If you asked me seven weeks ago that I would be traveling to Hawaii, I would’ve scoffed in disbelief. I had been working really hard these last three years juggling a day job and building my dream job. My vacations were dedicated to writing and promoting my book, trainings on mandalas and marketing, and connecting with my online mandala family. I can’t even remember the last time I even took a “real vacation.”
Seven weeks ago I dumped the day job of 13 years. The following week, my sister-in-law and I were talking on the phone and she said, “You should come with me to Hawaii for a retreat.” In less than 24 hours the arrangements were made and I was heading to the “Open Your Heart in Paradise with Ram Dass Retreat.” What makes this story even more incredible was how the retreat sold out within hours of opening. Since June there had been a very long wait list and here I was going. It was a miracle.
My Hawaii Wound
When I told others of my trip, it felt like I was talking about someone else. Now while I’d never traveled to Hawaii before, I had my own relationship with this place. In my heart, I carried within me what I called my “Hawaii Wound.”
The wound formed when I was about eleven years old. My parents were divorced and my dad had remarried a woman with two daughters – one a year older than me and one a year younger. Each Sunday, my younger brother and I would visit my dad. One year my father was planning a trip and told my mother that she was “not to tell Kathy and Karl.” He wanted to surprise us with a postcard.
I learned in the postcard that my dad traveled to Hawaii with his new family that included his wife, two stepdaughters, and his mother-in-law. When asked why we were not invited, he replied, “There wasn’t enough room in the rental car.”
As you can imagine, I felt crushed. While he learned how hurt I was to be left out, it wasn’t acceptable for me to be mad at my dad. So I did what most kids do and transferred my hate and anger toward Hawaii.
“I hate Hawaii. I’m never going to Hawaii.”
Not Hawaii Again!
Fast forward thirty some odd years and I’m a single mother. Each summer my son would travel 1800 miles from New Hampshire where he lived with me to Colorado to visit his dad. As one summer was approaching, my son’s father called to say that the trip may not happen that year as he didn’t have the money to cover the airfare. Knowing how much my son needed this time with his father, I managed to scrape up the funds to make the trip happen. A day after my son arrived in Colorado, I read on Facebook why his father didn’t have the money – he and his girlfriend had taken a trip to Hawaii.
No!!!! Not Hawaii! Couldn’t it have been Costa Rica or Belize?
There I was broke and feeling my childhood wound long forgotten now reopened. I felt there was no use in getting mad at my ex and I certainly didn’t want my feelings to get in the way of my son’s relationship with him. My 40 something self revised my Hawaii script from “I hate Hawaii,” to an adult version, “Hawaii is so overrated. It’s expensive. There are so many other places I’d prefer to travel in the world like Bali, Costa Rica, the Amalfi Coast… I don’t plan on ever going to Hawaii.” So once again, I transferred the anger, hurt, and disappointment onto the idea of Hawaii.
In the years that followed, I focused on getting healthy in body, mind, spirit, and finances. One author who really helped me was Dr. Wayne Dyer. His books, The Power of Intention and Excuses Begone helped me to shift my thinking from victim to hero; from excuse making to taking responsibility. I went from waiting for someone to “rescue me” to rescuing myself. When it came to vacations, I went from feeling jealous of others who vacationed to planning my own adventures.
As I learned more about Wayne Dyer, I discovered that he lived in Maui and would begin each day swimming in the ocean. I found myself revising my Hawaii script. “Well maybe Hawaii isn’t so bad after all? There are some really cool people who live in Hawaii.” I decided that IF I were to travel to Hawaii, it wouldn’t be a tourist trip but more of a spiritual trip and I imagined having great conversations with Wayne amid the tropical breezes and colorful exotic flowers.
It was about seven years later when Regina, my sister-in-law invited me to come to Hawaii with her for a spiritual retreat. The timing, at the heels of making this BIG life decision of quitting my “secure” day job, seemed perfect.
At the same time, it seemed crazy to quit a job and then take this trip. To my good fortune, the vacation time that I accrued was cashed out and covered the retreat expenses, almost to the penny. Imagine that!
The travel from New Hampshire to Hawaii was long and weary. When we finally landed it was 8:00 p.m. local time and 1:00 a.m. my time. We still had another hour of travel via shuttle to the resort. It was so incredibly dark that it appeared as though the van was driving into a black hole. A woman sitting behind us was so energized and chatty. She eagerly told us how she had been to Maui with her family back in 1979 when she was eleven and this would be her second trip. “Wait, 1979?” I quickly did the math in my head and realized that would have been around the same time as the trip I missed out on when I was a kid. I sat quietly in disbelief that this story that lined up with mine showed up within hours of arriving to Maui.
Waking up in Paradise
When I woke up and stepped out onto the balcony, I was taken by the beauty.
Although it rained and was cooler than expected, I saw so many rainbows. This was the view from breakfast one morning.
The days were filled with morning yoga or qigong, daily dharma lectures, and kirtan (chanting and music) in the evenings. The retreat centered around Ram Dass and included his friends Krishna Das, Jack Kornfield, Trudy Goldman and Mirabai Bush.
My favorite talks were by Jack Kornfield whose gentle spirit told stories with humor and grace and led us in meditation practices centered on loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
Making Mandalas in Maui
My Blossoming Spiritual Journey
I packed a journal and some assorted art supplies to create some mandalas during the trip. The first mandala pictured here was drawn while on the plane and filled with lots of detail reflecting on the many little and big things that needed my attention before unplugging for two weeks.
After couple of days in Hawaii, I was acclimated to my surroundings and new daily routine and was ready to make time to fill in the mandala with color. I started with the center petals with a dark brown that I typically love. The color brown reminds me of chocolate, coffee, or rich organic soil. Brown goes with so many colors – vibrant, pastel, earthy or jewel toned. After I applied it here, my heart sank. “oh that is way too dark. I don’t want a dark and dreary mandala. I want it to be vibrant and juicy.”
Has that ever happened to you? You pick a color and after using it, you don’t like how it looks? Does it stop you from continuing?
Reluctantly, I continued coloring moving to the next row of petals and alternating between brown and green. I jumped around now focusing on creating a glow of oranges and pinks accented by a light green. I returned to the center and worked in some orange to look like the sun and light green for a bright accent.
As a finishing touch, the graphic designer in me needed to apply the dark brown throughout the outer petals to create balance. As I outlined the shapes and shaded in some areas, my thoughts turned to how we need the shadow moments to fully see and appreciate the vibrant and joyful moments.
When I finished, a young woman with sparkly eyes and a big smile came bouncing in. “ooooh that is beautiful!” she remarked looking at my mandala. “Would you mind if I join you?” Oh how I appreciated her fresh eyes on my mandala art along with her enthusiasm. It was just what I needed in that moment.
It took a day before I could see the beauty in this mandala. Sometimes, working so closely and noticing all of the “mistakes” it is hard to appreciate how each stroke comes together to create a unique and beautiful mandala. A mandala is much more than any one stroke.
Now when I look at this mandala, I see reflected back how my life is filled with lots of details both dark bits and blossoming parts. My spiritual practices may not be perfect or feel fruitful, but by showing up again and again, I can see that I’m much more than any one moment.
Planting Seeds in Maui with Ram Das
The second mandala is the Seed of Life, a favorite pattern found in sacred geometry where we draw seven circles of the same size. I call this mandala, “Planting Seeds in Maui with Ram Dass.” During a presentation on the practice of chanting by Krishna Dass, he spoke of “planting seeds.” His practice of speaking the names of the gods in the chants is a way of spiritually planting seeds. As I filled in row after row of little seedlings, I imagined each section a garden patch belonging to different participants at the retreat. Many circles of friends old and new gathered for a week of planting seeds of inner peace, joy, and love.
As you look around from section to section in this mandala, you’ll see how perfectly imperfect it is. I didn’t get hung up on making each row exactly the same. I thought of a recent visit at my friend Carol’s house in Pennsylvania. Sitting on her porch I noticed a pumpkin plant that took over and wrapped around the entire side of her charming little home. “All of this is from one seed,” Carol remarked as I took in it’s bounty. When we plant seeds, we can’t predict how the plant will grow. Herein, I imagined my wonky rows of repeating plant like patterns to be like our spiritual journeys – we can’t predict how we’ll grow and blossom – it’s perfectly imperfect.
Flower of Love & Compassion
This mandala is so very special as it was created during the mala ceremony. Each person had the opportunity to receive a mala, a string of beads used in meditation, and have a 1:1 moment with Ram Dass. 350 people queued up for their turn while Krishna Dass and other musicians filled the room with rhythmic beats and chants that resonated deeply within my body.
Typically, I don’t have patience to stand in a line, but I was in good spirits for this occasion. I sang along and took in the smiles of others happy to be gathering together for this special occasion. About a third of the way, I looked around and it reminded me of the last 13 years working for the Catholic Church and the many Masses that I attended where my colleagues lined up to receive the Eucharist. Although I’m not Catholic and the Eucharist doesn’t hold any meaning for me, sitting there not invited to participate felt hurtful at a deep level. Here I was bringing my gifts and talents to serve an organization that was unwelcoming and judgmental.
During the mala ceremony, I stood overwhelmed with emotions as I looked around at the other participants. There were people from so many walks of life – women, men, old, young, religious, spiritual. I appreciated so very much that I didn’t need to believe in any Hindu gods or be a card carrying member of any religion to share in this beautiful ceremony of love and connection. Tears poured down my face as I wept and my heart filled up with gratitude.
I realized in that moment, that this was the beginning of a new healing journey. I had 13 years working in a toxic environment that I need to cleanse from in my body, mind, and soul. My tears were the first step in cleansing.
I managed to dry my eyes before I had my special moment with Ram Dass. I was deeply touched by his presence and left feeling affirmed that I was exactly where I was meant to be in that moment.
As I look at my mandala flower of love and compassion, I see a bright and joyful center flanked by lots of petals representing my growth – how far I’ve already come in this lifetime and the growth yet to come.
It wasn’t until I was retiring for the night when I realized that I was wearing the same colors that I used in the mandala. Does that happen to you? Do you find yourself using, wearing, and surrounding yourself with the same colors? My color palette these days of orange, hot pink, light green, and deep blue reflect how joyful I feel inside.
On the last morning we gathered at the beach for a closing ceremony led by a South African Shaman. At one point he tossed long stemmed roses into the crowd. The first one bounced off the top of my head and landed into my hands. Oh how I chuckled by this unexpected surprise. I have a gift for having flying objects land on my head. It’s why I was the last one picked in gym class – any time a ball was thrown in the air, I would cower to protect my head. The rose bopping my head was a delightful surprise and felt like a cosmic nod for not cowering!
The final highlight of the retreat was a group swim. After the emotional and physically exhausting week, I needed to plunge and soak in Mother Maui’s waters. I had never experienced a group swim where we all rose and sank with each big wave. I lingered longer than most and took my time to float. The water covered my ears muffling the sounds of the distant chanting and accentuating my rhythmic breath. I allowed my body to completely relax. I surrendered all thoughts, feelings, and expectations. As the water gently moved my limp body in and out with each wave, I felt like Mother Maui was giving me watsu therapy. This swim was another step in cleansing my body, mind, and soul.
What’s Next? Serving Love
My final mandala drawing is a tracing of my hand wearing the mala that I received during the ceremony and my renewed intention to keep pouring my heart into all that I do.
I return from this retreat feeling prepared for what’s next. I feel more grounded and confident that this path that I’m on is exactly where I’m meant to be. I see how the meditation and chanting practices that I learned in the retreat complement my mandala practice. Each practice is a vehicle for pausing, quieting the mind, and cultivating loving kindness.
I look forward to sharing this awesome journey with my mandala family in the Sharing Circle, online courses, and upcoming new years program at Kripalu.
PS – Wow! This is a long blog post. If you made it down this far, I’m so impressed. I’d love to hear from you. Did any bits of my story resonate with you? Do you have a “Hawaii Wound?” I’d love to hear about your practices (mandala or otherwise) in the comments below. Thanks for being here!
PSS – I completely forgot about my “Hawaii Wound” once I woke up in paradise. I’m so happy to say that I had my own Hawaii experience and it far exceeded anything I had dreamed up. Many thanks to Regina for inviting me, to Mike the retreat organizer for saying, “yes! I have a spot for you,” and to my wonderful husband Fernando who didn’t hesitate when I told him about this opportunity.