December of 2018, I decided to have my annual Retreat to Bukidnon. It was an unaccompanied endeavor, and I wanted to try traveling via ship on the way to Cagayan De Oro (CDO), the nearest port. It was my first time.
To save, I booked an Economy. I didn't have my cubicle. At 11 PM, I realized how silly that decision was considering (1) I was alone, (2) I had my laptop with me, (3) and it was an overnight journey, so I had to sleep.
Maybe it was a lack of trust in humanity, or perhaps I was careful, but I hugged my laptop bag like a pillow and hoped that I wake up without losing anything.
Thankfully, I made it to my destination in one piece.
Destination: Pine Trees
I'm about to share with you a beautiful place I always go back to every December for my Retreat. I've been here twice, and it would have been thrice already if it wasn't for the pandemic.
The name is Mountain Pines Place. It's a long ride from CDO, but a great one, nevertheless. It's a pretty remote location in Bukidnon, surrounded by pine trees, sunflowers, and random fog. The place is usually used as a Retreat House, but in some cases, it's also utilized for other gathering occasions.
I've been to good places for my retreats before - there was a good house in Negros, and an enchanting one in Laguna - but Mountain Pines has been the most beautiful of them all so far. Also, the place is cold, so it's an excellent excuse to put on my hoodies (I'm a big hoodie guy!).
I've been fascinated by Pine Trees ever since I went to Baguio, so I expected my stay with these trees around me to be another meaningful experience. I know my time in this place would be spiritual, but I didn't expect to have one of the best events in my life.
Let me tell you that story.
Riddled with "Anxiety"
Before coming here, I was full of consternation because the Board Exam results for Licensed Professional Teachers are rumored to come out any day. Everyone has expected me to top the board, and I was the person to expect that mostly.
As a student achiever, topping the board wraps up your college life. Though not explicitly, I know my School has wanted me to get that spot. It was also a personal goal, though I deny it countless times to avoid disappointing others.
The pine trees were a big help. Every time I felt the nerves crawling into me, I would roam around the place and be embraced by their comforts. In our Retreat, we are encouraged to be silent and use most of the day to reflect. It was a perfect opportunity for me to do so, as I followed pathways with my thoughts.
I took my time sitting down at various places, wrote poems, and grabbed the cheap fish-eye lens I got as a Christmas gift to take some pictures.
On top of a hill is a Brickhouse I love going to. It's an uphill walk from the main building we do our activities, but it was isolated enough to talk to myself. Loitering around the brick house also allowed me to check on my phone, for the signal was pretty great. I keep refreshing the website for the results list, hoping to see my name in the top 10 passers.
I remember asking myself, "Why do I badly want to top the board?"
Maybe it was because of a way for me to fill in my insecurities at that time. I felt like my achievements and awards could make up for what I lack. I've always been a people pleaser, so being adored for being at the top would probably feed my ego.
It's also important to note that the week before coming here, I was screened as one of the national finalists of Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines - which was a pretty big deal. Getting the top notcher feat on top of that would be an excellent way to close the year.
My 2018 self was desperate for such clamor, and I remember those things were part of my surface-level prayers.
The first day of the Retreat ended, and there was no news of the results yet. The following day, I woke up with a sight of fog. The sky was covered in blue-ish white, and there were slight instances of rain.
I grabbed a coffee, listened to music, and stared at the window to capture the picturesque scene of the pines being enveloped by the fog. It's a beautiful moment, and it's one thing I could recall so vividly from my viewpoint. The rest of the morning was consumed by fogs. We took our chances and captured the marriage of the mist and pines at different angles.
As the fog seemed to invade the place, so did my thoughts. What if I won't top? I had erasures in my answer sheets. Worse, what if I won't pass? What a slap in the face! How can I live up to the expectations of others? Many questions were racing through my mind, that I had nerves all over me when we did our morning meditation.
But I brought myself to walk - the basketball court and the pine trees. I walked in circles, feeling the comfort of the cold air. I walked in the drizzle, my hair damped and skins chilled. I walked until my heart settled, and I calmed down.
This beautiful place doesn't deserve to be dumped with worries and overthinking.
And the List Comes
That evening, I found myself in the oratory. I talked to my spiritual director and expressed what has been boggling me. It was a long chat but an enlightening one.
I said my prayers, casually checked my phone, and there it was.
The website took forever to load, and I was full of sweat and excitement to check the results. My hands were shaking. The group chats were noisy. My heart was racing.
Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.
It finally loaded, and I saw the list.
I passed, but I did not top.
"Euge, I passed," said my co-worker. His name is Klark. We spent evenings after work reviewing for our board exam, and since he wasn't a master of the sciences and math, I did my best to tutor him. He worked hard to pass, and I did my all to help.
My other co-worker, MJ, also passed. He had a breakdown two nights before the examination. I was worried he'd bail, but I brought him to our Review Center, and we crammed the pre-board items.
Karlo, a colleague of mine and who majored in Math like me, passed the exam as well. We had the same testing centers, and I knew he didn't review much, so I taught him questions before coming into our rooms. And these questions came out.
Klark, MJ, and Karlo were my closest friends in my workplace. I was happy to have learned that they passed - that all four of us passed.
The dinner time was exceptional. I didn't tell anyone I passed the board exam, but the universe somehow conspired. The ambiance of the dining table was well-lit, romantic, and memorable.
I joined a table of strangers and introduced myself as a friend. For the first time in this Retreat, I talked to somebody else aside from my roommate and my spiritual director.
It was an intimate celebration.
A Reverie in the Mountain Pines
Although I did not top, I contemplated how happy I was with my friends passing. It took a great deal of humility and a lot of expression of gratefulness. After all, I had the national finalist recognition already. Topping the board isn't meant for me.
I realized I'd been too hard on myself, too proud, and too self-centered. I've been hungry for such success that I somehow overlooked the great things I was able to acquire.
I remember looking over to this lamp, took a picture of it, and thinking, "What a beautiful place to reflect on all of these."
I returned to Cebu without hints of uneasiness and nerves. I was complacent, satisfied, and thankful.
December of 2019
The following year, MJ, Karlo, and Klark joined me in Mountains Pines for the next retreat.
This particular Retreat was contrary to what I had the year before. This was loud and lively - definitely without anxiety. All of us were roommates, so our evenings were short. Like myself, they have glided on the pathways with pines, embraced the fog, and felt the calmness of the air.
The place was less cold, but still cold enough to put on our hoodies (we're big hoodie guys!).
Mountain Pines is the place I learned to fly away from defining myself from achievements. I learned a lot of lessons about gratefulness, humility, and friendship here. I was happy I got to experience it with my friends. They, too, deserve to have their reveries here.
If the pandemic is over and circumstances allow, I'd go back to this place. Sure, no more ship economy. No more hugging my laptop. No more worries about passing an exam.
Thank you for traveling with me in spirit. My name is Eu, and I am happy to have known you spent a little bit of your time reading my musings in my travel. I hope you enjoy my interesting take on doing travel blogs. I also do blogs on volunteerism, teaching, entrepreneurship, self-improvement, literature, and personal contemplations. If you like this, do check my other posts.