This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Bird’s eye view

clouds-1Above the clouds, 33,000 ft up, it is easier to obtain a new perspective of things. Not because it is easier to look down on the Earth, but because I am stuck in an airplane seat for nearly 12 hours straight, en route from Singapore to Helsinki.

When I first visited Bali in 2015, I reflected on pain and how people could ever just move on. In 2016 the reflections were on the process and how many miles were still ahead before I would pull through to the other side of a disruption in my life that began as far back as 2011.

For me, travels are not only luxury me-time, but times of significant personal growth and reflection. On 2014 on Crete I stopped and stood still for the first time in 3 years. I slept more than I had in 3 years, too. So much I believed I was in severe ill-health. I was simply tired after years of pain and running.

Working with the inside and slowly turning attention outward took the best of 6 years. And this year I received a proper kick in the behind by the Universe. A year earlier I had decided that I would stay abroad during the time the apartment in Helsinki was undergoing replumbing works, along with the entire co-op building. Bathrooms torn out and apartments out of use for months.

Be careful for what you ask for, as the Universe may give it to you but not always exactly the way you imagined it. And so I return back home just to do my travel laundry, stash summer clothes away in a box, pack a suitcase with fall clothes and business wear, and head out through the door to another part of the world, to another adventure.batukaru-2(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)



batukaru-7In the middle of all this beauty and silence it is difficult to remember what day it is, or when the day of departure arrives. And how does one confirm a flight’s departure time or check in, when there is no internet miles around?

The ladies at our retreat office advised me of an internet café down in the village, and the route to this village. “Hati-hati” (“be careful”), one said. “Of what?” I asked, alarmed. “Dogs? Other people?” But she only smiled, saying the walk was no more than 15 minutes.

I began to walk down the narrow road between the rice paddies, and passed a few small villages. Dogs, I thought. If a dog were to attack me here, or out between the villages, who would help me? I do not look local or smell local, and no local person walks. Everybody rides a scooter. I have been bitten by a Balinese dog before so hiding my fear of them is not possible, no matter how loud I yell back at them.

I passed three very placid dogs, and began to relax. Then a European man on a scooter drove by me, stopped, and asked if I needed a ride. He drove me all the way to the internet warung, which proved to be not 15 but a 25 min walk away. The Balinese ladies at the office have probably never crossed the entire distance on foot.

The warung was a local haunt, with a little kitchen, a television, and a couple of grimy couches. The lovely owner behind the counter gave me wifi access in exchange for a large bottle of water, which I quite needed.

A few minutes later I was up to date: flights still on track, no new major aftershocks or deaths on Bali or Lombok after the quake earlier in the month, but over 400 dead, and thousands left homeless. My week at the retreat had been calm and quakeless. No more than a day later I would be reminded of how fortunate I was: the same night, hours after my departure, there would be another proper shake that frightened people on Bali and would have flattened things on Lombok, had there been anything left to flatten. Hati-hati, dear survivors on Lombok.

When I was about to head back to the retreat, up the hill and through the villages, the wife of the warung-keeper asked if she could give me a ride. She was busy cooking, but she did not like to see me walk. Hati-hati, she said. Clearly wandering around the village roads was not a thing to do here. I accepted, the wife convinced her husband to drive me up with his scooter, and I offered a fair price for the ride.

On my return I met an American woman at the office. She looked restless. It turned out she had approached the office ladies with the same request: wifi to check in on a flight, just a little while after I did. She had began to walk down but had not got past the first village where she met not one but two growling dogs blocking her way. The owner of the dogs was leaving on a scooter but did not want to give her even a short ride past the house of the dogs. She asked him to control his dogs, unaware that Bali dogs belong to a house, not a master. He had duly advised her not to try to pass the dogs on the road, and driven away leaving her alone with the beasts. She was forced to turn around and walk back.

I was lucky. And despite how much I distrust the safety of scooters and motorbikes on Bali (at least in my hands!), I know first-hand that I dislike dog bites even more. Hati-hati of dogs on Bali if you visit.batukaru-3(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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All the temples on Bali

batukaru-9On Bali, every building has a place and every item, even a flower placed, has significance. Balinese homes are built according to a certain layout, and so are towns. The underlying logic is that upstream means pure where as the further downstream you go, the dirtier becomes the use of the water or a place. And on an island littered with volcanoes, the highest upstream one can go is to the flank of the volcano. batukaru-8Thus, the temple for the god Brahma (pura puseh) is best located on the highest end of the village, facing a sacred volcano (usually Mt Agung). In the middle of the village one can find a pura desa, the temple for Vishnu and for local village deities. And in the lower end of the village, preferably furthest away from a sacred volcano and most often near the cemetery, lies a pura dalem, the temple of Shiva and death (and rebirth). batukaru-6The sea is a frightening might and requires special attention. Thus sea temples are special (like Tanah Lot and Uluwatu). On the island, water is sacred and necessary for the Balinese, especially for rice cultivation. Water temples are special, too. Like the “temple by the lake”, Danu Bratan; as well as the Batukaru temple, located on the foothills of the eponymous volcano.batukaru-5Our little bemo minivan drove a bunch of us curious tourists up to the doors of the temple. We were fortunate: it was open for non-worshipers.

Not every temple on Bali has a job to shield the island from evil. Only nine most sacred temples have this all-important task. Also, it is not every day an important temple renews the roofs of its pagodas, the meru. Thus a celebration will be in order – once the ladies are finished with putting the last touches of palm fiber on the new roofs. Tomorrow there will be curries, barbeques, fresh fruit, and coconuts: a real feast.
batukaru-4(Pura Luhu Batukaru, Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia: August 2018)

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In the soak

hotsprings-2This morning a little bemo minivan took us to the nearby hot springs. After all, the silent retreat sits on the slope of a sleeping volcano, but a volcano nonetheless.

The group split into two hot pools, and I claimed the third pool to myself. As we lay soaking in hot geothermal water that slowly dyed us all carrot orange, swimwear included, I could not help but notice how loud some of the retreat guests were, now that they were allowed to speak. Our calm and firm yoga teacher was full of energy. A solitary young lady was full of loud jokes and one-liners. After easing in to the social world for an entire hour in my solo pool, I finally joined the group to participate in the conversation.

We humans are social creatures. But we often forget that “social” simply means that we need each other to thrive; it does not imply constant chatter. I am an extravert and I obtain energy from being around people who inspire me. I must remember that “being around” does not always need to equal “chatting with”. “Silence is better than unmeaning words”, said the antique Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (who by the way ran his school like a silent retreat).
hotsprings-1(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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In silence

silentretreat-1Silence comes so easily. There is no need to read while eating. Everybody seems to prefer looking out into the jungle. I am lounging on the airy top floor of the main lodge, on a beanbag on the floor. There are couches and cushions and more beanbags, and an entire library of books to read. A handful of guests are digesting their dinner with me. Nobody makes a sound, except for the tokee that just woke up in the ceiling, and the rooster that seems to prefer sunset over sunrise in announcing his presence to the world. The first frogs just started their concert.

This is the real Bali, out here in the rice fields, by the jungle. Not in Ubud, in a fancy yoga gear shop, or in Canggu in a fine-dining restaurant. This is the experience I will seek when I come back (for a fourth time!). Beaches are gorgeous, but unfortunately always overdeveloped. Inland is where I find the real Bali, every time. With the frogs and the birds and the holy men chanting in their temple at every sunrise and sunset.
silentretreat-4(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Into the flames

silentretreat-5Last night there was a New Moon ceremony: agnihotra. The entire silent retreat sat in a large circle around a ceremonial fire, thirty faces lit up by the warm glow of the flames. We chanted a verse of giving things up to the fire. Over and over again for probably an entire hour. I lost track of time as I stared into the bowl of flicking flames.

A local holy man lead us into the ceremony, asking us to approach the fire one by one, to kneel before it, and to offer it something we would like to let go of, and to watch it burn. As the group chanted, trying to overpower the rumble of the rain on the tent roof of our bale, I walked to the fire in the center, knelt, greeted it, and moving my hand from my heart into the fire offered it all the anxiety and doubt I was feeling: doubt that what I have now will stay, and anxiety that I will do something wrong.

I watched my offering, my feelings, burn in the hot, orange flames, and scooped some of the smoky air over my face. No calm or peace entered my heart right then, but I wanted to believe that if one acts as if something were true, it may turn out to be true after all, after a while.

It is nearly dark again now. The frogs are joining the choir in multitudes out in the rice paddies. The cicadas have woken up, too. The jungle must be such an exciting place at night. And I doubt animals in the jungle feel anxiety and doubt.
silentretreat-8(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Let your garden be your food

silentretreat-2I had jungle greens for lunch. Ferns and some local shoots unknown to me. They were placed out in a big, beautiful, green bouquet. One brews one’s own tea from fresh herbs stuck in pots of water. Usually the herbs are featured in a guide hanging from the wall. Sofar, only once have I been unlucky enough to brew tea out of something incredibly bitter.

This retreat aims to produce as much of its food as possible. The preferred method is permaculture: where plants are planted for their entire productive lifespan, and in layers: pineapples and herbs on the ground, underneath papaya and banana trees, with tomato and passionfruit vines clinging to the trees.

Everything not produced on-site is locally sourced. The food is vegan, save for locally sourced duck eggs. And the ducks in turn are let out to the rice fields between harvest and planting, to fertilize the soil with their manure.

Let your garden be your food would be a lovely motto to garden by. Oh, if only we had year-round summer in the Nordics.

(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


Off the beaten path

silentretreat-7The jungle is loud still at 5.30 am when the gong wakes me up for morning meditation. At 6 am the light changes to an otherworldly, soft purple and the animals of night leave their shift, one by one: an owl quietens, followed by the other night birds, and finally the cicadas. Just the next moment, a day bird picks up where its nocturnal colleagues left off: one loud, confident whistle, without a moment’s doubt that the sun will soon rise. The bird’s rival (or friend?) answers. And the day begins.

Down in the rice terraces a man has worked all day. He finished preparing the muddy soil this morning, evening it out with a big bamboo log. Then he spent all afternoon planting rice. He worked fast, sticking baby plants into a symmetrical grid. Afterwards he let the water run nearly empty through the irrigation channels. As long as there is rain on Bali, there will be rice. Unless the volcano erupts and all agriculture is lost for an entire season. It has happened before.

Here at the edge of the jungle, nestled between the rice fields, Nature rules. All we visitors can do is pack our belongings in a mouse and snake -safe box, put out our reading lamps into the sun, to be charged if the sun eventually does come out, and shoo out the bugs gotten lost into our rooms. silentretreat-3(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Wayan who? Or, confused by Balinese names

balidance-1The family I live with in Canggu are lovely. Together with my neighbor (who is here for yoga in the same center I go to) we have tried to figure out how the family works. There is Gede and his wife Kadek, and their child Mikaela. Since Gede is a first-born’s name (and Kadek is a second-born’s), I presume this house is his by inheritance.  There is another young man around (a brother?) and two old ladies. No old men. One of the old ladies is Gede’s mother and the original owner of the house. The other is Gede’s aunt. She speaks to herself, cleans our rooms, and understands little English, but she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met on Bali.

The Balinese name their children according to birth order. There is no gender difference in the names. A first-born is usually Gede, Putu, or Wayan. A second-born is Kadek or Made. A third-born is Nyoman or sometimes Komang. And the fourth-born is Ketut. If the family has more than four children, the fifth will again be a Wayan or Putu or Gede, with the addition of Balik, “the other one”.

Unless one belongs to a specific caste such as the highest Brahmin caste. Here genders are denoted, but the parents have no choice: a girl is usually named Ida Ayu and men Ida Bagus, with “Ida” denoting the high priestly caste.

Gender is denoted by adding “I” in front of a man’s name, and “Ni” in front of a woman’s. A little like Mr and Ms.

So what if you stand on a busy street and yell “hey Wayan!” and half of the people on the street turn around and look at you? The Balinese have nicknames, which can be both pretty and less pretty. Wayan the Beautiful and Wayan the Fat are both common nicknames. Or the modern family just names their child Mikaela, like in the case of my homestay family. Easy, but less common.

Tonight my neighbor and I are having a night off the compound. The Balinese dance their beautiful dances to keep spirits appeased, and to keep a balance in the world. For us it is just an enchanting experience of which we understand very little. Just like we understand very little about the Balinese naming rationale.balidance-2(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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About irrational fears (in a spa parlor)

cangguspa-2The spa seemed like any other new, fresh, relaxing parlor. No cracks in the walls due to past earthquakes. No broken pillars or windowpanes. And as I sat in the peaceful lounge waiting for my turn, I thought of fear.

With the ground shaking I considered leaving Bali. And then I thought of a wise woman who would say you must still your instinct to flee and stop in that space of pain, loss, grief, anger, or fear. To just be there with it, accepting it as it is.  And I thought of another wise woman who encourages to say hello to fear, have a conversation with it, hear it out, and then firmly tell it that it has been acknowledged and the decision is still to stick around.

So I sat down and said hello to Fear. It greeted me back with a bellowing HELLO. I began to prod around my body with my mind, attempting to feel where exactly did Fear live. In my upper belly, it turned out. I discovered that the feeling of Fear living there was similar to when Loss lived there for many years, not so long ago. But whereas Loss is a hard pain, a knot, Fear is a softer, slightly undulating pain. And whereas Loss likes to sit at the solar plexus, forming a knot so tight it is hard to breathe, Fear is slightly lower, coiling across the belly like a softly moving snake lying in wait.

My intention was to work on my fear of earthquakes, and the emotion of fear as a whole. But the moment I had identified Fear, greeted it, and felt around every angle, it slowly dissipated into a heightened alertness and nothing more. Just like a Boggart in Harry Potter’s magic class. Poof. What a surprise.

Before Fear of Earthquakes disappeared completely, I grabbed the tail of its coat and asked where it came from. “Your mother”, it said. How very Freudian. And yet true, it slowly dawned on me: my fear of earthquakes is one of two irrational fears that have transfered to me from my mother, in her attempts to protect me. She has never been to an earthquake danger zone and she will never go. Even Italy is scary enough for her to visit. When I travel somewhere she always asks if the destination could have a remote possibility of a quake, and she never likes it when I travel to California or Asia.

Knowing from where Fear has hitched along for a ride is good, but it does not help to blame anyone or anything for what has happened. And so it is entirely my own choice if I wish to carry Fear of Earthquakes in my upper belly, coiling like a snake – or not. I choose “not” and I choose to stay on Bali. For better or for worse. Besides, I also have a massage in five minutes.

Who were those two wise women? The first one is Pema Chödrön. The second one is Elizabeth Gilbert.
cangguspa-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)