Just when I think I’ve arrived at some sort of meditative state, I lose all concentration and open my eyes.
In front of me, I see Miguel Angel Alvarez, wearing only a straw skirt and wielding a spear. He has his arms spread wide and is looking to the sky as he chants in his native Maleku. He slowly walks around a bonfire in the center of the thatch-roofed hut as fellow members of his tribe beat on small drums.
Across the hut, people are sitting and holding hands and swaying with their eyes closed. To my right, the woman holding my hand is rhythmically cooing something sweet, while the man holding my left hand is humming something that sounds more like a sputtering carburetor. I try awkwardly to find a humming noise that will harmonize the three of us in our meditation. All I manage to muster is a guttural churning-humming noise.
Again, I’ve lost concentration.
This ceremony, known as a full moon meditation, is a monthly cleansing and spiritual ritual hosted by Ecolodge Lago de Coter, high in the hills of Nuevo Arenal in north-central Costa Rica. Once a month, Alvarez, a member of the Maleku indigenous group, leads this spiritual gathering with the intention of uniting the energy among the participants, guiding them through a session of deep self-introspection and reminding them to connect with Mother Earth, she who has provided us with this existence.
“We are all the same,” Alvarez tells the group. “We all have eyes, heads, ears, skin, bones. We are all humans. We may have different hair, skin colors, languages, families or homes, but we are all the same. We are all united by Mother Earth. The only difference is the paths we take.”
Alvarez, whose given Maleku name, Majictur, means “spirit of a warrior,” asks the participants to open their hearts and minds during the three-hour meditation session, held in a hut in the thick of the forest on the lodge’s property.
For a meditation novice like me, sitting barefoot and holding hands with humming strangers in search of spiritual enlightenment is a pretty considerable deviation from normal weekend activities. Despite the encouragement to open your mind and heart, some internal restraint hinders your progress. Most people aren’t accustomed to spending uninterrupted quality time with themselves without distraction or activity. It makes arriving at a meditative state pretty challenging.
The key to achieving some semblance of meditation, it seems, is allowing enough time to exfoliate the layers of our busy brains. Somewhere during the second hour, after whittling away layers of initial cynicism, my mind finally arrived at a point of relaxation and calm.
“Many of us choose to have lives where we run around like mad, losing ourselves in stress, or having money, or making more money, or buying material goods,” says Fabiana de Oliveira e Cruz, manager of Ecolodge Lago de Coter. “When you really allow yourself to remove those things from your mind for some time and focus on the Earth, if you truly put your heart into the experience, you can feel things. You can evoke emotions you might never have experienced because you haven’t taken the time to allow yourself to do so.”
Putting heart into an experience is what de Oliveira has done at Ecolodge Lago de Coter since taking over management a year and a half ago. The lodge, which opened in 1990, changed management in 2004. After a few slow years, in 2009 the lodge was slated to be converted into condominiums; that’s when Oliveira stepped in.
“When I heard it was going to be made into condominiums, I couldn’t stand back and watch it happen,” de Oliveira says. “This is a sacred place and sacred land. It is a divine location. There are places in nature that have stronger energy than others in the world, and the energy in this location is powerful.”
The energy of the location is indisputable. High in the hills of Nuevo Arenal, the lush, 300-hectare plot overlooks placid Lake Arenal and smaller Lake Coter, considered by the Maleku to be one of their most sacred spiritual grounds. The elevation of the lodge also puts it in the thick of the cloud forest, where mystical swaths of clouds roll through at any hour of the day. On some mornings, the clouds are so thick that visibility is lost 10 to 20 meters ahead of you.
In keeping with the sanctity of the location, de Oliveira redesigned the lodge to be a meditation and spiritual getaway. The lodge offers several forms of meditation therapies and ceremonies such as the full moon ritual, as well as prayer and massage rooms. There is a large, relaxing living room in the center of the lodge with a fireplace and comfortable lounge chairs, as well as a colorful kitchen area with large paneled windows overlooking the property. The food here is delicious and largely organic, as many of the fruits and vegetables are grown on the property. The lodge is presently being reviewed by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) for its Certification for Sustainable Tourism.
The lodge’s 32 rooms are as tranquil as its meditation programs. Twenty are situated atop a hill, with big windows overlooking the two lakes and surrounding hills. Each room has two large beds, hot showers, closet space and a small dining nook. Outside the rooms, several meditation spots are set up throughout the property: circular rock formations, small temple-like observation rooms and benches with views of the lakes. The 12 rooms in the central lodge area offer a quaint, peaceful setting with walls painted by local artists and private bathrooms.
“The principal objective of the activities we have here is to return us to our roots and our base, to remind us that we are all one, and that we have a common energy,” says Katrina Kay, assistant manager at the lodge. “Sometimes we lose ourselves in the world and become distracted with all that surrounds us. This is a place that allows you to return to the Earth and re-establish your base. We are all connected to Earth, and the goal here is for visitors to rediscover that in their own unique way.”
At the end of my weekend stay at the lodge, I had a renewed sense of calm. While the pace of regular life returned the following work week, whenever I needed to find a moment of peace, my mind returned to the forest, lost in the clouds, sitting on the Earth, reminding me that some deeper level of human interconnectivity exists. You just have to take the time to look for it.
Nuevo Arenal and Lake Coter may be reached from Cañas on the Inter-American Highway or from La Fortuna, east of Lake Arenal. About 3 km west of the town of Nuevo Arenal, following signs to Ecolodge Lago de Coter, head north on a dirt road 3 km to the lodge.
Rates range from $50 to $120 per night, depending on the room and number of visitors. Breakfast is included in the rate; lunch and dinner are available for $8 to $15.