Last September I spent a few weeks in Bali. What a wonderful, magical place with incredible landscapes and even more incredible people. I dedicated weeks to doing yoga and walking through the monkey forest each morning as the monkeys stalked tourists, to tease them by stealing sunglasses or waited for the too often foodstuffs that would be tossed near them on the ground. And there always seemed to be the unwitting human who was foolish enough to hold the prize in their hands – which only led to the monkeys mounting their shoulders to snatch the banana or other morsel, generally sending the human screaming and running back to the tour bus in terror. I can only imagine what the monkeys must think of our species – but hey, I think the same thing a great deal of the time about myself. Unusual priorities and foolish behavior!!
Observations about Bali.
The beauty, religion and culture are so very integrated. I remember the first driver who picked me up at the airport in Denpasar and drove me to Ubud was 18 year old “younger Wayan” as he introduced himself. During the drive through village after village, he described not only the various crafts, temples and layout of each village but went into great depth with the various religious beliefs and daily rituals that are such a part of the life there. It struck me as unusual then that this young man was so open and friendly and explained very detailed concepts with such ease. Not in a preachy, holy sort of way but in a matter of fact conversational manner. It would recur over and over with so many of the people there. Their religion is integrated along with their family and village in a way I have never seen before. Time and again I would find myself being an American. Doubting sincerity, thinking that whoever I was dealing with was “trying to get theirs”, only to find honesty and openness in a disarming way that made me feel ashamed I had such thoughts.
Putu became my main driver and friend. He took me around the country, to temples in the jungle and amazing ceremonies with high priests and ornate dress, stopping at roadside tents to sample local foods – jackfruit and durian, salak and sirzak, leisurely eating each new fruit and watching Putu’s face contort in laughter as my face erupted as the rush of new flavors assaulted my taste buds. He took me wandering through his family’s rice fields, explaining to me the hierarchy of the communal rice fields where the control of the water that irrigated all the villager’s separate family rice plots was controlled by the villager whose plot lay furthest from the water source – guaranteeing even the furthest plot would receive water in the toughest of times. How beautiful and perfect in it’s simplicity. He took me into his home “compound” to meet his family, sharing food and time together – explaining the layout of the various family “houses” within the compound where over 20 children, parent, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles all shared the “compound” and lived together as the family had for generations.
There were times I would travel with his cousin – “older Wayan” not “younger Wayan” who had picked me up at the airport. Older Wayan had driven me several times around Bali and I knew him pretty well. He wasn’t as outgoing as Putu and didn’t have Putu’s gift of gab, but was always timely and interested in whether what he was showing me was interesting. He picked me up early one morning at my hotel. I was scheduled to leave Bali that morning but my plans were changed and I stayed on another 10 days. I did not connect with Wayan to let him know of my change in plans, so he arrived at 6am to take me on the 90 minute drive to Denpasar to catch my flight. When I met him in the lobby and told him of my decision, he “understood, – there is no problem”. I was headed to the Yoga Barn to do my morning yoga and he offered to drive me. I accepted and during the drive he asked if I would still be staying at the hotel. I told him no, they were full and they were checking with another property to see if I could get a room. Wayan was concerned that I wouldn’t have a place to stay and offered to take me to a hotel he knew of close to the Yoga Barn. I told him I wasn’t worried – there were vacancies around, I had already checked and found a place if needed but I said, “sure, we have extra time before yoga so lets check out the place”. He took me to a hotel not far from the Yoga Barn and as we drove into the place, my suspicious mind figured, “he must be getting a cut from the hotel to recommend it – that must be how things worked here” but it looked nice and I thought if the price was right I’d book it and he could make a few extra bucks and if not, no harm no foul. As it turned out, the hotel didn’t have any vacancies so we drove back to the Yoga Barn. As I got of out his car I handed him 300,000 rupiah ($30) for the agreed upon price for my drive from Ubud to Denpasar. Wayan looked at me uncomfortably and said, “No Mister Joe, I can’t accept this – I’ve done nothing to earn it.” I explained that yes he had – he had driven the half hour from his house in the country to pick me up as agreed – I hadn’t cancelled – and he had driven me around, taken me to the hotel and now to the Yoga Barn and it was no problem – I wanted him to have the money. He protested and shoved the money back in my hand. I shoved it back in his hand and quickly opened the door and headed down the long walkway toward the Yoga Barn. Wayan leapt of his car and ran after me, pleading with me – almost in tears, pulling at my hand and forcing me to take the money back. I walked back to the car with him, talking, trying to get him to accept some of the money – explaining that he at least deserved some of it. As I leaned against the open car window, he started his engine to drive off relieved our skirmish was over. I threw 200,000 rupiah into the open window and literally ran down the walkway to the Yoga Barn, escaping the fellow who I feared was trying to take advantage of me only a few minutes earlier at the hotel but who now wouldn’t even accept $20 from me. He wouldn’t accept it even though he had at least an hour round trip drive from his home at 5:30 in the morning, plus the cost of gas which in Bali is not cheap, because “he hadn’t earned it.”
Needless to say, I had plenty of pride to examine during my yoga and meditation practice that morning and a lot of soul searching about who was exhibiting an open heart on a daily basis. Unusual priorities and foolish behavior!!
The real story about Bali though is how I stumbled upon a peace and serenity I had been missing, hidden away in the gardens of the Yoga Barn and little K organic restaurant. There I met so many wonderful people – so many wonderful teachers and there I met Uma, a powerhouse of a woman, a jungle cat of sorts, part shaman, yogini and ayurvedic doctor, with a laugh so infectious it reaches into your soul and eyes so piercing they certainly gaze into it – who upon meeting me and knowing me for less than 5 minutes, stated “You are here to learn to slow down and live and it’s a good thing, because if you don’t, you will die”. Prophetic words on the heels of my most recent underwater “out of air” experience and her guidance and presence was enlightening and illuminating to say the least and draws me back to Bali again soon. And Lisa, her apprentice, my breath work teacher and oceangoing friend who helped me find my breath, when I didn’t even know it was missing, and taught me to ride it to a connection within and an ongoing transformation and reconnection. Lisa whose smile lit the rice paddies and jungles and who touched my heart with her wonder of life, her simple sincerity and dedication to finding her truth and helping me find mine. I spent mornings after yoga sitting alone in the little K, musing over golden dragonflies chiming their insights with rhythmic song or together with Uma and Lisa and others in a non-verbal dance of mystery, poetry and vibratory connection interspersed with laughter over coffee, tea and breakfast. Bali is indeed a magical place – at least for this cowboy.
To really do Uma justice – well, that is why we have another day – Trying to explain my experience with Uma is like trying to explain golden dragonflies conversing or the imperceptible vibrations of leaves. Maddening and full of air and unless you have heard the dragonflies or seen the vibrations – difficult if not impossible. But perhaps I’ll try — We will see, we will see. . .