Here’s an excerpt from my book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia. The book is essentially an 11-week documentation of life with a secretive utopian community, on a small island off the east coast of Africa. I wrote it journal-style, with a conversational narrative, but I believe the themes, experiences and insights covered throughout might be useful – even inspiring – to others.
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Zentauria: The Island of Mind, Body, and Spirit
Day 1 – 4:51 PM (Guest Quarters)
That’s been my mantra today. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that, as I sit here with my laptop, in an isolated retreat house in Zentauria, I feel like I am literally on a different planet. I have never heard of a place that is even remotely like this. I never could’ve imagined this kind of utopian community were even possible on earth, in this lifetime. Yet, I am here, and it is real. And now I am left alone this afternoon to try and digest all I have seen and experienced today.
Since my initial journal entry, it was hard to know what to expect. We connected to a commuter flight in Nairobi and wound up touching down on a tiny airstrip in an east-African jungle. From there, we hooked up with our guides, Chang-Sun and Shoop, the same two Zentaurians who had picked up Ms. W. for her first trip here. She introduced them to us, and it was hugs and handshakes all around. Both of these guys were gracious and welcoming, with auras the size of the Grand Canyon. They were also a couple of characters. They looked like muscular rock musicians who taught meditation at a martial arts academy.
We all threw our luggage into the back of a black fifteen-passenger van, then settled in for a three-hour drive through the primal splendor of Tsavo East National Park and the African coastline, on mostly dirt roads. And while it was eerily devoid of human life, we saw zebras, elephants, impalas, monkeys, and even a couple of lions glancing up from their blood-soaked lunch. This was definitely a little different than the view from the 405 back in L.A., let me tell you.
Throughout the trip, Chang-Sun and Shoop offered up interesting cultural insights about Zentauria. Chang-Sun told us how the basic layout of the island, which is really only the size of a large city, has remained relatively intact since the beginning. He explained that when Zentauria was initially established, the main community of art studios, temples, and home quarters, where the artists and monks lived and worked, was called the Mecca and was built from the center of the island out. Then the warriors established protective villages around the entire perimeter of the Mecca, enabling them to guard Zentauria from all sides. Eventually, the warrior areas evolved into four distinct regions that, to this day, are still known as either the North, South, East, or West Villages. Chang-Sun said it was the combination of the newer, more modern buildings, standing alongside these three-, four-, or five-hundred-year-old structures, which gave Zentauria a unique architectural look and feel. I couldn’t wait to see it.
We eventually arrived at a private dock area and drove directly aboard the small ferry that would take us the last hour to the island. We all got out of the van and loitered around the boat, as we enjoyed counting dolphins and dugongs in the blue-green sea, and watching as that distant speck of an island grew larger by the minute. Once docked there, we all jumped back into the van and drove straight through the thick of the jungle and onto a two-lane highway. Within minutes, we were being waved through a security checkpoint, beyond thick black gates, and into the South Village of Zentauria. It was at this moment that it felt as if we had pierced the proverbial veil of another dimension and driven right into a parallel universe. The whole atmosphere of this place was different from anywhere else I have ever been.
As we descended into the Mecca, it was laid out like a free-flowing hybrid of a giant university campus and a futuristic Eurasian village. There were old stone temples, modern-looking conservatories, and sleek, artsy storefronts, all segregated by multihued flowerbeds and other skillfully manicured landscape. I saw a tall rolling hill of golf-course-green grass, with a cathedral-style museum on top, called the Zucharian. I caught a quick glimpse of its jagged stained glass windowpanes glaring through a flock of sprawling acacia trees.
Another block down, I saw a huge white marble building with majestic Old Testament imagery sculpted into its trim and pillars. This was Central Library. Then, right across the red brick road, was a round granite temple, with classic dragons-and-samurai mural work engulfing its base, like a fire, in brilliant crimsons and purples. The Mecca continued to unfold as a stunning, east-meets-west amalgam of their deeply rooted heritage and ultra-modern innovation and technology.
I figured out pretty fast that every part of life in Zentauria was rooted in creativity and evolution. Everyone here seems to do something to encourage “right-brain” development and nurture their own sense of the artistic lifestyle. Music, books, art, writing… these are all daily components of life, even to those who seem to play more “left-brain” roles. Likewise, there is a reverence for organization, numbers, science, memorization, ritual, and complex technology; key left-brain elements providing a foundation for all of the creative energy. They live the classic da Vinci credo of “study the art of science and the science of art.”
As for the physical, these people are breathtaking in their natural beauty. The women are lean and shapely, with feminine curves and a nurturing sort of sensuality. The men generally have muscular builds, very much like our professional prizefighters, with dark features and longer hair. All the Zentaurians seem to have gorgeous complexions, with super-healthy hair, eyes, and teeth. And yet, for as physically attractive as these people are, they carry themselves without any kind of pretense. They move about easily and gracefully, but without any sense of self-consciousness of their beauty… kind of like lions and tigers. And their way of dress is a physical extension of their individual personas: distinctive yet practical, an eclectic merging of different cultures and signature ornamentation. And by the way, I didn’t see anyone wearing a traditional suit and tie (which remains a style of dress that completely mystifies me).
Our initial interaction with some of the townsfolk was warm, uplifting, and inspiring. These are centered, easygoing people who look into your eyes without any judgment about who you are, what you do, or even why you’re visiting. There was a Zen-like calm at the core of everyone I met today, even those Zentaurians with more outspoken and flamboyant personalities. And again, the auras of these people cannot go unnoticed. They all exude a tangible sense of purity, of balance—even holiness, you might say—but not in a pious sort of way. They are definitely tapped into something around here.
Rigorous physical activity is a major part of Zentaurian culture, as conditioning centers (or dojos) seem as prevalent here as 7-11s do in our country. There, men and women lift weights, do cardio on all of the latest gear, stretch, work on yoga positions, and practice a variety of different fighting styles. Everyone in Zentauria seems to be able to throw a punch or a kick, including the women and children. At a glance, their reverence for martial arts seems in stark contrast to their peaceful nature. But upon watching the joy they take in training, you see that it’s more about the “art” than the “martial” around here. Additionally, you see a lot of people outdoors, walking and biking places, or jogging through the town’s many intricate running paths in any of their dozens of lavishly arranged parks. There are also plenty of hiking trails through the area’s mountain ranges.
On the other side of the scale, libraries, art galleries, music schools, and institutes of study abound throughout the community. Many of Zentauria’s most revered citizens seem to either spend a lot of time in these places or actually teach there. There is an intense spirit of reverence, encouragement, and support for anything dealing with evolving or learning in your chosen areas of interest. Accordingly, I’m told the public not only rabidly supports the various weekly performances or science/media exhibits going on around town by showing up for them, but many will also drop by a conservatory, art studio, acting school, lab, or multimedia center during the day to observe how things are progressing. This is an unimaginable redefining of the word “community.”
As the day unfolded, I noticed a multidimensional richness in the Zentaurians. There are so many seemingly contradictory elements to these people, based on the limitations and stereotypes we’ve cultivated. And yet, with each new person I encountered, I came to expect the absolute unexpected. Imagine… Muhammad Ali playing the sax like John Coltrane; an Einstein-esque elder with an impressive bench press; Bruce Lee finishing up his twenty-sixth novel; a Mother Teresa-type community worker as a jaw-dropping poet; the most prolific gymnast in the community known for her huge, surrealistic murals; and the “custodial arts” guy from the Wisdom Center—the town’s lone retirement facility—renowned for his memory skills, as he can recite huge chunks of the greatest literature upon request, 10,000 words at a time.
As a result, just when you think you’ve summed someone up, you find another layer. It’s like a modern throwback to the classic Renaissance times of old. This place seems to be all about expressing your potential in a way that’s joyous and authentic to you and, in the process, embracing the results, no matter how diverse or eclectic they may be. At the same time, everything appears to get back to the notion of service, of how your expressions and actions may somehow raise the collective vibration and improve the quality of life for others. In this way, it seems that the modern-day Zentaurian is a completely integrated version of the archetypes upon which their society was built. Everyone practices like a warrior, creates like an artist, and serves like a monk. This is truly the island of mind, body, and spirit.
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At lunchtime, we all stepped into a clean and cozy café for a bite to eat. The menu reflected a diverse selection of entrées and side dishes… with one notable distinction: there were only plant-based food choices available. When someone in our party asked about the prospects of a “fish or chicken” dish, our waitress chuckled and politely explained that the only place you would experience those creatures in this community is alive and well, and thriving in the appropriate surrounding habitat. She went on to explain that the raising or breeding of farm animals simply doesn’t happen around here. If you were to see any cows, chickens, or pigs, it would be because they happened to be rescued from a neighboring community outside of Zentauria, and the Animal Guardians elected to bring them here and let them live out their days at Shazza-Quo, a farm-style sanctuary in the West Village. (Animal Guardians at a farm animal sanctuary on a remote-ass African island? This is what the hell I’m talkin’ about, people!)
Chang-Sun confirmed my suspicions: these people live their lives with the principles of nonviolence so deeply etched into the fabric of their morality that they’ve been a completely vegan society for a full generation or two before the word “vegan” was even invented. In short, all life is revered and respected here, and all companion, farm, and wild animals are treated with the same kind of respect and compassion that humans are.
After a delicious meal, we ventured back out and dropped by one of the town’s many distinctive temples. The architecture of these buildings is among the most incredible of all around town. As we stepped into the peaceful ambience of candles, soft lighting, plush décor, hand-carved furnishings, and relaxing incense, the vibe was palpable. This is undoubtedly a space for spiritual renewal, and one that is regarded with great sanctity. There are regular events, speakers, and services held at these places, all designed to nourish the spiritual journey. And at any given time around the temple’s schedule of events, these places are open twenty-fours hours a day for anyone who wants to drop in for some meditation time. Just like we might hang out at a coffee house, Chang-Sun said you can always find at least a handful of people in there meditating… even in the middle of the night, apparently.
As we headed toward our facilities, I thought about Zentauria and all that it so clearly represents. The artist, the monk, the warrior… the mind, the body, the spirit… all of these elements so prominently displayed in their buildings, art, landscaping, schools, labs, gyms, temples and, perhaps most profoundly, their people. They have created a world where all of these elements are woven into their culture. Or maybe it was that, because all of these elements were woven into their culture, they had created this world. Who knows? But if a heaven-on-earth utopia is really possible, this is it for me.
Check out our official Zentauria page here for ordering info and more excerpts.