BALI Four Years Later…

I came to Bali in March of 2012. Today I checked the archives of my blog to remember what I was doing this time four years ago and was stunned. Swirling around me in a crazy juxtaposition of images and feelings was a journey, upon a journey, within a journey!

As I revisited those first months I saw myself the way I see everyone who arrives here from the relentless time pressures of the West. In the space of thirty days I managed to tour a village famous for woodcarvings, visit an organic farm, the Green School, the John Hardy jewelry factory, Goa Gajah elephant cave, a traditional market, a black sand beach, GitGit waterfall, the Bali animal sanctuary, and a school for children with learning disabilities. I took a cooking class, attended a Kecak Fire Dance, a Grand Opening for the new Yoga Barn, and a Balinese wedding. As if that wasn’t enough, I walked to a yoga studio every morning for an hour of Vinyasa! I thought, I truly thought I was slowing down. The thing is, compared to what I’d left behind, I was.

Observing myself in energizer bunny mode dazed me.

Then I pulled up accounts of Dewa, the owner and host at Jati Homestay where I spent my first months. I remember how compromised my feelings about men were at that time. The only good man was a…well, maybe not a dead man, but any male with heterosexual tendencies was unwelcome in my world. Dewa cracked the stony wall around my heart with his kindness and laughter.

Besides an inability to slow down, and a desire to avoid interactions with men, my head was wrapped around the novel I was writing, a psychological suspense thriller that distanced me from my own reality and kept me entwined in the imaginary lives of my characters.

And now…

I’ve slowed to a point where I’d make a slug appear speedy. I’ve embraced and embodied, dare I say mastered, the art of sacred idleness. There is nothing I would do today that can be put off until tomorrow, or later, or forever. I meditate and daydream and spend chunks, huge slices of time gazing at clouds. Have you ever been lost in the magnificence of clouds?

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And let me tell you about men. When I moved into a more permanent residence after two months at Dewa’s, and discovered that I would have a man looking after me literally twenty-four hours a day, the discomfort that arose was irrational and immense. I was Ketut’s job. His only job. Many things crossed my freaked-out mind. But I loved my new quarters and as the days passed I grew curious about Ketut. He spoke almost no English but greeted me every morning with, “You want breakfast now?” His quiet, humble ways and attention to detail captivated me and the frozen places within commenced a tectonic shift. Since then I’ve existed almost exclusively in the company of men. First there were the adorable guys who built my house, and now the neighborhood staff, five of them, like to hang out, play my guitar, and beat me at Uno.

Ketut still manages me and I can’t imagine life without his friendship.

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Two years ago I completed the fiction novel and cast about for what to do next. Many times I’d been told I should write my story. I’d tried, but the tough things were still lodged in a pain place and I couldn’t make myself go back there. All attempts ended in failure. But that was before. Now felt different, so I began. One chapter led to another, then another. I dug through detritus within myself that hadn’t been touched for decades and found it had fermented and become delightfully intoxicating.

Today, as I read the blog and traced those first exploratory steps in a foreign place where I knew no one, not even myself, and superimposed the image of who I’ve become, the magnitude of change hit me. What a testimony to the energetic magic of letting go. If I hadn’t sold everything four years ago and leaped into the unknown…

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What a day!

It’s 6:30 a.m. Light rain is falling as I head down a deserted Hanoman Street. For days now I have allowed the morning rain to deter me from walking to the Yoga Barn for the 7 a.m. Early Bird Yoga class. It is one of the few Level 1 classes offered and my body is happiest at Level 1. I am the third to arrive. I take a mat, blocks, and a blanket and make my way to the far side of the room settling into a seated, meditative state. When I again open my eyes, the room is filled. There are, at quick glance, at least 20 people on their mats, waiting. The class is perfect, flowing from one pose to the next, fluidly, slowly, with the breath. I leave, calmed and energized.

Back to my homestay for breakfast and a quick change of clothes, then I’m off to the market. The sky is now a brilliant blue with bright sunshine. I gaze upward and can’t resist this shot. Who says you can’t take a picture directly into the sun?!

One must be mentally and physically prepared for a visit to the market. As with markets everywhere (with the possible exception of stoic Budapest) I am accosted every step of the way with, “Miss, a sarong today? A beautiful sarong?” “Miss, silver bracelet for you? Silver jewelry?” “Miss, Miss, good price for you today!” I find that the best answer is to respond in a sing-song voice, “Not today…thank you.” Most often I get a sing-song “Thank you…” in return. Sometimes I hear, “Miss, tomorrow?” I smile and move on.

The air here doesn’t move. There are offerings and incense at every vendor’s stall. I’ve wormed my way deep into the bowels of the marketplace. In the mid-day Bali heat I start feeling slightly woozy. I find my way to a balcony and inhale a deep breath of fresh air.

Yes. All those rooftops house more of the market. I wonder how many of the thousands of sarongs available here are sold on a given day, or how many of the I “heart” Bali T-shirts?

Finally, 200% over-stimulated, I look for an exit and escape. Uh oh! This street isn’t familiar. I go back inside, wend my way in the opposite direction, or as close to that as possible, and emerge somewhere else. Once again outside I recognize a landmark. The Oops Bar. I strike out confidently in the wrong direction. After a short distance I realize my mistake and make the necessary correction. I am heading for the Wayan Cafe, sweet oasis in the midst of sensory overload. It is a fair distance from the market but, dripping with sweat, I am bound and determined that a long, leisurely lunch there is just reward for the trials I have endured.

My persistence pays off. I ask the blue turbaned attendant if there is an available table in the garden. He invites me to go in and choose for myself. As I follow the winding path through rich foliage bursting with blossoms, I hope that I will find the perfect spot, secluded and tranquil. I pass many opportunities for seating but they aren’t quite what I’m hoping for. Then, on my right, is a high platform with a thatched roof overlooking a lovely lotus pond. It sits all by itself as if just waiting for me to find it. I remove my sandals and ascend the platform, sinking gratefully into the cushions.

And now the part my “foodie” friends have been waiting for. You know who you are! The menu is extensive and every dish delectable. I decide on an iced latte to start. The smiling blue turban appears and wallah! Iced coffee.

I’ve decided on an Indonesian dish called Cap Cay (pronounced Chop Chay) for my main course. It is described as “cabbages, carrot, cauliflower, onion, and green vegetables in  a red sweet chili garlic sauce served with plain rice.”
My mouth waters and my stomach rumbles anticipating the flavors.

Oh delight! I am not disappointed. I savor every mouthful and wonder how I will summon the capacity for dessert. Exercising tremendous restraint, I do not lick the bowl. My happy attendant returns to remove the empty dishes and I tell him I must have dessert but I will have to wait a bit. “Take your time,” he says. I’m grateful for that. It is the perfect opportunity to take a few more photos of my idyllic surroundings.

The view to my right…

The view to my left…

And the view straight ahead. I’ve studied the dessert menu and, much against my better judgement, I order two: coconut meringue pie and green tea ice cream. The ice cream comes first. It is every bit as refreshing as it looks.

Yes, I should have stopped there. But Wayan Cafe is also a bakery. One should never leave without tasting at least one of their specialty desserts. Their coconut meringue pie is a pastry lovers dream.

The pie arrives. Gorgeous! I manage to polish off the whole thing. Did you have any doubt?

Reluctantly I know the time has come to leave my little island of calm and head home.

I thank my server again and slowly take myself and my very full belly, down off the platform and back through the serene gardens and home. It has been quite a day and it’s only 3 p.m. I make myself comfortable on the balcony with my laptop and find the place in the Word document where I left my protagonist hanging yesterday. The story starts to unfold in my mind and my fingers follow it, clicking over the keys.

Obedient Slave

There’s only one drawback to traveling alone…it’s a little tougher to get photos of yourself! But I am here…really I am!

One of the first things we talk about in my Writing for Self-Discovery Classes is the importance of listening to your body. Way too often the mind runs the show, deciding where to go, what to do and when to do it without ever consulting the body. The body, obedient slave that it is, goes along and goes along and goes along until one day it has enough. The ONLY way the body can get the mind’s attention is to get sick. Suddenly the show stops and the mind is 100% focused on the body.

We aren’t used to consulting our bodies. So much illness could be avoided if we listened to body promptings. And I’m the world’s worst! So, the purpose of this trip, along with working on my novel, is to teach myself to slow down, be present, and pay close attention to my body.

On Friday my mind said, “Oh! Yoga is perfect for slowing down and becoming mindful of your body.” So I dragged my body through 90 degree F temps and equally high humidity the 15 minute walk to the Yoga Barn. The Level One class was not easy, but it was do-able.

This is the entrance to the second floor studio at the Yoga Barn. Whisper Zone. Those are the cleaned and drying orange yoga mats hanging on the railing.

Bing took a better photo of the inside than I did, so the Bing Search Engine gets credit for this one! It’s a huge, beautiful space, wide open to the outside. There are bamboo shades that can be rolled down in case of winds or intense sun. Just being there makes me feel uber healthy and fit!

When you’re flat on your back in my personal favorite, Corpse Pose, this view of the ceiling is equally as amazing as the rest of the space. Our yogini was a petite Indian woman with a big personality. She cracked jokes a mile a minute, some of them I got, some of them I knew were jokes because she was personally very amused. After a sweaty hour and a half I once again hauled my overheated body along narrow roads with no sidewalks where scooters, cars and trucks were zinging around curves and honking frightfully at the lone pedestrian.

But I made it and was rewarded by the sweet refrigerated air of Pertenin Spa. My mind knew that a massage is a perfect way to relax and unwind tired muscles. Wayan, woman with magic hands, was there to greet me. I climbed the curving staircase to the most exquisite chamber where soft music and exotic scents welcomed me.

An hour later, oiled and kneaded to a fine rag-doll finish, I hit the streets again, passing a monkey so close to me her hair brushed the side of my leg. She continued on, up the steps to a women’s dress shop where she looked longingly in the window, her little hands pressed against the glass. The door was open, she could have gone in. But exercising incredible restraint she allowed herself only to admire from afar.

I trudged in greasy slowness back to my room, showered, and headed out to Cafe Kebun for a little something. It’s a hoppin’ place on Hanoman Street and there were no free tables. My server lead me to one occupied by 4 women and an empty chair. I took the chair. Two were from Australia, one was from Delaware, and one from Toronto. We talked for a couple of hours. It was 9:30 when I got back to my sweet room. At 3 a.m. I awoke with a scratchy throat and stuffy nose. Uh-oh. I shook 2 packets of Emergen-C into my water bottle and drank it down. Better. Then went back to sleep.

Morning dawned, snot dripping down my upper lip. Body has gotten my attention. Then mind made a very astute decision: we (my body and me) will rest as long as we need to. Of course body was all the while screaming, “Don’t you dare try to take me anywhere until I’m good and ready to go!”

A Frog or a Prince?

I’ll start today with a photo of the path from my residence to Hanoman Street.

Yesterday about noon I set out along this path on my initial exploratory excursion with one goal in mind: Find the Yoga Barn! Dewa, son of the owner of this amazing complex where I am staying, gave me a map of sorts and pointed me in the right direction. I just want to go on the record here and say that finding your way in Ubud is 1% map and 99% instinct! At least I knew to turn right instead of left when I got to the street. And fortunately, when I saw Siam Sally’s I remembered from my time here two years ago that I should take the alley beside that restaurant as far back as it goes, enter the arched gateway and WALLAH! THE YOGA BARN! It took me about 15 minutes to walk there going very slowly, taking in all the sights. Today when I return for my first class at 2:00 it won’t take more than 10 min. at the most.

There is a wonderful, organic cafe at the Yoga Barn called Little K. After chatting with the receptionist for a few minutes I made my way down the moss-covered steps, under a tangle of vines, to a platform under a huge thatched roof.

This is a view from my table back toward the kitchen. The next photo is the panorama from my table in the other direction overlooking the construction of a new theater area in the valley below me.

It was beautifully breezy, as it is today, and the cooling nature of the moving air masked the intensity of the sun. I didn’t realize that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen until the need for it became painfully obvious! Actually, just my shoulders are a bit pink. Not bad at all. I will be mindful of my pasty-white skin as I venture out today.

The menu at Little K was impossibly delightful and I finally settled on a smoothie of coconut milk, wheatgrass and other healthy ingredients too numerous to mention. For an entree I remembered loving the raw pineapple, date, nut, porridge. Here’s what they looked like when they arrived at my table.

Every mouthful was a spiritual experience! Absolutely divine! Eating in Bali is an event every time. This morning at the restaurant here at Jati House I was served an egg sandwich on whole wheat toast with tomato and cheese and a plate of sliced pineapple, mango, and banana. The tea tasted suspiciously like pu ehr, the fermented, really expensive tea from Yunnan Province in China. The first time I tasted pu ehr tea I decided it was appropriately named: pooh air! It smelled exactly like a stinky barn! I’ve since grown to love it…interesting what the palate can be persuaded to enjoy!

Returning home I was greeted by my doorkeeper. He’s the strong silent type. I’m thinking he’s maybe Prince Charming turned to stone by some Balinese sorcerer and I need only kiss him and he will return to his human form and live happily ever after. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for the strong silent type…!

I realize as I sit with my breakfast listening to conversations at the other tables in German, Korean, English Australian style, and Balinese, that over the past few years there have been two words that appeared repeatedly in my writing: Happiness and Freedom. I don’t know how to define either one, but sitting here this morning I am gratefully aware that I have achieved both.

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