Three days at a lakeside retreat in Caliraya

You take a boat to get to the Goebels. The boat then makes several swooping turns along Lake Caliraya’s jagged shorelines until, in the distance, the Goebel’s lakeside lodge begins to emerge.

I am here for three days, in what would be a revitalizing reprieve from the numbing torments of the city. We, on the boat, are a motley party of four—myself, a soon to be mom of two, a magazine writer, and an actress preparing to play Lady Macbeth on stage.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

Expat couple Udo and Martha Goebel have set up camp and staff here to run an intimate operation called Caliraya LifeConnect. The agenda for the next three days is to tell us all about exactly what happens here. For now let us make do with LifeConnect’s Facebook hashtags: #RestorativeCommunity, #HolisticWellness, #SelfCare, among others.

Truth be told I’m new to all the wellness lexicon; the brochure lost me at sage smudge. But prior to our early, long drive from Alabang to Lumban, Laguna, Martha e-mailed us a few things to peruse, among them an outline of the succeeding days’ program of activities (a pleasantly amorphous one, I would later learn) and a menu. Charcuterie, cheese, and wine are served on dinners, and a yogurt and granola buffet was to be laid out for breakfasts. While I came with almost zero expectations about what might transpire in what in my work WhatsApp group chat is being called a “retreat”, I figured I’d rather be here than be routinely skipping meals at home. It was a great decision, and the Goebels were warm and marvelous.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

Udo is a theology scholar, and Martha is a human development professional and case manager. Beware that I am grossly underselling the Goebel’s two decades worth of expertise in their respective fields. (In lieu of plastering their CV here, allow me to link you to a short bio on their website.)

LifeConnect describes itself as “the pioneer Intentional Self-Care Center in the Philippines,” with an aim of “facilitating access to holistic wellness resources and individualized support care in a safe environment conducive to tapping into a range of services and opportunities to support therapeutic goals under our scope as a restorative residential community.” Additionally, the center is “a residential option that supports the action plans set out for individuals by their therapists, coaches, and other health and wellness professionals.”

Maybe it is a mouthful for the unoriented, although, truthfully, even after long conversations with Udo and Martha, as well as the insistent prying of my new friends for “examples” of who have been here and who else might want to come, it still remains to be the most succinctly elucidated description of the extensive and comprehensive nature of the Goebels’ new endeavor.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

Repeatedly Martha would jokingly (but accurately) refer to us as “fake clients”, differentiating our group—who, after all, were invited primarily to test the waters of a “media exploratory program”—from “real clients”, and explain to us what such real clients might be doing at any point in his or her individual program, which would ultimately vary on a case by case basis. This would typically include morning routines, community meal-prep, daily and weekly goal setting and debriefing, informational sessions (such as” modules on developing resilience, evaluating core competencies, as well as practical methods of coping and focusing on success,” etc.), and other individual and community activities.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

Before coming to Caliraya, I was adamantly unenthusiastic about the group meal-prep on the program. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much Hell’s Kitchen, or maybe it’s because I don’t really have fond childhood memories of pottering about in the kitchen, with my senses being educated on what would be the aroma and flavor of nostalgia. The limits of my poor imagination just can’t seem to expand to qualify how exactly this might be fun. Surprisingly, the group meal prep was one of the things I most thoroughly enjoyed during my brief stay.

As Martha explained, the goal of the process is not so much to create a community per se, but more the fostering of a familiarity with community practices. Indeed it was a great chance to chat with the others, in a setting that was both laid-back and productive. The sheer hilarity of two adults fumbling with plucking rosemary off the stem is one for the books. I also walked away from that sun-drenched kitchen a new man, with the knowledge of a recipe or two up my sleeve. I have since adapted Martha’s hefty burger recipe that was simply glorious with the speedy, caramelized onions.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

In the mornings we did outdoor meditation and yoga, with the tranquil lake spread out before us. I don’t mean to flagrantly wax poetic about the chirping of birds but, hey, there you go. This was also something that I have taken with me home. Although ideally I would prefer to do it more frequently and more regularly than I manage now (perhaps the absence of the call of chirping birds have something to do with it), I know for a fact that a good stretch in the morning, alongside however brief a dedication to quiet the mind, works wonders, because I’ve tried it.

We started the days early and the nights came early, too. An amicable darkness enveloped the lake immediately after sunset. On our first night a little care package was left in our rooms. Among its contents was a vial labeled “Sleep Elixir”, a soothing blend of juniper berries, black pepper, frankincense, sage, jasmine, and sweet almond oil. I slept remarkably well those two nights. The potion worked!

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

I do not know why we hadn’t thought of doing it sooner but, on our last day, we ventured out onto the lake in kayaks and paddle boards. Kayaking aimlessly, I momentarily thought about the new task at hand: to eventually reconstitute the slow flurry of events of the last three days in a neat tale that would inform an unassuming reader about this remote pocket of life coaching, community cooking, promenades in nature, and much more.

From a journalist’s perspective, I realize the challenge here is how to talk unironically and openly about what could easily be cruelly delineated as glorified shrink-speak, especially in a popular culture that is shy to talk about issues of mental wellness, and where the notion of “self-care” might seem superfluous in the midst of the seemingly nobler pursuits of adult life. While I was never a “real client” of LifeConnect, what I can at least vouch for is the earnestness of its founders, Udo and Martha, and their longstanding commitment to passing on the understanding of the value of introspection, and the matchless vitality that comes from the care and attention to one’s inner life.

Photo: Caliraya LifeConnect

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For more information on Caliraya LifeConnect, visit their website, reconnectlife.org.