My Lunch.”
Twenty years later, this past summer at Kalani was no different for me. The eco-friendly focus of Kalani ensured an experience informed by organic vegetables grown with solar power energy. This I learned first hand participating in the work exchange program as a member of the agriculture department.
On one particular Friday a few of us were working in the morning to make up for hours we wanted to take off to go camping on the other side of the island. I was with Jacob, a friend I refer to as an “engineer of magical moments,” who designed and implemented the aquaponics system at Kalani and my friend Lucy, a fabulous Brit with a masters in Somatic Psychology. It was a nice crew. Jacob asked me to mix the starter soil for the next batch of herbs we were growing from seed. So I got my hands dirty mixing together coconut fiber and vermiculite in water. We proceeded to sit together in the shade filling tiny pots with the soil so we could get starters going for some Italian Parsley. It was in doing this mundane task that we began to discuss what is and what isn’t real. Pretty heavy stuff.
See, we had all come from such different backgrounds to the same place. It came up that that our diverse backgrounds are just part of the “veil of illusion,” and really we are no more separate from one another than the sun is from the sky. It was one of those conversations that just builds momentum and wanders in directions you weren’t really expecting from the get-go. My proclamation throughout our spontaneous symposium was simply that “Love is real!” Of course that got chewed around and at some point we were confused enough to sit in silence — the dirt was all packed into the little pots and we heard the conch shell blow three times indicating lunch.
It is now, reflecting in a quiet kitchen in Philly, thousands of miles away from that little piece of heaven, that I can say without question I still believe that love is real. And, further, I think that moment spent in the gentle Hawaiian breeze with my two friends covered in dirt only proves that fact. It’s still true: decades after my first exposure to sacred land, or “aina” as it’s called on the Island, that dirt did indeed make my lunch at “Camp Kalani.”
After six months of living in this paradise, I’ve returned to the mainland. I believed in community-living before I went to Kalani, but primarily as a theoretical possibility.
And now I’m telling you—this dream is for real.
Lily Kardon hails from the City of Brotherly Love. She graduated from Naropa University with a degree in Literature and Yoga Studies. When she isn’t practicing or writing she can be found exploring the Canyonlands with a backpack or cooking a savory vegan meal for her three wonderful siblings. Look for her in Hawai’i, Colorado, California or on the East Coast.