My yoga friend and I checked in to paradise. She is swimming lazily around in the infinity pool overlooking a river. The cicadas are playing, and the river, too. Swallows hunt for bugs between the trees in the sun. I might give the Balinese Jamu health tonic another chance to become a friend of mine.
If this trip could have one spiritual theme it seems to be a first kick towards a goal of wellness and health. While here I have become aware of how my injured mind has injured my body. I have needed time to slowly get used to living with the pain of the past, and to stand up with its weight. Now I need to learn how to walk, despite of the past. It is not about “letting go”; rather about “living in spite of it”.
Yesterday night at a Tibetan bowl meditation session we conducted a heart-opening exercise, offering up all the pain and anxiety in us and replacing it with something positive. Letting the first thing that enters be acknowledged. I gathered all the hurt and the memories and the anxiety from every limb and vein and tried to push them out of my body if only for a second. From somewhere deep within me, the word that floated up to fill that vacuum space was “health”. Health of the body and of the mind. If the mind is ill, the body suffers, too. I realized I wanted to become healthy, in every possible way.Some time ago my body put a stop to both a beloved hobby as well as an activity my mind was pushing my body to do. I used to run 10-12 km every other day for years, until my knees literally told me to stop running, according to my ayurvedic doctor. I ran them out some time ago and needed surgery in one knee. No running anymore, possibly never.
My body was wise. I should have listened sooner. But now I practise yoga asana, possibly the best way of listening to my body. And I have heard its wish to become healthy again. I will listen.
(Maya Ubud resort, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)
Ubud means green smoothie and light reading before an evening meditation class – every day if I like. And getting up with the sun. It took me 5 years’ worth of summer holidays and a Balinese ayurvedic doctor to understand that my natural tendency is to sleep too much. In today’s busy Western world, we tend to sleep late during the weekends when we can. I thought it was beneficial to catch up on sleep properly during weekends. But the dear doctor I consulted told me that with a pitta-kapha constitution I need to restrict my sleep to 8 hours, 9 hours maximum. And that the best sleep I can get is before midnight – to wake up at 6.30 am, right after dawn.
While our bodies need sleep, they also need waking rest. We cannot compensate the waking rest with sleep, living a life of extremes: stress until we sleep, sleep until we stress. Have you, like me, tried try to compensate rest with only sleep, until noon in dark winter weekend mornings, just to end up feeling sluggish and even more exhausted than the night before? After a pilot week I vow to myself to change my daily rhythm: going to sleep by 10.30 pm at the latest will give me almost a full night’s sleep even if I have an early morning flight and must rise by 4.30 am.
Our bodies sleep in cycles, my travel companion told me. And waking up from deep sleep is not constructive to our energy levels. She convinced me to try an app that tracks individual sleep cycles and awakes one with soft sounds at the moment when the sleep is not deep. This way one awakes more refreshed, instead of being dug out of a deep sleep by a relentless alarm clock. I am curious to see how it can help my sleep reprogramming.
For now I will enjoy my sunrise mornings with fresh frangipani flowers in the trees and birds singing as I make myself ready for yoga practice. Reality will only hit much later, thank goodness for that.
(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
One hot day we decided enough is enough. Enough heat, enough dust, enough bustle. Two of us hopped into a taxi, and one of us dared a crazy scooter taxi ride out, all the way through the rice paddies and into the jungle. Because (and this is a secret), there is a little patch of heaven hidden in the jungle. Like this:We threw ourselves down into a hanging bed – and to our delight they had sparkling wine on the menu. What a rare treat on Bali! And so were the lovely superfood salads. And so was the stretching and pummeling also called a “Balinese massage”. The fish swam in their little pond. We swam in our bigger pond, where the water spilled down over the edge, and the jungle crept close.Not until sunset, when the lanterns in the trees were lit, did we get dressed and return to Ubud. And if you cannot muster the strength to leave this patch of heaven (we nearly didn’t), you can dine overlooking the jungle, and check into a room of your own. Yes please. Next time!
(Junglefish spa, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
What a marvelous sense for beauty the Balinese have. Everything on Bali is beautiful, right down to the pavements. Why would anybody settle for boring asphalt or concrete, when one can scatter little flowers of beach pebbles here and there, or decorate one’s runway with an intricate flower mosaic pattern? Scandinavian simplicity my a**. I prefer flowers.
(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
The Uluwatu beach community is built on the side of a rock: stairs crawling up and down, leading into little rural-style warungs serving simple dishes. Uluwatu is still just one inch on the backpacker/local-hangout side, if only for a few years to come.
Late in the afternoon the warungs perched on the cliffside are busy with hungry beach goers and surfers. But a sunset everybody leaves. It is a mystery. Where does everybody go? Is there no nightlife on such a gorgeous spot? All warungs are empty and closing down by 8 pm – except for Single Fin, the bar on top of the cliff. After trying out the local warung mahi-mahi with boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables and simple brown sauce, Single Fin was a no-brainer, especially with their fingerfood and cocktails menu.
Sometimes it is good to face it: touristy is what a tourist does. But the view over the water made the inflated-priced cocktails worth it: first a Sunset with a capital S. Then, later hundreds of fishing boats blinking their lights in the dark. And always the sound of the surf.
(Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
No surf today on one of the most legendary surf spots on this planet. When the tradewinds are right, I am told, one can keep on surfing in a seemingly endless, emerald-green pipe. It must be an experience of a lifetime.
Today, Padang Padang beach was not for surfers but for children. And lazy sunbathers like us, sipping on coconuts and gnawing on freshly grilled corn cobs from the fire.
The road down to the beach takes you through steep rock walls on a winding staircase. Or, should a tsunami hit, back up. There is only one way out, and it is clearly signed. And I could not help but wonder: why is it that the only places I see tsunami evacuation instructions are those places with only one way out: the same, no-brainer way you got in? (Padang Padang, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
After bustling Ubud, Uluwatu is silence, sea, and surfers. Hot, winding, dusty roads with bush and dry forest everywhere; a house here, a villa there. The air is steamy from the evaporating surf.
We dressed in saris and sashes, removed our jewelry and sunglasses so they would not be snatched by the mean monkeys, and walked down to the cliffside where the Uluwatu temple perches above a 70 m drop down into the ocean. The wind whipped our faces and the spray of the surf wet our hair even if the sea was far down below. Such a magnificent place can only be considered one thing: sacred. The Uluwatu temple is one of the most sacred temples on Bali, alongside Pura Tanah Lot, the other temple ravaged by the sea and the wind.
As I stood on the cliffside, the wind in my face, I pondered at how we humans link awe to a spiritual experience. When we are struck by something intensely beautiful or impressive, we call it “otherworldly”, and sometimes we even have what can only be called a spiritual or religious experience. Yet, even if a place like Uluwatu is sacred, it is still of our own world. Our own planet is this beautiful.
Perhaps it would help if we saw our own world as more sacred? Not just breathtaking places of natural beauty like Uluwatu, but all of it? If we consider life in general sacred, and this planet is all we have to live on, how could it be anything else than sacred?(Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
I could start like I did last year: There was a friend reunion, and a path away from Ubud to the rice paddies, where the air is clean. There were newly planted rice greens, and palm trees. And frogs. Thousands of frogs, humming the night away to themselves and their fiancés. Party in the rice fields, I tell you.
In the darkness sinking on us we spoke of chasing for breakthrough science and innovation that will cure cancer. Of the importance of showing women that computer game creation isn’t only a man’s world – that it has nothing to do with gender. And how we ended up here together because we first met in Greece, and a few years later had dinner in a frosty cold Helsinki, and there made a quick decision to go back to Bali – together. The world is a small place if you want it to be. (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
Any given night in Ubud one can hear the insane, energetic beating of the Gamelan instrument. Follow the clear, metallic rhythm as it weaves out of a temple and you most likely come to a dancing spectacle. Young girls who dance with their eyes more than with their bodies. Ladies who dance with their fans and arms more than with their bodies. And men who grow into mighty warrior gods, darting here and there in the spotlight.
The Balinese dance for their gods, and for a sacred balance in the world. Even when they dance for tourists, there is an element of ceremony. A dancer learns from a master, and is ready only when the master’s “taksu”, or dancing spirit, enters his or her body and suddenly turns the performance from ordinary study into something slightly magical. Like at the Ubud Palace tonight.
As I saw black-sooted eyes dash back and forth to the tunes of an an ancient instrument used to summon the gods, I could not help but think of how even the most primitive aspects of the Balinese culture are light years ahead of those of mine. Compared to the simple ritualistic chanting and entertaining dance music of the past of my country, the intricate Balinese interplay between gamelan tunes and dancer’s feet, and the poetry and dress, are the height of civilization. If they only knew. How crude they would think our heritage is.(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)
Stumbling over sleeping dogs and old morning offerings swept to the sidewalk, I amble the side streets of Ubud. It is a hot afternoon. I challenge myself to get lost in a town with 3 main roads. To discover the remains of village life. Is it a temple or a wealthy Balinese house? As a visitor to Bali I can usually never tell. Perhaps if the door is decorated it is that of a temple. But each wealthy Balinese house has a large shrine, so basically it is a temple within a house. Same same. Every street has remainders of old ceremonies: bamboo poles with yellowed palm leaves, cut-out paper decorations in faded yellow and orange. As soon as the decorations become properly weathered, it is already time for a new village ceremony. The Balinese year is only 210 days long.
But flowers are always fresh. The laughing buddha certainly did not end up with two flowers in his lap because the wind blew. No, he was carefully decorated in the morning, and will be each morning until time wears him out or the Balinese stop believing. (Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)