Up a long and winding road, amidst rainforest mountains of central Puerto Rico, is a hidden gem, a chakra at the heart of the island, Casa Kadam. Named as an homage to Kadampa Buddhism, the practice of turning everyday life activities into the path to enlightenment, this idyllic hideaway is the late-life child of Sana and Papo, two expats who long ago realized what’s important in this world – that nothing and everything is one and the same and that we all have the capacity to be our own little Buddhists, bringing love, joy, and happiness to everyone and, in turn, receiving the gift of the same for ourselves.
Though ensconced in jungle vegetation and virtually invisible until you’re almost at its door, Casa Kadam unveiled itself to me after a week of detoxing physically and mentally at the Wigmore Institute, my annual escape to reset and re-center. I would spend days meandering undulating trails and crisscrossing streams, which made me think how funny it is that we spend so much time planning when and where and how to meditate, yet it’s often right in front of us. Whether it was in the tiny, whitewashed Barreal Chapel of Peñuelas, or atop the misty 3,500 foot verdant spine of the Cordillera Range, or along the clear and cryo-cool stream which helped me navigate the forest trails by day and serenaded me to sleep each night, I felt as if I was always in touch with something larger than life, well, this life anyway.
Sitting in the cozy cabin that Papo built and Sana decorates with love, staring out at the forest canopy, I thought it shouldn’t take leaving the comfort of home for a couple of weeks to find the secret to happiness; that should be evident in everything we do, every moment of every day. Yet each night as I sat prana in the nearby pavilion, praying for world peace and singing with my hosts, I couldn’t help but feel both as near and as far from enlightenment as the brilliant scattershot of stars above the silhouette of forest enveloping us. It was a yin and yang unlike most of my epiphanies because I realized that my strong Catholic roots could be nourished by Buddhist tenets just as richly as the fertile soil of the steep hillsides feeds the coffee and cacao and fruit trees I sampled freely each day.
I had rediscovered the secret to fulfillment: that by emptying ourselves, in essence, giving every “thing” away – tangible and ephemeral, coveted and ho-hum, flotsam and jetsam in the stream of our lives – we gain Nirvana even if it’s just for a little while. Casa Kadam will forever be home to that thought.