To Risk Being Disturbed and Changed

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From A Morning Offering
by John O’Donohue

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fears no more.

 

 

Bali, steeped in ritual, alive equally to the seen and the unseen, demands offerings.

I came here to ‘break the dead shell of yesterdays’. I had no idea what lay ahead for me but I wanted a life that I would love and I had a shadowy dream of what that might look like.

I noticed the offerings first. How quaint, I thought. How pretty. Weeks later in a small village I saw others that were not lovely. They held dark, partially burned objects. Women in trance danced beside them, swaying, eyes closed. An involuntary shudder rippled head to toe. In an instant it was clear that I was living on the face of things, lost in the romance of paradise while another reality roiled and churned just out of sight.

It’s that Bali I’ve grown to love. I’m still smitten with the enchantments of her beautiful face, but I’m no longer naive. The Balinese devote hours every day making prayers and offerings to spirits both dark and benign. This, they believe, maintains balance between the worlds. Since they operate in both realms simultaneously, that balance is essential. Unlike Western consciousness grounded in the seen, Bali-mind is equally at home with the physical earth and the spirits at play here.

I’ve been ‘disturbed and changed’ by the tremendous power of this island. People ask me, Do you believe all that? And I answer, How can I not? I’ve experienced her transforming fire first hand and I’ve watched as others fall prey to her spell. A friend commented recently that Bali is a karmic accelerator. That’s a piece of it, but it’s much more. If you stay any length of time you’ll see. Bali intensifies character good or bad, manifests intention, spawns creativity, and rearranges beliefs. If you merge with her flow she’ll nurture you. But if you cross her, beware. You’ve no idea what demons you’ve summoned!

 

 

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A Dark River

Approaching Bali, proceed with caution.

I have christened Bali the island of transformation because that’s what happens here. Like it or not, want it or not, expect it or not, it happens. Some of us come knowing, seeking that paradigm shift in our reality. We’re hungry for the energies that pass to and fro and swirl around us in this magical place. We embrace the spirituality, so different from anything we’ve known, with deep longing for the flavor of truth. But it isn’t the holy men, spectres in white, chanting, praying, and sprinkling supplicants with purifying water. And it isn’t the wild parade of ogoh-ogoh’s careening through the streets the day before Nyepi. It is far more subtle than that.

For me, it creeps into my soul like fog snakes it’s way up the Campuan River Valley at dusk.

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It settles into my cells with certainty, and like the heavy green of wet jungle, it anchors me to my life.

The Hindu beliefs practiced by the Balinese are complex beyond fathoming. When I first arrived I was determined to ‘figure it out’! I asked everyone who would talk to me about the ceremonies and the daily offerings. My head was filled with information. As my friendships here deepened, so did my understanding. A dark river flows beneath the glitter and pageantry of the temple. It is the realm of good and evil. The towering fruit offerings, intricate dances, trances and prayers, are channels of communication between earthly man and unearthly beings. The tranquility of Bali is held in balance by the ancient rituals of it’s people and prayers carried skyward on sweet clouds of incense.

The casual visitors passing through may be aware only of a sense of safety. They drink in the beauty of the landscape, the sun, the sea, and return home without a backward glance. At some day in the future they may recall their visit and a momentary calm will suffuse them. But the heart that arrives broken, the spirit that arrives parched, the mind that comes seeking, will have a different experience. The island knows. She musters her unseen armies, the dark warriors of legend and myth that manifest here, and battles are waged for those troubled souls.  

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So we of the Western mindset, logical, factual, but hardly mystical, often tend to dismiss the whole business as superstition. In our arrogance we attribute this intimate dance with the supernatural to ignorance. I am not a religious person, but I am progressively more spiritual. I have neither denied the existence of goddesses, gods, angels, and demons, nor have I accepted a patriarchal trinity. I know I have prejudices, but I can feel them melting away, yielding to mysteries that I can’t explain. Once again I am letting go, letting go, letting go of tightly held untruths, creating room in my life for magic.

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