Castello di Potentino: My Goodbye Reflection
On my last day at Castello di Potentino, after four weeks of wwoofing there, I left behind a Goodbye Reflection. My experience at the Castle was so much more than just about working hard and eating good food. I learned so much about people, and about how I wanted to continue growing as an individual on my own life journey.
I really believe that when we travel and meet new people, those are opportunities where we can either pass the time by in a unconscious blur, or take every learning to make ourselves, the places we encounter, and people we touch, that much more better.
Janice Ho (wwoofer, Oct 5–Nov 1, 2016)
It proves a difficult task to arrive at Castello di Potentino and not feel as though you’ve been transported into an alternate, magical world – just as if you had entered into a fairy tale complete with a castle, colourful characters, an unpredictable plot, all set amidst an enchanted landscape of grand, rolling hills and a painted sky that never disappoints the senses.
Even many days after I arrived, I would find myself standing in front of this surreal panorama, wondering if I was experiencing reality or whether, after my departure, it would all simply feel like a whirlwind of a dream that had happened once upon a time. Either way, I didn’t want anyone to pinch me in that moment.
However, as with all fairy tales, there are twists and turns, antagonists and heroes. The part that usually gets left out are the mundane, tedious moments in our days – but then again, when all is said and done and we reflect back on our time here, those memories tend to blend far away into the background.
Instead, what we recall are the adventures, the tears, the romances, and the uncomfortable moments that create tension and require resolution and understanding.
But I think what we remember the most are the people whom we meet as our journeys unfold. My time at the Castle has been so much coloured by those whose stories I have come to learn – from my fellow wwoofies to the Castle staff, guests and our hosts.
Many arrive on the scene with strong personalities which you must navigate your day and this space with. We come from different parts of the world, speak and think in different ways, and have our own personal gifts and idiosyncrasies.
And yet we come here with similar desires to be in nature and with a like-minded community, and perhaps to explore a different life than what we know.
And so in this micro-universe that is Castello di Potentino, where worlds seem to collide so intensely, it has been impossible to ignore the differences and similarities that so often divide or draw us to certain characters in a plot.
The only difference is that if we can think beyond black and white, beyond foreign and same, and sense that even within each personality is a juxtaposition of character, then we can significantly impact how our story here actually plays out.
In other words, we can follow the path of least resistance and simply act on what is easily presented to us, or pause when we catch hints of something deeper in a person’s sigh, unexpected expression or silence.
Even if we never learn their whole story during our time together here, we must know that people are not so simple as histories are complex and ever-changing.
When we pause, it is an opportunity for us to allow them to change our story and perhaps for us to impact theirs in return. The way these people make us feel – whether it is love, discomfort, disdain, longing, inspiration and so on – tell us much not just of themselves, but of our own desires, insecurities and biases.
For me, being here and taking those pauses has been an exercise in trust – quietly observing, waiting, but ultimately letting go of the hesitation to share myself and to be judged, because I truly believe the more we open ourselves to others, the more that those who are ready will open themselves up in return, as well as open their minds and hearts to differences and to the unfamiliar.
Indeed, these journeys present such rich opportunities to return home not just with wonderful memories of delicious meals and wine, hard but gratifying days of work in the fields, and laughter with friends, but to feel that you have grown as a human being, that you have maybe uncovered something unnoticed about yourself that you can improve upon going forward, or that you have developed a newfound compassion for others – and not the kind of compassion that is easy to give when we are instinctively empathetic, but compassion for those who we can’t so readily understand or accept.
Perhaps this isn’t quite the straightforward fairy tale that we’ve grown up with – there are no obvious villains or knights, no marked queens or servants. We each encompass these different roles at different parts of the story – the more we practice embodying a particular character, the more we can relate to others when they are in turn taking on that role.
While the characters of a story will always be what we recall the most, the landscape and atmosphere of the tale’s setting interacts with those people and our experiences with them.
There is something about these Tuscan hills that seems to draw out all of the emotions and heighten the experience we share with fellow actors. The red streaks of alicante grapes racing down the vineyard may invoke the fiery passion brewing inside each of us.
The clouds, when billowing and ballooning overhead, feel ominous, powerful, in control of our fate; but when wisping and curling, calm our minds and inspire expression and creativity.
The majestic, rolling mountains, curving and climbing, tower grandly – perhaps reminding us both of our mightiness and insignificance. Though aged and powerful, they are softened by the green puffs of trees dotting their slopes – still and serene but fueling us with the energy of life.
And the bright blue sky spreads like a canvas on which the Painter in the heavens can choose to swirl Her brush with white shades and a subtle touch, or when the mood shifts, splash hues of grey – pale to charcoal – into a stormy brew to match Her brooding demeanour and stir up our own fury.
Gazing at these scenes, these surreal landscapes – taking in the colours, the moods, the sheer, untouched beauty of it – has evoked every emotion within me.
When I have tried to suppress the weight that inevitably forms in my conscience, the landscape itself has demanded that I remain vulnerable and draw out my heavy sadness for the world, and the passion and expression that has been begging for release.
The hills, the trees – wise beyond their years, literally having weathered countless storms – assure me that they will accept and absorb all that I feel without judgment.
So, in such a magical place of wonder and adventure, does this fairy tale have a happy ending? I truly believe that if we can come out of a chapter in our journey having slayed a few of our own dragons, and having left that place a better one than when we found it, then we will have both found and given happiness.
If we learn to share who we truly are with others, and see the best in people and not just the role they appear to have been cast in, then we will have both found and given love.
And if we trust in nature to provide us with everything else we need in life and respectfully honour its power over us, then we will have both found and given healing and peace.
However, it surely isn’t the end of the story – of our story – as there is always a sequel waiting to be written; but how that next life adventure reads will be informed by what happened in the one before it.
And so I pass on this reflection to you, dear Reader, in hopes that you are perhaps inspired to approach your own chapter at the Castle knowing that so much of your experience here relies on your own choices of how you want to write the script.
All the best in your journey and remember: it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.