A flyer sits in my e-mail box. It’s from a friend in Australia who holds retreats in Bali. Spring is in the air…it begins. For a hair’s breadth I think, “She needs to update her website. It’s September. Spring is in March…April latest…OH!” Whoops! Southern hemisphere, the seasons are up-side-down. She’s absolutely right, in Australia (and Bali) it’s spring.
This gives me pause. How often, I wonder, do I pass judgment based on my frame of reference?
It’s one thing to study different countries and cultures in books. It’s another thing entirely to relocate your life to a place on the opposite side of the equator from the familiar comfort zone. My understanding of how things should be is challenged daily. Two recent occurrences come to mind, ceremonies and sleeping arrangements.
Someone said that to the Hindu, life is ceremonies and everything in between is just filler. The truth of that statement cannot be fully appreciated until it’s experienced. In my white Anglo-Saxon Protestant past, church on Sunday was the tradition. It was an hour of sitting in respectful silence and listening to the sermon with the occasional call-response or hymn to break the monotony. When the pastor said, “Go in peace, serve the Lord,” it was my signal to stop daydreaming, find the page for the last song, and make sure my legs hadn’t fallen asleep.
Not so the Hindu. Rituals are not an hour on Sunday morning. Ceremonies can last hours, days, sometimes even weeks. The priest may be ringing his bell and chanting Sanskrit prayers but men and women continue to gossip and laugh and virtually ignore him.
At first I’m appalled. What disrespectful people! How can they offend the priest like this? Why doesn’t he say something? All the while I sit piously, hands folded in my lap, paying rapt attention. But the holy man never appears to be offended and as soon as he finishes he joins in with his own jokes and good humor.
I’m an expert at imposing assumptions from my narrow experience on a culture that doesn’t share that experience. Their reverence is shown in ways that I’m only beginning to understand. But I’ve taken note and I’m loosening up.
Yesterday posed a different problem, however, and I tried to play the I’m-not-Hindu-so-that-doesn’t-apply-to-me card. It had to do with the orientation of my bed. The Balinese are adamant about sleeping arrangements. The bed must be positioned so one’s head points either east or south, and I’ll qualify that by saying it depends upon where a person lives on the island in relation to Holy Mount Agung. In Ubud, Agung is to the east. Because of the configuration of the bedroom, however, I want the head of the bed on the west wall.
“Not possible,” says Ketut.
“I know, I know,” I gear up to hold my ground. “But I’m not Hindu so it’s okay for me.”
“No good,” he continues. Impatience rises up at his inflexibility on this topic but I try to reason with him.
“Look, if I put the wardrobe here on the short wall, and the bed here, it’s easier to get to the bathroom. Otherwise too crowded.”
“Ya, but no good.”
I want to say, Why not, dammit?! But instead I offer a meek, “Why not?”
“Machine. Too much noise. No sleeping.” For a few brief seconds I try to make sense of how a machine has worked it’s way into this spiritual conversation. Then it dawns. The neighbor’s washing machine is directly behind the west bedroom wall. An early morning spin cycle, a little off balance, would be sleep disturbing. I feel the defeated grin spreading across my face as I shake my head.
“Why do I even argue with you?” It’s a rhetorical question, but Ketut has the answer.
“Maybe you forget machine,” he says.