After Ninja Camp, it was off to the Island of Gili Air for a week-long Meditation and Yoga retreat. My body felt good and my mind felt sharp as I was coming off a very great week of fitness, nutrition, and rest!
Unfortunately, this camp had started a day and a half earlier so I’d be joining the group a bit late, missing out on all the intros and whatever discussions had taken place up until then- but Bindu, the owner of H2O Yoga and Meditation Center, assured me it was fine and that this happens from time to time.
The boat ride was a pleasant 2 hour journey from Bali out to the Gili Islands, which from the pictures I’d seen and things I read seemed like it would be pure paradise. Gili Air is known to be the most chill of the 3 (with the others being a party island and a honeymoon island) so it seemed like the perfect spot to continue with my mind/body fitness journey. Gili Air didn’t disappoint… It’s a small island with no cars (bikes, scooters, and horse carts were the only modes of transportation). The people walking around seemed to be primarily backpackers and vacationing couples. The vibe was perfect, exactly what I’d hoped it would be!
For the rest of this post, I’ll first offer up some context of my initial experience just to set the tone I began with, then take you through the various elements and my feelings throughout. Cool?
As I got to H20 and checked in with Bindu, I got the feeling this wasn’t going to be exactly what I thought it was going to be… From the info on the website (the info I focused on anyway), I thought it was going to be fairly fitness-oriented with daily meditation added to provide exercise for the mind/soul as well. I guess coming from where I was just at with the crew I just left (see Ninja Camp post), I just assumed this would be kinda more of the same. Nope. Pretty much the exact polar opposite.
As Bindu showed me around he gave me the basic daily schedule which went something like this:
545: Walk to beach for Sunrise Mediation
7-830: Morning Yoga Class
930: Neti Potting
945-3: Free Time
3-430: Mix of Group Discussions/Addl Yoga
530: Walk to beach for more Discussions and Sunset Meditation
715-815: Mindful Vegetarian Dinner
815-9: Evening Mediation with Tibetan Singing Bowls
I had the suspicion this was going to be more ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ than ‘Better Faster Stronger’…
As we walked around I met the first 2 women I’d be joining- Kayla (23) and Rose (29) from Canada and The Netherlands respectively. Both seemed nice and said the retreat was going well so far. Then Cat (24) from Long Island walked over. Of course I’d meet another New Yorker and from Bayshore no less! They asked if I’d like to join them for lunch in town at a place called Bliss (which I decided was a good sign #bliss). Was nice breaking the ice with just a few of them rather than jumping in to try to meet everyone at once- and the food/juice was excellent!
My first interaction with the group as a whole came that afternoon at Yoga…At first, I felt like I had stepped into the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the Traveling pants (I think those are movies, right?). Outside of one other guy, the group of 10 was all women. Age ranges varied, a few early 20’s, a few late 20’s, and the rest 50+. And me…
We practiced ‘Sun Salutations’ for 45 minutes or so. This was much more active than the Yin Yoga we practiced at Chōsen- much more difficult for me! I was sweating more and more with every downward dog, cobra, and warrior pose… Though I was quite uncomfortable, it felt good. After Yoga it was on to the ‘Chicken Soup’… We moved over into the center’s cafe to discuss the element of Water (yesterday the had begun by exploring Earth and we’d discuss Air and Fire later in the week), its properties, and how we can apply them to our daily lives. We discussed how we might be stuck in life and how we could begin to move around our blockages. What were our feelings like when ‘swimming upstream’, things like this. All the while dividing into groups and writing everything down on white boards and then sharing/discussing with each other.
Note: I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this. It was just such a different scene than where I had been, and what I had thought I’d be doing. So different in fact, that I had begun to wonder what I was doing there as this seemed more soul nourishment/self discovery than fitness. To look at all of us sitting there, it was definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the other’ experience. I felt like I didn’t fit in, that maybe they too were wondering why I was now part of their group. Like most judgement perceptions (which we’d go on to discuss how 90% of these in life are dead wrong), I was pretty far off. Rather than wonder ‘What was I doing here?’, which has a more negative spin to it, I shifted my thoughts to ask ‘WHY was I here?’. Given my journey thus far, I know the universe had placed me here for a reason, even if I may not immediately realize it. It was time to be present, be patient, and be humble. When it was time, the reason would reveal itself.
I made it a point to try to have conversations with each of my group mates, inquiring about their lives, their journeys, their passions and dreams. AND not immediately jump into the sharing my story until they themselves asked first. I figured if I could perhaps offer up a Brian that was genuine and really demonstrated a sincere interest in them, perhaps I could combat whatever out of place image I was certain they all had of me. As they had already had a day of sharing and bonding, I was coming into friendships that had already formed- a bit late to the party… The reality is I was totally in my own head and I just had to be myself, which I eventually settled into and I ended up having such an amazing week with some really beautiful people…
The rest of the cast of characters:
Lynn and Rosie: early 50’s Australian, have been friends their whole lives and now traveling together with their husbands (who were left behind in Bali). Ineke: early 50’s Dutch, taking a little spiritual break from family back home. Azmina: 50, Canadian, undergoing a bit of a life change and in Indonesia to recharge and perhaps gain some clarity. Patricia: late 20’s? from Spain. Traveling for a bit with her fiancé. Waseem (the only other guy): early 30’s, Egyptian (though recently moved to Melbourne), trying to adjust to new life in new country, taking his first ever proper vacation!
Ok. That’s the intro/background. Here are some of the highlights from the week…
Every morning one of us was tasked with walking around the center at 530 and gently ringing a bell outside of everyone’s door to wake people up. We’d meet at 545 and all walk to the beach together in silence (one of the rules I forgot about a time or two, but hey, I like saying ‘good morning’!…). Was just an amazing feeling to watch the sun rise every morning out of the ocean and over a mountain, all the while practicing our meditation techniques, reflecting on the past day and life in general. Such a peaceful way to approach the day. After 45 or so minutes, Lynn would play us a song on the recorder she had brought along and we’d pack our things up and make our way back to center for morning Yoga.
Wow. This was NOT easy! I have so much respect for those that practice yoga day in and day out! I again felt so out of my element, but I was determined to try my hardest. We practiced a variety of poses, some using props such as bolsters, straps, blocks, and even bamboo sticks- with some of the sessions designed to match whatever element we were focusing on that day. I was sweating and breathing hard pretty much the entire time so connecting my breaths to the movements was probably the most challenging part (apart from trying to bend my body like everyone else was). We did 90 minutes every morning! My mat was always coated with my sweat by the end of class…Wow. What an amazing workout though. Over the week I got the hang of things a bit more and definitely felt a bit more flexible and confident as well. Thanks to my teachers and new friends for being supportive!
Free Time/Group Discussions:
During most days we were free to explore the island, check out the various beaches, get massages, hang by the pool, journal, etc. We’d meet up around 230 or 3 and either practice some sun salutations and/or gather up to chat about life, the elements, some general philosophical/buddhist topics, metaphysical healing etc. Again, this wasn’t exactly what I had expected I’d be doing, but I found these chats to be really cool and thought provoking, tapping back into areas of my mind/heart that I hadn’t tapped into the previous few weeks… Was great to be thinking a bit differently. We’d than have some time to reflect before we’d regroup to discuss any new revelations etc during Sunset Meditation.
Once again we’d all gather together around 530, journals in hand to walk to the other side of the island to enjoy the sunset together. First we’d circle up and Bindu would pose a few more thought provoking questions, and we’d chat for a bit about them as well as any new thoughts we’d had since group discussion. We’d then separate a bit and find a space to sit in silent meditation as we watched the sun complete it’s trip over the sky and disappear into the ocean. I have to say beginning and ending every day meditating with the sun was a really, really cool experience. Bindu would then whistle a song or Lynn would play a tune on the recorder to let us know it was time to head back for dinner.
One of the most unexpected surprises (and totally new experiences for me) were our mindful dinners every evening. We’d gather up in the center and form a circle around the food that had been set out for us. Everything was vegetarian for the week, so I was thankful when Artie (one of the young guys that worked there) took the time to explain to us what each dish was! We then had someone new say a blessing every night in a different language- we had Dutch, Spanish, Brasilian, Hindu, even Sign (on silent day)- before the bell was rung signifying it was time to be mindful for the duration of the meal. What does that mean? It means we all lined up, filled our bowls with rice and food, grabbed some tea, then sat on the ground and ate in silence… one very slow bite at a time. Yes. You read that correctly. We’d lift our bowls up, take some food onto our fork or spoon, gently put it into our mouths, set the bowl back down, close our eyes, and chew very slowly and mindfully. Tasting all the flavors, feeling all the textures, actually being present and enjoying the food rather than just shoving it all down our throats as quickly as possible barely noticing it. It’s hard for me to be silent in general, especially during meals (which especially at Ninja Camp had been very communal and packed with stimulating discussion and laughter). But again, wow, what an experience. Actually enjoying every aspect of the meal, every bite, and the occasional eye contact and smile with one another- but all in silence. Cool stuff. Definitely going to try to incorporate more of this into my life. Side note- You need WAY less food as your stomach actually fills up at a slower pace, allowing for digestion to begin naturally rather than overeating and then feeling super full as everything expands at the same time!
Evening Mediation/Singing Bowls:
After we adjourned from dinner, we hung out and chatted a bit while things were cleaned up and then reset for evening meditation. It was a nice way to wind down, talk about the day a bit, have some tea, and prepare for an upcoming good night’s rest. When it was time we all moved back into the center and set ourselves up for some mediation/breathing exercises. We’d do this for 15 minutes or so (some days seated with a quiet mind, others internally repeating a mantra, others open-eyed fixated on a single candle flame, even some days with Bindu telling us a story or us all singing a song together and then we’d lay down in savasna while one of the staff created beautiful tonal vibrations using the Tibetan Singing Bowls. We’d then come back to seated, hold hands, and acknowledge that ‘Today is a good day’. Off to bed at 9pm.
Special Parts of the Week
A Day of Silence:
Wednesday was a day of silence. Which meant that after we got into silent mode for dinner on Tuesday night, we wouldn’t speak again until after Yoga on Thursday morning! Everything we’d do during that time period would be done in complete silence. The idea was to become very present with yourself, very mindful of the day, not using things like reading or listening to music to distract you from life and pass the time. It was an interesting experiment- things like ordering lunch are much more difficult when you’re only pointing at the menu and nodding your head at their questions! I have to admit I didn’t love it as much as others did. I missed chatting with my friends, I missed music. But it was a nice test for myself- trying something I’ve never done before. We spent the majority of the morning set up on the beach, journaling, meditating, working on our assignment of developing a personal mantra or affirmation, etc, before people began to wander off to explore, eat, get a massage (I got 2), or just relax by the pool until it was time for Sunset.
We headed to the beach a little bit earlier this day and were introduced to the Buddhist importance of the number 108. We were given a set of Mala Beads (similar to a Rosary for my Catholic friends out there) and individually we all were tasked with creating 9 or 10 ‘steps’ in the sand (imagine a really cool long hopscotch board), which we’d then all walk, repeating our mantra 108 times while holding our beads. It was a beautiful exercise A. just watching the different creative expressions of each of our sections and B. repeating an affirmation about yourself over and over again. It was very powerful. Many were overcome with emotion crossing the final step, I myself felt very content and centered after repeating mine. We sat in silence afterward as we watched the sun once more descent into the ocean.
Bindo had asked us to maintain our silence until after the next morning’s yoga, saying he had a fun way for us to come out of it. So, after Thursday’s Sunrise Meditation and our Yoga practice, we all sat in a circle- still in silence. Bindu handed out songbooks and we all turned to the page featuring Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. We all shared a happy laugh and then sang the song together a few times… It was an incredibly joyful, fun, sincere moment- all of us looking around at each other feeling friendship, bliss, and love, happily lost in the song. Whenever I hear that song for the rest of my life, I’ll think about that moment. Just a bunch of people who were strangers a few days before, sitting around smiling and singing without a care in the world or worry about who might be listening. Every little thing, was gonna be alright…
Snorkeling Day/Mantra Sharing
The day we came out of silence, Bindu had sorted a snorkeling trip for us. It was a great bonding experience as we all hopped on a boat and hopped around the islands to a few different spots swimming with sea turtles and all sorts of cool, colorful tropical fish, and of course each other. There’s always something about being on a boat or out in the water that just makes me extra happy, today was no exception. We parked on Gili Meno for lunch which during, Bindu asked if we were comfortable sharing our Mantras. Why not? Perhaps it will inspire another as it had already inspired me.
It had started off as ‘I am a man for others’. After Peru, I’ve been even more convinced that one of my main life purposes is to serve others and hopefully inspire them in whatever way they might need at that moment. That’s what I had been fixated on, others. However, during these last 2 weeks, my third Ayahuasca ceremony (the responsibility of taking care of my ‘vessel’) had become even more apparent/important to me. The healthy eating, the fitness, the mediation, and yoga had all made me feel much better about myself and so I realized that I can’t be anything to anyone, if I’m not taking care of myself first. So I adjusted my mantra to ‘I am a man for myself, so that I may be a man for others’. I’m happy with it 🙂 As we wrapped lunch, we all got friendship bracelets from local vendor to remind us of each other and this week.
For our last evening together, Bindu had asked us to think about 2 questions. What would we take from this week, and what would we leave behind? We’d have a Non-Silent (!) dinner together celebrating the week, then we’d all change into white clothing and meet back for a proper ceremony where we’d be blessed, we’d recap what we’d learned over the course of the week, and share our answers to those 2 questions- before having our last savasna with singing bowls.
Everyone looked lovely all dressed in white- so happy and full of life. Some even added white flowers in their hair, creating a very angelic look… Even though it had only been a short while, I noticed strong changes in everyone that was there. Energy was more positive, smiles were bigger, eyes were brighter- it had been quite the transformative week. The answer to Why I had found myself there had become fairly apparent. It was a very nice ceremony, there was laughing, acknowledging, crying, happiness, and contentment while everyone shared their answers. Mine were that aside from the Yoga and Mindfulness, I’d take the Three Little Birds moment with me forever. And also a special piece of individual energy from each and every one of my new friends. I made time to tell them individually what each of them had given me- curiosity, wisdom, playfulness, strength, determination, passion, care, joy, zest, fire, and finally beauty and love… These tiny pieces of this really special collection of people will be safely kept in my heart and will always remind me of my week at an amazing place which at first I had questioned why in the world I was even at… A reminder that the Universe sometimes works in mysterious ways, but the important word there is ‘works’… What I’d leave behind is fear, perception, and judgement- no room inside this vessel for those. I’d also leave behind a happy little piece of myself so that someone else may find it in the future and maybe find some inspiration, surely as I must have found an inspirational piece of someone else that had been left behind for me…
After sharing, we all laid down to joyfully sing one last song with Bindu and listened to the singing bowls one last time before the ceremony concluded. Some went to bed, others hopped in the pool, maybe a few snuck out to the closest beach cafe for a beer or two and some celebratory dancing 😉
The week had been a great one and after a final Sunrise Meditation, Yoga, and Breakfast together, we all gathered to walk down to the dock where boats were waiting to take us to our next destinations. It was amazing how close I felt to these people in such a short period of time. I was genuinely going to miss them the moment my boat sailed away. As we hugged and said our goodbyes I once again felt like I knew exactly why the universe had placed me there…
What an exercise in perceptions and judgements. I felt out of place, irrationally judged, questioned why I was there, and all in all a bit thrown at the beginning. But humility and patience allowed me to step back and realize that I was exactly where I needed to be. I learned something from each and every person I spent time with this week and I hoped that in turn maybe they got something out of meeting me as well.. Parts of my heart and soul were touched in both new ways and ways that hadn’t been touched in a long time. I felt. I experienced. I lived. I loved… I even picked an occasional flower.
They say if you’re just sitting in comfort, you’re not growing. In order to change you have to challenge yourself and try new things, get yourself uncomfortable… That was this week. At first I felt like the biggest fish out of water, but by the end I was there swimming with all my new friends, as happy as could be.
So, to Lynn, Rosie, Cat, Kayla, Waseem, Patricia, Ineke, Azmina, Bindu, Julia, Mana, and Rose- A heartfelt thank you for being part of my journey, and now a part of me. Every little cell in my body is happy, every little cell in my body is well… Until we meet again.
Much love and bliss,
Docking at Gili Air, about to start the week
H2O Yoga and Mediation Center
First Lunch at Gili Bliss
Breakfasts at the Center
…and Dinners at the Center
Not a bad spot for lunch
Afternoon Tea and Bindu’s new hat!
A late night celebratory beer after our last dinner (obviously had to break out the cat shirt)
Last Sunrise Meditation… I almost got into tree before the timer went off
Jumping for Joy!
Me and Bindu
Finally got it!
Saying good bye… Look at those smiles.
Just a guy on a hero's journey...