It is my first morning back home and I am not sure how to move back into my life. I know my dreams last night were full of Bali's colors, memories, sights and smells. I feel a bit like Dorothy waking up in Kansas, back in a world of black and white after a long sojourn in full-tilt technicolor, surround sound and smell-o-vision. I am aware of the absence of the heat, the colors, the smells (frangipani mixed with incense) and the sounds of Bali. But also I am aware of something tender and new within myself; a seedling sprouted and new roots making their way deep within my spirit and soul.
Bali ahhhhhhh. How do I explain?
I am remembering my last night at our retreat. Even though Kristina and I would be staying on for two additional nights, the sense of an ending was making me restless. It had been a full day with hiking down and then up some incredibly steep stairs to a series of holy springs. Factoring in the heat and humidity of Bali, I should have felt physically exhausted, but instead I was strangely rested and refreshed. It was the last night I would sleep in my queen's bed, in our private joglo compound. Suddenly, I realized I hadn't had a skinny dip in the pool! Knowing I would always regret missing the opportunity to swim serenaded by the geckos and frogs, I slipped out of bed.
All was quiet as I made my way along the path to the main compound. I figured I would sneak in and out of the water, my own private and final baptism in Bali. Then I saw someone from the group sitting at the main dining table. I was relieved to see it was a new and dear friend, my Aussie Sister and soul-friend. She too could not sleep. "It's my last night in Bali, why would I want to sleep?" She was beading at the 24/7 bead bar. Without looking up she asked "Want to take a swim?" Giddy with the realization that she too wanted a skinny dip, I also marveled at how - yet again - in Bali the translation of inner longing to manifested reality is swift and certain.
Already spiritually cleansed by our holy spring experience, we entered the warm water as newborns, sharing heart-truths and promises - to ourselves and to each other - under the blanket of the night sky. After Bali, there is no going back to life as usual.
For Bali is Eat, Pray, Love all rolled up into one. While it is a feast for the senses, all that juicy beauty, celebration and joy pools into and nourishes the heart.
A friend has asked "Can you trust that your path is being prepared for you?" Yes, I can. My path lead me to Bali. Every pivotal transition in my life has come about via a flash of an idea and saying yes quickly before the questions or doubts arise. Studying abroad. Yoga teacher training. Adoption. And then Soulful Escape to Bali.
This is not to say doubts and obstacles don't arise. As I prepared for the 24-plus hour journey, I was filled with fear and dread. I am not normally squeamish about traveling, but venturing half way around the world from my girl, that bothers me. I had made it to the West Coast when I learned that our trans-Pacific flight was delayed due to a typhoon pummeling our first stop, Taipei.
I spent the night in San Francisco and we departed 12 hours later with no idea when or if our connecting flight to Bali would happen. Waiting in line at China Airlines customer service at 12:30 AM in the Taipei airport we were groggy and foggy from the 12 hour flight, but trusting and hopeful. Miraculous, the airline agent turned to the counter behind him, picked up our connecting flight tickets and informed us that flight would be leaving in less than 2 hours.
When you say yes and move forward with an open heart, all manner of miracles happen. This is one of the lessons Bali taught me.
We arrived in Bali the next morning, giddy with relief. The humidity hit us while still inside the airport. Exhausted from travel, we staggered towards immigration where we were greeted by the first of countless palm leaf baskets - Canang sari - containing a daily offering expressing gratitude and prayers to the gods. Bali is a Hindu country and everywhere you find these colorful expressions of thankfulness and celebration. The trick is not to find them, but rather not to step on or squash them!
If there is a single concept that describes the landscape and the culture of Bali, it is Beauty. Not simple, surface beauty - or glamour as John O'Donohue explains in his work on Beauty - but richly layered, complex, multifaceted Beauty. The beauty of dismantled sidewalks decorated by offerings; the beauty of crumbling buildings watched over by festooned statues of Ganesh, the elephant-head god who is the remover of obstacles, whose round belly holds past, present and future while also representing generosity and the fullness of life. Everywhere there is color and music and horns honking and incense burning and a pervasive attitude of gratitude, playfulness and joy.
Over and over we encountered the beauty of the Balinese people, expressed through heart-felt welcomes and wide smiles. In Bali, one feels seen and received. As our retreat leaders, Nicole and Em, would say over and over, Bali is a heart-centered culture. It is impossible not to be touched by the generosity of the people, never mind the lush beauty of the landscape.
The retreat itself was an amazing opportunity to learn about the crafts and culture of Bali. Just like our morning breakfast, our days were overflowing with inviting activities: traditional batik process, indigo dying, silver jewelry making at a silversmith's shop, sewing prayer flags, and making numerous beaded bracelets from recycled glass beads.
|our batik classroom with Pung who taught us about natural dyes and traditional batik process|
|Nofel, a.k.a. The Blue Man of Ubud|
|indigo dyeing and shibori|
We also took trips into the countryside to see rice fields, and were invited into the home of an old friend of Nicole's to learn about traditional dance, music and how to make (well, maybe!) the beautiful palm leaf baskets that figure so prominently in the daily offerings. We were surrounded by family who laughed gently at our jerking attempts at Balinese dance and cheered our musical efforts.
|Nicole & Em's beautiful friend, Seni, who welcomed us so warmly and generously into her home|
We also were invited - through Nicole's endless contacts - to attend a wedding celebration which we learned was truly a royal wedding. Even though we had not packed appropriate attire, we were graciously told to come "as is", Nicole explaining that the Balinese people are both incredibly generous and tolerant. We didn't know, so no worries!
The first night of the retreat our group gathered in a circle. We took a moment in silence to breath and arrive fully in this moment. The dream of Bali was now a reality. Thinking of all the people who made this trip possible, our hearts were already swelling open. Each of us was asked to offer a word, our intention, for this trip.
I had said Yes to Bali almost a year ago. I said yes right after the death of my mother. I knew then that this trip would be my way of honoring her and marking the year anniversary of her passing. My mother had loved to travel and she passed on to me her passion for learning about other people, other cultures. I wanted to celebrate her life and the many gifts - of spirit, of thinking, of loving - that she had passed on to me.
So I shared my word - celebrate - as I added my flowers to the growing mandala the group created.
What I did not share - what I did not fully grasp myself - was that this trip would be equally about release and letting go. Clearing my heart of sorrow and sadness so that I could make room for full, heart-open living and joy.
I have close to 700 photographs from my trip! Taking the time to look through them and process my experience through writing is helping me seal in the medicine and fully integrate the gifts of this experience. There is much to share and I hope you don't mind if I take my time parceling the juicy bits out over the coming weeks.