Hello, 2022. You’re a welcome sight…

We’re three days in. Already your energy feels hopeful.

2022 A new dawn. A new day.

Photo credits Alamy 2C52HKF

2020 and 2021 brought a harsh reckoning…a world reset. None of us is the same person we were at the end of 2019. Life as we knew it came to an abrupt halt and we’ve been scrambling ever since.

But I don’t need to revisit the nightmare of the past two years.

A new dawn, a new day, and a new home. I’m settling in and embracing the differences. From a tropical island in Asia to the high desert of the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico – how opposite could it be? I’ve exchanged hot and humid for cool and dry. That, and the altitude, required this shocked, very-soon-to-be 72-year-old body, to slow way down and recalibrate.

My Bali home…

My San Miguel de Allende home

It’s been a month already and, to my delight, I’m finding far more similarities between here and my Bali home of the past ten years, than differences. I’ve exchanged the practices of one devout people for the very different but equally devout rituals of another. Bali Hinduism is unique in that it is heavily influenced by ancient animism. Mexican Catholicism is also a blend. It retains flavors of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, and other long-gone cultures.

It feels right to me to have a hint of those shamanic elements of the ancestors operating today. It fulfills a need to connect to a past where spirituality was an integral part of life, if not life itself. I’m also glad the decision-makers have been selective about which ceremonial activities to leave in the past – human sacrifice for instance – not a fan!

The Day of the Dead in Mexico and the march of the Ogoh-Ogohs on Nyepi in Bali – the wild clang and crash of gamelan orchestras accompanying the monster parade – feed my Plutonian shadow. Darkness is lured out of hiding. We’re face-to-face with the ‘other’ realm and perhaps confronted by our demons. It’s an invitation, an opportunity to look at our own dark underbelly and accept that part of ourselves. That wasn’t available to me in the U.S. Darkness was kept hidden until it came out sideways, unhealthy and destructive.

There are other similarities, the double lives, for instance. In Bali, a beautiful smile, gracious hospitality – a facade is applied for the tourists, the ex-pats, the foreigners in white skins. It’s like that here, too. I hate it. I can’t say it more bluntly than that. I’m studying Spanish with a frenzy, as though my life depends upon speaking the language, because the life I want, does.

Only when I learned Indonesian did I become privy to the reality of the lives of the Balinese, the nitty-gritty behind the smiles.

I’m hoping that’s the same here. A common language is a connector that opens doors. Only when we can communicate in a shared language are we able to trust ‘the other’ enough to speak our truths and our secrets.

I was ready for a change, but I also hoped that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice some of the daily things I loved about my life in Ubud like the Ibu (esteemed woman/mother) who had the fruit and veggie stand where I bought all my produce.

Imagine my delight when, lo and behold, there was Señora Petra’s tiny tienda not ten steps from my door. The Señora sells just about…no, not just about…she sells everything I need to survive out of her hole-in-the-wall space no bigger than an average American bathroom. Besides fruits and veggies, I get my cheese, eggs, yogurt, crispy corn tortillas (by the 30-count package) flour, sugar, salt, a few select homemade pastries, beer…

And yesterday, on a whim because a button fell off my favorite shirt, I asked if she had white thread for sewing. She cocked her head and grinned. From somewhere in the depths under the back of the counter, she extracted a plastic box and – I kid you not – there it was. Thread in an assortment of colors. She fingered them and pulled out a white one. My jaw dropped. (Yet another example of a time when I’ve been thankful for the mask!)

Ubud has two Western-type supermarkets. So does San Miguel and I’ve been to both of them. (There may be more but these are walking distance from me. SMA is a city. Ubud was a small town.) It only took that one trip to each of them to know that I’d only be going there when I want, not NEED, just WANT something like Italian seasoning or baking powder which I found yesterday at $10 USD for a bag of Red Mill brand – the only option. I nearly choked.

On the flip side, there are gigantic traditional markets where I wander, overwhelmed, dazed, enthralled. I’m the odd duck, very much in the minority, in the midst of hundreds of local people going about their ‘business as usual.’

There are similar-but-different markets targeting tourists and ex-pats. I’ve visited a couple of those, too, just to see what’s there. It’s fun to look but I find them high-priced and glitzy. I’m happier in the markets with less ‘show.’ I’m not necessarily more comfortable, aware that my white skin radiates like a beacon and certain assumptions are made about me on that basis alone.

But I need that, too, to remind me of my privilege, my entitlement, my colonizing heritage that has wreaked destruction for centuries upon centuries.

How does one atone for that? It’s a question that weighs heavily and one I need to answer for myself.

So, “Hello, 2022,” from this new place, ten years into my ongoing adventure called RETIREMENT. I’m poised excitedly, hopefully, on your doorstep with so much to be grateful for, and so much to learn.

Making Peace with Good and Evil

Good and evil, yin and yang, are balanced today in the village of Bakbakan.  It isn’t easy to maintain harmony with these energies. The level of sensory intensity in the ritual prayers, dances, and offerings that are required to keep peace between the sacred and the profane is unparalleled by anything I’ve seen before.

My friend Wayan invited Nancy (who is visiting from the U.S.) and me to attend the temple ceremony as guests of her family. The village of Bakbakan is about 30 minutes from Ubud. I arranged with Pasek and Ketut for motorbike transport. After a sidesaddle ride, which Nancy accomplished with impressive decorum, we were delivered to our destination and welcomed warmly by Wayan and Komang in ceremonial dress.

A group of women had already congregated. They were stunning. They looked like brides, all in white with a colorful sash at their waists. We had a few minutes to visit and then a line started forming. The row of towering pyramids of fruit, cakes, whole baked chickens, and colorful confections were retrieved by the woman who created them and placed on their heads.

This woman’s husband helps her with her 4′ tall, over 30 pound offering.

I cannot comprehend this feat of balance and strength.  It’s a challenge for me to balance a book on my head for more than a few steps. How on earth do they do it? The stately procession was followed by the gamelan musicians. Nancy and I walked alongside the men, snapping photos as discreetly as possible.

A stunning parade, at least 50 women all in white, carried their towering offerings the 1/2 mile to the temple.

The temple complex has three areas. Those who cannot enter wait in the least sacred area outside the entrance. If a relative has died recently the family cannot enter the temple. If a woman is menstruating she must not enter. At we approached Komang politely asked if Nancy or I were menstruating. There are very few bodily functions that register as taboos in Bali. Community life is an open book. There is no embarrassment around such things. I assured him we were both well past that age. He smiled and motioned us to the holy water where we were sprinkled. Then we passed through the gate and entered a magical realm. All was in readiness for the evening festivities as we passed through this second area.

Stepping through the last gate into the most sacred portion of the temple a riot of color and commotion assailed us. The air vibrated with expectation and the hum of voices. We were urged onto a platform, a seat of honor, and woven bamboo mats were quickly spread for our delicate foreign bottoms. Nancy and I sat by Wayan while Ary slept peacefully in her arms.

Komang’s cousin, Made, appointed himself our teacher and began explaining the events that would take place. His English was excellent and I learned more about Balinese Hinduism in the 30 minutes with him than I have in 5 months of reading and asking questions. We sat and chatted while other friends and family came and went.

The gamelan began, signaling time for prayer. We sat on the ground in family groups. Each family brought, in addition to the 4’ high offering tower, a basket of flowers and incense which Komang’s mother placed in front of us. Prayers were chanted in unison as the intricate rituals were performed. I tried to chant. I’m pretty good at following along with most melodies, but this wasn’t exactly a melody. When we got to the end I recognized the words and gave it my all, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.

A buzz of excitement rippled through the crowd at this point and almost as a unit the we moved to the perimeter creating a center space. A cloth was spread on the ground and offerings were placed there. These were different. Some appeared to have been slightly burned. There were a couple of smaller, colorful ones but the rest were almost scary looking. Made explained that there would be a dance and prayers now to balance good and evil energies. A row of holy men in white sat behind the dark offerings. Incense was lighted that did not have the sweet fragrance we had been experiencing all night. This odor was acrid and harsh. The gamelan musicians began again. Then a grandmother appeared moving to the rhythm. Another grandmother joined her and soon a group of elder women were dancing in front of the offerings and the holy men. We had been told earlier that this would be a trance dance. It was eerie. The women appeared to be doing battle with the dark energies. I watched, mesmerized.

The solemnity of the prayers and trance dance complete, food suddenly appeared. Wayan handed us a tangerine, some beautiful little striped crackers, and a lacy confection of shredded coconut glazed with palm sugar. Yum! We ate, visited, and anticipated the beginning of the evening’s entertainment. People started moving into the performance area and Komang hustled us into position at the front. What followed were three traditional Balinese dances, each one more spectacular than the one before.

The first dance, Penyembrahma, was brilliantly colorful.

That was followed by the spectacular, twirling Bird of Paradise dance.

The costumes in deep maroon with gold were absolutely gorgeous.

Bird of Paradise was followed by a brilliantly costumed trio. I missed the name of this performance and it moved quickly so photo ops were difficult. It was hard to keep my eyes behind the camera when I really just wanted to absorb myself completely in the moment!

It was 9 p.m. by the time the dancers finished. We were told that there would be another performance starting soon, but this was a ritual dance and it would be dangerous for us to leave in the middle. It again had to do with balance of good and evil. Once we started watching we would have to stay until the end at about 2 a.m. As much as my curiosity, my heart, and my mind wanted to stay, my body was in protest. Komang graciously escorted us to the street. Pasek and Ketut had returned and were waiting for us. We exchanged sweet farewells and started home. The cool night air brushed by as we zipped through dark, quiet streets. I was overwhelmed once again with immense gratitude for the opportunity to live this kind of life, a life I have created for myself knowing what I need, what I want, and what I love. It is a life that fits me like skin.

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