A Violent Spirituality

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The 17,000 islands that form Indonesia are located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. They’re peppered with volcanic mountains and shudder under frequent earth tremors.
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pulaweh

 

This week, Paluweh on the very small island of Palu’e, east of Bali, erupted. Its incessant rumbling over past days alerted officials who evacuated most inhabitants to the nearby island of Flores. Six lives were lost.

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Even though the map lists only two volcanic mountains on Bali, there are at least six. Mt. Agung last erupted in 1963-1964. Mt. Batur in 1968. The others have been dormant for hundreds of years. Hot springs dot the calderas of these sleeping giants, and a geo-thermal plant harvests the power from fiery regions below Mt. Bratan’s crust.
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Earth’s dynamic unrest in this part of the world drives the energetic spirituality of Bali. The regions beneath the island paradise hold tremendous power. The Balinese understand, and daily tend to the balancing of energy through their rituals and offerings. They open their arms to spiritual practices from around the globe, and while the earth seethes, the air above vibrates with the hum of prayers, the movement of dance, and the ecstatic clang of gamelan.
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I’ve noticed that mindfulness is easier in Bali. Being present is a way of life. Gratitude soaks into the pores and becomes perpetual. I’m struck by the differences now that I’ve been in the States for a few weeks. Now that jet-lag has passed, and culture shock has subsided to a degree, and my emotions have stabilized, I can think logically about what it is that feels so absent, what gets in the way of connection.
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It’s the veneer. There’s a glossy coating on people in America that separates us. Maybe it’s competition, or power. Maybe it’s privilege, or sophistication, or make-up! But we’re isolated. Even walking down the sidewalk with hoards of others, we’re so alone. We are the casualties of progress, of technology, of narcissistic self-absorption.
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In Bali I don’t go 10 steps without an interaction. Maybe it’s nothing more than a taxi driver on the street offering his services, but someone has spoken to me and I have the option to respond and thank him and inquire about his day. I have the option to connect. I find I like that. I need that. And I take advantage of those opportunities. It has opened the door to a different kind of life. The taxi drivers remember. They stop offering “Taksi!” and instead say “Good afternoon, how are you today?” and we visit for awhile.
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The fragile brevity of life calls for more than just going through the motions. In the shadow of Mt. Agung, regal, serene, but deadly when aroused, there is a creative force that supports authenticity. It beckons, like these words by Rumi: “Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
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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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