For the last twenty or so years, I have had the joy of traveling regularly to Bali and for the last two years, have had the privilege of leading a retreat in Bali. Our group of ten has just recently returned from retreat – and it was an incredibly enriching time for everyone, me included. The teacher can very easily become the student in Bali! Each time I visit this sacred island, my heart fills with happiness and somehow, I receive something deeper than just ‘instant relief’ from the intensity of my everyday life. I thought it would be interesting to try and capture in words, more of what this is all about and perhaps shed some light on what is it that brings me back each time to beloved Bali.
Bali is a Hindu place. This means that the Balinese people believe in the reincarnation of their souls. They celebrate the birth-death cycles of mother-nature, they honour the sacrament of daily prayer and a simple, ritualistic life and they embrace their role in life to ‘do good’ to others and to be happy for what they have. If one visits Bali, whether one realises it or not, it is these underlying spiritual elements that create a special energy that permeates the whole island. For anyone that is open to it, this energy is healing, illuminating and can be life-changing. And so there’s many-a-westerner who loves this place! For reasons that may not always be understood, beyond the cheap cost of living and smiley-faces. In Ubud, the artistic and cultural heart of Bali, its the serenity that draws us. Removed from the ‘drunken bikini scene’ (I borrowed these words from Wikitravel) Ubud is a town actually composed of fourteen villages, each with their own banjar or ‘village committee’. Auspiciously founded at the natural confluence of two rivers in Campuhan, Ubud is Balinese for ‘medicine’ and so its no wonder that healing happens here.
To ground myself when I first arrive, it’s become my ritual to do the ‘long walk’ from Campuhan through the rice paddies and surrounding villages and back. Walking brings me into direct contact with the locals and what’s going on in their lives. This time, I couldn’t help but notice the overhead banners marking the streets and temple entrances as I passed through a village. Around the community temple, much building, organising and decorating was going on, and it became clear that a celebration wasn’t far away. As luck would have it, a friendly guy on a motorbike, Nyoman, stopped to say hi. He guessed I was a yoga teacher and very naturally, extended an invitation to return for the festivities taking place later in the week. And so it is like this in Ubud. This temple visit became a part of our retreat program. On the auspicious day, dressed in traditional Balinese gear, our group went along.
We were present for the myriads of offerings, adorned with flowers and fruit, and one with the customary head of a pig. We sat on the temple floor, amidst the locals, who graciously shared their flowers and their space with us. As the gamalan musicians were nonchalantly gonging their pipes and drums, we sat peacefully in the hum-drum of the temple activities, our hearts being warmed by the unity that was palpable in the people. There was laughter, companionship and a deep sense of community. Every man, woman and child was intently ‘present’. We participated in the offerings, holding our hands in prayer above our heads five times. We didn’t need to know intellectually what was going on, it was enough just to be there. There was no hurry for things to happen. We could sit and absorb life in the way that the Balinese do. It felt so easy and so natural.
Experiences like this just happen on our retreat. And this is what brings me back each time. By the end of eight days together, sharing special times like this, both on and off the yoga mat, our group had developed a special bond. Sharing many meals together, conversations and connections flowed. And through learning about the struggles and joys of one-another, we saw the same in ourselves – developing the strength, courage, compassion and love to be more authentic. Being on retreat on Bali is more than just a holiday, it is a total experience. For those with a willingness to go beyond busy-ness, who are yearning to experience life in simplistically, yet beautiful ways, I can recommend no other place to be. Thank you to our retreat group for 2012, you were amazing! Your spirits have enlivened my own journey and Bali’s magic rests in my heart until I return to her again.