My three days of rest and relaxation in the middle of a lake in Laguna, Part 1
In Caliraya, an island retreat house and an idea of “intentional” self-care
Oct 23, 2019
Let me begin by saying that, apart from the title, this has very little to do with Ottesa Moshfegh’s masterpiece. No, I do not knock myself off for three days with downers in this one because for starters, I cannot afford to disappear for that long and live off my (non-existent) inheritance.
This story starts rather with a friend, a very productive colleague who for as long as I’ve known them, has been fully consumed by their supposed “love” for the work they do. That was until one day they felt they couldn’t do it anymore for a mix of reasons: personal, psychological, and physical.
I used to warn this friend about being too into the job. By that I meant doing things beyond office hours, working on weekends, and just like the comedic illustrations of Adam J. Kurtz said, taking everything too personally.
We are, as Kurtz put it, doing what we love and getting paid reasonably yet are still not any closer to the Confucian standard of never having to work a day. Instead, we are “working super hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and taking everything extremely personal,” far from the late great Toni Morrisson’s four-pronged work-life balance ideally, which goes something like “You make the job, it doesn’t make you; You are not the work you do, you are the person you are.”
They have since quit, recovering from the stress they’ve accumulated over the years of working on and off. I don’t blame them, though. Despite projecting a facade of having their sh*t together, they have their limits. They were later diagnosed with hidden depression.
I try to catch myself whenever I’m feeling like I’m close to burning off the end of my candlewick. I am lucky my employers are understanding and that our workplace has relatively better employee treatment schemes than other jobs. We, for example, can work remotely on Fridays or offset any work done outside of official working hours by taking a leave.
But these prove to be only extra measures in place as far as employee mental health is concerned. I find that despite these conveniences, work stress is still very hard to manage especially when combined with external factors like political and climate anxiety (very real, mind you), the grueling daily commute, or the rising cost of living among others.
By the middle of this year, I was already deep in stress, swimming in anxiety, faced with a backlog of duties I have neglected despite my best intentions. So when my editor asked if I wanted to go to this retreat in Laguna—even though I knew that at the end of the stay it would be an added tab to my workload—I said yes
Caliraya is a man-made lake down in Laguna. I only learned this fun fact on the way to the location one Monday. This is despite the fact that my province Rizal is right next to it and I’ve passed through it many times on my way to Los Baños back in college.
This community uphill was built sometime during the American occupation but is now mostly known for its watersports amenities and a water park complete with slides and boats. This, however, is but a slice of the entire lake’s charm. There are many islands both inhabited and bare in Caliraya Lake.
One of such was recently turned into a vacation home/retreat house by an American and German couple named Martha and Udo Goebel, whose work in counseling, therapy, psychology, theology, and other related fields now influence their advocacy to help people who are in near-burnout conditions to destress and get in touch with nature.
They founded Caliraya LifeConnect, a restorative residential community and the first intentional self-care center in the Philippines.
Yes, it’s not just self-care but intentional self-care. It’s a term coined by Goebel and her business partners to refer to actions and choices that lead to improving one’s well-being. This goes beyond slathering yourself with moisturizers, putting on a hydrating mask, enjoying a warm bath, or treating yourself to dinner. Intentional self-care is less a preventive or reactionary behavior to address stressors or to take your mind off away from them but rather a holistic and long-term commitment to self-improvement to better prepare yourselves for future situations.
The “near” prefix used to describe their target clientele is a necessary prerequisite because the Goebels’ goal is not actually to take people with far more serious preoccupations under their wing but rather prevent others from reaching the same fate.
They do this through a community-oriented approach. A batch of clients is scheduled for a stay on the island, the length of which varies on a case-to-case basis. Some may take a whole week, while others just take three days. During their stay, clients are exposed to activities that foster connection and community while still focusing on the self. Depending on how well you feel after the program, you will either be referred by the Goebels to another medical practitioner to further help them or sent back to the outside world with a new-found mindset that will help them cope better.
Upon arriving at the island, which took us two hours by land plus fifteen minutes by boat, we were greeted by Martha at the receiving area of the property. The compound consists of three separate structures: a two-story pool-side complex with a viewing deck, the main building with an outside stairwell, and a detached kitchen with two rooms in the back and an open area upstairs.
We were each given our room assignments and my room is right behind the kitchen where we occasionally meet to discuss what we are going to do for the day. These revolve around doing yoga and Kaoishikii, a rhythmic dance in the morning, doing individual duties like preparing lunch and debriefing at the end of the day to evaluate our feelings after doing all these.
To be continued…
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