This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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What it takes to appease the divine

offeringTens of thousands of baby chickens died last night. Each Balinese house sacrificed one along with a bigger evening offering placed outside of the gate, by the road. Some houses had deemed pierced eggs to be enough, but most houses slaughtered a baby chicken. A holy man dressed in a white gown and turban squatted by the offerings at each house, making hand gestures and plucking fluff from the scared, cheeping chick and spreading it over the offering. Then he splashed holy water around. I did not see how the chickens met their fates but as I walked to yoga class this morning I had to dodge a tiny, dead, decapitated chicken by nearly every house.

I understood the ceremony was to pacify the gods after the earthquake. Unfortunately the lives of the poor innocent chicks were not sufficient, as we experienced another substantial quake today: M6.2 or 5.9 depending on who measured it, and Lombok was again the epicenter. The gods are obviously not content. My heart hurts for the scared baby chickens – as it also hurts for the 300+ people who were lost in the quake and the tens of thousands left homeless.

Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and animal sacrifices are common. It is even in the name of this island: the word “bali” actually means animal sacrifice. Indonesia is a Muslim country and Muslim law does not allow animal sacrifices (or gambling for that matter) but here on Bali it is allowed as a way to keep people satisfied.  All sacrifices are linked to highly ritualistic practices, including one cockfight per year per temple (this is oftentimes not the case as cockfights and betting are a blooming practice for example in Ubud). Most of the times, smaller animals such as dogs and chickens are sacrificed, but sometimes the gravity of the situation calls for goats and even buffalo. The Balinese believe that animals sacrificed in the name of gods will be rewarded and reborn into a higher order of being as their way of departure from this life was sacred.

Once one has got to know the peaceful nature of the Balinese today, it is difficult to imagine that their ancestors were fierce tribal warriors, a little like the maoris of New Zealand. Sometimes even human blood was shed. Not always an enemy’s, either, as a successful cremation ceremony for the dead of the village would include nothing less than the sacrifice of a few women. Thankfully cremation was (and is) arranged only once every few years, and collectively for all deceased ones.

When it comes to life and death, Bali strips one to the core of the matter.

(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


When the earth shook (and about human resilience)

canggubeach-2Dear guesthouse, thank you for proving yourself earthquake-worthy. Dear Canggu beach, thank you for no tsunami. Dear Bali, thank you for softening the shockwaves shooting off your sister island. We had a proper scare here on West Bali, but it was nothing compared to those in Ubud and on the East Coast. Not to mention the unfortunate ones on Lombok and Gili Islands, who bore the main burden of our planet rearranging its scales.

After less than five hours of sleep (fully dressed, the door to my apartment unlocked and key in lock) I gave up on the idea of rising with the sun to go to mysore class at 7 am. Instead I chased slumber for another hour and a half, when I began to feel I have an earthquake in my head: surely the bed and my hands holding my iPhone were not shaking. Ridiculous, I told myself, and got up. It turned out to be yet another aftershock all the way from Lombok, over 12 hours after the primary quake.

Nothing broke here in Canggu but locals thought the quake was bigger than anything felt on Bali in the past 13-15 years. Yet by 10 pm last night, two hours after the primary quake, the bars were booming with music and people again. This morning the shops were open like no window glass would ever shatter. Surf school was on, like no tsunami warning ever was last night. And people lived on, like nearly a hundred people never died last night on Lombok.

It is not our adaptability that is our greatest salvation; it is our short memory and our quick ignorance of danger that passed. Unless we witness true direct horror and trauma, it is as if our minds are like those of children: we forget so quickly and go about playing again. Or sleeping. Or doing what we always do. Perhaps this is how we stay alive: not remembering all the dangers that might occur? Especially, if one lives on the Ring of Fire, with a handful of moderate earthquakes felt every year.

I truly hope those who lost their loved ones and their houses on Lombok will be remembered long enough to be helped on their feet again.
canggubeach-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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From SIN to HEL(L)


One last steamy noodle soup on Changi airport, followed by a lovely sticky choccie brownie in the Qantas First lounge. Seated between a lady with a huge Vuitton bag and immaculate tresses, and a gentleman executive of some global company, I felt quite the tramp with my dirty daypack, pink hoodie, and harem pants.

And then we were off, flying from SIN to HEL. Curled into my chair, with home-made woolen socks and a glass of champagne I thought of the past few weeks. For several reasons I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much on a holiday, but in many ways I have also been braver than ever before. It was a tough journey, but on these kinds of travels one meets many others who are or who have been on tough journeys. And it is especially those, who shine in spite of all adversities, that inspire to keep pushing the boundary between “can” and “can not”.

Now, laundry. Yes, I can.

(Above Russia; September 2016)

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Above the Andaman Sea

And so it is time to again say goodbye to the coconuts, the lovely mornings in the jungle, and my newfound love the snake fruit. As I switch Bali to Langkawi I will again miss a great festivity. This time it is the celebration of the victory of good against evil. Kids await it like ours do christmas, because they anticipate new clothes and dancing the Barong dance in the streets for 10 days.

How awesome it must be: a half-day ceremony at each temple, then food and celebration and dance, and more of the same, for days.
The core of Balinese belief is that evil is kept at bay by offerings. Thus, anything that affirms the power of good is important. And what could affirm it better than the positive energy created by celebrations and boundless joy and laughter? This is also why it is the children that dance the Barong: the instrument symbolizes good, and combined with the innocent joy of dancing children, the victory of good can be reaffirmed.

As I watched the sun set in the Andaman Sea, I wondered about how cultures celebrate the same things so differently. The Balinese celebrate with laughter and joy, whereas in many Western cultures the same days are loaded with solemnity and sadness. Independence Day on Bali is a party, whereas in my home country of Finland it is a serious affair, with candles, laurels on soldiers’ graves, and commemoration for those who died for our country. Easter should be a celebration, too, but instead of parties and parades and cake we focus more on the death and suffering of Jesus than the fact that he miraculously came back to (eternal) life again. This should be reason to party if there ever was one. And during christmas we are quiet and remember the birth of Jesus with some splashes of elegant joy around the dinner table and when the kids get their presents. But no celebration, even if nobody died and one enlightened being was born! Even cremation on Bali is a feast. Sure, people cry at the burial and when the bodies are retrieved. But, oh what joy erupts on cremation day, and in particular the following day, when the ashes are scattered to the five elements. This is party time, with food and dance and laughter. Why not, since after all the spirit of a loved one is finally free from worldly struggles, and ready to be reborn for a second chance? In my country all we usually do is dress in black and cry. Even if the person was 92 years old and it was her time to go.

It is an art of living to recognize and accept the things we cannot change. The Balinese know this art, and they throw in a flower offering for good balance, and a smile for good measure. How would our world be if we all knew what the Balinese know?(Above Bali and Malaysia; September 2016)

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Plastic vs. Green

Processed with Snapseed.One more snake fruit before I board a plane and fly off this little lovely island. Everybody in this premier lounge is nicely dressed and carrying suitcases – and I came stomping in with a backpack, an old plastic bag, harem pants, and sandals. I have the highest elite tier of my airline alliance but right now I think my appearance here is a good joke.

Speaking of plastic bags, and all jokes aside: Bali is changing so fast it is almost frightening. New villas pop up everywhere, people become wealthier, and Balinese nature and the ecosystem become poorer. The traffic is unsustainable. In Ubud there is a graffiti work of art on the wall of a house, depicting the elephant god Ganesha with a gas mask.

But fortunately some resorts and restaurants are jumping on the green bandwagon as they have realized that there is money in green thinking. Many people who come to Bali are health- and environmentally conscious. Several cafés now offer to refill water bottles for less than store-bought ones, and plastic shopping bags need to be purchased in the shops.

Plastic… like anywhere else, it is also the greatest nemesis over here. There is not that much of it compared to a Western country, but it is not properly disposed of and thus it is everywhere: by the road, in the rivers, on the beach. And perhaps you know that a plastic bag looks very much like a jellyfish, and great sea turtles eat jellyfish? A plastic bag in the intestines is possibly the most common non-illness related death of sea turtles.

Increasingly, people seem to care, though. Maya Ubud resort offers no plastic water bottles at all. Many resorts and cafés advertise their sustainability programs. It feels as if Bali is on a tipping point. Hopefully the driving force of environmentally conscious tourists is strong enough to mold the future of this island into something that will actually carry it far into the future.

(Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)

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Thoughts from a (beautiful) bubble

mayaspa-66 pm and the sun has disappeared into the jungle. The night cicadas have relieved their afternoon colleagues from the concert shift. While I sit in a luxurious open-air lounge, sipping on my sunset drink, I cannot help but feel something I can only describe as “colonial”. We arrived here from busy Ubud where we stayed at a little homestay B&B, rode around on motorbikes with locals, and ate simple food for about one quarter of the prices here. But “here” is a resort in the cool woods, where 4 bellboys fussed about our arrival and luggage, whisked us onto couches for welcome drinks and registration, and then showed us the way down to the spa – using an elevator in the jungle.

I cannot help but think of how far from reality this place is, and what kind of experience Bali is for those who only come to stay here. Most of the average Balinese could not afford a dinner here, not to mention a 3-night stay like ours. Laundry service costs 10-fold compared to our bungalows downtown. Water costs 12-fold (because there is no other way to obtain water without a drive down to Ubud). For day guests, access to the spa and a Balinese massage costs 4 times more than a very good Balinese massage in Ubud. Starters here cost more than mains in a very good, organic, Western-style café in Ubud. The prices for some menu items cost more here than back in my home country, Finland. Processed with Snapseed.I cannot help but wonder what the Balinese think of this ridiculous opulence. Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in the 1940s, right after World War II. I understand that here it is difficult for a resident foreigner to own anything; everything has to be held in the name of a Balinese partner. It makes much sense. With the invasion of the Westerners who, like me, fall in love with Bali and want to stay, they would quickly outnumber the Balinese themselves and their capital, in practice reversing the sovereignty of the Balinese and their claim on their island and administration.

As I savored my drink amidst all the beauty (and before check-out and settling the balance!), I wondered if the Balinese silently resent us Western Bali lovers, or shake their heads at us, while offering us drinks with a smile? Do they think of the Dutch colonials and resent in particular Dutch tourists? I doubt I would love to constantly share my hometown and streets, and often my day, with tourists.

This lovely night, as the stars come out, I am grateful that the people who meet me here are openly proud of their island, and at least do their best to welcome me amidst them. I hope to be able to meet their expectations as a visitor and contribute my share so that we visitors are still welcome back in in the future.mayaspa-7(Maya Ubud resort, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)

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About pain, in paradise

Processed with Snapseed.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”.
Processed with Snapseed.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.Processed with Snapseed.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.
Processed with Snapseed.(Maya Ubud resort, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)