In the middle of the Pacific, at the northern end of the Hawaiian chain of islands, is a farm.
A farm where, on 22 acres of fruit orchard and vegetable gardens, a redefinition is happening.
A redefinition of luxury.
Before I go any further, I’d like to get us all on the same page about what luxury means to us as a collective.
Merriam Webster’s definition of luxury: “1. a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort. 2. Something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.”
Thus agreed, let’s dig a little deeper.
There is a specific idea that we all have when we think of luxury. The word automatically conjures visions of white-blanketed four-poster beds and cotton curtains billowing in a breeze. Luxury means room service leaving a bottle of champagne to greet you and every convenience at the click of your mouse. Luxury means the best of everything; we imagine for ourselves a lifestyle modeled after the lavish lives of Hollywood’s finest.
I do not blame us for this—the collective reality has greatly succeeded in convincing us that Merriam Webster’s definition of luxury is what we should all strive for. Yet, I believe it is safe to assume that underneath the initial facade, our general idea of luxury does not, in fact, satisfy our beings at all. Our egos, yes, but it inevitably leaves the ego wanting more, rather than instilling within the heart a sense of true contentment.
Siddhartha Gautama left his life of luxury for this exact observation.
Indeed, the desire to discover the solution to my discontent was the reason I found my way to the farm in the first place.
Writing this, I remember the naysayers. The ones back home who didn’t think it would be possible to live in a tent on a farm—comfortably—for three months, which was the amount of time I originally dedicated myself to. I remember, too, the satisfaction I felt when I reached the 12-month mark, knowing I had proven to myself, and to them, that it was possible.
But there was a deeper satisfaction than that—a satisfaction that my life of American comfort never really left me with.
There was the satisfaction of waking each morning excited about the work I had to do and the resulting happiness in laying my weary body to the hard ground each night.
There was the satisfaction of drifting to sleep with the moon in my eyes, and waking each morning with the sun on my face.
There was the satisfaction of learning a new skill set that is its own form of life insurance.
There was the satisfaction of realizing that the feeling of peace that I couldn’t quite name at first…was contentment.
Every day I marveled at how this simple life seemed endlessly filled with luxury—even though I lived in a tent, slept on a one-inch sleeping pad, and shared a community space with up to 15 others at a time.
After about 11 months of being there, my partner’s parents came to visit and stayed for a week in the town of Princeville—only a few miles up the single highway on our side of the island, yet the complete opposite of the life we lived. Populated with tourists and condos, golf courses spring up and Rome-inspired statues depict the offer of royal luxury. The red dirt on our feet stuck out against the pristine tile of the kitchen and stained anything that was white frightfully easily.
After nearly a year of living so simply, so gloriously exposed, the condo felt enormous and excessive, and a place I would have once felt entitled to, made me feel out of place.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. The nights we stayed with my partner’s parents are shining memories of embracing family, and the feeling of security that comes from solid walls is not something to be taken for granted either.
Living in this mountain cabin two years later, I still take in the solid structure around me and marvel at how it does so much to keep me feeling safe and secure—yet it is being within such solid walls that I am coming to understand what luxury truly means to me.
Working and living on Rising Sun Organic Farm, where the food I ate was planted, cared for, and harvested by my own hands and the hands of my “farmily,” where the bed I slept on could be rolled up and strapped to my back, where the water I showered under was open to the sky, I realized that true luxury is connection.
Specifically for me, connection to one’s natural surroundings.
When I graduated college in the spring of 2017, I was fresh from getting my degree in Creative Writing with a bit of a dabble in Environmental Studies. As a result of my chosen program, I felt greatly disillusioned with the path that stretched before me. A path that seemingly wanted to carry me away from everything that gave me joy—learning about the earth, having heartfelt conversations with my peers, and writing, writing, writing.
Against the expectations of nearly everyone, I set out on a backpacking trip with a good friend down the West Coast of the United States, in search of The Place. All I had was a little over a thousand dollars and all that would fit in the old pack I found in our garage.
It was incredibly liberating to exist in such a way—leaving everything else I had behind except what I could carry on my back, relying in a different way on the resource that is my mind. Suddenly, that singular path became a whole forest, and signs of The Place appeared to me at every turn.
I will admit that at times it was numbingly stressful—trying to rewrite a reality for yourself that does not conform to the one you were born into is like fighting a quickly moving river. But I knew that with every step, I was getting closer to The Place where there were others trying to redefine their reality, too.
Though I did not find that place in any of the cities I passed through, the signs I found along the way led me to an island in the middle of the pacific, at the northernmost point of the Hawaiian chain of islands.
I found those like-minded people in a community on a 22-acre farm that grows fruit and vegetables for the benefit of themselves and others.
Thus said, we are given an opportunity every day to redefine our world. That is the most exciting aspect of being human; we do not have to conform to the constructs that we are born into if we do not want to. We are able to choose our own roads, and this is the road I have chosen for myself.
There are so many moments I could pull forth and sharpen for you to help you see what I mean—all the laughter and world-changing conversations, the joy of baby plants, and the gratitude of the people who enjoyed their sustenance.
But there is one consistency that says it all for me, so, I shall leave you with a memory, a sensation of luxury.
You wake, ears registering first, the sound of birds and palm fronds. Your eyes open to behold the blushing dawn. You lay there, stretching out this moment. The birds have called you to consciousness and the breeze is sweet on your skin as your eyes drink in the majesty of a tropical dawning.
Finally, you rouse yourself, and the zip of your tent flap is echoed by the sound of your farmily members emerging from their own modest dwellings. Another day of bare feet in dirt and sand, of bare skin breathing freely is upon you. As you pad away from your tent, you push aside the gently waving tapestry strung between two cashew trees that serves as your campsite boundary. The roosters are calling across the fields, and your mind turns to what you might forage for breakfast this day…
…now, it is dusk, and the air plays around you like a contented sigh from a day well-lived. There is blissfully cool dirt beneath your feet and the lush mountains just in front of you are a rosy green. The sky above you is sorbet and cotton candy, while the ocean behind you is beginning to lull the daytime creatures to sleep.
In your hands, you cradle a bowl filled with beets, radishes, arugula, and lettuce—your task in the community dinner being made this night. You had been intent on your harvest, the world reduced to the root vegetables and leafy greens, the greeting of each bug as it made its pilgrimage over its own mountains.
Standing straight now, you massage your toes deeper into the dirt and take in the sight before you. The mountains, the sea, and the sky above encompass you, and you breathe deeply of the same air they are.
What you just harvested came from them, through you, and an immense feeling of gratitude sweeps through your heart. Suddenly you feel as full as the earth, and you know with your whole self that there is no place you would rather be than here, connecting with such abundant, quiet luxury.
Before we part, I’d like to modify the definition of luxury, as it appears above.
Mikayla’s Personal definition of luxury: “1. A condition of abundance and great comfort in connection to the natural world. 2. Something adding to pleasure and comfort by releasing what is not necessary.”
Be well, my friends.
A view from my heart