Traditional Balinese Offerings

Below are some of my thoughts from the time I spent in Bali…it is taken from an email to friends…Pictures are up on Facebook 🙂

“This place where you are right now God circled on a map for you.” – Hafiz

Greetings from Bali!

Warm wishes for a blissful New Year! I hope these musings about my time in Bali find you happy, healthy and at peace 🙂

I always thought that journaling was narcissistic but my dear mentor, teacher and friend, Ramuji, practically forced me to begin keeping a diary. What follows are excerpts from some of my observations and experiences.

So much is always going on that at times I feel like I live lifetimes in months (which is another reason why I have been bad about journaling or getting a blog). Like many of you, when traveling that is amplified. It is as if one lives lifetimes in weeks or even days! So here is a mere snapshot of my Bali happenings…

Every morning as I walk through the rice paddies from my home I pass a sign with the Chinese character for Harmony and the following quote:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.”

As much as we try to always live in the now and be present this little quote serves as a daily reminder for me to try my best to just be here and use all my senses to fully experience my short time in this magical place. My time here has been incredibly serendipitous—the connections and experiences I’ve had in these two short weeks is more than I could have expected. I can’t even begin to go into the crazy “coincidences” that have occurred. It has rained most of my time in Bali but there was something soothing and relaxing about the constant rain which is just what I needed! I also got really sick (I somehow picked up a parasite from something I ate) for the first time in ages. Getting sick was actually the best thing that has happened to me in awhile. I not only got to discover Colloidal Silver (a natural antibiotic) and reconnect with macrobiotics but all of these people (especially the Balinese) came out of nowhere to help me out. I just couldn’t believe it! I came to Bali “all alone” but I never felt so loved and cared for. Gosh, the universe does in fact bring you exactly what you need at the perfect time 🙂

I have never been anywhere that has felt so right to me. Perhaps it is because of the constant offerings the Balinese are always making and the unique Hinduism practiced here combined with the innate understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Every other thought I have is a statement of gratitude and I just feel so blessed to be here.

I decided to spend almost all of my time in Bali in Ubud which is the spiritual/cultural center of the island. According to the mythological tales, Ubud was founded by Rishi Markandaya. It is a very unique place and there is a special symbiosis between the locals and expats that live here. I had no idea that Ubud was the spiritual/cultural center of Bali until a month ago after I had already paid for my house rental (which I found by complete coincidence/divine order—the story of how I landed this particular home is quite amazing). I am spending two weeks in a beautiful house in the village of Penestanan right in the middle of rice paddies about 15 minutes by foot from the center of Ubud. The house is called “Rumah Senang Senang” which apparently means “Happy Happy House” because it is so bright and colorful! The house is painted with bright blues, greens, oranges and pinks and its entrance has a lovely lotus pond with charming fish. When I arrived I just looked up at the sky and said “thank you” with all my heart. I try hard to never have expectations but the house exceeded any expectations I had and it has a very special energy. The owner is a Californian (like most of the expats that live in Bali) and an astrologer.

Ubud has a very interesting expat scene. Last week I was walking down Hannoman (yup, I mean the Hindu monkey god Hanuman but the Balinese spell and pronounce things differently) Street and I randomly ran into Dag (aka Sivananda) a Norwegian yogi I know from Berkeley. He has just moved to Bali with his wife (an Indian ayurvedic doctor) and their 14 month old baby. There is definitely a part of me that can relate to the expats that live here and have sort of “dropped out of society” but in my heart I don’t necessarily feel like they are totally “my people” and I can’t completely connect with them. (We all have different paths and are driven by different things.) It is the same way I felt when I was in the raw foods/yoga scene in Berkeley. I am all for yoga, meditation and healthy eating/living but I just don’t know how authentic their search for Truth really is. There is nothing wrong with fire dancing, new age healing, psychics and tarot cards but just deep down there is a part of me that doesn’t totally connect with those I’ve met here. I could visit Bali for a lengthy period of time but I don’t think I could ever live here long term.

For me spiritual life (far from being otherworldly) means living to one’s highest ideals while still in the world. I know my path is not to drop out of society but to constantly and continuously seek Truth while still entrenched in the messy details of life…perhaps this is why being a teacher and the whole notion of I and Thou (Martin Buber), Thich Nhat Hanh, Vinoba Bhave and of course Gandhi really resonates with me. Still, it is pretty awesome for me to be in a place where I constantly meet people that I can be my whole self with. I can casually talk about nondual philosophy, social justice issues, the Mayan calendar and proper food combining and everyone knows what I’m talking about and no one thinks I’m crazy here! Panchakarma, ahimsa, prana, marma points, reflexology, consciousness, asana and advaita are all a part of the general vocabulary of most folks I’ve met here and everyone is just so welcoming and warm. There are a number of NGOs located in Ubud that are doing really cool stuff and not every expat here is an artist/writer, tai-chi practitioner that has spent a few years living in the Osho ashram in Pune before discovering Bali 🙂   The life stories of the expats I’ve met here are really something else though! I did visit quite a few NGOs and if I ever come back for an extended period of time I am hoping to volunteer at one so there are really good, legit things happening in Ubud.

I’ve come to Bali with a few clothes and mostly books (I am trying to work through my exhaustive reading list) but have made little progress. I had originally set aside this time for meditating and reading but instead I’ve been doing a lot of socializing and eating! A few years ago this one teacher I studied with told me that even if I tried to meditate in a cave there would be a party going on right outside the cave and I had to embrace my svadharma. The food is delicious. Ubud is a vegetarian’s paradise and there is a whole array of organic, vegan, raw/live, ayurvedic, macrobiotic cuisine. I haven’t felt this good since I was preparing all my own meals and doing 16 hours of yoga a week in Berkeley. The best part is that I keep having all of these AMAZING conversations with fellow travelers or expats that have settled down here about life, love, spirituality, politics, relationships, Truth, free will, destiny, time, environmentalism, commitment, poetry, education, ethics and just about every topic that interests me.

I have managed to work through an anthology of Mahatma Gandhi’s works, Vinoba Bhave’s “Talks on the Gita” (I spent 1 ½ years tracking down an English version of this book and his discussion of svadharma and doing everything by doing nothing rocked my world! I totally recommend this book to any of you that are familiar with the Gita) and finally watched Joseph Campbell’s “Power of Myth” (part 2) which is amazing! There is a great yoga studio here and I’ve been self practicing and taking 1-2 classes there daily and have quickly become a part of the yoga community. I also did a cool cycling trip (with a UN delegate I met here that stayed in Bali after the climate change conference), spent time at a few well known Balinese temples, visited a Gandhian Ashram on the beach and hung out with the toothless medicine man from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”   There was also a huge benefit with Michael Franti. Franti is the leader of a social justice minded music group called Spearhead (they are pretty famous) and he is from Oakland, California. Franti started a musical movement called “Power to the Peaceful” and he was recently in Iraq making a documentary. Totally check out his website—it is pretty powerful, beautiful stuff. His music is hella tight and the benefit concert was unbelievable and all for a school called Pelangi (which means rainbow) that has a holistic educational philosophy.

Christmas Eve was coincidentally the same night as the full moon. I was supposed to be part of a hippie drumming circle at a Jazz café but at the last minute something told me not to go, stay in my village and perform a proper Balinese puja with locals for the full moon/purnima instead. I did a puja when I went to the largest temple in Bali but it was something else to do it during the full moon and I topped it off with 108 prostrations and Chandranamaskars (salutes to the moon) at my home and it was a really special way to celebrate Christmas. I felt an energy of mass consciousness and this combined with the full moon made for a wonderful night.

Ketut Liyer (Toothless Medicine Man)

As cheesy as it sounds the first thing I did when I got to Bali was track down Ketut Liyer. Ketut Liyer is the toothless medicine man that Elizabeth Gilbert writes about in her book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” I spent most of the day with him and got to observe a pukka Balinese ritual and he also “read me”. Apparently I have the goddess Saraswati written all over me and this is why I have a voracious appetite for knowledge. The Balinese can’t say “v” so Siva is Siwa here and Vishnu is Wishnu and Devi is Dewi etc. It is all very cute. He taught me some mantras and we discussed the importance of the bell in rituals. He spent 15 minutes testing me to see if I could notice the subtle differences between the sounds of two bells that he had. I went to the same town where the family that makes his bell for puja resides so I could get an identical bell. A few years ago a teacher I studied with in Berkeley talked about the uniqueness of Balinese ritual bells and I can’t believe that 2 ½ years later I have my very own. This bell has the sweetest most special sound. We talked about the relationship between the microcosm and macrocosm and how the planets can affect us. Ketut Liyer also showed me some of his drawings and told me to send all of my friends to him when they visit Bali (just liked he told Gilbert in her book). I wouldn’t say it was an incredibly earth shattering experience but it was pretty cool to hang out with the guy from the book and he does have an incredibly cute, toothless smile. Oh, he is 87. Those of you that read the book know that Gilbert never figured out his age.

Gandhian Ashram

The family that lived next door to me when I was growing up had a profound influence on my life. They were the first to introduce me to yoga, Gandhi, Narsi Mehta, Kabir, Ayurveda, Siddha Yoga (Gurumayi and Baba Muktananda), and herbs like Gotukola 🙂 They also told me the story of the murdering of a chicken which resulted in me becoming a vegetarian when I was five. Well, the mother of the family went to a conference in Jordan for the United Nations World Council of Religions many years ago. At the conference she met a delegation from the Gandhian Ashram in Bali. Being a student of Gandhian philosophy I made a visit to the Ashram my second day in Bali. The ashram is right on the beach in Candidasa on the Eastern coast of Bali. About fifteen people live there and most of the residents are from disadvantaged families. The ashram was founded thirty years ago by Ibu Gedong Bagoes Oka. She was an amazing woman. A mother of six boys, a high school principal and a university lecturer. She served as an MP in 1968 and again in 1999 at the age of 78. She was the founding member and honorary president of the World Council for Religion and Peace and a board member of several international and domestic social organizations.

The ashram aims to translate Gandhian principles of living into action and promotes a life of simplicity, self-sufficiency and service to the local community. With ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth) and karuna (compassion) as guidelines, swadeshi (self-sufficiency) can determine our social and economic strengths. Consistent with these ideals the ashram honors all faiths. There is a kindergarten at the ashram for local children and they are also provided with a free lunch. The farm at the ashram employs organic techniques as well.

The Ashram leader, Sadra (derived from the Sanskrit word for faith) lived in India for quite some time studying naturopathy and acupuncture. He told me that a geneticist was doing some work in his village and determined that his ancestors were originally from Orissa! In fact in Orissa today apparently they still conduct something called the Bali Yatra where you make a pilgrimage to Bali. We discussed the importance of Gandhi in our present day and how India is charging ahead but leaving a large portion of its population in the dust. If any of you plan on coming to Bali I would suggest stopping by the ashram and just checking it out. It is very simple but worth seeing (especially if you are into Gandhi).

My history with Bali…

I was first really introduced to Bali as a spiritual destination three years ago when I was living in the Bay area. I used to spend my Saturdays working at a soup kitchen in Oakland with a group of Amma (the hugging saint) devotees. I never really thought of myself as an Amma devotee but I wanted to do seva (selfless service) while I was living in the Bay and her devotees had a group that had a soup kitchen volunteer scheme that fit in perfectly with my hectic schedule. Plus, I always enjoyed getting hugged by Amma whenever she was in the town. One of the women in our volunteer group had lived in Bali for many years and even had a house there. She was the first person to tell me how the Balinese really live spirituality and truly understand “You are, therefore I am.”  After meeting this woman Bali kept on creeping up (though I never thought I would get here so soon!) I took a vedic astrology course when I was living in California and I learned about astro locality (where you can use your birth chart to see what parts of the world are the best for you—depending on what you want to achieve from life). Apparently my planets are very strong in Indonesia—particularly in Bali. I also studied with a Tantric teacher for about a year that always raved about how this was the only place in the world that really got the complexities of nonduality and the importance of ritual. I met a couple that lived in Bali last December when I was at the Ramana Maharshi Ashram in Tiruvannamallai and since my arrival in India many people I work with have spent time in Bali. I knew it was only a matter of time before I actually got here.

Oh, did I mention that the Balinese love Bollywood? Every where I go everyone is so excited to see an Indian girl and there is a special sense of connection that the Balinese feel since I was born into a Hindu family. I don’t mind the attention. It isn’t at all sketchy like what I experienced in Brazil and if some of the Balinese want to tell me I look like a Bollywood actress when I am sweaty, sticky, covered with bug bites, wearing yoga clothes with crocs and am just plain nasty looking I’m not going to stop them 🙂 It is pretty crazy though—people literally stop me on the street and sing Bollywood songs. When I went to Besakih (the largest and most important temple in Bali) luckily an older Kiwi fella on our temple trip helped me ward off crowds of men while I did my puja. They love Sharukh Khan here and they always try and name different actresses they think I look like (none of which I hold any resemblance to other than the fact that I am brown and have long black hair).

A few nights ago I managed to crash an expat party (I was wearing a bright and colorful dress and as a result this elderly Scottish woman stopped me on the street and said, “with a dress like that you must come to this party”) and an expat writer said to me, “I see it in your eyes—you will be back to Bali.” Ketut Liyer seems to think so too. He jokingly tried to marry me off to his grandson but then seriously told me that he would like to perform my wedding rituals in Balinese fashion (who knows when that will be!) If I do come back I would like to stay for a long time and really soak everything in and travel all over the island. Two weeks is just not enough and I feel like I am only scratching the surface.

This time in Bali has been very special for me. The land, the people and the conversations have only strengthened my unwavering faith in my “I am/and thou…You are, therefore I am…I am also this” life philosophy.

A few nights ago over dinner a fellow traveler I met here offered the following quote:

“Do you not see how necessary the world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul.” – Keats

It’s funny but I’ve come to welcome (and even enjoy) the periodic slaps the universe delivers. After all, “You don’t know shit until you go through shit” and it is usually when you think you have your shit together that you realize you are standing in it! But like Keats says, it is only through these experiences that we really grow and the amazing life stories of those I’ve met here only reaffirms that 🙂 So friends, just keep having faith. Everything will work out as it should, I promise. Gosh, I have no plan, no clue where all of this learning and traveling is taking me but my trust in the universe is firm and infinite. One day, it will all come together and make perfect sense and in the meantime I’m enjoying the ride 🙂

The beautiful lotus flowers that I see in my lotus pond outside my home in Bali remind me that even through the murky, dirty water it is possible to rise above it all—just like a lotus. Life is amazing. You just never know where it will take you.

I leave for Thailand tomorrow. My brother is meeting me there and we are spending New Years together and then I am hoping to spend a few days in a Buddhist retreat center outside of Bangkok before I return to Delhi. Yum! I can finally eat durian! Oh, I also decided to resign my contract and will definitely be in Delhi/India until June of 2009—maybe even longer! I’m going to stay as long as it continues to feel right 🙂 I could be in India for a long time!

Have a very happy New Year!

Lots of Love and Eternal Blessings,

Meena

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