Love In Touch: The BeWater Thai Massage Gathering

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

–Bruce Lee

Beauty. I was surrounded by the epitome of the word for two soul filling weeks in the tiny area of Osarella, a few kilometers from Orvieto, Italy. An incredible villa on a remote hillside vineyard would be my playground and home for the BeWater Thai Massage Gathering. The house belongs to my new friend Valerio’s uncle, a famous composer whose many gold and platinum records hang in the hallway. Not just any ordinary house, the towering ceilings, ornate bathrooms, well manicured gardens and olive and grape vineyards, and astounding views from the immense balconies made this house truly extraordinary. The olive oil produced here is considered one of the top 10 in the entire world! I never knew olive oil could have such a pure and fruity taste!

But what made the place truly special was the 60+ shining souls who would fill it along with me. I arrived a few days before the festival begin to help prepare for the gathering. In these days I became close friends with Niko and Depi, two incredibly devoted workers. Depi was 8.5 months pregnant at the time yet had the energy of a 6 year old at a birthday party. I immediately connected with my brother Niko, who is a tour de force with tools in his hand. We set up the campground and helped to build a compost outhouse, named the Circle of Life, complete with a small library for those who like a little leisurely read on the john. The main work involved reclaiming a gigantic bay of an old barn that used to house machinery and turning it into a stunning Shala, complete with absorbent tatami flooring and beautiful tapestries. As the participants of the gathering arrived and filled the Shala it became a truly special and sacred playground.

Each day started with meditation and yoga, followed by two four hour workshops lead by some of the most knowledgeable and respected teachers within the Sunshine network, or the entire Thai massage community for that matter. We learned how to use our elbows and knees from Ivan (who I bumped into in Rishikesh and helped turn me on to the festival as he twirled his curly ringlets between his thumb and forefinger) and how to use reciprocal tension from the ninja master himself Till (who bested me each time we played ninja, I’ll try to redeem myself at the Barcelona Yoga Conference when I see him again).

We learned how to encourage effective breathing from ‘Jungle Man’ Marek, who definitely brought the jungle with him as he dove over a roaring fire headfirst on our last night. Spiros displayed the art of Chi Ne Sang, abdominal massage that treats the internal organs to affect the entire body, sharing his philosophy on life in an eloquent manner that stresses the interconnectivity of life. Thierry brought some rocking and rolling techniques with a dynamic Thai massage workshop that had our shoulders singing happy songs by the end. Siggy and Sandra brought some really juicy yoga based stretches that are very practical for adjusting in a yoga class.  (Bali and Laurino also lead workshops I missed while helping in the kitchen.  Word around the camp was that they were pretty special as well.)

I was working half the day in the kitchen alongside the other karma yogis chopping, peeling, stirring, cleaning, and performing quality control taste tests. We enjoyed some delicious meals, I never imagined that millet could be used in so many tasty ways or that putting cilantro in strawberry jam makes your knees shake! One of the superstars in the Kitchen was David Bread (his adopted last name for the week), who brought a strain of sourdough that his family has kept alive since the 1800’s. That’s right, over 100 years of bread dedication! The bread was incredible and he was a maestro working the huge brick oven, cooking five pizzas at a time as we turned out well over 30 pizzas for pizza night.

Before we began preparing each meal, some combination of Myrto, Matthias, Gabrielle, Irene, Ivana, Om, Andreas, Rafaella and myself gathered hands in a circle and set our intention to let our love be transferred to the meal we were about to prepare. If you’re in a kitchen in Italy and not cooking with love you’re missing the key ingredient!

Speaking of key ingredients, every festival needs some singing and dancing. Valerio is a composer and performer himself and we had no lack of singing bhajans and popular music alike. During a concert one night we all draped our arms over one another’s shoulders, swaying back and forth as Andreas’ melodious voice belted out Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’. ‘And with each breathe she drew that hallelujah…‘ It truly felt like each breathe in this envyironment was one of devotion and celebration.

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On the last night of the festival we had a ceremony around a roaring fire. We wrote something on a piece of paper that we wanted to rid ourselves of and cast it into the fire. We then wrote something we desired on another piece of paper and put it into a hat. The hat went around and we drew a paper blindly, taking charge of helping the anonymous wish to come true. Serendipitously I drew my own wish, despite less than a 2% chance of this result unfolding. I now had to accept ownership of my wish to make it a reality, the universe was telling me I have no excuses. ‘To give freely without expectations’, my own decree reflected back by universal demand.

And what was on that piece of paper cast into the fire? ‘Hesitation’. So at the end of the ceremony when someone suggested jumping over the roaring fire, I suppressed that natural urge to hesitate and made the leap with my fellow brothers and sisters.

The day after the festival we explored the town of Orvieto which we had viewed each night in the distance from the massive villa balcony.  Keeping with the theme of the time it was filled with beauty as well.

I arrived in Orvieto knowing only two people, and left the member of a big family. Such is the power of the essence of Thai massage: loving kindness in touch. Keep flowing, keep growing. Be water my friends.

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