This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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)

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SPbotanicgarden-1While the earthquake has thrown my Bali holiday upside down, I have also worked on standing upside down. Even after 4 years of practice, falling backwards from a headstand is a real fear. My headstand requires the vicinity of a wall or an instructor. I rarely need them, but sometimes I do.

And so, what a revelation it was to be shown how I can stack up my bones differently, engage my core, and end up in a slight forward tilt with absolutely no possibility of falling backwards. My back is hollow, hence I have stacked my bones following its lines, creating a curve and a balance too near the backwards tipping point. By forcing my back to straighten up, never letting go of the core hold, and feeling I am upright even if I feel a slight lean forward, the headstand feels so much more secure.

We often take our ability to stand and walk for granted. And so it is a humbling experience to have to consciously learn to stand upright (only this time it is indeed upside down).

(Canggu, Bali; August 2018)


10-point routine for earthquakes on Bali

canggubeachclub-1The ground keeps shaking. Last night I was so tired I slept through two aftershocks of more than M5.0.

Today it turns out Bali can get cold, too. Cold enough for hot tea. As I warmed my feet in the sun and sipped my green tea, I thought of my new, post-earthquake routine. Better to have one now than never, right? The routine is as follows:

  1. “Program” yourself before going to bed to wake up and to be ready for an earthquake. With “programming” I mean consider the possibility that it might happen. That way your mind will be more ready for it.
  2. Never sleep naked in an earthquake danger zone. Or even in nightwear that can’t be seen in public (you know, too sexy or too hideously old and mangy).
  3. Have a sweater either near the bed or near the door, to be grabbed on the way out. Do not try to get your shoes on – grab them with you.
  4. Keep your phone, wallet, passport, laptop, and keys in the same place always, one that you can find even when drowsy with sleep.
  5. If in a hurry, leave wallet and laptop and prioritize mobile phone. Never mind about the passport. As long as you can be contacted you can get help.
  6. Keep the door key in the lock, always. And if you must evacuate, lock your door even if fumbling with keys while the ground shakes it is the last thing you want to do. Apparently houses on Bali are looted during quakes.
  7. Wake up the neighbors if possible.
  8. Never trust the structure of a house unless you trust the country’s construction regulations. Run into the street instead of taking shelter under a table or in a doorway. If you are not sure, do what others do. Ideally, follow the example of a Japanese. Any Japanese.
  9. If you run into the street, try to find open sky between all the electric cables and power poles. This is easier said than done: in Canggu one may have to run for dozens of meters for cable-free skies.
  10. Do NOT go into a bar after a big quake to get drunk… seriously, Aussies of Canggu, this does not promote survival.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Cracks in the crust

canggu-5On August 5th I was fortunate. The big earthquake on Lombok was only 100 km away. Those 100 km saved lives on Bali – while over 500 lives were lost on Lombok. Most houses in the North are now in shambles, and over 400,000 people were left homeless.

I already wrote about how our salvation is in our short memory and quick ignorance of danger that passed. But our salvation can also be in reaction speed. I was up on the second floor balcony when our house started shaking. To my surprise I quickly realized it was an earthquake, even if I had never felt one before. For one second I was confused about whether I should put my flip-flops on or not, and in the end I decided on not, grabbed them and my phone, yelled to my neighbor, and ran downstairs. The people of the homestay were ushering everybody into the street, and the ground was shaking for quite a while. Twitter quickly told us the epicenter was close and the magnitude was 6.9 thus it was quite a shake, bigger than what had been felt on Bali in decades.

An hour later all of Canggu was out on the street again, scared and nervous because of an aftershock. Our guesthouse is new and built according to local standards, which do not perhaps mean too much. I decided to stay awake for a  minimum of 6 hours after the main quake. Thankfully wifi was good and Designated Survivor was my company that night. I tried to not look at the cracks in the white walls, tried not to guess whether they were new or old.

Out on the street the party commenced at 11 pm, just two hours after the main aftershock. The bars pounded their music on as usual. People drank and danced. There were many aftershocks that night, but ignorance is a good friend. So is music and alcohol and company. We are fortunate here in Canggu. My neighbor from Hungary was worried but sleep got the best of her. My neighbor from Australia just gave a little hoot, shook her head, and went to bed. The people in Ubud and on the East coast were awake the entire night, rattled by each aftershock. The people in Lombok must have been helplessly exhausted each time the ground shook.

After a sleepless night, my morning yoga practice turned into a walk on the beach. Surf school was on, like any other morning, earthquake or not. Dodging the boards, I looked down – and for the first time properly noticed the volcanic sand and rock, traces of fire and brimstone, all Bali beaches are made of.

Even here on the Ring of Fire it is easy to forget that our lives are played out on the cooled crust of a hot clump of metal and magma. Until the Earth shakes its feathers a little.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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All the solo female travelers on Bali

balifood-2Bali is the perfect place for health food and raw food lovers. And for people who love to take pictures of everything they eat. Healthy living, spas, yoga, and surfing draw adventurers, life-lovers, and solo female travelers. The beach club waiter of yesterday found it surprising that I was here all by myself. Guess he must be new in the profession, as it is impossible to not run into loads of solo female travelers that come to Bali for yoga or in search for themselves.

If you are a single man looking for company, go to a yoga class or to an organic restaurant. I promise you will find solo traveling women. But beware that such women are here for a reason, which means they could very well have mental baggage to carry, or other thoughts weighing so heavily they seem unreliable or self-focused. Unfortunately I too have been let down by people during previous travels to Bali (and I wasn’t looking for anyone to date, just social company!). It is infuriating when someone simply cancels dinner or an activity just because they feel tired – or even worse: they simply never show up.

I arrived here from Singapore, where I slept in a capsule hotel. Two out of three nights there I heard someone in my section of the hotel cry inside their capsule. One was so loud I could not help the mean thought that she wanted someone to knock on her blind and give her attention. It sounded almost like something quite big and acute, like a loss. Unfortunately, jet-lag got the best of me in the middle of the night and I did not do the kind thing: ask a stranger how she was doing.

If I spent a longer time here I would love to arrange gatherings of solo-traveling women, perhaps through a restaurant or a yoga center. They could be called Soul Sister Nights. The word would go out via posters, on-table adverts, and Facebook. People would come for a bite to eat and to share their story; to meditate if they wished to; or to watch a movie and to get to know other solo female travelers.

Perhaps one day I will host a Soul Sister Night here on Bali. But this morning I will have a striped dragonfruit and kiwi smoothie. Just because I can.
balifood-3(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)