The peace within

Tune in with your soul and get inspired in this boutique holistic retreat on Auckland’s West Coast facing a protected native forest and magnetic view on Karekare Beach

Moving clouds on the ocean, the energy of a green forest, the fresh drops falling from a waterfall, the immaculate singing of birds, a soft breeze among the blossoms. In the vibrating nature of Waitakere Ranges, 40 minutes drive from Auckland and a few miles from Karekare Beach, you’ll find a peaceful place to be. Close enough to the city but far enough to unplug, Sacred Earth Retreat is as remote as you can imagine. Not only it’s surrounded by a green carpet of native ferns and Kauri trees, spectacular miles of hiking trails and refreshing water holes, its position facing the ocean instantly lets the mind fly away.

The dream

Creating a spiritual retreat where a community could live in harmony with nature, working on something meaningful and giving relief to troubled souls. The dream was in a pocket, until the time came and the magic happened. It all started around 25 years ago in India, when owners Phil and Jenny went to visit the ashram of spiritual master Sathya Sai Baba. A voice guided them to meet sage Sukonadi, and their questions were finally answered. The description of the hill and the garden, the idea of a little Eden and a full blessing. Soon after, following a serie of lucky coincidences, things started to move in the right direction. Blessings can travel many miles and will last forever.

“When we came to see this property, we just knew it was the place” Says Jenny with smiling eyes. “I don’t even remember how many rooms were there, if there was a kitchen or so. We immediately loved it”. First Satyavan, cosy house overlooking the forest and the ocean, and piece by piece the project came true. With three luxury lodges and eco-friendly cottages hidden in the bush, Sacred Earth Retreat welcomes short-term guests and a growing number of residents. Like Leslie, who lived here since the beginning. With her kind words and her adorable manners, she is always ready to share her wise happiness: “There’s nothing else I could desire”.

Wisdom is about being able to see the gift in everything around us and be grateful. It’s the meaning of He Pou Rerenga Wairua, the captivating Maori carving that stands in the middle of a sunny glade, facing north. A spiritual Waka, floating canoe reaching up towards the heavens and celebrating Aroha, the love of Father Sky and Mother Earth. “This special bliss belongs to all of us, it cleans our energy and helps us to continue our inner journeys”, says Matua Louis Kareopa sapiently. Inspired by this idyllic place and the knowledge of a millennial tradition, he carved the Pou out of the ancient wood of a Totara tree that was submerged in Tongariro river. Deep and humble, he touches this first artwork of a series of 12 and adds, laughing: “Don’t forget to look at the original bark of the timber at the back, nature’s work is much better than mine!”.

A place to rest

A home designed with love, bits of wilderness that come in through the open windows, a magnetic sunset on the coastline. It’s the perfect combination to connect with Gaia and begin a life-changing experience. It may start with a deep breath sitting cross legged on the grass, while birds are singing and a salty wind flows quiet. Or with a guided meditation in Savitri temple, a breathtaking octagonal building that sits on top of a hill and receives vibrating energy from the sea and the forest. Dedicated to Sathya Sai Baba and his teaching of the oneness of all people and all religions, it celebrates the universality of all beings and is open to all faiths and paths. If you hang around that area, you will definitely meet Tom, a blessed heart that would  give you relief just by standing next to you. “Self realization is knowing who you are”, he says smiling, “and underneath our ego, we all are Atma, which in Sanskrit means collective soul, the one big spiritual plasma that connects us. All are one”.

While meditation and yoga classes are held regularly in the temple, you can come over anytime. Here or on a wide wooden deck facing the ocean, you’ll find the ideal location to dive into your body, find stillness and deepen your practice. Joyful and caring, Mary will guide you to places you’ve never reached before through her angelic voice and the rhythm of the harmonium. Laugh, cry, go everywhere, come back to yourself. She will show you how to get rid of tensions until complete relaxation with her Yoga Therapy. And if you just want to lay down effortlessly, ask for an integrative Aromatouch massage, you won’t regret it. Once the body is feeling well, you can think about nourishing it and maybe ask her for a healthy catering or a raw whole food cooking class. “I like to involve people in the activity rather than teaching old-style”, she shrugs her shoulders. It’s much more fun.

No matter if you are going for lunch or you sit quietly familiarizing with yourself, mindfulness is the key. Even walking in the bush becomes an opportunity to discover something new. Warm peaceful soul, naturopath and director of Wellpark College in Auckland, Phil will guide you through the forest highlighting the native medicinal plants traditionally used by Maori tribes. Manuka tree, Kawa Kawa, Mapoe, the abundant unfolding Ponga and many more. “The leaves with holes from insect bites are the best ones. Always trust animals”, he blinks. Acknowledging the perfection of this marvelous living earth will make our stay much nicer and more respectful: once you reach this connection with nature, nothing will ever be the same.

Life in the community

Creatives, spiritual minds and wondering souls come to Sacred Earth to derive inspiration from this tranquility. Walking in the retreat on any ordinary day, you can meet amazing people like crystal healer and artist Kimi, who found the perfect workspace in her lovely hut in the forest. Sweet, dreamy and sensible, she crafts gorgeous wearable talismans and blesses them in the water of Karekare waterfalls. Or Lynn, childrens’ book illustrator, storyteller, teacher and awaken being that combines her skills with shining devotion and passionate work. And Aaron, scholar, author and publisher with profound interest in esoteric world. Reflective, calm and accurate, he would guide you to a better understanding of Alchemy or give you a detailed Astrology reading using ancient techniques from Greek and Egyptian knowledge.

Every individual here has something to share. Spiritual soul and unconventional healer, Tony would dig into your heart with his touching words, his scanning eye-gaze and his fulfilling light. You see him walking in his Maori tattoos followed by his playful dog, and he will do the rest. Also, you may be lucky and get the opportunity to join an exclusive sound journey, where you will connect with the purifying vibrations of mantras, traditional music instruments and guiding spirits. Reiki master and physical healer Will would take you to a dreamy escape far from this planet and closer to yourself. Or clean your energy, release your blocks and give you emotional balance with his sapient hands.

For Jenny, the community is the most important thing. Everybody brings bits of sunshine in and the result is pure harmony. Like a warm hug. It’s already in her visionary mind the project of sharing this heaven with people in need, running rescue programs to help troubled minds. According to psychological studies and experimental projects, it takes three months to introduce any longterm transformation. “We all grow beautiful flowers if we get the right context”, she says warmly, “here everyone can find an idyllic setting to find focus and discover the true aspect of who he really is, which is pure divine love”. In other words, happiness.

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Skilled wwoofing with purpose

Traveling can be very expensive, but not if you start wwoofing. Acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, this letters have become a name, a verb and even an adjective, indicating an active approach to visiting a country. Not only you work for accommodation, but you also learn a language, learn new skills, get to know locals and make some interesting connections. Worth mentioning also the amazing people you get to know. It’s a win-win situation.

Working for free has its own benefits. Similarly to volunteering, removing money from the equation frees your tasks from those big expectations of normal life and creates a relaxed environment. Of course you need to reach a certain standard, but somehow it’s different. You actually enjoy what you are doing.

I heard about wwoofing from various friends and travel mates, but I haven’t tried it until I reached New Zealand. And while in places like Kawai Purapura Yoga Retreat I was asked to work on unqualified duties like gardening or accommodation setting, I also find a way for a skilled and more rewarding job. This happened at Sacred Earth Retreat, a paradisiac environment on Auckland’s West Coast on a protected hill overlooking a gorgeous volcanic beach. Small and family-run but with a high potential and a long-term project to bring a positive change in troubled souls, it was the perfect organization to help. With my partner and favorite team mate, I offered to promote the place with our professional communication activities. While I interviewed people and wrote a feature, a press release and a fact sheet highlighting the best features of the retreat, he prepared three short promotional videos to help the future customers to dive in the magic of the place. Eventually, in just over two weeks we were able to deliver a rich press kit that they can now use to grow their business.

The idea is to find meaningful activities and help them to grow and reach a wider audience. Share what we like. Promote good changes. Of course all this can’t always be made for free, but every big project needs to be tested somehow, isn’t it?

Visuals as Anything

It started for fun in front of a curry plate, a white page, a few creative minds chatting and the ultimate goal to help the community out. A couple of months and some curries later, we can finally see the results hanging on the walls of Lentil as Anything restaurants: 16 colorful posters featuring happy faces and powerful messages that will make you laugh.

Jan H. Stoerkel arrived in Australia nearly a year ago in search of a meaningful change in his life. To his corporate regular job in Berlin he preferred an exciting adventure and decided to leave for the unknown, working as a freelance while exploring this big wild country. He opened a blog named Visual Walkabout where he could keep track of his life journey, packed his equipment and he was ready to travel Down Under.

The idea of Essentials of Lentils was born in Sydney, where he fell in love with Lentil as Anything Newtown. Attracted by the delicious vegan food, the good vibes and the feeling of inclusion that he immediately had as he stepped in, he became an habitual customer. He enjoyed the time there, made good friends and eventually started to participate as waiting staff. And it’s when he met Nicole Khoury, Volunteer & Community Coordinator in Sydney, that the magic happened. Inspired by her words, his creative mind started to think about a different way of helping.

“I noticed that people do not always know everything that goes on in the community space”, says Nicole. “For many months I had this idea floating in my mind to visually communicate the core components of Lentils”. Then she met Jan and they started brainstorming. Why don’t we play with photos and texts to show that every single volunteer is a hero? How can we communicate the complexity of Lentils’ world? How to share our values, be appealing and encourage everyone to join? How can we improve our image?

As we know, keeping alive a sharing community is not easy. Someone may think that not having a price on the menu means you can eat for free. Others might not understand why food is vegetarian, tables are full of smiling strangers with different background and social status. They may underestimate the value of this not-for-profit that proudly stands on a strong network of volunteers and kind donations of time or money. Or, not knowing that for many of our volunteers it also represents a stepping stone into the workforce and a tool for community development, some people could even complain because of the relaxed atmosphere. Talking to customers, friends and other staff members, Jan and Nicole thought that maybe this can be fixed with more – and different – information.

“Even if you know Lentils already, you may miss something”, says Jan with passion, “with these visuals I wanted to show all the facets of this beautiful community: the quality and presentation of the food, the interesting workshops, the effort that every superhero here is giving any single day need a professional look that will meet a higher standard and will give a boost to Lentils’ image”. And he did. Seven days of photo shooting in the workshop space, over 1300 shots, 53 volunteers involved, more than 20 meals involved, countless hours of post production, lots of chai, lots of love.

Not only. As a thank you gift from Jan and special souvenir, all the models and helpers that participated had the opportunity to get some portrait photos. The make up artists were enthusiast students thrilled by the chance to get some experience. Some of the photo equipment was bought from the recycling shop Reverse Garbage and are now part of the tools available in the workshop space in Lentils Newtown. Even part of the clothes used for a shoot were gently offered by the Red Cross shop down the corner. When you put together people with a positive can do attitude, synergies happen. Like with Adam, a talented autistic guy that happened to be around at the right time and unexpectedly got a photoshoot for his t-shirt e-commerce Adam’s Apples. While most of the models were selected to show the diversity of the community, many of them just popped in and joined the shooting for fun.

“I liked that the project was a collective effort”, Nicole comments. “Volunteers were involved in the pre-production planning as well as production itself. All the volunteers were cast over a week each attended a day of shooting without knowing much about the project. This made it a lovely surprise and created a great energy.” And when they saw the finished result, they were elated and grateful, although a bit embarrassed to see their face on such a high-end presentation.

As Ken Baird, Operations and Communications Manager of Lentil as Anything Thornbury says, he and his team were delighted when Jan reached out to show them Essentials of Lentils. “The time, energy, commitment and love put in to the project is commendable and sums up the Lentil experience today. Full of insights into volunteering, food, environment and community, its’ a must see for those wanting to understand more about Lentil as Anything. We are thrilled to showcase it at our Birthday Party on Oct 14th.”

In fact, the posters will be exposed in Melbourne Thornbury during the second birthday party next Saturday Oct 14th and in Sydney Newtown after its renovation this month. Maybe someone will help finance a broader distribution of posters and postcards, maybe we will be able to see the visuals arounds our cities and collect postcards from bars and shops. Everything is possible, stay tuned.

Article published on Lentils as Anything website

The social challenge

“You need to try this place”, said my hippie friend Sam, “it’s a vegan restaurant, it’s socially responsible and there are no prices on the menu!”. How is it possible? The staff is composed by volunteers, the food is partly donated, everybody is welcome to sit at the table and customers pay by donation according to how they feel and how much they can afford. Easy.

This is how I came across the wonderful world of Lentil as Anything, a big family that I’m happy to be part of.

Founded in 2000 by Shanaka Fernando, Lentil as Anything is a social experiment based on the idea that everyone deserves a place at the table. A pure principle of inclusion, meaning that you can enter the restaurant, sit close to anybody and feel welcome. No matter your social status, your background or your economic situation. No matter if you are broken, nerd, gay, fat, fit, vegan, breatharian, gluten intolerant, gluten addict, disable, anarchist, hippie, vip, homeless, crazy. Whatever, there’s a place for you.

In every tradition, eating represents a shared moment, when you sit with your peers, friends or family, spend time together, cook together, have a chat, relax, sometimes even argue. But our city lifestyle makes us far away and alone. You don’t usually sit at the same table with strangers, or talk to people from another table. But if you stop a second and think about it, it’s sad.

Coming from Sri Lanka and having travelled extensively in third world countries, Shanaka wanted everybody to be able to share a meal, stories, skills. Social justice, open mind, meaningful change. In 2000 he opened the first tiny cute restaurant in Melbourne St Kilda, and from there it’s history. Now there are three restaurants in Melbourne, one in Sydney and there are rumors of future openings around the world.

And it’s not only about food. It’s also community space, restaurant, cafe, workshop area, brainstorming studio, talent playground, personality development gym, network field, meeting place. You can find awesome vegan food with always different delicious recipes and high quality presentation, served by smiling volunteers in a friendly creative environment. You can read the weekly calendar or just pop into the workshop space and join an acro yoga class, learn how to do crochet, play with pencils and paint, listen to live music and much more. All run by volunteers, all paid by donation, all for fun.

It’s a place where you feel welcome, accepted for what you are, challenged to improve your skills, free to do let your personality flow. A place where you will meet amazing people, listen to stories that you couldn’t imagine, found synergies that you didn’t expect, maybe even change your life.

And it’s not-for-profit.

VIRUS BRINGS 30,000 TROLLS IN EXCLUSIVE COMMUNITY OF BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Picture: Nina Matthews Photography

It was probably a funny joke, or maybe there was a message beneath the hacker action that allowed 30,000 ugly people to accede the dating and networking community BeautifulPeople.com.

Being the largest community of attractive people in the world with 700,000 members, the club is reserved to good-looking people, who decide if new applicants are worth to join the site.

But last month, something went wrong: Shreck virus – how they called it – brought down this normally strict “rating” stage, allowing anyone to be accepted, regardless of looks.

Continue reading “VIRUS BRINGS 30,000 TROLLS IN EXCLUSIVE COMMUNITY OF BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE”