Bhakti. The perfect word to describe my experience in Maui, Hawaii. The meaning as written on its respective Wikipedia page: In Hinduism, Bhakti (also spelled Bhakthi; Sanskrit: भक्ति, literally meaning “portion, share”, from the root bhaj- “to partake in, to receive one’s share” refers to religious devotion of a devotee in the worship of the divine. I certainly partook in my share of divine thrills, chills and shrills. Exciting hikes off-trail, scrumptious gelato, and the honour of meeting, Ram Dass.
I went to Maui for a yoga retreat, but I didn’t know until I arrived, that Maui was surging with spirituality. I didn’t need to be in the retreat centre to experience it. Yoga studios, alternative medicine, spiritual healers, farmers markets, health food stores and health conscious restaurants are abundant. Hippy surfers? Yes, lots of them on the island too. The vibe around the entire island is awesomely conducive to this lifestyle. Very different from what I recall of Oahu.
I stayed in quaint little room with a skylight which through I could see the sprawling branches of a banyan tree that stretched out above the rooftop like an umbrella. While lying in bed at night I could see the stars and felt the magnificent sunlight that welcomed me in the morning.
The retreat centre was about a 20 minute walk into the town of Makawao. One main intersection made up the town, which had a great Italian eatery and coffee shop, a Mexican restaurant, a deli & sushi bar and of course, a yoga studio.
I don’t even think I met a true Maui local. Everyone seemed to have come to Maui to spend time ‘finding themselves’, and those who originally came to ‘find themselves’ found themselves a place to call home either to escape the annual harsh mainland winters or to settle permanently. Almost all 14 days I spent in Maui were blessed with warmth and sunshine. Never mind the great weather, the peacefulness and laid back atmosphere is hard to escape and I found it easy to relax into the flow, and leave the bustling metropolitan mindset aside.
My daily schedule was packed with activities. Most days began with meditation and a yoga practice. The reminder of the day was spent on road trips, hiking or at the beach. A trip up to Haleakala Crater had us up at 3:45am to drive to the top of the crater to watch the sunrise. It was so spectacular that words couldn’t describe. There was a thick blanket of clouds just below the top edge of the crater. It created an illusion of the ocean with white caps and silhouettes of other peaks and ridges of the volcano that were shaped like boats and whales breaching in the distance.
A drive to the Seven Pools of Hana at Ohe’o is a must. WARNING: high likelihood of experiencing motion sickness on this tour. The road winds…a lot. The tourist maps indicate a 5 mile stretch of the road that is not for rental cars to be driven along. I can say this now that our cars were returned without issue, that the road is drivable. If you commute along 401 or down Dufferin Avenue after rough winters, and you haven’t lost parts of your car, you’re golden. The 5 mile stretch is paved like patchwork as if ice cream-sized scoops of asphalt were thrown in to fill the holes and never flattened out properly. The ride isn’t dangerous, just bumpy and jiggly. My only advice is to check the oil level of your car and fill up on gas before setting out for the day. And don’t forget your camera!
At the eastern most end of the bumpy 5 miles is a general store. Its one of the only places to stop at buy a snack and use a clean outhouse (with proper porcelain toilet) along the main drag. Its good to have snacks or a lunch packed to bring on the drive or picnic once you reach Ohe’o.
The most gorgeous part of this drive was that the ocean never left your side, but the surrounding vegetation and terrain varied from grass-covered lava rocks, rain forest, banyans, dry farmlands and waterfalls.
A perfect end to everyday in Maui was a stop into the Paia Gelato/Hana Picnic Co. for some Sandy Beach gelato made with peanut butter, coconut and salted caramel. Hands down, best gelato I had on the entire island, maybe even the planet!
On the last day of our retreat program we had the privilege of meeting Ram Dass. His presence, even in silence was incredibly moving. He is a practitioner of bhakti yoga, and you could feel the love and happiness he was exuding. Ram Dass made deliberate eye contact with each and every one of us to welcome and acknowledge our souls into his home. After an opening chant in his living room, he invited us into his pool for a couple hours of his teachings. This was one of those incredible moments in life that no words can explain.
Maui is definitely a place that promotes bhakti in its true practice of cultivating love and devotion to the divine. A heavenly island filled with magic and transcendent qualities which I can’t wait to revisit.