The Next Best Thing to the Fountain of Youth…Yoga?

Quality of life is important to me. Nothing can be taken for granted as I age. Achy stiff joints, decreasing mobility, loss of strength, and a depressed attitude cramp my style. I happen to like my style very much and I don’t want it cramped!

Yoga was not love at first Uttanasana. I was in my fifties when my daughter cajoled me into attending a class. I pulled out a pair of ancient leggings and a tee-shirt I’d never wear anywhere else and trotted along. Of course with the kind of competitive spirit I possess, I threw myself into it that day, determined to keep up with the much younger crowd. It was a struggle. Even the Sanskrit words the instructor used to name the positions conspired to confuse me. The next morning every muscle screamed revenge. But my daughter’s enthusiasm was impossible to resist and after a while the poses became familiar. When I no longer had to concentrate so hard to keep up, I enjoyed the feeling of well-being that followed an hour on the mat. But I wasn’t dedicated. Months slipped by without so much as a downward dog.

Big changes took place as I launched into the sixth decade of life. I looked and felt older. Once it began, it was appalling how quickly wrinkles appeared, skin lost elasticity, and a roll of flesh settled on top of my hips. In addition to that, I didn’t have the flexibility I’d once had. My joints ached.

Then a younger friend died suddenly.

It was a painful reminder that I didn’t have forever. I recommitted to yoga and had a personal routine designed for me. Now there was no excuse. I didn’t need to go to a studio or enroll in classes. Everything could be done in the comfort and privacy of my own home whenever it suited me. I began to practice with dogged persistence and the results in my psyche were immediate. There was a sense of well-being and relief knowing that I was doing myself a great kindness.

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Photo from a post in January 2014: Monsoon Yoga on the yoga platform in the old house

Over time, the changes in my body were even more pronounced. I lost the fat around my belly and muscle appeared. My hamstrings stretched and I could balance on one leg forever if I wanted to. Even though I could see and feel the benefits, every day was an exercise in willpower. I’d bargain with myself: you walked three miles yesterday so you can take today off.

And then I got sick. For two months I couldn’t have dragged myself to the mat if I’d wanted to.

When I finally felt able to attempt the routine again, I was shaky and winded within minutes. It scared me how frail I’d become. But something had shifted. In spite of weakness and the physical effort required, each morning I awoke eager to practice. It felt like a gift. I knew that every day I could do yoga was a day of health and I didn’t want to miss it. With gratitude infusing my movements, it became far more than a physical workout. Time elongated, I disengaged from thought and entered a meditative state more in keeping with the spiritual roots of this ancient art.

Yoga in the new house: August 13, 2017

Now I’m 67, well past the stage where being lazy about self-care is an option. I’ll do my routine daily for as many more years as I can. When my body is unable to withstand the rigors of sun salutations and warrior poses, there are other options. Gentle yoga is one of them. I’ve heard the excuses people use: bum knees, weak wrists, bad back. If we do what our bodies will allow us to do, strengthen those parts that we can improve, we’ll be so much better off than if we do nothing.

A Downward Dog View of Yoga

The ex-pats in Ubud have an uneasy relationship with the yoga crowd that floods the streets with nubile bodies in leggings and sports bras. There are good reasons for this. I’m guessing that the median age of the ex-pat population here approaches 70 so maybe there’s just a speck…a smattering…of jealousy? But to give them credit, these people did not grow up in the era of self-discovery with the influx of mystical influences from the East. Even some of the younger ones roll their eyes and avoid organic and raw food restaurants known to cater to the heightened awareness  crowd.

So this morning when I opened an e-mail from my sister in Northern Minnesota, and read a poem she wrote recently, I knew I had to post it for two reasons: first, she’s a great poet and has published her work in a book, Musings of a Damsel, Reflections of a Crone (click the link to see more), and second, because it’s so true and I knew if I could relate then many others would too.

My Inner Eye
by Gwen Lee Hall (pen name: Wendolyn Lee)

My friend is into yoga; she practices faithfully.
She tells me it’s done her a world of good, and it would be good for me.

I resist, but she has an answer for every excuse I know.
Yoga can take me places I never dreamed I’d go.

It will open my breath, open my mind, teach my soul to fly.
I’ll see things I’ve never seen before when I open my inner eye.

And so I cave. I buy the mat. I learn a pose or two,
And sure enough, the part about my inner eye is true!

Downward Dog on the livingroom floor, I see popcorn under the chair,
Dust bunnies under the sofa, wads of puppy hair…

So today I’m getting my exercise with a dustpan and a broom,
Seeing things I’ve never seen, right here in my livingroom.

Thank you my friend; I now include yoga in my routine.
My inner eye gets a workout, and my livingroom is clean.

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.

Monsoon Yoga

Holy buckets of water Batman!

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What do you do when the house is clean, you’ve already written the great American novel (unpublished as yet…a minor detail), the laundry’s done, and rain is thundering down? Build an ark? I could, but that’s kind of stealing someone else’s idea.

First I slept in. My phone said 9:18 a.m. when I peeled back the mosquito net and rubbed the sleepy dust out of my eyes.

Then I made a boiling mug of Nescafe, mmmm, drank it on the yoga platform contemplating the sheets of water cascading from the roof.

Then I made another boiling mug of Nescafe.

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Serious rain. This calls for Leonard Cohen and incense. I found Leonard in iTunes and lighted the sweet, tangy dupa. Ahhh, the perfect environment for monsoon yoga! If you’ve never practiced yoga two feet from cascading sheets of water with the inimitable Leonard’s dark, scratchy voice just barely audible above the downpour, I can tell you, it creates a rather rare and wild mood! Truly delicious!

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King Dancer in the rain

Here’s a glimpse of my world. Who took the photo? I had 10 seconds to position the camera, hit the button, and strike the pose. So for you perfectionist Iyengar yogis out there, cut me a little slack if my form isn’t perfect!

I wish I could put into words the exquisite thrill of this morning. I’ve always liked the rain, but here I’ve grown to love it. When water forms a solid wall of sound, and the wind brings a dewy film of moisture to my skin, a shiver of excitement vibrates through me.  It is as though the rest of the world disappears. I have shelter, and music, and the day is mine to explore uninterrupted. Does that make sense?

Oh! Gotta go! Leonard’s singing  Nightingale and I have to join in. It’s like singing in the shower. There are some things you can do better during rainy season. Belting out a song at the top of your lungs is one of them. And I’m told a lot of Balinese babies are made in January. The communal lifestyle where everyone hears everything puts a bit of a damper on some activities, until it rains!

Part Two: Creating a life that fits like skin “Why Bali?”

In 2010, Jessa was teaching in South Korea. Several months before my sixtieth, the phone rang. “Mom, why don’t you meet me in Bali for your birthday?” Bali? My only frame of reference to that word was the movie, South Pacifichere am I your special island, come to me, come to me…

“Can you come?”

I thought it over for about two-and-a-half seconds. Why not? I was in the midst of a bitter divorce, jobless, I had nothing better to do. Why not meet her in…Bali? Where on god’s green earth was Bali?

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Bali with Jessa, February 2010

I’d been living on savings. In February I snatched another chunk of change from the dwindling account and left. To go from winter in Minnesota, to resplendent greens, thick humid air, happy people, and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, does a number. My body loosened. My parched skin plumped, and wrinkles disappeared. I felt years younger.

TERRACED RICE PADDY, UBUD AREA, BALI, INDONESIAWe were with a Balinese guide making our way through farmlands and jungle. “I show you rice terraces,” he said. I pictured more green paddies of the kind I’d seen everywhere. We rounded a bend on a narrow piece of trail and my breath caught in my throat. The mountains formed a semi-circle around us. Cascading down their slopes were pools of water, each one reflecting the sun, sky, and clouds. It was the most unearthly beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Something settled into my heart that day. I didn’t know what it was then. I do now.

Back in Minnesota, still winter, late February, I hit bottom. After Bali, the cold felt colder and the dark gray of winter seemed endless. I toughed it out with hours of Qigong and Kettle Bells. Qigong stilled my mental spins. Kettle Bells wore me out. It was the perfect combo.

And I wrote. Writing brought peace.

The emotional pain of that time was glorious. I had the sensation of my body being separated from its parts. An arm floated out in front of me. The left side of my face hung off my shoulder and the ground was too close. Every step jarred. I have never been so disconnected from myself. I felt nut-bucket crazy.

But I had one thing going for me. Over the years I had perfected the appearance of sanity. No matter what kind of chaos was churning around or within me, I maintained a placid, controlled, exterior. There was nothing I couldn’t handle. “You’re so calm,” people said, and I’d smile, certain that if I opened my mouth all the bats in the belfry would fly out.

Crazy or not, employment was a necessity. Driving past a strip mall one day, I noticed a banner in the window. TURNSTYLE CONSIGNMENT, COMING SOON. Consignment shopping wasn’t really shopping to me. It was a treasure hunt. I’d spent happy hours buried in the aisles of such haunts. Turnstyle was a familiar chain in the area. They’ll be hiring, I thought, and did a wheelie into the parking lot.

Two months later I was their newest employee, earning $8.16 an hour. As far back as I could remember I had never made so little money and worked so hard. But I loved it. We were all women, most younger than me by at least half, some two-thirds. It felt like family and it was exactly what I needed.

A friend’s spare room had been housing me. Now, gainfully employed, I found a two bedroom apartment in the Kingfield neighborhood near Uptown with an enormous living room. I didn’t need anything that big, but the minute I walked in, it felt right. The built-in buffet, hardwood floors, and adorable kitchen, charmed me. Plus it had a garage, a luxury in that part of town. I had been there about two months when Jessa returned from Korea. She came to my spare bedroom and stayed a year.

Jessa at sunset - southern coast of California

Jessa at sunrise – California coast

Teaching in South Korea was life changing for her. While there, she had immersed herself in yoga and was ready to pursue it professionally. The living room in our apartment became her studio. We pushed the furniture against the walls to accommodate yoga mats. Each week people from the neighborhood came to her classes. I was a regular.

The year with Jessa was a happy one. I took writing classes and started working on a novel. I held workshops to teach the writing processes I had created and found that it also worked for others. I enjoyed my job at Turnstyle and I adored having Jessa living with me.

Morning after morning in the kitchen nook, with my steaming coffee and notebook, I took myself into the dark places, the wounded places, the broken places. I was nearing retirement. I felt like I had one last chance for a do-over. This time I had to get it right. There were huge pockets of grief as I came face to face with myself. I gave in to it, allowed it. I knew that the more kindness I afforded myself while I learned these lessons, the more quickly I could move on. I was birthing a new life, and this time it was my own.

Our apartment was a hotbed of change. Jessa’s yoga classes were growing. We needed space. My discovery writing pointed more and more to a simpler way. I’d read a book by Karen Kingston, Clearing Your Clutter with Feng Shui. She advised that in order to make room for the new we have to clean out the old. All of our stuff holds energy from the past. Photographs, furniture, everything. We should be mindful of what we keep.

I looked around me. Much of my furniture had been chosen by someone who was no longer dear to me. From the art, to the rugs, to the china, there was a pretentiousness that had never been my style. Looking at my possessions that day, thinking of the boxes stacked in the storage room in the basement of the apartment complex, feeling the overwhelm of it all, I made a decision.

Craigslist became my new best friend. Stuff flew out the door. I began to imagine freedom. The thought was intoxicating.

And then one morning I knew. I knew what I wanted. All the writing, the revelations, the pain, the uncertainty, had brought me to that moment. I wanted to go back to Bali, but not just for a vacation. What if I could retire there?

Fear kicked in with a vengeance. “You don’t know anybody.” “You’ll be lonely.” “What if you get sick?” “What if you hate it?” By now I knew how to handle those inner voices and simply wrote them out of the way.

I booked my first trip for two months. It was a trial run. I figured even if I hated it I could stand anything for that long. In the Bali Advertiser, a magazine for ex-pats with an online presence, I located a writers’ group with an e-mail contact.  I began corresponding with two of the women in the group. Technology also connected me with Dewa at Jati Homestay. I secured a room. He said his driver would meet me at the airport.

As the departure date drew near I was suffused with peace. An underlying excitement existed at all times, but the sense of having fallen in line with something bigger than myself, persisted. I had nosed into the slipstream of divine purpose and was cruising at altitude. It was effortless.

My heart brims full as I write this. The BoHo shirt (Part One) is no longer with me. Come to find out, I prefer less drama in my clothing when my life is full-on incredible. But BoHo ignited a desire, woke me up from a long, slow, sleep.

My reality now defies even my wildest imaginings. When I was gripped with emotion at the rice terraces, I didn’t understand. But, for me, the island is irresistible. I am in love with this place. It supports who I am and who I am becoming. It nurtures my body and reverses the aging process. Its profoundly feminine energy promotes an ever deepening spirituality.

Danielle LaPorte, the creator of The Firestarter Sessions, says, The journey has to feel like the destination. My journey, if anything, has intensified in Bali. The joy of it baffles me, thrills me, fills me with immense gratitude. It is sheer bliss.

If your journey doesn’t fit who you are…

If you’re still waiting to kiss your frog…

Or win the lottery…

Or if you’re in the habit of saying, “Things will get better…”

STOP. Please just stop.

Write a new story!

 

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.

Bali Building Codes

I have seen construction sites in Bali that make me shake my head. After working on commercial projects in the interior design industry for years, I was familiar with strictly enforced building codes.  In Bali I’ve heard of only one: nothing can be built higher than a palm tree. There are some mighty tall palm trees, but a building over 3 storeys is rare.

That leaves the playing field virtually wide open for creativity, nevermind safety or accessibility! The Balinese are artists and if they can think it, they will build it. Or if YOU can think it, they will build it. Which brings me to the subject of my latest residence.

Approach to Front Door

From the outside it looks like a normal structure with handsome brick and stonework. There’s a wide tiled terrace a step up from the yard and a garden of banana trees, coconut palms, frangipani, and thousands of unknown plant species.

Right of Entrance

Lush foliage borders the right of the entrance.  The gap between the wall and the roof allows fresh air and light into the luxurious bathroom.

Stepping through the door, however, all similarities to Western design cease. The front entrance allows a view straight through the house to the back garden, and there are no walls or windows blocking the sight. A wooden platform floats serrenely in the air above the tiled living area. The stairway access has no unsightly railings and the surround enclosing the platform has openings large enough to allow countless small children to fall through unhindered.

Platform Overlooking Garden

It is something like heaven to wake up at dawn, pull out my yoga mat, trundle up the steps, and greet the day with sun salutes while nature sings it’s lungs out around me.

Daybed on Platform

A daybed occupies one end of the floating deck and I could easily live right here. This is where I enjoy morning coffee and start my writing for the day. The view of the inside of the house from this perch reveals a sweet informality. The furnishings, although not entirely my taste, work for me. The home was built to last 25 years ago, with brick walls 10′ high, tile floors, and a ceiling that soars 20 feet.

View of House from Platform

Below the platform is an extensive terrace living area. It is open on three sides and as one friend remarked, “It looks like anyone or anything could walk right in.”

Terrace Below Platform

Indeed they could. But the bedrooms and the kitchen have locking doors, and I tend to like the security of that when I sleep! However, the bedroom window has only a decorative wooden design that would prohibit an adult from entering but it wouldn’t stop a monkey! I just lower the bamboo blinds, arrange the diaphanous mosquito netting to make a cozy tent, and sleep more soundly that I have in years.

Bed, Mosquito Netting, and Window

This house comes with staff. Ibu is a 67 year old woman who wades across the river every morning (there’s no bridge) to make breakfast, clean the house, and do whatever else I need. The first day she disappeared for about an hour. When she returned she was carrying a box of a dozen two quart bottles of drinking water on her head. I fussed at her and she left again and returned with a second big box of 12 more. I can barely slide the darn thing across the floor and she not only lifted it up to her head, she carried it all the way from the market. And she did that twice. Later, she was nonplused when she saw I had made my own coffee and she apologized profusely for not knowing I wanted it. 

It’s hard for me to let her do anything. She’s a grandmother and has worked hard all her life. But this is her livelihood. She speaks no English. I am grateful I know a little Indonesian by now, but it’s not nearly enough. Still we are making each other understood, and it is fascinating to see how much is communicated non-verbally with absolute clarity.

I did , however, ask one thing of her. It is something I want done that only she can do. The Balinese fill their homes and businesses with offerings daily. They spend hours making the little palm dishes that hold the bits of moss and flowers. My new home has the traditional house temple. P1020771

There are statues of Rama and Sita, Buddha, and Dewi Sri. It was a strange feeling to know, though I am not Hindu, that something needed to be done, that there was unfinished business here. So I asked Ibu if she would honor my house and make the daily prayers and offerings. The next day she arrived with no less than 15 of the little palm dishes filled with flowers. She lit sticks of incense and put on her sarong. Then she went through the rooms placing each offering where only she knows it should be placed, sprinkling holy water, and making prayers.

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There was one on either side of the entrance to the house. There were three in the front yard, one in the back. There were two in the kitchen, one on the dining table. I watched with moist eyes.

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My heart overflowed with gratitude for Ibu, and the grandmothers who know what to do. They are a dying breed. When she finished the ritual, she told me that now the house was protected. We had appeased the high gods, the low gods and the animals. We had blessed the plants and the ancestors, and brought safety to my home.

Pasek stopped by later. “How much you pay?” he asked, noticing the offerings. When I told him he quizzed me again, “How many?” Again I offered up the requested information. I’ve gotten used to the direct questions of the Balinese. If they want to know, no matter how personal, they ask. When I approached a temple a few months ago with a Balinese friend he turned to me and in all seriousness asked, “Are you menstruating?”

I don’t know if Pasek approved of the price or not. It doesn’t matter. For sixty cents a day I have the joy of watching Ibu perform a ceremony that has deep meaning for her and has its roots in the oldest belief system on earth. Even if the complexities of it are beyond my understanding, it nourishes my soul, and that’s a bargain at any price.

Antidote for Blue Mondays

At first I thought it was an obnoxious crowd of drunks creating noise pollution in my already noisy neighborhood. It came out of nowhere, all at once. Folks who are partially pickled don’t usually hit the same level of inebriation at the same time. I’m not an authority, but it seems to begin with one or two, then as the night wears on the rowdiness escalates. My neighbors were full bore from the get-go. Forget trying to think, or read, or concentrate on anything. It was like having a college frat party in my back yard. The racket was continuous. Raucous howls of mirth, peals upon peals of shrill hee-hee-heeing, deep guffaws and whoops and cackles went on, and on, and on, non-stop, for an hour. Inquiring politely into the sudden deterioration of the environment, I had my answer: laughing yoga.

foghorn-blue-maran-rooster-crowing-in-fruit-orchard-8This is a residential neighborhood in Ubud, Bali. Unlike a residential neighborhood in the U.S. where four walls, a closed door, a yard, a fence, and laws about disturbing the peace keep things quietly controlled, here it is not so. Life in Bali is lived openly, on terraces, balconies, and in the streets. So when Dayu next door is talking to Wayan, I hear the conversation. When Nyoman’s cocks are crowing in a wild call-and-response contest with Putu’s roosters, they’re within spitting distance. But you get all that going and add about a hundred people doing laughing yoga and…holy buckets!

It’s every Monday night. I could set my clock by it. I need to make plans for Monday nights. I need to be far away. Although I have to admit, the quiet is tangible when they stop. The absence of their cacophony leaves a silent void.  The roosters are so shocked they don’t crow for a good 15 minutes. Nobody says a word. Peace. It’s almost worth it to hang around just for that.  Or…I could join them…hahahahahahehehehehehohohohohoho…!

Battling the Terrors

My past frightens me. It is a long, arduous trek through unconsciousness. So much of it seems to have happened to someone else. In all fairness, I should have been institutionalized long ago. I should have cracked. But I was lucky. I perfected a serene, composed exterior. No matter what kind of hell was breaking loose just below the surface, it was my secret. No one ever knew, no one but me.

I rarely tell my life story. When I do, people are aghast. Some refuse to believe me. Some are awed. But all listen unaware of their gaping jaws. The things that are easy to reveal, the five marriages and five divorces, are startling enough without getting into the more disturbing details. “You seem so normal,” they say. I smile, serenely, “I am,” I reply.

Trauma remains in the body. No matter how good a person is at coping with life and covering up the scars, trauma lurks in cell memory. It can manifest as depression, panic attacks, or hundreds of other psychological disorders that keep therapists in business. There were times when the roar of terror and hopelessness in my ears threatened to tear me apart. But I have always seen myself as a happy person. Terror and hopelessness are unacceptable to my self-image. Writing became my salvation. I could scream the outrage into poetry or prose, pound it out on the keyboard turning the insanity into something manageable. But ‘manageable’ was merely survival. I needed to believe there was more to life than that.

Then three things happened almost simultaneously. I began doing Qigong meditation. It quieted and focused my mind. I developed a way of writing that took me behind the scenes in my psyche. I learned my truth. And I made yoga a daily practice. Yoga opened my heart. I’ll never forget the moment I first saw myself with compassion. I felt an outpouring of love for the brave soul who had  willed herself through life, raised three daughters, owned businesses, worked so very hard to be perfect while neatly, in quietly civilized fashion, battled the terrors within. I made a commitment that day to her. It was a promise to pursue the joyous journey no matter what. It was an intention let loose in the universe. I had no idea what metaphysical magic I had put in motion.

But any of you who have been following my blog have an inkling of the results of that promise. I have achieved what few are able to in this lifetime, bliss, in giant portions. I live in a place that nurtures and supports my journey. And the terrors? They are being squeezed out. I love the Leonard Cohen lyrics, “there’s a crack, a crack, in everything…that’s how the light gets in…” My tightly held perfection has cracked wide open and light is pouring in. Natural light. Healthy light. And when the little terrors poke their ugly heads out, they’re zapped!

 

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