In his early 20s, Charles Anderson BA’03, an aspiring children’s book writer, was looking for a catchy pen name that youngsters would remember. Before long, Rolli was born and now, the author, cartoonist and songwriter is enjoying unprecedented success. Latte artist: Runa Pocket

Coffee has long been a beverage of choice for writers struggling to meet a deadline. For Regina creative Rolli (a.k.a. Charles Anderson), it’s more than fuel: it’s inspiration.

“There’s an idea in every cup. Different beans trigger different flavours of ideas. You have to rummage through hundreds of ideas to find one good one,” he explains. Rolli is never at a loss for ideas, as he drinks 25 cups a day. “I think more than 25 would be excessive.”

Once coffee companies got wind of his obsession through a feature in New York Magazine, samples started pouring in, including the notoriously caffeine-rich Death Wish Coffee, a literary-themed roast called Edgar Allan Joe, and what was, at the time, the most expensive coffee on the globe, which sold at auction for $1,000 US per pound. “I make an espresso shot of that on special occasions only.”

Fortunately, the influx of coffee samples has now slowed down to a manageable pace: “It was too much coffee for even me to drink.” One of Rolli’s prized possessions is a portrait of himself drinking a cup of coffee, which was created in latte foam by a Tokyo artist who follows him on Twitter. “That was the biggest thrill of my life,” he says.

Rolli sits on couch
From his self-described strange and solitary childhood, Rolli (Charles Anderson) has gone on to artistic success.

Where it all began

Rolli learned to write by being a voracious reader. He describes himself as a “strange and solitary child” whose asthma often prevented him from being able to play outdoors. His mother was a teacher, so there were always books in the house. He pored over anthologies and other tomes that were over his head at the time, falling in love with Edgar Allan Poe’s work.

From there, he progressed to being “a moody teenager who wrote moody teenage poetry, which wasn’t any good.”

“It was Sam Johnson who said, ‘A man will turn over half a library to make one book.’ Read enough and you’ll inevitably pick up the mechanics of writing, the physics of it.” From there, he progressed to being “a moody teenager who wrote moody teenage poetry, which wasn’t any good.” That phase was short-lived, fortunately, as he went on to study English at the University of Regina.

And then there’s Shakespeare

“I hated Shakespeare as a teenager. His plays are inflicted onto high school students like an archaic punishment. Having instructors who actually enjoy teaching makes all the difference in the world, though. Now Shakespeare is my favourite poet.”

He also took classes on children’s literature. “I’m a whimsical person and a child at heart,” he notes. The children’s writer who appealed to him most was Louis Carroll, with his trademark British wit. “I see that a lot in my own work. Humour is always present in some way, though it can be quite dark at times,” Rolli says.

After graduating with his BA, Rolli spent four years working part-time jobs to finance his passion for writing. Despite a fear of heights, he worked as a roofer. There was also a brief stint as an erotic greeting card writer, which provided fodder for a humourous personal essay that reads like straight-up fiction.

Although he hated Shakespeare as a teenager, Rolli now loves the Bard's poetry.
Although he hated Shakespeare as a teenager, Rolli now loves the Bard's poetry.

Variety is the spice of life

As he diversified into a variety of genres – poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction and children’s literature – he sought out new markets and connections, which meant he could taper off the odd jobs and focus solely on his creative work.

Alongside his writing, he started cartooning, developing his distinctive, quirky style. He had always been a doodler and saw this as a great way to supplement his income. “Writing is very competitive, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. I needed to make more money and faster, because I’m not a fast writer. You can do a cartoon in a day and make good money as long as you sell it to the right place.” The right place ended up being Reader’s Digest, which bought his first cartoon.

Rolli’s cartoons have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and The Harvard Business Review, and his short stories, poems, essays and flash fiction have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post and The Walrus.

He learned to be an aggressive submitter, sending out 50 submissions per month, which was key to breaking into the industry. Today, he sends less than half that, because publications often solicit him:

“I have some main clients that will buy pretty much whatever I send them now,” he says. Rolli’s cartoons have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and The Harvard Business Review, and his short stories, poems, essays and flash fiction have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post and The Walrus. He also does regular commissions for people from Twitter asking him to draw their portraits and for bands wanting him to create album covers.

Rolli gets an agent

Rolli has published numerous books: fiction and poetry include Plumstuff, a recently published reinvention of his out-of-print debut Plum Stuff; The Sea-Wave, which was longlisted for the 2017 Saboteur Award; and Mavor’s Bones: A Gothic Novel-in-Poems, shortlisted for the 2015 ReLit Award. His children’s book, Kabungo, won the Joan Betty Stuchner – Oy Vey! – Funniest Children’s Book Award.

It was also the manuscript that first caught his agent’s attention eight years ago:

 

Rolli's recently published book of poetry, Plumstuff, a reinvention of his out-of-print Plum Stuff.
Rolli's recently published book of poetry, Plumstuff, a reinvention of his out-of-print Plum Stuff.

 

When I read that, it was something that took me back immediately to reading my favourite books as a kid. It had that sense of whimsy and magic and fun and adventure,” says Olga Filina. She signed him soon after. “I think he has a very interesting perspective on the world, and that also comes across in his writing. To me, he feels like he has the best of the incredible classic authors like Louis Carroll or Roald Dahl and something special and unique that is just his.

Rolli with his agent Olga Filina.
Rolli with his agent Olga Filina.

Any work of his I read feels a tiny bit familiar, because of that amazing connection that stands the test of time.”

Filina enjoys promoting Rolli’s diverse body of work. “It’s quite fun, because I get to have exposure to a lot of different audiences and publishing sectors. I like to introduce people to his work; if they focus on children’s publishing, they also find out about his poetry and prose, in addition to his children’s literature projects, and the other way around,” she notes.

“I’ve had lots of feedback from editors who might have considered a children’s project but went on and acquired an adult piece of work from him and have just been so impressed and enamoured by his writing and his style. He can have such a broad and varied career because he works in so many spaces and touches so many categories.”

A key to Rolli’s success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers.
A key to Rolli’s success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers.

Less is more

A landmark of Rolli’s writing is an economy of words. “I try to be as efficient as possible. As attention spans decrease, people don’t have the time or patience for wordiness. I don’t want to be skimmed. An efficient style forces readers to take in every word—or they’d be lost,” he says.

“Time is precious. I try to bring something enjoyable to every sentence and paragraph and want people to feel the time they spent perusing my work wasn’t wasted.” Critics appreciate his brevity. Of Plumstuff, Caprice Hogg of Cloud Lake Literary writes, “This is a book for those who truly love words. The words chosen are descriptive and lyrical and to the point. This shows the talent of the author, because it is no easy feat to bring about emotion with only a few syllables. In good writing and in good art, it is far easier to express oneself in lengthy diatribes; to use words and lines sparingly is an achievement.”

Rolli the early adopter

A key to Rolli’s success is his online presence. He was an early adopter of Twitter and has grown his network to more than 60,000 followers. “It’s a lot easier to sell something when you have a built-in audience that’s interested in your work. You can promote anything you publish, sharing links and attracting new readers and fans,” he points out. Social media has been invaluable to the artist during the pandemic: “If I post a little video of a reading, for example, I get thousands of views—and sell books, too. You’d never get that many people (or sales) at an in-person event. I hardly ever bother with the latter anymore.”

Rolli and fellow coffee aficionado Annabel Townend (aka Dr. Coffee), the owner of The Penny University Bookstore. Townsend's PhD thesis was about ideas of quality in the coffee industry.
Rolli and fellow coffee aficionado Annabel Townend (aka Dr. Coffee), the owner of The Penny University Bookstore. Townsend's PhD thesis was about ideas of quality in the coffee industry.

How do you define success?

He doesn’t stop too often to think about his success, though. “Success is relative. Compared to some, I’m an abject failure,” Rolli remarks. His main goal is constant improvement: “I’ve always been thoroughly unimpressed with myself. That may not be a bad thing, as it pushes me to do better and be better and keep refining my craft,” he says. “I’ve produced a large body of work, but I’ve only just begun. I have a million ideas and ambitions.” Another goal is standing out from the crowd. Throughout his career, he has developed a distinct style in writing and cartoons. He explains, “People can look at it right away and say, ‘That’s a Rolli piece.’ That’s something I really strove for. I try to be as distinctive as I can, so I don’t get lost in the shuffle. If your work doesn’t stick out, you might as well pack it in.”

Randomness allows one to discovers not only new authors but entire fields of knowledge one otherwise wouldn’t encounter,” he reasons. “Randomness is my mantra. It’s the only way I find new books, music, artwork and even friends. Life is random, so one might as well follow suit.”

A people person too

Coffee is not the only thing that inspires Rolli: “People inspire me. I’m a people watcher, an eavesdropper. That’s half the fun of going to cafes or rambling downtown. All the ideas you could ever use in a hundred lifetimes are right there waiting for you – and ripe for the picking,” he says. Rolli also believes randomness is important to inspiration.

“I’ll wander into a shop or library, run my hand along the book spines, and pluck a volume. I don’t follow prize culture. Grown adults with heads on their shoulders don’t need to be told what to read. Randomness allows one to discovers not only new authors but entire fields of knowledge one otherwise wouldn’t encounter,” he reasons. “Randomness is my mantra. It’s the only way I find new books, music, artwork and even friends. Life is random, so one might as well follow suit.”

 With nowhere to go to find good coffee during the pandemic lockdowns, Rolli taught himself “to crudely play the keyboard” and started writing songs, releasing three EPs – Cahoots, Cahoots II and Cahoots III – with collaborator Duke Sims, lead singer of the legendary Brooklyn band Shinobi Ninja. While Sims plays everything on the records, the albums are credited to both artists. “I’m taking a stand for songwriters, who generally get booted to the sidelines. A songwriter ought to be in the band and have his picture on the cover. Songwriting is, after all, the most important instrument. There’s no music without it.” On his process, he says, “I hear the melody first, then the bass line. Once I’ve figured out the chords, I write up the sheet music and send it to my collaborators, who do the rest. It’s great fun and a change from my usual work. I routinely get drunk off it.”

Rolli says anything more than 25 cups a coffee a day is excessive.
Rolli says anything more than 25 cups a coffee a day is excessive.

What's next for Rolli?

He’s finishing up a number of projects, including a humourous, illustrated autobiography, and a collection of his most popular cartoons and drawings. A Canadian production company has acquired the rights to his short story “The Ashtray” and is currently developing it into a feature-length film to be directed by Vancouver’s Jennesia Pedri. “I’m looking forward to that. I’d like to get a cameo in it – drinking coffee in the background, perhaps,” he muses.

Follow Rolli on Twitter @rolliwrites and pick up his books on his website at rollistuff.com or at The Penny University Bookstore in Regina. Check out his cartoons here.

About the Author

Sabrina Cataldo is an award-winning writer and communications strategist in Regina.

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Earlier this year, in the aftermath of a fierce winter blizzard that shut down much of Saskatchewan, Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Louise Bernice Halfe, reflected on how such events fuel her poetic inspiration.

"The storm that just travelled across the prairie provinces revealed a whole lot of mystery to me," she said from her home outside of Saskatoon. "I had to get to my computer. Usually, I have a cup of coffee in the morning and that's when I do my longhand writing. But sometimes the urge comes to write my thoughts quickly before I start my usual morning routine When the muse is speaking, you don't ignore her. You get on your chair right away and get your fingers moving. You listen, and you write. It comes from a very spiritual place."

"I started writing when I was 16 but it was all about teenage angst. It wasn't very good, I didn't even know it was poetry back then," she laughs.

Halfe started following her muse more than 50 years ago. Born in Two Hills, Alberta, and raised on the Saddle Lake Reserve, she served as the second Poet Laureate for Saskatchewan in 2005 but her writing journey started decades earlier.

"I started writing when I was 16 but it was all about teenage angst. It wasn't very good, I didn't even know it was poetry back then," she laughs.

Created in 2001, the position of Parliamentary Poet Laureate advances poetic literature across the country. Halfe has served in the role since the beginning of 2021 and will finish her term at the end of this year. Among her responsibilities is writing for Canada's Senators and advising the Parliamentary Librarian on acquisitions. According to Halfe, the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate raised in an Indigenous community, the insights that she has brought to the role about the devastating legacy that residential schools has had on the nation - has brought her the most satisfaction.

"My greatest contribution as Poet Laureate is bringing an awareness to mainstream society about what has happened since the closure of residential schools," Halfe says. "I have brought a deep awareness of the historical trauma that was imposed on so many people. I think it also has opened up doorways for other people from different nations to share their traumas. There's much more dialogue going on in the attempt to understand and to move forward."

Poet Louise Halfe has received honorary degrees from Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Saskatchewan and Mount Royal University. Credit: Photo by CHELphoto Poet Louise Halfe has received honorary degrees from Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Saskatchewan and Mount Royal University. Credit: Photo by CHELphoto

Taken from her family at age seven, Halfe was forced to attend the Blue Quills residential school. Halfe says the residential school experience remains an important influence in her poetry.

"I want to educate people on the psychological damage done to my people, she says. "We hear about the sexual abuse, violence, physical and emotional abuse, but we don't understand the psychological damage on the family system and the individuals and the community. So yes, my experience has informed my writing a great deal, especially my earlier years."

Halfe's first work appeared in the 1990 Writing the Circle: Native Women of Western Canada, an anthology of writing by Indigenous women.

Among the accolades she has received are the Milton Acorn People's Poet Award for Bear Bones & Feathers, her first book. The book was also shortlisted for the Spirit of Saskatchewan Award and the Gerald Lambert Award. Louise's work has appeared in various anthologies and magazines.

Blue Marrow, her second book, was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 1998. Burning in this Midnight Dream won the League of Canadian Poets Raymond Souster Award and the High Plains Book Award. She received the Writer's Trust Poetry Prize in 2017. Halfe has received honorary degrees from Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Saskatchewan, and Mount Royal University.

One of the unique characteristics of Halfe's writing is her use of both English and Cree, a technique she says she discovered in the writing of others.

"What I would observe in other people's literature, and writing, is that there were quotes in French, Latin, Italian, or German, and they would not bother translating that language for the reader and I found that challenged me. I thought if they can do it, there's no reason why can't I?"

Burning in this Midnight Dream was Halfe's response to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. She is hopeful that one day, the Commission's 94 Calls to Action will be fully implemented.

"I hope we'll get to a place where all the Calls to Action are addressed," she says. "My children are well-educated and their children are better educated - they will challenge the system. If they're not going to listen to people of my generation, you can bet the new generation is going to do something about it."

Wanuskewin Heritage Park & the University of Saskatchewan Memorandum of Understanding, August 23, 2021.

By Louise Bernice Halfe

Once again, the tree is pierced.
Pressed onto its parchment
are asotamatowo, the exchange of desires. Much like breaking Bannock
pahkwinamawew
this shared understanding
of askiy, land based education
and cultural richness are the hopes
beaded into its skin. Unlike the signing of the treaties,
the Whiteman's agenda will not hold
promises they will not fulfill.
Like a marriage of mutual understanding,
shared responsibility and consequences
their kiskeyihtamowin - this knowledge
will be painted on canvas.
Shared berries pollinated by bees,
nurtured by the rain, ripened by the sun,
will be picked to feed the people. Aspeyimowin - trust
Manacihtowin - (mutual) respect
Tapahteyimisowin - humility
Tapwewin - truth
Sahkitowin - love These grandmothers and grandfathers, are the energies
that must be adhered to.
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Connecting via video chat with the owners of the highly successful Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort in Cambutal, Panama is like taking a mini retreat from the stressors of everyday life. One can't help but slow down and breathe.

Vibrant, lush-green foliage from the tropical rainforest provides a perfect canopy backdrop for the interview, while a symphony of tanagers and toucans chirp happily in the background.

Yoga master and entrepreneur Janel Phillips, 37, radiates warmth and a sense of purpose - one that comes from years of living a mind-body-spirit connection while building a world-class yoga shala in South America, ranked one of the top five in the world. The University of Regina alum and special education teacher yearned to travel after graduation and make a difference beyond Saskatchewan's borders.

She found her life's purpose with her husband and soulmate, Mike Phillips, 43, blessed with the same sense of idealism and altruism to match. The salt-and-pepper-bearded stone mason from Regina is the Ying to Janel's Yang. As a surf fanatic and fellow yoga devotee, he travelled the world in search of the perfect wave but wound up building a life and community with Janel as founders and owners of Sansara, located at the end of the road in a small village where the jungle meets the sea in Los Santos, Panama.

Janel Phillips went from a special education teacher in Saskatchewan to building and operating Sansara Yoga and Surf Resort in Los Santos Panama. Janel Phillips went from a special education teacher in Saskatchewan to building and operating Sansara Yoga and Surf Resort in Los Santos Panama.

"We both had this burning desire to travel the world in our 20s, so when we met, it was an instant connection," Janel enthuses. "There was this incredible alignment of where we wanted our lives to go. Our path was driven by faith in the possible - not debilitated by fear." Janel looks lovingly at Mike, and the couple, parents to son, Asher, 5, and daughter, Ocean, 3, easily finish each other's sentences.

Running a multi-million-dollar, world class yoga retreat takes courage, commitment, drive and determination. But it also takes capital. Mike and Janel found that support back home in Saskatchewan.

"We took a trip to Panama and loved it and decided to spend six months getting to know the people and the land before making any moves. We didn't want to be a bunch of gringos who came in and took over," Mike says, before Janel continues: "We took a very holistic approach, filled with light and intention. We got to know the community first and hand-picked these incredible people to join our team and help make our dream a reality. Everything just fell into place."

The beginning

Running a multi-million-dollar, world class yoga retreat takes courage, commitment, drive and determination. But it also takes capital. Mike and Janel found that support back home in Saskatchewan.

It's been said that Regina is a small community with only six degrees of separation between people. Love may have brought Janel and Mike together, but it was serendipity and fate that connected them with their mentor, friend, and Sansara business partner, Tim Young, the quiet, understated CEO of Young's Equipment, one of Saskatchewan's preeminent farm implement dealerships.

The Phillips and their two children Asher (right) and Ocean on a Panamanian beach. The Phillips and their two children Asher (right) and Ocean on a Panamanian beach.

"I first met Mike when he was 15. I lost touch with him until he met Janel, and then he came back into my life," Tim begins. "I first met Janel when she ran a mobile Yoga studio called Awaken Your Yoga. Back in 2010, I made a bucket list goal with my sons to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I had a lot of work to do to get in shape. My hip flexors and hamstrings were weak, and I knew I'd have to work on them. I was working with a personal trainer (Leslie Genoway, a friend of Janel's and fellow U of R grad), and she recommended that yoga might help. So, she put me in touch with Janel and the rest is history."

There are bodies of all shapes and sizes at Sansara, with a multi-generational mix of Boomers to Millennials sharing laughs over exquisitely prepared local cuisine at a long, well-appointed wooden table.

Tim says he was immediately drawn to Janel's warmth and willingness to help. "It wasn't long before I noticed real changes to my physical abilities. She'd come over to our house three times a week to do private sessions with me and my wife Judy. Sometimes it was a family affair, and the boys would join in. Thanks in part to her training, I was able to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro with my sons on May 9, 2011."

Tim says when Janel and Mike first got together, he knew they had dreams beyond Regina. "Mike worked in construction for his father, an experienced bricklayer. Mike would spend the warmer months working hard, and then travel the world and surf for three months during the winters. When he and Janel got engaged and began traveling together, we were a little sad we couldn't see them all the time, but also excited they were living their dreams."

When serendipity meets hard work

Taking a video-guided tour of the lush and spacious surroundings of Sansara is a chance to experience paradise. The holistic beachfront resort features a small collection of private, oceanfront suites and garden cabanas, and a spacious, open-air yoga shala nestled in greenery. One can almost smell the rich, wet earth, salt-filled air, and boost of pure oxygen generated from all the trees and shrubs in this tropical oasis. A saltwater pool and onsite spa complete the perfect surroundings.

Los Santos makes up the southeastern chunk of a huge peninsula in the central Pacific part of Panama. Its eastern coastline is fairly sheltered most of the year, facing into the Gulf of Panama, while its southern shores face the Pacific winds-hence the surfing. Los Santos makes up the southeastern chunk of a huge peninsula in the central Pacific part of Panama. Its eastern coastline is fairly sheltered most of the year, facing into the Gulf of Panama, while its southern shores face the Pacific winds-hence the surfing.

While some guests are tentatively standing on their boards in the morning surf at dawn, lit by an amber glow as they experience the sheer exhilaration of catching their first wave, others are in contemplative poses, finding a meditative calm with their sun salutations and downward facing dogs. The atmosphere is supportive and relaxed.

There are bodies of all shapes and sizes at Sansara, with a multi-generational mix of Boomers to Millennials sharing laughs over exquisitely prepared local cuisine at a long, well-appointed wooden table. The Buddha Bar offers guests daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, utilizing local fish, farm-raised poultry, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and even home baked bread.

Before Mike and Janel arrived to build their dream resort, the land was thick with shrubs and nearly inaccessible.

"Right from the get-go, Janel brought this beautiful intention to Sansara, which guided everything we did and every relationship we built. I get teary just thinking about it…"

"When we booked a ticket to Panama in July of 2012, we wanted to see if it was for us, without any rose-coloured glasses that you often have when you first arrive in a hot location. We said if nothing was available, we'd go back to Regina in January - but who wants to that?" Mike laughs, before continuing. "At the end of our six-month stay in December, we literally knocked on doors, when one day, a friend down the street overheard someone talking that they had beachfront property they needed to sell. Two hours later, we had a handshake deal, and a week after that, we closed on the property."

"We had to stretch and grow on so many fronts, including expanding our vocabulary," adds Janel. "We didn't speak Spanish, but we kept being open and were guided to continue moving forward. The universe provided for us with this land, the partnerships with the local people, and all the community support we received."

Before Mike and Janel left on their life-changing journey, Tim Young offered them some help devising a business plan. "I told them, when you're ready, I'll give you a week of my time to help write up your plan. I got there in February of 2013, and realized they needed more capital. Suddenly, I put my hand up, and I think Mike and Janel were surprised," he chuckles.

Janel recalls being somewhat flabbergasted at Tim's generous offer. "I mean, who does that? I kept asking Tim why?"

Sansara investor Tim Young (right) and his son, Sean. Photo by Shane Luhning
Sansara investor Tim Young (right) and his son, Sean. Photo by Shane Luhning

Tim remembers that moment quite clearly. "I told Janel: 'Remember that first day we met, and you asked me what my goals were? And I told you I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Well, I did it, thanks to you. This is the same kind of thing.'"

Janel says she'll never forget Tim's response, and his openness and kindness in that moment. "It literally changed our lives forever."

Armed with much needed capital, a professional business plan, and a partner with a proven track record in running a multi-million-dollar business, Mike and Janell got to work.

"I grew up in construction, and knew how to build in tropical countries," Mike begins. "When I was 19, I took over an old Italian stone mason business in Fernie, B.C. when the owner retired. When I was skiing, I wound up breaking my back and went to the Grand Caymans to recuperate and ended up working for an eco-adventure company. There was this huge hurricane that literally devastated the island - the same system that became Hurricane Katrina. My boss knew my background in construction, and we just got to work rebuilding."

"We felt this need to build trust and build relationships, because with trust, you help build longevity. We were creating a forever with no expiry date - literally creating the life we wanted to live."

Mike says that experience helped him plan and devise a stormproof resort using locally made materials. "You can't use pine because the termites will get it," he explains. "Galvanized nails also don't work because they'll rust, and your roof will fly off in a storm. It was my experience rebuilding in the Caymans that really helped me with Sansara. We arrived and the place was an overgrown jungle, but we didn't mind the hard work - we looked at it like a clean slate. We hired the best crew in Cambutal. At first, I communicated through sign language, and I think my first phrase in Spanish was 'I need a tool.'"

Janel quickly adds: "It was special because most investors fly in their own workers and their own experts, and here we were, building alongside the Panamanian people. We felt this need to build trust and build relationships, because with trust, you help build longevity. We were creating a forever with no expiry date - literally creating the life we wanted to live."

Practice yoga every day, learn to surf, enjoy fresh, delicious cuisine and build rewarding connections with other like-minded people as you immerse yourself in the Sansara Experience.
Practice yoga every day, learn to surf, enjoy fresh, delicious cuisine and build rewarding connections with other like-minded people as you immerse yourself in the Sansara Experience.

Adds Mike: "Right from the get-go, Janel brought this beautiful intention to Sansara, which guided everything we did and every relationship we built. I get teary just thinking about it…" At that moment, Mike's voice cracks and he takes a second before continuing. "We were surrounded by family and friends, and we'd just accomplished something we'd worked so hard to achieve.

On April 15 of 2015, we hosted our first retreat. I remember we had paint under our fingernails, but we were ready, and 18 guests showed up. It was magical."

I kept thinking, 'Holy sh--! We're a hotel now! What do we do? We've never done this before!" Janel quickly adds: "We just knew we'd conduct our business using the golden rule, treating people the way we wanted to be treated. So we created the kind of get-away experience we'd want for ourselves."

Janel recalls selling retreat spaces even before the resort was finished. "I remember in January of 2015, people kept asking us to send photos of the cabanas and the pool, and I had to say, 'Well…we don't have photos just yet - no artist renderings. You're going to have to trust us.' We worked like crazy over the next four months building two new cabanas and the restaurant and the pool. On April 15 of 2015, we hosted our first retreat. I remember we had paint under our fingernails, but we were ready, and 18 guests showed up. It was magical."

The arrival of COVID

Then, in March of 2020, COVID made an unwelcome appearance, and the world went into lockdown. "Mike's such a glass-half-full kind of guy. This was our high season, but we packed up the resort, emptied the fridge and donated the food to the community, and emptied the pool. And we took this very long pause."

"We couldn't charge much, but people wound up giving us thousands of dollars in cash donations that we were able to use to pay our staff and keep them afloat during the pandemic. It was never about being a money-maker - it always about keeping the community we'd built going."

But rather than get depressed or upset over the situation, the couple decided to use their creativity and ingenuity to make Sansara that much better. "Janel decided to offer virtual, weekend retreats, where people could log onto Zoom and take a Friday night yoga class, experience an online cocktail making class, then a Saturday morning yoga class, followed by a cooking demonstration with our executive chef."

Janel adds: "We set up lights and made things happen over Zoom where I would play host, almost like a Top Chef cooking show," she beams. "Mike offered surfing lessons for people from all over the world in their own living rooms. It was so much fun! Then on Sunday, we'd offer a virtual meditation class. We couldn't charge much, but people wound up giving us thousands of dollars in cash donations that we were able to use to pay our staff and keep them afloat during the pandemic. It was never about being a money-maker - it always about keeping the community we'd built going."

Sansara is a special and sacred place created for the wellness-inspired traveler. Sansara is a special and sacred place created for the wellness-inspired traveler.

Janel adds that they also used the downtime as an opportunity to clean, repair, and enhance the resort from top to bottom. "It was almost like a place of worship. We had 38 employees and we wanted to give space and energy for their needs. Everyone came together in this spirit of collaboration. We wanted to make sure Sansara was pristine for the return of guests when the world re-opened."

Janel says they also used the downtime to build their local clientele. "We had visitors from all over the world, but not from Panama City just five hours away. With travel limited, we thought it was a great opportunity to do something for Panamanians. We used the catchphrase 'Escape the City' and it worked. A lot of people in Panama now know we exist."

"They arrive with this metaphorical parka, wound tightly, wanting to know the Wi-Fi password. We let them know that nature will take care of them, and that by being open, they'll receive exactly what they need."

Mike says the forced pause allowed them to step back as owners and operators and build an even better resort than before. "We were always so hurried in getting things up and running at the start. When we slowed down, we could really analyze our business operations and make some slight changes in the right direction. Now, we're more profitable than ever." Adds Janel: "Everything happens for a reason, and this was our chance to regroup and move forward on an even better footing."

Looking ahead

Everything Janel and Mike do is grounded in love, intention and gratitude. That's reflected in the way they embrace each guest, meet them on their own terms, and provide them with exactly what they're looking for during their stay. "Almost 99 per cent of the guests who arrive are depleted of self-love and self-care," says Janel. "They arrive with this metaphorical parka, wound tightly, wanting to know the Wi-Fi password. We let them know that nature will take care of them, and that by being open, they'll receive exactly what they need. Everyone becomes aligned and a transformation takes place. Once they get rid of the security blanket and become vulnerable, trust and love become accessible."

Janel Phillips and some of her staff take time out for a photo. Janel Phillips and some of her staff take time out for a photo.

Janel says that gratitude is reflected during roundtable discussions in the evenings. "People sit together and tell their fellow guests things like 'I'm proud of you. You took a risk by going in the ocean even though you were afraid.' Acknowledging people in that way allows them to be seen and heard, and it really has a profound effect on their lives."

Tim Young couldn't agree more and says he feels blessed to be part of the Sansara experience, quietly supporting the couple and the business from 7,400 km away. Tim feels a sense of wonder and appreciation for all this couple has given to him and the hundreds of guests they've served over the years. "These are two of the most amazing people you'll ever meet!"

As the video chat with Mike and Janel ends, one is left with an incredible sense of calm and hope for the world, especially during this time of great unease and uncertainty. The picturesque images of Sansara won't soon be forgotten, nor will the sounds of chirping birds and crashing waves, or the goodwill and positive energy generated from Mike and Janel Philips. The ocean is calling…Namaste.

The peaceful Panamanian village of Cambutal is located in the province of Los Santos in the Azuero Peninsula. It is about a five-hour drive away from the capital Panama City, and is situated in the southernmost point of Panama. The peaceful Panamanian village of Cambutal is located in the province of Los Santos in the Azuero Peninsula. It is about a five-hour drive away from the capital Panama City, and is situated in the southernmost point of Panama.

 

For more information about Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort, click https://www.sansararesort.com/

[post_title] => Paradise found [post_excerpt] => In 2012, yoga master, entrepreneur and U of R alumnus Janel Phillips and her husband left everything behind in Canada and headed for Panama. Their dream? To build a world class yoga and surf resort. Today, Sansara Resort is rated as one of the best wellness hotels on the globe by Condé Nast Traveller. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => paradise-found [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-10 11:47:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-10 17:47:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=5820 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )