Tuesday, June 28, 2011


"It's like church for some people here," was the phrase I heard several times to describe Kalani's "Ecstatic Dance."  Every Sunday morning at 10:30, locals ("punatiks") and Kalani community members alike convene at the arts center, an airy space with wood floors and a domed, stadium-style roof, usually used for yoga classes.  Transformed by trance and other instrumental music pumping through the sound system, the room becomes a place of dance... a place of worship for some.  Much like devoted church-goers, dedicated attendees of the Ecstatic Dance, or Sun-Dance as it is sometimes known, will never miss it.  Many come dressed in their island finery, somewhat akin to music festival wear (in other words, whatever seems like a good idea in the moment); tie dye, bright colors, and crop tops run rampant.  In a community where individual spirituality overwhelmingly wins out over organized religion, these Sunday mornings are the closest approximation you'll see to conventional prayer.  The rules? No talking. Only dancing. If you want to have a conversation, you have to take it outside.

After about a half hour of dancing, there is an opening circle in which someone (probably a well-established community member) offers a few words of inspiration, and everyone says their name.  At closing, another circle is formed, and those who are so inclined may speak a few words of appreciation (usually quite a few are so inclined).  Like everything else, participation in the circles in entirely voluntary.  And for the nearly two hours in between?  We dance, of course!  And this is about as far from your typical high school gym dances as you can get.  There is no judgement in this space, and often very little interaction between dancers.  Each participant is involved in the music, their individual expression through dance, and for some the spirituality of the experience.  How to describe the dancing?  Quite possibly impossible, but try to imagine every crazy and absurd dance move you've ever considered attempting but abstained out of embarrassment or fear of judgement.  Now add to that any experience you may have had at a music festival or drunken dance party.  Now take away all of the illicit substances, add in a great deal of grace, acceptance, and the beauty of total freedom, and you will have a vague conception of Sunday mornings at Kalani.

Those who are tired, or who aren't moved to dance may choose to sit against the wall or at a meditation corner at the back of the room, stocked with various icons, incense, and cushions.  Some people sway, some run around the room, some newcomers, unsure of what they have just gotten themselves into, leave.  Me? I've never been to church, but the Ecstatic Dance is undeniably a special place of self-expression, worship for some, and the shared joy of dancing. And that is something I can certainly relate to.

And it doesn't end there!  Sunday afternoons, many of the Sundancers and more locals head a mile down the road to Kehena Beach (black sand and clothing optional) for the weekly drum circle.  They walk, drive, or (mom and dad close your eyes), hitch-hike to get there.  When I went, there were about twenty drummers, plus various other musicians, and another hundred people lounging on the narrow strip of beach, backed by forty foot cliffs that some, in bursts of insanity or adventure, climb by way of the hanging banyan roots and vines.  The waves are unlike any I have seen before, breaking directly at the shore line, which makes for very difficult entry and exit.  When the tide comes in, it covers the bottom half of the beach, soaking those unfortunate beach-goers who choose to sit closer to the water.  The drum circle lasts late into the afternoon, and sitting in the lengthening shadows, engulfed by the rhythms of earth and sea, forms the perfect complement to the morning's ecstatic dancing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Edge of the World

This is truly the edge of the world, I thought, as I rattled further and further into the Hawaiian rainforest on one of the free "Hele-On" buses.  As dusk fell, the arc of greenery overhead thickened into a natural ceiling and slowly deepened in color. I strained my eyes to keep watch out the window, certain that the driver, despite several polite reminders, would forget to let me off at Kalani's gate, or that we would drive off the edge of the world, whichever came first.  As we alternately flew and bumped over the narrow island road, struck by low-hanging branches, I savored the sensation of being entirely off the grid.

This is truly the edge of the world.  The final frontier.  I don't care what modern science will tell you; drive a little further west and you are sure to meet a harrowing end, the voice of a 16th century peasant shouting I told you so! ringing in your ears as you tumble from the precipice.  Weather here does not follow normal laws or patterns; since entering this part of the island, I have experienced the most mercurial weather imaginable.  After a half hour of heavy rain and angry winds, the sky will suddenly clear and the sun will burn brightly, quickly drying up the sponge-like earth. An hour later the sky will again darken to gray and a determined drizzle will engulf your immediate surroundings.  Your friend a mile away may, however, still be enjoying a beautiful sunny day.

My adventure began before I even arrived in Hawaii.  After arriving in L.A., I found my way to the airport Starbucks after a desperate search for food.  Unaware that Continental no longer served even pretzels or peanuts, I was ravenous, and promptly wolfed down a bowl of oatmeal and a tall mocha.  When I rose to leave, the young woman at the table next to mine looked at me intently.

Excuse me, she said with a vaguely European accent (and yes, European is the best description I can offer), I was going to say this to you earlier, but you seemed so involved with what you were doing that I didn't want to interrupt.  Well, you seem like a really lovely person... who cares a lot about other people... and I just wanted to tell you that... you should always be yourself.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that you should change, because you're perfect the way you are, you really are.

I thanked her, and sincerely, since her words were kind, even if the situation was rather bizarre.  I exited the Starbucks, but this encounter has somehow become linked to my summer in my mind.  It was my welcome to L.A., and it also marked the beginning of my adventures.  As you venture to the west coast and then beyond, to Hawaii, people as well as places, tend to fall further of the grid.  Not just weather, but behavior too, strays farther from our East Coast ideas of normalcy.  But isn't that the point?  Isn't that what has always drawn explorers further west and dangerously close to the edge of the world?  A search for different, an escape from convention, and, of course, treasure beyond compare.  The gold may be long gone, but these islands have not lost their magic.

This is truly the edge of the world, I thought, and the thought made me smile.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Imminent Departure

So, I caved. I wasn't planning on it, but here I am.  Blogging.  On the eve of a new adventure, I find myself once again choosing fonts, backgrounds, and titles.  Well, it sure beats mass emails.

What exactly am I doing in Hawaii, other than being in Hawaii, that is?  I am volunteering at Kalani Oceanside Retreat for two months.  I will be working in the kitchen, and in my copious (no sarcasm) amounts of free time, I will be practicing yoga, learning hula, and hopefully doing a bit of research on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement (if you're perplexed, don't worry, there will be more to come on that one).

What is this Kalani place? To quote directly from the website, "Kalani is an educational nonprofit organization that celebrates Hawaii, nature, culture and wellness..." It is part alternative vacation spot, part organic farm, part resident community, part yoga retreat, part "ecocultural learning" center, and 100% wonderful.  Located in a remote part of the Big Island, Kalani will be my home for the summer.

I'm off to Hilo at 6am on Sunday.  Once there, I will be blogging sporadically.  Expect a few photos from my beautiful new camera, more on the Hawaiian independence movement, a meditation on existence or two, and a bit (or more) about life on the Big Island.

That's it for now!