When I first moved to Singapore more than four years ago, I tracked all of my expenses on an Excel spreadsheet. The days were on the rows and I had columns for different categories: rent, utilities, food, transportation, groceries, and a generic column for all other things like books, movies, tickets to plays and concerts, museum passes, trips to the spa, etc. It wasn't too long until I realized that the "others" column was the quickest to grow. I changed the label to "self-growth" to help justify the expenses. Soon, my friends and I were organizing regular Self-Growth Saturdays or Sundays, and it helped me feel much more settled in this home-away-from-home - while still keeping my expenses in check.
My Self-Growth column in 2012 is made up mostly of traveling expenses and the most significant (but not the most expensive!) was an eight-day Ignatian silent retreat to Isla Culion in Palawan, the westernmost part of the Philippines. It was a 3.5-hour flight from Singapore to Manila, a 45-minute domestic flight to Coron, a 30-minute drive to the ferry, a 2-hour scenic boat ride, and a 5-minute tricycle ride before I got to Culion's Hotel Maya. Perched on top of a hill and overlooking the ocean, the former dormitory now humble hostel is training ground to students of the Loyola College of Culion, the sister school of my Jesuit alma mater. The spartan accommodations combined with 5-star hospitality and the non-stop ocean breeze was all I needed to retreat and reflect.
The week I spent in silence, reflection, and prayer was the best way to prepare and celebrate Easter. I came with an open heart and a blank journal; I left with a happy heart and not enough pages or words to contain what happened there. It has been more than seven months since and I still can't seem to capture my experience on paper. I have hundreds of photos to help tell my stories, but I have not had time to organize all of my JPEGs. For now, here's a glimpse: a short post I shared with an Ignatian spirituality site called Picturing God.
It may not have been my biggest expenditure in 2012 in terms of dollars spent, but it was a huge investment of time and spirit spent in one place - and I gained it all back a thousandfold. My Self-Growth column is full to the brim.