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.

Hanoman Street in Ubud

I love the surprises each day brings. After another superb meal at Atman Cafe I head north on Hanoman Street.

Hanoman is one of the two main arteries running north and south through Ubud. I set off, camera in hand, to capture some images that are representative of the flavor of the village. This carved, painted door with a soaring crown and gargoyle is typical Balinese architecture. It is inserted into a high brick wall that surrounds a family compound or perhaps a temple.

There are always steps up to the doorway so you can’t quite see what’s in there. Today curiosity triumphed. I climbed the stairs and took a peek  through the partially open door. There was a large open space bordered by several buildings that I assume are dwellings. The ornate facades of these homes are protected by statues of gods or fierce creatures.

My mission for the afternoon is to visit the new CoCo Supermarket and pick up a few snacks for evening munching. I hadn’t realized until now what a snacker I am! Not having a kitchen with stocked cupboards handy is definitely a lifestyle change. I comb the gleaming isles of the large store. There are thousands of varieties of chips, cookies, and candies. My search is successful and I leave with two apples and a bag of spicy Thai peanuts. There is a somber look to the sky as I head home so I pick up the pace hoping to reach cover before a downpour.

I am approaching my turn when Hanoman Street becomes suddenly quiet. No traffic. That can only mean one thing. Looking up the street I see them coming. A ceremonial procession is making its way toward me.

The black and white plaid fabric is seen everywhere in Bali. I was told that it represents balance.

They pass directly in front of me on their way to the temple to make the offerings that the women are carrying on their heads.  I don’t want to be the obnoxious tourist who intrudes upon their traditional rituals with camera flashing, so I try to be discreet and probably miss the best shots as a result.

The parade continues on and I head down the walled corridor that will take me home. As I turn the corner at the top of the steps, there beside my door is a canang sari, a small basket woven of palm fronds containing an offering to the gods. The Balinese present these offerings three times a day. Sometimes I wonder how the women get anything else done. They seem to sit for hours every day making literally dozens of these small gifts.

Finally back on my balcony I watch the threatening clouds approach.

There’s a stiff breeze and…ahhh yes! Here comes the rain!

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