In the Maori language, "Mana" means power.
There's something in the earth at the Mana Retreat Centre in Coromandel -- something that makes you not want to wear shoes; to feel every root as it passes underfoot.
The young chef, brought in to pinch-hit for the Druid goddess that usually mans Mana's beautiful old kitchen, hitchhiked from town to get here for her first shift. As we chopped a mountain of leeks, she mentioned to me that the carful of Maori fishermen that picked her up had something peculiar to say about this land. You see, there's a Maori burial ground here. It's not far from the peak of the mountain that crowns at the top of Mana's twisting network of bush trails. The Maori don't come here. It's too holy. It's too powerful. They look up through their eyebrows at the people that do.
Damn right, it's powerful. When we're bouldering at the mountaintop, I can almost feel a heartbeat through the rock under my hands.
We didn't come here for magic. We came for the generous work-trade room and board, for the (more than ample) vegetarian cookery, to learn how to coax armloads of vegetables from pristine soil, for the promise of beauty in the photos on Mana's ancient website. I wanted the physical and spiritual space to expand my yoga practice.
We got magic.
We got tarot cards so incisive that it stings to read them aloud. We got a forest that listens, and watches, and whispers. We got a tidal estuary that breathes sunshine. We got a hilltop sanctuary that erases time when you sing inside it. We got a psychic belltower. We got a space so full of nymphs, spirits, gods and ancestors that they almost crowd the space.
The Maori were right. Being here is to take a risk -- the risk that living in a space this charged, day in and day out, will change the very root of you.
I'll embrace that risk.