Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bali blessed *

I've been home over a week now and I am still unpacking the many treasures I brought home from Bali (a patchwork-batik and multi-colored tassel explosion!

this is a shop, NOT my closet ... yet ...

While I did my fair share to support the Balinese economy, the more precious of gifts rest securely within the confines of my battered yet robustly beating heart. The price of these treasures cannot be measured in rupiah (undoubtedly the currency does not go that high; one million rupiah equals about 74 US dollars) but instead is relative to a willingness to open oneself up, trust, and receive.

But before I could receive all that was offered, a healthy spate of shedding and cleansing was required.

I'll try to explain. (in my round about way, of course!)

Taking in the signs (and that is what I do ... seek out the cosmic breadcrumb trail for confirmation and comfort) the first thing that strikes me is how on the flight over, water was a dominant force. I mean, a typhoon rearranged our schedule! Once we were finally on the plane, I discovered my water bottle had leaked all over the contents of my carry-on bag. Soaking up the bulk of the water was the current edition of Taproot Magazine which includes an article by Em and Nicole about Nofel, the Blue Man of Ubud who would be sharing with our group the technique of indigo dyeing. Not a big deal, but I was thinking about my pristine collection of previous editions back home and moping a bit over my destroyed copy.

Of course, included in the pile of welcome goodies from Em and Nicole was a fresh and unblemished copy of the same magazine!

Okay, so that may be a minor co-incidence. But wait, there's more! (A common refrain while shopping in Ubud ... note to self: always take time out from shopping with a lovely four dollar half hour foot massage, complete with jasmine tea. Totally civilized and proper way to treat oneself, never mind my feet which trod barefoot across both holy and common ground.

Can I talk about snakes? No, not the metaphoric trouser snake (although penii bottle openers are plentiful in the market place ... this is a country that worships Shiva and his lingam alongside the less threatening Ganesha

so everyday I sat on my porch taking in this view and I swear it wasn't until the last morning that I noticed THIS

I mean honest-to-goodness slithering and totemic snakes ... snake who represents the shedding of a skin (of self) that has grown uncomfortable and restrictive ... snake who can only move forward (or sideways) but never backwards ... snake who apparently slipped into the water at Tirta Empul, a sacred holy springs consisting of two large pools and 12 decorative spouts (or more? I couldn't keep count and I find conflicting information online) where we joined a crowd of both Balinese and foreign worshipers moving from sprout to spout immersing ourselves in the cleansing and restorative water. 

Tirta Empul - image from online source

This was our final day (post-retreat). We had hired a car and driver for a half day's tour of nearby temple complexes when Surinder, the owner of Gajah Biru Bungalows (the Blue Elephant where we stayed our last two nights in Ubud) told we simply must end our Bali experience with a dip in the holy waters. This was to be my third water-cleansing/blessing while in Bali (aha! The magic of threes ... Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva ... third time's the charge and more) and just to make sure I hadn't missed the point, something (a carp fish?) bit my toe - twice! -  before I exited the final pool.  

There is standing under a gushing spray of water, reciting prayers or mantras and then there is the experience of many such blasts of water and a tossing aside of any mental activity and just going for it. Hands together in front of the heart in anjali mudra (symbolizing union of body, mind and spirit) and bowing down under the gushing stream over and over and over again. Midway through, my mind emptied I began to place my hands on either side of the spout and lean into it, allowing the water to crash against my heart. My hands shifting to padma or lotus mudra, representing the blossoming or opening of the heart. 

It is exhausting work, this spiritual stuff. There is no thinking, just submitting and receiving.  Climbing into the second pool for the final array of spouts, I was startled by something brushing up against me. I then realized there were fish in this pool! A foreign tourist laughed at me. I gestured to her it was big! What I did not know was minutes later Alison, just a few spouts ahead of me, would watch a snake slither past the heaps of offerings on the stone mantel above and slip into the pool. While I love knowing the snake was there, another wink by the Universe in my mind, I know in reality if I had seen it I would have undone any sacredness to the atmosphere with my shrieks. 

The fish bites were reminder enough to WAKE UP and PAY ATTENTION. 

As I said, this was my third water cleansing while in Bali.  The first was a visit to a local healer arranged by Nicole for our free day during the retreat. I had no idea what to expect. I was told he would inspect my skin with a magnifying glass, so I was a bit concern about what he might uncover. Kristina, my traveling partner, went first so I had time to sit in the garden courtyard waiting area.  A total delight for the senses as fountains burbled, twinkle lights flickered, outside scooter sounds were muffled by the wall and fragrant incense burned all around me. 

for sound effects, click HERE
 Oh, and the entire place was painted in pastel shades of pink, green, and yellow.  

When it was my turn, I made my way to a small room at the back of the courtyard. I was told to stand facing Agus, the healer, and to close my eyes. He sat for awhile and I could hear him softly speaking. Whether he was chanting mantras, prayers, or thinking out loud, I do not know. But the effect was strangely soothing. I found myself slowly beginning to sway and spiral, like a human pendulum. I wasn't sure if my body was doing this to keep me from keeling over, or if it was the result of the healer working on me. Finally, he stood up and proceeded to press upon my head, then rather forcefully sweep his fingers across my brow bone. It was as if he was pressing out the heavy gunk inside my mind. He used the magnifying glass to inspect my arms and hands and then gently pressed upon my back and my belly before finishing up with my legs and feet.  All the while he was chanting or praying and periodically writing upon my forehead with his fingers. 

And with that, his examination was complete. He then began to tell me what my various body parts revealed. From my hair, he said he could tell I was an honest person. My eyes told him I want to help others. He continued describing and explaining to me aspects of my personality and life that were very accurate. A few surprising and interesting ideas about myself that made total sense.  He told me my mind is very strong ... but that this is also my challenge, that I need to learn to clean and clear my mind. He gave me a simple exercise to do everyday.

What was odd - or unexpected - was not what he told me, but my reaction to him. I found myself saying over and over "I believe you." It wasn't that he told me any new, so much as I found myself accepting those parts of myself rather than resisting or believing I need to change. It is like pulling off a the shelf a book you've had for years but never could seem to read. Then one day you open it up and wonder why you haven't read it before because it is exactly what you've needed to hear.

He asked me if I had any important questions. I asked about Cowgirl and he gave me the most practical parenting advice and again, it just made total sense. Perhaps all the mantras made me ripe to accept what I've needed to know?

I then asked about my mother, specifically how I could move on with her gone. At this point I broke down in tears. Calmly, he explained that I should pray to my mother and that way rather than crying, I would be in a new relationship with her. Again, I found myself marveling at the simplicity and yet profound nature of his advice. 

When we were finally finished, Agus led me outside the room where Kristina joined us. We three held hands and carrying incense, made a circuit around and around his courtyard garden.

All of the following images with Agus were taken by his wife and courtesy of Kristina Wingeier

He completed the ceremony with a final cleansing and blessing by water and handful upon handful of flower petals showered upon us.

The final day of our Soulful Escape to Bali retreat included another water blessing. Our group traveled to a sacred springs which Em and Nicole asked that we keep private in order to protect the site as it is primarily visited by locals and not tourists. We had to descend the deepest of steps down down down to reach it.

We were wearing sarongs and it was, per usual, hot and humid. We arrived at a series of three springs - again, sacred the sacred triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva -  where we were instructed by Nicole's friend on the proper way to begin. Cleansing the face, sipping the water, then splashing water over our heads. Three times, of course.  


Then down down down even further to a little temple where we were to make our prayers. We each were given a basket - canang sari -  and some incense to leave as our offering. I thought about what it is I wanted to pray for. I realized, I already knew. Just as it was with Agus, my truth is crystal clear and the path simple: I am here to let go of my mother. When she was dying, I was focused upon letting her know it was okay for her to go. What I hadn't realized or accepted was that I was the one still holding on

Suddenly, the whole pilgrimage sense to the trip clicked. On the flight over Kristina and I  both watched the movie The Darjeeling Limited and I was reminded of what the eldest brother, Francis, had shared with his brothers at the beginning of their trip:

I want us to make this trip a spiritual journey where each of us seek the unknown, and we learn about it. Can we agree to that? 

I want us to be completely open and say yes to everything even if it's shocking and painful. Can we agree to that?"  

I was here in Bali to release my mother, to let her spirit move on. I was here to find my way forward. I was here to say yes and trust whatever arrived or arose.

I prayed to my mother. I let her know it was okay for her to move on. That I too would move on. I thanked her and I asked that I might find a new source of connection, nurturance and support. And being the doubtful Thomas that I am, I slipped into my prayer a request for a sign that all was okay with my mother. Nothing big, just a little wink or nudge, if that was okay.

After our prayers we went to a changing area to put on our bathers under our sarongs. Down a few slick rocks there was a small pool of water and two waterfalls cascading down over a rocky wall. We were instructed to lean face forward into the first fall, then lay back into the second. 

The sound of the rushing water filled the entire area. In my nervousness, I propelled myself too quickly into the first waterfall and bashed my forehead against the rocks. For a moment I was certain I would be bloody and bruised over my third eye point. I then remembered to relax into the experience and receive. At the second fall (I wasn't bleeding) I lay back and again, felt my entire being releasing and resting in the cool and refreshing water.  I felt myself opening up. I felt myself being filled. I felt the grief of the previous year washing away and in its place, a sense of connection and belonging more expansive than anything I have known through human relationships pooled into and completed me. 

Exiting the falls, I fell into Kristina's arms and cried like I hadn't cried since my mother died. The sound of my sobs was absorbed into the sound of the rushing water and with that, I felt complete.

We sat in prayer for a few minutes more and then our group began the uphill return. A few of us were straggling behind when suddenly a group of Balinese people in matching white t-shirts decorated with a red lipstick print and what turned out to be the name of the man celebrating his birthday, came barreling down into the previously quiet space. The jovial birthday boy greeted us with gusto outdone only by his mother or granny who laughed and kissed and mugged in turn which each member of our remaining group. Until she got to me. 

She immediately shifted from wacky to quiet and serious. She took both my hands and closed her eyes and just held me in a space of immense calm and presence.  She didn't say a word, she just held my hands. The moment passed quickly - the birthday boy grabbed her by her braid and playfully pulled her away. She let me go and returned to her wacky, lovely self. Kristina turned to me and said "You two just had a moment."   

Yes, and initially I thought I had missed it! I was too shocked to really "feel" anything, but in a way beneath language or knowing, I felt that she was tapping into something or reading me in a way that was both immensely personal and also comforting. I sensed that she knew what was happening for me ... that she was the "sign" that I had asked for ... that she was affirming the importance of this experience and the importance of this release and new space I was entering in my life. 

It has been exactly one year since my mother left her body. One year since she let go. On this anniversary I followed Agus's advice and offered up nine sticks of black incense (a fragrant lotus blend purchased in Ubud) to honor my mother's life (the past) and to honor her spirit (the present and future). 

Afterward, I spent some time praying to my mother, then drumming for her but really for me. I am slowly slipping back into my non-Bali life. Or more accurately, my life now infused by the magic, the beauty and the deep sense of reverence and gratitude which Bali evokes for me. I feel lighter, more present, more spacious and open to what each day brings. I am mindful to stay in touch - through my practice -  with the lessons Bali has gifted me; each day watering them, and myself in the process.

Oh ... a little endnote: my first day back to running, I came across a small snake dead by the side of the road. It was curved into the shape of the lemniscate or the symbol for infinity. I carefully carried it to a spot underneath a nearby rose bush and covered it with dried leaves, adding a single rose on top of the tiny burial mound. I took a moment to offer thanks for this message and then I prayed that it may have had an easeful passage. I wished that it may have always known it was held in absolute love and care and that it move into its next incarnation free and unhindered.

And so may we all. 

I hope you will bear with me as I have more I would like to share from my Bali adventure. I believe one last post is in order; I promise, a more classic travelog heavy on the lush images, light on soul-excavation. 


  1. I am so happy to read your very meaning filled journey....blessings.

  2. you are not only an amazing woman but an incredible story teller! i lovvvved soaking in every word and feeling myself right back there with you. xox

  3. loved being in Bali again... thank you for sharing your emotional journey, lisa.
    alison xxoo