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Finding Wisdom in Unexpected Places (Bali)
Although Bali is a hot spot for retreats and Ubud is considered the ‘spiritual’ hub, this wasn’t what called me to Bali. Usually I feel a call to travel to certain places or for certain experiences but Bali was chosen as a nice place to chill and relax after a busy year. Funny how things turn out! By the time I left Bali, I was in love with the people we met, the glimpses into their lives and traditions and the places we came across. It left a mark on me that was heart and spirit warming and reminded me that ordinary life can provide inspiration. The ordinary may even be seen as out of the ordinary depending on the eyes of the person looking. So let’s celebrate the ordinary – sometimes it’s less ordinary than you think!
I thought I’d share with you some of the teachings and rememberings that were ignited by the people and their traditions so it might bring some insight into your day.
All of what unfolded during our trip wasn’t experienced in yoga classes or meditation but in cars with our drivers or watching the locals go about their day. This is what I loved most about Bali – meeting people who are living a life that nourishes and feeds them on all levels and how they spread it out into their day to day meeting with people – they are spreading their kindness through their daily interactions (words and actions). Something we can all learn from.
Presence: As I watched the local people go about their duties / ceremonies in Bali, I noticed the presence with which they did things. They had only one focus – whatever they were doing in the moment. There was no multitasking, no texting while placing the morning blessings, no answering phones while driving us around, no stopping and talking to people while they laid their offerings. We had the gift to witness Priestess Ida (another story below!) prepare for her morning, she was in her still point and remained there despite us arriving, birds cackling, motorbikes flying past, the noise of people chatting and much more. The distractions didn’t gain her attention, she didn’t try to finish her morning prayers quicker, she didn’t lose her head while people chatted outside her temple, she didn’t once move from the flow of ringing her bell, chanting and moving her arms to bless the space. It was mesmerizing.
- How present are you in your day to day?
- Where do you show presence for yourself, in your job, in your relationship?
- How does your presence affect your relationship with yourself, others and life?
- How would having more presence / being more present in life make a difference to you and what would it look and feel like?
Offerings: The offerings you see in the picture are everywhere in Bali – on the street, beside the water supply, outside the kitchen, perched on deity statues, entrances to Warungs. Each compound / house may have 15-20 offerings each day. We were told that traditionally there were offerings in the morning for blessings for the day ahead and then flowers were added to the offering in the evening as gratitude for all that was received. Now, most people do both offerings in the morning. It’s only when you see them, that you can truly appreciate all that goes into them.
The making and giving of banten (offering) is a selfless act; a kind of self-sacrifice. It is part-meditation, part-escape from the humdrum buzz of everyday life; it’s a gift of gratitude to the Maker, and used to appease the lower spirits so they do not disturb the living.
It is the women who create the offerings from coconut leaves and it’s peaceful to watch as they sit and talk together. Ritual and ceremony as a part of everyday living is something we in the west can struggle with as we’re so set on moving forward and being busy.The Balinese offerings take an enormous amount of time, effort and money to make and they put something of themselves into their creations (their time and life energy) to offer to God.
The offering may contain some plants that represent Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, four flowers on top symbolise sincerity and love, sometime a small-denomination banknote represents the selfless essence. Lastly a flower is dipped into a bowl of holy spring water and delicately sprinkled over the canang and incense to complete the fusion of earth, fire, wind and water. After three waves of the palm facing downward accompanied by a prayer, the smoke carries the essence of the offerings up to God. Beautiful to watch this being done each day.
During our trip we bought offerings to the water ceremony, to some of the temples we visited, our guides laid some at the foot of Mount Batur where we sat in silence to offer safe passage up 1,717m in the hope of seeing the sunrise – thankfully spirit heard the prayers and we were graced with a beautiful sunrise – you can see a photo at the bottom of this message.
Duality: In the photo to the right, you can see a doorway with two pillars that are in some homestays and most palaces and temples. The pillars represents light and dark, good and evil – the left hand side the dark, the right hand side the light. Our driver Wayan told us that you can’t have one without the other and it represents balance. He said it’s a reminder not to fear the dark, not to get lost in the light. He shared that too much positive comes with ego and too much negative comes with ego. He believes the balance is Love.
As I mentioned earlier the offerings left each morning are not just to honor the gods, they are also used to appease the demon spirits. Some offerings are given to ‘demon’ spirits to feed them so they don’t come looking for anything else. So although the offerings are pretty to the eye, they have a energetic purpose also.
At this time of year you can find a lot of ‘light’ and learning when we step into understanding how you feel about winter and what it represents: darkness, death, your shadow self, unconscious, slowing down and turning inward? Do you tend to favour one (light or shadow) over the other? Do you fear the darkness?
Computer: Wayan also compared humans to computers. Sometimes, all we need is to unplug for a little while. I shared with him that when I worked as an accountant whenever a computer didn’t work the tech departments greatest piece of advice was ‘switch it off and then on again’ and more than likely it always worked. He saw that we are all born with a certain number of gigabytes so if we a have 7 gigabytes we can’t go higher than that for example a student may study, study, study but they still can’t pass the exam no matter how hard they study as they don’t have the gigabytes. If we can learn to work and live with the gigabytes we do have, we might access our gifts easier and live a life that nourishes us.
In terms of healing, the computer metaphor is a great one. Imagine you are born with 70 megabytes but you got infected by a virus or program (think McAfee anti virus which slows the whole system down), you might just think this is the way your system runs and you don’t know enough about viruses / programs to change it and what if it doesn’t even work in the end! Alternatively, you can uninstall, shut down or update old programs and also install new updates so the computer (you) is operating at it’s best capacity.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. ~ Anne Lamott
- Have you done an internal scan of your mind, body and spirit to see what old programs, patterns, thoughts, beliefs or ways of being are holding you back or keeping you stuck?
- What do you need to update, uninstall or remove those old programs?
- What would it take for the new programs to be installed and what would they include?
Synchronicity: Before leaving for Bali I came across a small clip of a water ceremony which just spoke to me. Let me tell you Google doesn’t have all the answers. I found Priestess Ida’s name and the name of a village close to her. I trusted if it was meant to be it would flow. On the third last day of my trip I asked someone who lived in Ubud about her and they basically said there would be no way I’d find her or that she’d even have a ceremony on the next day. One text to the first guesthouse got us the name of a driver and after two texts with him, he had found Ida and had arranged for us to visit the next day. Well I laughed. It happened so easily, it flowed just like everything on the trip. We found out the next day that straight after our ceremony, Ida was traveling to perform another ceremony elsewhere so we were lucky to have seen her.
Ida finished High School and left Bali to get a job but couldn’t, when she came home she also couldn’t get a job and wondered why were things not working out the way she’d planned, why couldn’t she be like her friends who all had jobs and money and what was wrong with her. She surrendered and prayed and surrendered and prayed, doing mediation, and at the age of 21 she fell into a trance/coma and the locals say she actually died for 3 days. When she woke up three days later she knew all the Sanskrit prayers without every having been educated, and when the high priests tested her, she surpassed all their tests, going on to become the youngest high priestess in Bali and the only high priest/priestess who was not born a Brahman (I think she is also the only woman)
Words can’t describe the water ceremony. Pitchers of sacred water are poured over your crown chakra and fall down over your body as you stand and Ida chants over you and invites you to let go, to let the emotions and thoughts come forward and to let them go. The energy, the chants, all of it was spine tingling. After it I felt an aliveness, calm, clarity and peace and a deep gratitude in my heart for the gift I received. I had many magical moments in Bali but the water ceremony is one that will always stay with me. Just as we finished 6 drops of rain fell from the sky and Ida smiled – it is an auspicious sign when raindrops fall after a water ceremony. A sign that what was to be released is done and good fortune is coming. My heart fell in love even more with Bali and my journey there at that moment.
Karma: We were told that Hindu is the largest religion in Bali then Muslim and after that Buddhism and Christianity. What struck me most, was that a lot of people we talked to said that all religions are one and come from Love. That’s it’s not the religion or the teachings that do harm but the people and how things are interpreted and taught. In Magnified Healing, Karma is describe as a consequence of ‘a lack of love’ of ourselves, for others, ego or personality structure, thought forms, beliefs etc and is something that helps us to learn, know and grow and thereby help us to align ourselves with our highest potential.
Almost everyone we met talked about Karma – do good without any expectations and it will be returned. Wayan said, ‘a long time ago I may have met you both and did something good for you and now you come here and hire me and do something good for me’. I thought it was such a simple and beautiful way to look at interactions and life. At another guesthouse we stayed when we thanked the owner for all his help, he said ‘it’s easy to do good things for nice people’. This is true, it’s always easier to do good for those we like, love and get on with but the depth of our healing and growth is reflected in how we interact with those that we do not get on with or who trigger us or who we have assumptions around. Is there anyway we can move into a different space for them, away from anger / fear and closer towards love?
Ceremony: Ceremony and traditions are a way of life. By chance and divine timing we got to witness several ceremonies while we were there. At Pura Goa Lawah – Temple of Bat Cave we were able to witness a ceremony where one entire village came to the temple to lay their offering which had inside them memories / symbols of their ancestors (food they ate, pictures, trinkets they had etc) These are left in the temple for the period of the ceremony, this one was 3 days long and then they come back and take the offerings home with them. The ceremony is to help those who are tied to the earth to be released and moved to the highest level they can go in the other world. We we told that without the ancestors, they have nothing. It is the ancestors who guide them, who have given them the blessings they have. Without the ancestors the spirit of the land dies and it cannot thrive.
- How do you honor your ancestors – their lives rather than the event of their passing?
- Do you feel you have grieved for those you have lost?
- What are you grateful for about your lineage, what gifts you have received and what you feel you have been entrusted with from your blood line.
- As an ancestor of the next generation what legacy and memories do you hope to leave behind?
Trust: One of our drivers just happened to be the ceremonial leader of his village (this was one of the first of our synchronicities). Every morning he performs his ceremonies for the people in his village as well as specific ones to be held at different times (there are daily ones, full moon, every 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and many more). He also is a driver for those who hire him. I loved it when he said matter of factly ‘Some days I get the call to drive and I drive other-days I don’t have any calls so I know there is some else for me to do or I go work in the temple.’ No panic over why he is not busy, maybe he should try harder, no real self examination or self criticism – total trust that each day he is guided to do whatever he needs to do that day.
- Where do you have trust in life / in the universe / in source?
- Where do you lack trust in life / in the universe / in source?
- How can you open yourself up to inviting in more trust?
Teachers / Gurus: Wayan shared that he was chosen as ceremonial leader on the day of his birth as they had consulted his astrological chart but also there was heavy rain the day he was born which is seen as a sign. He told us he learns everything from his ancestors in spirit through his dreams or the information might just come to him to share when he talks. He said he doesn’t learn from books. I loved this, a lot of what he said resonated with Shamanic Training I’ve undertaken the 4 years and even what I hope I share in classes, that we can learn from other people / books / classes etc but then we have to take these teachings and see what or how it all fits into our map of the world, figure out what resonates with us at this moment in time and our truth at this time and making them our own. Whenever he shared something with us that spirit had taught him he would sometimes add ‘but I dunno, I’ll know more when I experience it’. I loved this, he trusts his guides and spirit but also his own learning from his experiences in life.
Kindness: This is probably the main word of how I would describe those I met in Bali. From the moment we arrived we were looked after, we actually didn’t have to think about where to go, what to do, where to eat, where to get good massages (an essential in Bali, I think!) or how to organise a tour which gave us an opportunity to fully unplug, trust and also learn so much from those who lived there. We were still in contact with the first guesthouse owner throughout our stay. I’ve never had that experience before. The people we met were kind with their time, their knowledge, their life experiences and they truly wanted us to experience ‘real bali’. It’s thanks to them that we did experience ‘real bali’ and look forward to exploring it even further next time!
How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!-George Elliston
I could go on and on about the beauty, healing and wisdom that Bali presented to me at a time when I needed it the most this year, there are so many stories, divine timings, weaving of symbolism including the divine feminine which was especially potent but that may be for another time.