This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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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)


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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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Weekend escape

spaIn February the days are lighter already – and this past winter they were terribly cold, too. What a surreal feeling, then, to lounge in a tropical climate in a bathing suit, sipping cooling sparkling wine, and looking out at an icy winter coast landscape.

Movies and books are good everyday escapes. Spa weekends are excellent luxury escapes. The only downside is, one must close one’s eyes to imagine the tropical beaches, the wind in the palm trees, and the heat from the sun. Alternatively, one should spend time in the company of such a good friend that surroundings become irrelevant.

(Hanko, Finland; February 2018)

 


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Retreating

retreatFor just one day I checked out of my own life. I reconnected with the person living that life instead. Under the skin of the person who travels 2-3 days a week for work, and consciously has to carve out time for life beyond a job she loves, are ants running around. The trick is, one only discovers them when one stops for a moment.

So today I sat down on my zafu and said hello to the ants running across my chest, on the inside of my skin. As I practised my walking meditation in 20 cm snow underneath sleeping apple trees, I could feel the ants go to sleep, too.

While I consciously choose to live than just to exist, in this context and in our culture, truly “living” usually means being active. Sometimes it is good to just let the world pass through us and truly feel it. The good, the bad, and the antsy.

(Kirkkonummi, Finland; January 2018)