A Life of No Regret


I ran across this poem recently:

What I Regret
By Nina Cassian

. . . never having heard the voice of the Dodo bird . . .
. . . never having smelled the Japanese cherry trees . . .
. . . never having punished the lovers and friends that
deserted me . . .
. . . never having asked for honours that I deserved . . .
. . . never having composed a Mozart sonata . . .
. . . never having realised that I’d live long enough to
regret all the above . . .
. . . and much, much more . . .

What a heartbreaking indictment, a tragic litany for a final act.

At some point in my fifties I realized that if I continued my trajectory, I would die with huge regrets. The picture was graphic: I saw myself on my death bed. I felt the agony of an unlived life but it was more than that. I was ashamed. Why had I undervalued myself? Why hadn’t I followed my dream of travel, my love of adventure? Why had I squandered the gift of years? I was smart, strong, healthy, and capable right up to the end. I could have changed my circumstances at any time. But seeing the shrunken disillusioned shell I’d become, it was obvious I hadn’t.

The vision terrified me. But it prompted action: a slow steady turning of the barge midstream to head toward the waterfall, and conquering that, to the sea beyond.

What I know now that I didn’t know then is a basic condition of my character: I have the capacity for unfathomable darkness and I’m hard-wired for adventure. It’s in my DNA. But if I don’t get healthy excitement, and if the darkness isn’t deliberate it will come out sideways, corrupted, and dysfunctional. In my life, it had done just that.

People thought I was nuts to move to the other side of the globe alone, to a place where I knew no one and had only been once for a two-week vacation. But there are times when knowing settles into the bones; times when you realize that listening to the crazy voices in your head will save you.

People have asked me, “How did you summon the courage to do it?”

Courage? Ha! It was terror, pure and simple. I was terrified of the alternative and fear is by far the most powerful motivator there is.

That short visit was enough for me to know that Bali’s energy was different, that there was something there for me.

The culture is rich, deep, and ancient. Shamanistic rituals maintain the balance between darkness and light.

There are world-class events: the Ubud Writers Festival, the Food Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Bali Spirit Festival, the Kite Festival, the Arts Festival, that challenge and entertain.

There are natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, that provide enough trauma for several lifetimes.

There are problems: illiteracy, pollution, poverty, which create boundless opportunities to get involved and help. Bali, by nature, provides everything I need and allows me to be fully who I am, effortlessly. And maybe that’s the key: the lack of striving.

I hope you aren’t tired of hearing this from me. I know it’s a recurring theme. But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of living a fulfilled life. I hitched myself along for the ride on someone else’s dream many times. It’s a spirit-shattering business. Nobody but you can live your life. Nobody but you can nourish your soul.

Rumah Kita…way better than “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!”

If you haven’t seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I highly recommend it. That and four other movies helped me pass the 26 hours en-route to paradise. It is one of those heart-grabbing tales that touches truth with humor and sensitivity. The movie evoked tears and laughter, both in abundance.

And now I’m back! I’m living in the house of my dreams,  in the place of my dreams, doing what I love. (Pinch me!) When I first saw these rooms filled with light from the 8′ windows on three sides, my first thought was If I ever have the chance to rent this house I’d take it in a heartbeat. I inquired and my name was added to the bottom of a long list of “hopefuls.”  In early June, about a month after returning to Minnesota, I found out my name had, by some miracle, risen to the top of that list. I could have the house for 4 months starting mid-July but had to decide in 24 hours. Although I pretended to weigh the pros and cons, the decision had been made months earlier when I first walked through the door.

Here is my 10′ x 25′ balcony overlooking treetops and rooftops.

My breakfast is served here, on the balcony, by Ketut, my ‘house helper.’ Just so you can be completely envious, this house comes with staff. There is a house manager and a house helper. Pasek, the manager, takes care of the financial affairs of the property and shops for food and other necessary supplies. Ketut’s job is to take care of me. He prepares and serves my breakfast, cleans daily, and changes the bed and bath linens every three days. He keeps the house filled with fresh flowers…truly filled…and tends the gardens. When I want tea, or coffee, or a blended fruit drink I simply request it and it appears with Ketut, on a tray, along with another fragrant bouquet. I am already spoiled beyond recovery!

The night I arrived it was approaching 2:45 a.m. and I had told them to expect me between 1 and 1:30 a.m. But I no sooner stepped out of the taxi and Ketut was beside me, all smiles, in his grey hoodie sweatshirt. He hoisted my HEAVY suitcase over his shoulder and off we went, winding down the narrow path that leads to Rumah Kita, my beautiful new home. As I turned in at the gate I glanced up. The upstairs shined like a beacon. We walked up the staircase to the private entrance and opened the door. Every light in the house was on, the white tile floors were spotless and glistening. And flowers…the perfume of frangipani and blooms of unknown species wrapped me in fragrance and welcomed me in.

Ketut made sure I was comfortable, told me he would see me in the morning, and left me to unpack. Yes, I’d been up for about 28 hours straight by then, but there is something about unpacking that grounds me. When I finally peeled back the blue quilted comforter on the bed it was approaching 4 a.m. But all I could do was gaze in awe out the windows at shadowy palms and a sky full of stars and laugh and laugh and laugh. I was home.

As promised, Ketut appeared in the garden below about 7:30 (sunrise is 6:30 and the roosters and I were up at the crack of dawn!) “Would you like your breakfast?” he called up to me. My stomach had been rumbling for several hours by then…”Yes! Please!” He flashed a big smile…”What would you like?” Uh oh! I didn’t realize I might have options…”What are my choices?” I asked. Come to find out, I just have to let him know and I can have anything I want. I settled on fruit, omelet, and coffee, took my journal out to the balcony, and within moments breakfast (and more flowers) appeared before me.

I dined in sheer bliss listening to the Bali morning noises that I love. The house is near the river and overlooks banana palms, coconut palms, and a profusion of flowering bushes and trees. Some of the sounds are different from the chorus of the rice paddies that had become so familiar during my last stay. I love them all!

And I am intrigued by what I am beginning to call the ‘bliss factor.’ There have been times when there were one or two aspects of my life that brought me happiness. I learned to focus on those and if you asked, I would have told you that I was happy. There have been times of tremendous stress and pain but still there was happiness.  Here I experience something else. When I step off the plane and feel the warm softness of the air, see the brown faces and white smiles, my heart leaps into my throat. Tears well in my eyes. I feel a blinding shock of joy explode in my heart. It is a sensation I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I can only call it bliss. Some people meditate for years to achieve this altered state. I simply step off the plane.

From the edge of my balcony….Bali night.

Viking Spirit, Gypsy Soul

I was born on Grandpa’s birthday. We had a bond. Maybe because I was the only one who would play checkers with him. Or maybe it was because I inherited his adventure-loving Viking genes. I wish I could thank him for that.

At 18 years old he boarded a ship bound for America to make a life for himself in the New Country. Two years later he sailed back and married his sweetheart. Several months after that, pregnant with their first of twelve children, Rachael and Bendik said goodby to family and left Norway behind.

But it wasn’t just Grandpa who loved adventure. Every summer Dad took a month off and loaded the station wagon. He invented a special “topper” that rode on the roof and held the tent, pots, pans, sleeping bags, clothing, his guitar and my ukelele. It was one of those vehicles that had three seats and one of them faced the back window. My brother always sat back there. My sister alternated between that seat and the middle where I was. I never could ride backward without extreme consequences to my digestive tract. Mom was the navigator and sometimes took a turn at the wheel.

We camped all over the United States and into Canada, stopping at every historical marker, scenic overlook, roadside rest area, and state park along the way. At night, after pitching the tent, we sat around the campfire singing The Wreck of the Old 97, and Down in the Valley, and She Was Some Daisy for a Nineteen Year Old. I lived for those trips.

So the fascination for changing vistas is ingrained. Viking spirit, gypsy soul, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving…I no longer even try to resist. In three days I’ll board Korean Air for another 26 hour flight half way around the world. Excitement ripples in happy waves as I anticipate four more months in Bali.  In the words of the poet, 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 vow a hundred times. Come, come again, come.

Photo of Tanah Lot, Bali by: gyduvo.blogspot.com


Last night while I unpacked and re-packed my bags AGAIN, I opened a folder marked “Bali” that I had pulled out of the file drawer about a month ago. I thumbed through the miscellaneous brochures and receipts I had collected on my first trip two years ago. Pertenin Spa where Wayan gave me the most amazing massages was in there, and the jewelry shop where I had a special ring made to commemorate the rite of passage that trip represented for me was also there. I vaguely remembered having seen some pages of writing at the back of the file. Sure enough. There were my entries from the morning I left, snow so heavy you couldn’t even see the lanes on the freeway, to my return twelve days later. After the sensory delights of the tropics, Minnesota from the air might as well have been Siberia.

Scooping up the papers I stretched out on my bed and began to read. By the end I was laughing and crying joyfully. The first few pages were worthy of a travel magazine intent upon selling the wonders of Bali and it took me right back to the magic of that place. But then I began to wax philosophical as I always do, wondering why I didn’t know what I wanted for myself. I had a firm grip on what I did not want and it had manifested abundantly in my life so far. But why, at 60, didn’t I know what I wanted? As I explored that thought utilizing discovery writing techniques over the next few days the tone began to change. “What if I sold my furniture?” I asked myself at one point. “I think I could part with…” and there followed a list of just about everything I own and the reasons why I could let it go. At another juncture I asked myself, “What if I gave myself permission to write?” What if indeed!

As I finished reading the last page I realized that every possibility I had entertained as I wrote in Bali two years ago, had come to pass in my life. Far away from the appearances of the life I had created for myself I was able to engage with a much deeper and more honest place of knowing. As Wayan’s healing hands kneaded away the fear so tightly held in my body, and the slow-paced ritual ways of the Balinese unwound my driven type-A craziness, I saw that what I wanted was simply what I had always wanted.

I returned to Minnesota and tucked my “pages” in a file and forgot about them. But something infinitely powerful had been set in motion. I began to write. I began to sell furniture, a piece at a time. And I began to imagine a life of simplicity and freedom that centered around writing. I had no memory of those pages. I have never re-read them until last night. The power that resides in discovery writing astounds me! My “What if’s” of two years ago are now my reality and I am filled with joy like nothing I have ever felt before. It is as though all the scattered edges have been drawn in, stitched up, and made whole and I have come home, home to myself.

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