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  • circle-of-stones

“You must give birth to your images.
They are the future waiting to be born.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke

“It happened here, among the ironwoods,” Jeanne said. “One night, after several days of fasting in the valley below, I hiked up here to offer thanks to the ancestors of the land for their gifts and knowledge. There on the bluff,” she said, pointing to a stand of ironwood trees. “ I created a healing circle, sat down, and began my prayers.”

“It happened here, among the ironwoods,” Jeanne said. “One night, after several days of fasting in the valley below, I hiked up here to offer thanks to the ancestors of the land for their gifts and knowledge. There on the bluff,” she said, pointing to a stand of ironwood trees. “ I created a healing circle, sat down, and began my prayers.”

“Then I heard the Pueo (Hawaiian owl) flying over me,” she said. “It was huge. Clicking loudly, it circled close around my head three times. Then I heard a strong voice in the wind saying: ‘It’s about time. I’ve been waiting for you.’
All I could think to say was, ‘Well, I’m here now. What do you want of me?’”

Jeanne said, dark eyes smiling. “The voice told me that I was doing what I was supposed to do: bringing people here for healing. The voice said that this land had been waiting for that. I just needed to create an environment for healing, and that the land will do the rest.”

Jeanne leaned against the picnic table, and closed her eyes, reaching deeper into thought. “I knew then that the peuo was the spirit of my father in my last life. During the five day fast, I had seen other flashes of my past Hawaiian life. By then I knew I had lived with my parents on this land, where the retreat center stands now. I lived here on Hana’ula over a hundred years ago.

My beloved mother – for I know I loved her so − planted the medicinal herbs and native trees in the valley. She was an incredible botanist. My father was Ali’i (royalty), and a very great kahuna, or healer. When my mother died of illness, I was devastated. I blamed my father. But his medicine could do little against the western disease that had killed her.
I left the land. My father used to sit up here, chanting me home. But I never returned.”
Jeanne opened her eyes. They were full of fire and vision. She spoke once more.
“Now I’m back,” she said. “Now I’ve come home.”
The breeze swept past her into the garden courtyard of the main lodge. Beyond lay the entrance pool, with its elegant curving lines. Here, and everywhere, building and design reflect the beauty and economy of nature: native woods, natural stone tiles, open air balconies, circular gardens, curving stairways, and decorative water cascades. The green tile roof of the lodge blends with the needled haze of ironwoods. Light green stucco walls catch the morning sunlight above a lower band of imported stonework. Like Jeanne, the lodge seems to have always been on the land, rooted deep in North Kohala’s rich volcanic soil.
Beyond the entrance pool and fountain lies the first of several circular gardens. Beyond that, a plumeria grove (for lei flowers); the soft green of ever- present ironwoods; and finally, the distant meadows and upland forests of the Kohala Mountains.
The land is peaceful, poised for healing. Jeanne Sunderland has indeed, come home. A visionary healer, like the Ali’i father in her past life, she has partnered on the land with her husband Robert, a well-known physician, craftsman, and master gardener. Together, they have cleared thick growth and huge lantana from the valley below to build a boutique lodge, a full service spa, and massage hales (houses) on land that had slept for a century beneath cattle and sugarcane.
Jeanne’s memories of a past Hawaiian life add the mark of personal destiny to a vision she has shared for over a decade with other members of Five Mountains Hawaii, a Big Island organization dedicated to healthy living and conscious sustainability that integrates mind, body, spirit, nature, and community.
“Back in the mid 1990’s, we all shared the vision for a Healing Island: myself, local healers, hotel spa Directors, other members of the Five Mountains Board of
Directors, and the man who inspired us all, Earl Bakken. Earl is founder of Medtronics, inventor of the Pacemaker, and visionary philanthropist committed to the health off all the peoples and lands of North Hawaii. He inspired our vision. He nurtured it. As a result, wellness tourism was born on the Big Island.”
“I was working as Spa Director at the former Orchid at Mauna Lani during that time,” Jean continues. “Like other hotels, the Orchid explored ways to incorporate healing and medical spa retreats into their mix of hotel offerings. It was an exciting time. Everyone talked of retreat centers and healing resort programs.
We hosted several groups at the Orchid. We offered yoga, meditation, vegetarian cuisine, lifestyle management, and outdoor adventure. It worked – to a degree. But we lacked the ability to really foster and maintain a quiet, undistracted retreat setting within the larger world of a luxury hotel. After the yoga or an hour of contemplation, we were once again in the midst of a bustling, though wonderful, hotel life.
Earl agreed that we needed a different venue for retreats. Hotels were too large. Bed and Breakfast Inns were too small. We needed a smaller facility, one that could host 15-30 people in an uninterrupted healing environment.
‘Okay,’ I said to him in one meeting. ‘I’ll build it.’ And my promise was made.”
“We didn’t find the land right away. It took us two years of searching. Of course, you never really ‘find’ land. It finds you. You have a vision. You pray. You hike a lot. But, in the end, the land claims you.”
So it did five years ago, when Mike Gomes, land manager for Surety Kohala Corporation of Hawi, turned to Robert and said: “You ought to have Hana’ula. It’s the prettiest place in all Kohala.”
But Jeanne had already been on that land twenty years earlier.
“I was out cruising in my Hawaiian teacher’s fishing boat,” she recalls. “When we passed the bay here, Uncle Tommy slowed down, and headed for shore. When I asked why we were landing here, he smiled and said his Aumakua (personal god) told him to take me here. So we landed, walked the grassy plain near a old stone canoe house, and left.”
Years later when Robert brought her down the cliff onto the beach, Jean recognized the land.
“I remembered my stop with Uncle Tommy,” she recalls. “I knew then why his Aumakua had spoken. Robert and I hiked back into the valley on that first trip, slashing at the weeds, snaking through cow paths. Suddenly, the land opened up. I made out a river bed, large mango trees, papaya, kukui trees.”
Drawn to the base of a shady slope, Jean also met Tutu, a large pohaku or stone, who presided over the valley with the wisdom and beneficence of age.
“When I found Tutu, I knew I was home,” Jeanne said. “I knew we were to build the retreat center here. I didn’t know about my past life then. I just knew, we were in the right place.”
Jeanne smiled, nodding her head toward the valley. “Since then, Tutu has guided each step of the long and often demanding process of building the center. If we had a question on the land; she was there. If we started to build in the wrong area; she let us know. I’d get discouraged; she would encourage me. I’d need council; she was always there.”
Sometimes Tutu spoke as a thought in Jeanne’s mind, as a knowing, or as audible words. “However I heard it,” Jeanne explains, “Tutu always had something to say.”
Throughout it all, Jeanne and Robert could feel the land coming back to life.
“It felt as if the land were waking up,” Jeanne recalls. “The more we cleared, the more native plants we found: Noni trees and Ti plants. Here a hidden slope. There another section of the old stream bed. And down there,” she gestured, “a group of wise and patient council stones, where Kamehameha I used to meet with his advisors.”
“We cleared former gardens, “she continues. “ We rebuilt the stone walls of an ancient hula platform. We were led to other stones, or pohaku, each set with purpose and
meaning: a sentinel stone at the entrance to Tutu’s meadow, a pair of mo’o stones in the shape of the mythical lizard, an ancient birthing stone.”
“The more I worked the land, the more peaceful I felt,” Jean mused. “I felt as if some beneficent spirit were awakening here. We all felt it: the quietness, the gentleness. You just feel happy here, and relaxed. That’s what my Hawaiian father was telling me in my vision on the cliff, ‘Just bring them here; the land will do the rest’”.
Nearly 60 acres in all, Hana’ula, as the land is called, lies in the region of North Kohala, in the northwest corner of Hawaii Island, where Jeanne and Robert have lived for over 20 years. Rich in history, beloved of her people, North Kohala is a land of waterfalls and deep ravines. It is a land of wave-cut valleys; rugged cliffs; upland meadows; and virgin rain forest. It is a land of spirit and mystery, full of legends and ancient heiau (temples). Kamehameha I, himself, legendary ruler of all Hawaii, was born and raised in North Kohala. One can well imagine that the Gods, indeed, still live here. It’s the perfect place for a Retreat Center that honors the history of the land, and the healing power of nature.
Jeanne and Robert’s land includes a small coastal valley, with a cobbled beach and grassy near-shore plain, surrounded by open upland meadow land. Well-groomed trails lead back into mangoes and kukui trees. Native green Ti plants spring from the slopes of Tutu’s meadow. Papaya grows behind her, beneath cascades and spikes of native flowers that Robert planted in a series of small, intimate gardens atop the eastern ridge.
Though known as Hana’ula, the valley actually lies, like a long quiet pause, at the juncture of two great Ahupua’a, or ancient land divisions: Hana’ula on the west, and Honopueo on the east. Somewhere on the valley floor, along a line heading seaward, one Ahupua’a imperceptibly becomes the other. But the spirit of valley itself lies beneath and beyond all boundary: a hidden realm, ruled by the deep, abiding calm of ancient stones.
Indeed, no one seems to have known much about the land. Jeanne spent two years looking for stories about the valley.
“I went throughout the region asking the elders for stories about Hana’ula. I could find no stories of our valley.”
“Oh there were lots for stories,” she explains. “But every time a kupuna (elder) would finish a tale, he or she would turn to me as ask: ‘Now that’s the land below the school, isn’t it?” and I’d say, ‘No…it’s east of that.’ Or an auntie would say, ‘Now that’s the land below Sunshine Hardware, isn’t it?’ and I’d say, ‘No…its west of that.’
It seemed as if the valley had just disappeared, hidden and asleep beneath a tangle of lantana and weed grass.”
Then one day, Tutu told Jean the name of the valley. “Robert and I were on the land, meditating near the great stone,” she says. “Suddenly, I heard a clear voice say, ‘You’ve been asking for the name of this land. Here it is: Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia’”.
“It means gathering place of peace-giving stones,” Jeanne explains. “That is the name we (and Tutu) have given as well to the Retreat Center.”
Jeanne’s vision for the center includes yoga, meditation, couples seminars, and corporate retreats.
“Yoga plays an integral role in the center,” she points out. “The yoga studio in the main lodge was actually designed by yoga instructors. It includes a hardwood floor, storage shelves, and sliding doors that open out to the ironwood grove. We will have daily classes, along with classes in meditation and mindfulness techniques.”
Yoga and meditation are part of what Jean calls ‘a return to the self”, a sense of being present to life. Nature inspires it. The ancient stones of Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia embody it. Guests are encouraged to find it.
“Practices like yoga, meditation, hula and dance, teach us to be still.
They allow us to have that experience of being present. They bring us into the now.
Once you have had that experience, that moment of peacefulness, you know you can find it again –back in the city, back at work − you know what it’s like. And you are that much more effective, more creative in your life and work because of it.”
We need that more than ever, Jean points out, in a society that strives for speed and multi-tasking. “When you multi-task, you fragment your mind,” she says. “You
literally lose your own self in the distractions of external tasks and demands. You feel anxious. You forget how to relax. You lose touch with you own essential nature.
Here, in our center, we have created an environment where you can find your own peaceful nature again. We teach you techniques for being present. Most of all, we create and hold a space where you can rediscover nature. We have modeled everything after nature. All our gardens are organic. Our power comes from solar and wind. No electrical wires. No grid. Our retreat is totally sustainable. There are no phones in the guest rooms, no TV’s. We have a central media room with computer terminals, phones, and video equipment. But in the privacy of your room, it is only you and the breeze, you and the soft light of morning.”
Jeanne and her kahuna father are right. The land, if we let it, heals the modern split between heart and mind. It teaches us stillness. The valley invites us to listen and walk. Its beauty inspires in us the higher sentiments of awe and wonder. We feel renewed, uplifted. Tutu and the council stones hold a vibration that literally anchors us to the earth. We feel grounded and content − whole again.
“Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia is a place of intentional peacefulness and beauty,” Jeanne says. “Here, guests can explore the deepest of relationships − with themselves, with nature, and with each other.”
Relationships with others are an important part of Jean’s vision. She and Robert encourage couples to come to the retreat center to deepen or heal their most significant
relationships. Their boutique lodge is designed to do that. The guest rooms are large. The baths and showers built for two, not one. Massage hales are built for two. Couples can lose (and find) themselves in the valley: in secret gardens, on benches for two, along wide garden paths.
Stillness, beauty, and loving relations, these are the gifts of nature and of the Center it inspired. Jeanne walks quietly to the edge of the ironwood grove. Below her, waves break on the rugged Kohala coast. A seabird soars over the cliffs. The breeze is
warm and salty, the shade welcome.
“It has been a long journey,” she says, looking back at the lodge. “It has been joyous and hard. It has been scary and exhilarating to build this center. Robert and I have grown so much in the process, as individuals and as a couple. Looking back, would I do it again? You bet. In fact, I had no choice. My kahuna father chanted me home from these cliffs. It took me another half a lifetime, but I came back.”

Karen Chandler
June 2007