I really don’t spend very much time amongst people; honestly, you would be amazed at how little contact I’ve had in 12 years since I gave up work to regroup my health. Outside of immediate family, I meet up with my much-dispersed friends “of old” once every few months and, though I often strike up conversations with strangers in shops and when out walking (I can’t help myself because it’s not that I’m shy), I seldom ever see those people ever again. These days, my most like-minded friends are met across the Internet and, though these can become incredibly intimate, I have become so aware of feeling almost depleted lately for lack of that magical ingredient; the physical presence of other people and the knowing of them beyond just their mental processing, their words and their FB feed. Of course, its something I’ve got used to and have learned to “live with” and yet I know it’s not ideal or healthy, especially as its part of my personality type to need that feeling of being part of a tribe, as I used to be earlier in my adulthood, for my utmost wellbeing.
When I went back amongst people at a vegan hotel called I Pini in Tuscany last week, I admit, I secretly hoped to find “tribe”; after all, we would have that first premise in common – a love of food, without causing harm to other beings. Yet I still hardly dared to expect what came to pass, which was remarkable. In the space of seven days, I connected with what felt like a small family of like-hearted souls, two couples in particular, who not only felt like the tribe I was seeking but like old friends from the moment we met. In fact, from the second we first sat down to dinner, we seemed to pick up from where we had left off in some other incarnation, with hardly a beat skipped in the familiarity of our conversation. Both couples had already been to La Vimea, the “big sister” vegan hotel of I Pini. Some of the other synchronicities we shared, always a favourite clue of mine, were quite incredible or even bordering on almost impossible to believe!
Perhaps as well as the vegan-thing there was something in the air or the water, or perhaps it is because this glorious rural retreat, with its self-grown ingredients, is situated on the 12th degree longitude; an auspicious place to be according to Prof. Carl Calleman, author of The Nine Waves of Creation, who considers this to be the joining place between global east and west or (like the human brain) hemispherical left and right – so, a sort of quantum-hollographic lynchpin and a very dynamic place to situate yourself – and yes I have had many interesting experiences along its length over the past 30 years. Whatever the reason, such as there needs to be one, something magical happened there and I seemed to make up for my 12 years of retreat with 7 days non-stop conversation. In fact, we were frequently the last to leave the dinner table, shooed away by staff wanting to get to bed, and managed to extend at least one breakfast to nearly four hours duration, not to mention all the other impromptu chats and trips out. All of this was an utterly delicious state of affairs to that part of me that craved communion with other wide-awake souls and which had almost given up on it being possible.
In this space, there was no holding back, no dumbing-down…we just said it like it was and covered huge amounts of ground. We took to bringing pen and paper to meals and each took away notes of interesting resources we had pooled. I was astonished, in fact, by how much of usefulness I had to share; information and thoughts that I seldom sense are considered of relevance, value or comprehension to others and yet here we were, the avid audience to each other, gobbling it all up. We also read thought-provoking books that we picked up there and these ignited conversations that were no longer compromised or politely restrained by the need not to offend vastly contrary values in earshot. In short, we got straight down to the business of extending and igniting ourselves to new levels of enthusiasm and intention; fired up and ready to take all that we were sparking in each other back home with us and put it to action.
It made me realise that I had been kidding myself that I could do all this equally well exclusively via internet friendships and virtual discussions. Those can be life-altering and have had such a potent impact on my life in too many ways to list. Yet there was something just so potent about being in each other’s presence, locking eyes over the table, feeling that electric frisson of excitement when the conversation was resumed and never knowing quite where it was going to lead since no one was being guarded or carefully tweaking their words to keep a persona intact. And we laughed such a lot…which was the glue of the whole piece. In fact, there was so much hilarity and enthusiasm and down-right positivity and cheeriness, it was like oil to our wheels. Having worked to keep those same conversations going since returning home I can report “it doesn’t feel the same” at all as just sitting down in the same space together. There was pure magic in the physical meeting of tribe that I no longer feel contented to live without now; I miss it like a deep yearning in my heart and this is only propelling me to seek out other places where I can find my tribe lurking with intent to mingle.
There was one day when we gave two of our friends a lift to the town of Volterra, forty minutes drive away, as referred to in my last post. We were already in the full throttle of a good time when we made our way to the vegan restaurant that we had earmarked for lunch (such a rarity in Italy that I had been taking packed-lunches from the hotel with me wherever else I went) and so we had to laugh when we walked straight into two more of our tribal friends from the hotel. So we made a big table together and, along with Enrico, the owner of the restaurant and a vegan-enthusiast extraordinaire, our conversation ignited into a long conversation that had us laughing and waxing lyrical with anecdotes like some sort of family reunion…which is what it felt like, truly, since we were family in another sense. Enrico has so much energy, passion and vision, and so many eco-projects up his sleeve, that you can’t help feeling like you want to transform the world alongside him, not to mention longing to stay in one of his “smart” apartments nearby so that you can diet on his particular recipe of enthusiasm, innovation and sheer determination several times a day with your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Being stood there in this impromptu gathering in an ancient Etruscan street felt like standing at the centre of a tribal vortex towards which countless more of our vegan, eco tribe would no-doubt continue to find their way in order to be enthused. You got the distinct feeling that Volterra was about to be come a “hub” of such activity, launched by Enrico’s passion.
It was a contagion that infected everyone in the vicinity; and people walking by stopped to do double-takes at our obvious high-vibe (no alcohol involved). There was a family of Americans – not even sure they were vegan – sat inside the restaurant (we were outside so we had every excuse not to mingle) who, by the time they left, was waving and calling out farewells to us, having told us all about the purpose of their trip and where they were headed next. The night after we returned home, Enrico brought his family to dine at I Pini on our collective recommendation and so the enthusiasm party became a cross-pollination between two vegan hot-spots, we are so glad to hear.
That’s a feeling I never got from being one of the mass consensus that munch their way through vast menus full of meaty dishes in one of the endless array of other restaurants on offer in these tourist spots. We could be elbow to elbow with people at every meal for a week, back in those days, and never say a word to each other. Something about being part of this niche plant-based commonality made us eager, bright-eyed, open, enthusiastic and more likely to smile warmly at strangers, then again wryly at the irony of finding ourselves in a place famed for spit-roast wild boar yet never more determined to be how we are against the flow. We were invigorated somehow by knowing we are “the difference” or “the conscious choice point” (even when it presents hardships…such as struggling to find many places you can eat!), in a world that seldom notices what goes on beneath its very nose. It’s as though we were instant family as soon as we walked through the hotel or restaurant door together and the rest of the positive vibe was easy to generate; so just imagine that posibility rolled out to the rest of the world. When the premise of all your most basic human decisions is “do no harm”, you arrive in communal spaces where this is already accepted with all of your boundaries set pretty low and so you allow the free-flow to happen. Yes, we really let it happen at I Pini and the effect was remarkable.
One thing I really noticed about all this, from a personal viewpoint, was how much energy it seemed to give me to live like this for just a handful of days. Normally (and this is one of the reasons I have cut-back so hard on socialising or mingling) just half an hour’s vigorous conversation would leave me feeling floored. Typically, I would go into deep fatigue or even pain and need to stop or even lie down after a relatively short social gathering. Yet while I stayed at I Pini, I was talking endlessly (we all were) for many non-stop hours and I only ever seemed to feel more energised, often going to bed wishing we could have stayed up longer. One day, I laughed to count-up that we had talked to our new friends for pushing 10 hours that day, on and off, and still couldn’t wait to get down to breakfast for more the next morning. It was like we were all catching up on a whole lifetime’s lack of it. To start with, I assumed I was the minority for not having close friends with whom I can so freely be myself and have open conversation in my “normal life” but no, the others we met described the same. Just because you work in an office doesn’t mean you have things in common with all those people; not even regarding the most basic attitudes to life, I was reminded (and I do remember that from being there) so we were all seekers of tribe, and open to that eventuality flowering out of this unique place. The shared premise of our vegan-ness simply acted as a sort of passport to get us into the territory quicker, allowing us to make massive headway on topics as far-reaching as you could possibly imagine. It brought home for me that finding ourselves in like-minded community makes us stronger in every respect and is so life-affirming; and how I had almost allowed myself to forget how much this is true. What had started as a pin-prick of recognition was ablaze at the end of a few short days and it literally felt as though our hearts were expanding and glowing.
Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons we were all there; and why this exceptional place with its relaxed vibe and elbow-close dinner arrangements was created; the vision of its owners whose alpine hotel we had a remarkable time in last year. Love and positivity seem to seep out of the very walls and up through the ground from the moment you arrive there, to be met from above by the golden Tuscan sunshine. It bathes you in a hard to pinpoint yet powerfully familiar frequency that is often hard to find “out there” in the modern world at large and so you gratefully immerse in it. Of course, we didn’t want to leave…but all of us have carried a portion of the feeling back home with us; not to mention that all-important taster of “tribe” that will, hopefully, eject us from our complacent tendency to assume we are all alone in this world and somehow better for it; I’m so done with that self-defeating belief system!
Vegan places –
I Pini Agrivilla – small yet perfectly formed biotique vegan hotel in Tuscany
La Vimea – biotique hotel in the Italian Alps (the “big sister” hotel to I Pini)
Life Bistro, Volterra – plant-based restraurant and retreats in the heart of Tuscany
Books referred to –
The Nine Waves of Creation:: Quantum Physics, Holographic Evolution, and the Destiny of Humanity – Prof. Carl Johan Calleman
How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach – Tobias Leeneart