A (Very Small) Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf had it right. People need a place to escape the rigors of social interaction otherwise known as life. Some of us need it more than others. You closet introverts know who you are.

I used to fight my introverted self. It isn’t the preferred category. The extrovert catches the worm. The introvert agonizes over the proper approach to the worm, whether or not the worm will be receptive to the advances, rehearses a dozen different speeches to break the ice and by then the worm is gone.

When Pasek asks me if I want to rent the place next door while mine is being renovated, I say, “Oh no. I’ll stay in my house during the construction.”

“No,” he says.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s okay, I like building projects.”

“No,” he says. Pasek is the project manager. Normally I would defer to his greater knowledge of best building practices in Bali. But this time I’m adamant.

“Yes,” I say, and that’s the final word.

It begins innocently enough. I arrange the sofa and chairs in my open living area so the crew can relax while they eat breakfast and lunch. I buy coffee, tea, and sugar for their morning and afternoon beverages. I make the extra bathroom available for their personal needs. In my mind it’s like a very long tea party and I’m the ultimate hostess.

My yoga and meditation routine gets pushed to 6 a.m. so I can be finished before the noise starts.

During the day I sit with my laptop at the dining table so I can watch the work while I write.

After a month the dirt and noise encroach. I remove the dining table and chairs, shove the sofa against the back wall, and relocate my writing to the front terrace. Not sturdy enough for constant use, the sofa breaks. That too is removed. Then the bags of concrete arrive and take over the terrace.

The desk in my bedroom becomes my island of calm.

A day later, the concrete for the new second floor is poured. Without warning, gray cement water rains through the bamboo ceilings of both bedrooms flooding them in minutes. I lurch away from the desk and run for buckets, mops, rags, anything to staunch the flow. I feel my enthusiasm slip a few notches.

Hours later, with the help of Ketut, things are drying.

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“Roof go tomorrow,” he announces as we return the furnishings to their original places. “Maybe furniture move, move.”

“The roof? Tomorrow?” I squeak.

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“Ya,” he says.

We assess the situation and I send him to buy tarps. The next morning I get up with a plan. There’s space in my extra large bathroom for the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. If I move those things out of the bedroom and arrange everything else at the far end to avoid possible future flooding from the unprotected area, the absence of a roof should matter less. I set to work. By the time Ketut comes back I’ve finished.

“Have help?” he asks, as he eyes the large, heavy wardrobe and chest now sitting in the bathroom.

“No,” I say. “I did it myself.”

“Not broken?” he asks.

“No, not me and not the furniture.” He laughs.

P1060865I change the bedding, arrange the side tables and hang a few things on the wall. Not bad. I sink into a chair and gaze at my handiwork. With the bulky items out of sight in the bathroom, the space feels larger. And it looks more like a studio apartment than a bedroom, granted a tiny studio, but the energy of it has shifted.

It’s a refuge. It contains everything I need.

Pasek says in two months the work will be finished. Yesterday two months would have sounded like twenty years. But now I have a place that feels organized and moderately clean where I can shut the door and claim private time. I’ve banished the ridiculous notion that I’m entertaining guests. Enthusiasm has resurfaced. I’ll be fine. All I need is a nook, an undisturbed corner where I can duck away to recharge my introverted batteries…a (very small) room of my own.

101 Breaths

Nine eleven.

Those numbers, in that order, will forever mean something more than just two numbers spoken together.

It was early morning. I was driving my youngest daughter to school. We had the car radio on and the program was interrupted. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember thinking that something in the traffic control tower must have gone terribly wrong. Within moments, another plane hit.

I had been in New York two weeks earlier with middle daughter, Joy, helping her move into the dorm at FIT in Manhattan. Now I dialed and redialed her number. Nothing.

By the time I got to work a third plane had careened into the Pentagon. My cousin worked there. My daughter still didn’t answer.

Twelve years later, can it be? It’s over a decade, but still fresh, still a terror of the heart. Both my daughter and my cousin were unharmed. Many others were less fortunate.

This morning I sat in meditation. I couldn’t still the thoughts until one idea caught my attention. It said, “Take 101 breaths to cleanse the heart.” I gulped a lungful of air and expelled it slowly, tightening the stomach muscles until the last wisp of it left my nostrils. Then slowly, methodically, I counted each deep inhale and elongated exhale, one hundred and one times, remembering and letting go.

Justin Lane/Pool/Getty Image

Justin Lane/Pool/Getty Image

Breathwork, or pranayama in yoga circles, brings harmony to the body, mind, and spirit. My body knew what was needed and sent the subtle message to me in the form of a thought.

The breaths completed, I sat in gratitude, the heaviness of those memories lifted. I honored the losses in a way that didn’t consume me.

Once again the body has taught me a valuable lesson. When dealing with too much emotion…101 breaths.

Yoga and the Invasion of the Semut

I wake up invigorated. The yoga platform is calling me. As the rising sun’s rays sift through banana leaves I do my 24 sun salutations, 12 on each side. Then tree pose, I move slowly from tree into king dancer without putting my foot on the ground, then stork. (Do you know stork? I made it up!) I complete my regular 40 minute routine, meditate staring into the flashing iridescence of a crystal, give thanks, receive blessings, and feel fabulous. Today is Kuningan, the ceremonial last day of the Hindu celebrations honoring the ancestors. The air is supercharged, sweet with incense and the prayers of the devout.

I gather up my mat and step…oops! What the…? Instead of stepping, I leap off the last stair over a swarming mass. There is a black line stretching from the front door to the back yard, but it seems to have a roundabout right under that step. Mass congestion…traffic jam! It appears that I have been invaded by semut…ants to us in the west. This is unacceptable. My adrenalin spikes. I grab the bamboo straw broom and haul away, brushing furiously to and fro.

My sweeping is utterly ineffective. No sooner are the persistent critters ousted, then 2000 more take their place. There was a storm the other night, a really big storm. I think these semut are homeless. I know Ibu has a can of HIT with pictures of vile insects that it promises to eradicate. I’m desperate. She’s moved it from its usual hiding place. I run to the storage area in the back of the house and, sure enough! Sneaky Ibu! I grab the spray and race back. I’ve been gone just long enough for the entire line to reassemble, as though nothing had happened at all.

When Ibu came later with offerings for Kuningan, I was the picture of contented peace. The deadly HIT can was back in its hiding place. (I don’t think she wants me to know she uses the vicious stuff!) And the bodies had been ceremoniously trashed. She decorated the house with beautiful dream-catcher like weavings, piles and piles of fruit offerings, and her secret incense that smells like cloves.

The house altar decorated for Kuningan

The house altar decorated for Kuningan

Then we sat staring at the garden, talking about the price of onions, and eating tape (tah-pay), the fermented rice dish, slightly alcoholic, that she always makes for this day.

The front terrace

We sat on the bench on the front terrace

My yard in the jungle

Staring at the jungle that Ibu chops back to keep from losing the yard

My front door decorated for Kuningan

Ibu’s beautiful dreamcatchers decorate the front door for Kuningan

Through this doorway is a perfect view of the semut trail. See the bottom step leading up to the platform? Yup! The roundabout is right under it. Who knew? But no more…at least not until time and traffic wear away the toxic remedy. I feel like such a traitor! But there are no organic solutions in rural Ubud. I’ve seen a few measly semut carry off an entire gecko and I have no doubt that 2000 of them could make short work of my carcass. So there’s no cohabitating with with the little buggers. Its them or me, and as long as I can find Ibu’s stash, I have the advantage.

I want, I want, I want!

It is like living in an art gallery, this home where I stay in Ubud. The Balinese are born with the creativity gene. Whether it expresses itself in painting, carving, music, dance, or hundreds of other endeavors, there isn’t one of them that escapes it. It is their birthright. They are nonchalant about it. Of course I paint. Of course I carve. Of course I build complex towers of fruits, and sweets, and whole chickens for temple offerings…of course.

I love the art that graces my balcony.

There is a humble clay pot on a pedestal in one corner. 

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And a handsome sculpture of Buddha’s head on a pedestal in the opposite corner.

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Seven women in white robes, one holding a golden light, occupy a huge canvas to the left,P1020306

and two women in dark robes holding flowers wisper to each other on the right. P1020308

I want these two paintings. They have enchanted me. I want to own them. What’s that about?! I just got rid of everything and the last thing I need to be thinking about is re-accumulating stuff! And these are huge, probably 7 feet wide by 5 feet high. Then of course I’d need a house to hang them in…!

And so it goes, the urge to own, to possess beauty, whatever that means. But for now I am concentrating on the inner, rather than the outer trappings. I can appreciate these paintings on my balcony while meditating, or doing kabalabahti, skull shining breaths! I can own the visual joy and the subtler energy of them without allowing them to become baggage to be transported, stored, and eventually begrudged as a burden.

I have much yet to learn about possessions and it is far too soon to experiment. Each thing one owns carries with it a weight and a responsibility. I make no judgement about that, I simply state it as fact. But the truth of it is something to ponder, something not to forget.

A Visit to Michael Franti’s Soulshine Retreat Center

I’m terrible with names. It comes naturally. So when J.J. mentioned that there was an open house at Michael Franti’s Soulshine Retreat Center, just outside of Ubud I did one of those, “UmmHmm,” comments that translated means, “I think I should know who you’re talking about but I don’t have a clue.” She wasn’t fooled. “You know, the singer?” she was trying to help. “Ahhh, maybe?” The thing is, I know SONGS. I don’t know SINGERS. Anyway, it sounded like a nice outing for the morning so we set out on foot. Well, it may be five minutes from Ubud by car, but it was a full hour hoofing it. First we had the rippling sidewalks of Ubud proper. Those turned into narrow dirt paths by the side of narrow roads with traffic whizzing by. And then even the narrow paths disappeared. Mix that with blazing sun beating down and you have a perfect recipe for heatstroke! When we saw the Soulshine landmark, five yellow flags by the side of the road, we hoped we weren’t hallucinating. Turning right off the street we were immediately drenched in Bali beauty.

We followed the path along this lovely little stream and it turned into a rushing torrent splashing through holes in volcanic rock formations.

Then it became a waterfall.

Finally we reached the Center itself, an oasis of serenity.

We were greeted by smiling, friendly staff who told us they knew nothing about an open house. There was a retreat in progress and they were so sorry…. Well, J.J. wasn’t about to roll over and play dead. “It says in the Bali Spirit guide that during the Festival the Soulshine Retreat Center will have open house 11 – 4 every day.” The smiling staff looked confused. One of the young men asked us to “Please wait,” and he disappeared. After only a few minutes a woman appeared at the top of a long stairway and motioned us to ascend. We did. The woman was Carla Swanson, co-founder and Michael Franti’s partner. She personally took us on a tour of the center. The photo below is the third floor yoga studio with gleaming wood floors and a panoramic view of the surrounding rice paddies and jungle.

The accommodations are sublime, and the carrot juice drink we were served, compliments of Carla, was unparalleled. My photos do not do justice to the tranquil beauty, the exquisite detail of the architecture itself, and the serene aesthetic that permeates the environment.

This is a view of the grounds from an area by the pool and restaurant. It is luscious. Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes. We rested, soaking in the restorative energy, sipping our cool drinks, imagining hosting workshops here. It is the stuff of future dreams that have a way of manifesting if you see them clearly enough.

Our tour completed, J.J. and I parted ways. About half -way back to Ubud the sky was threatening to dump its afternoon deluge so I sought cover at the Nuriani Cafe. It was a splendid choice. After a refreshing glass of watermelon juice I feasted on this plate of Ayam Pedas Sambal Matah, which loosely translated means grilled chicken, vegetables and rice. The prawn chips are crisp and delicious but you have to eat them immediately. If they have a chance to sit even briefly they soak up the humid air and become like fishy tasting leather.

I lingered here, enjoying every morsel and resting my eyes on the green of the paddies from my elevated perch. This particular view has special memories. The buildings just across the field belong to Tegal Sari where my daughter and I stayed two years ago. Then the rain came and lasted once again for about 4  1/2 minutes.

 

Thoroughly satisfied, happy and hot, I trekked the rest of the way back to my room with single minded focus: TAKE A SHOWER. Now, sitting on my balcony refreshed and revived I am convinced it doesn’t get better than this.

Nyepi and 9/11

It is fitting that my soul-journey would encounter Nyepi. There are only a few other places in the world that observe a day of complete silence. But I assure you, the island of Bali has shut down. If they could have muted the roosters, I’m certain they would have! The closest thing to it that I can remember in the U.S. is when the airports were closed after 9/11. The skies were empty and an eerie silence hung over the land. Imagine if, along with no airplanes, all traffic had stopped, all electricity had been turned off, all stores and industries of every kind were closed, and people were required to remain in their houses.  That is Nyepi. The Balinese celebrate the first day of every new year in quiet meditation, introspection, and prayer.

I decide that today, for me, will be a day of appreciating my immediate surroundings (I can’t go anywhere else!) I will devote it to noticing the details that I have been enjoying but not really ‘seeing’ because of the cumulative beauty of this place. Like, for instance, this intensely green plant with shocking pink striped leaves has been here all the time but I just found it.

Look at this orchid inside a half coconut shell. It has been secured to a palm tree and will eventually grow right into the tree. Then the shell will be removed and they will have become one. It will look like the palm tree is sprouting orchids.

Just out of reach as I sit on my balcony is this breath-taking cluster of frangipani, or plumeria as it is known in Hawaii. Butter-yellow with star-shaped orange centers, the flowers are individually delicate but in clusters they seem to shout their presence! You have my attention…I’m listening now…

I am embarrassed at how quickly I become comfortable in a place and forget to fully appreciate the visual bounty. It is like anything, when we have so much we become numb to it. We begin to feel that we are entitled and instead of being humbly grateful for our abundance, we reach for more, and more, and more. It reminds me of the story that Yvonne (my Dutch friend) shared with me last night.

A fisherman lived in a cozy cottage in a picturesque village. Every day he went out in his little boat and easily caught enough fish from the abundance of the sea to feed his family. One day some visitors noticed the great number of fish available in that area. They approached the fisherman and said, “Why don’t you make nets so you can catch more fish?” The fisherman looked at them and said, “And why would I do that?” The people answered, “So you can make lots of money and hire people to fish for you.” Again the fisherman just looked at them and said, “And why would I do that?” The people said, “So you could make even more money and form a company and export fish all over the world.”  In his quiet way the fisherman said again, “And why would I do that?” By this time the people were getting impatient, “So you could take a lovely vacation in a peaceful little village like this one, and relax and fish all day.” The fisherman smiled. “Ah,” he said. “I see.”

So I end this auspicious day of Nyepi with my meditation for you:

May you be filled with lovingkindness,

May you be well in body and mind,

May you be safe from inner and outer dangers,

And may you be happy, truly happy, and free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Namaste hands from Bing search engine.

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