I already knew how this story was going to end.
But before I give it all away, let’s go back to the beginning. Where it all started with a book. And a lot of fear.
As I said before, it was so much more than a book. Buying that Lonely Planet- Bali guidebook was a step. And, as I also said before, we all know that sometimes one small step can really be one giant leap.
Every step closer I took to Bali I was also stepping closer towards my fears. The closer I got, the more anxieties I confronted. I was scared of everything from airports, to crime, to monkeys and rabies, sickness and injury. I was scared of getting lost. I was scared of language barriers. I was scared of being unsafe. And that’s really the root of all anxiety- not feeling safe.
So, I arrived in Bali with a load of fears and anxieties, and a list of things I wanted to experience.
I’ve already mentioned many of my fears (and that was just the short list), so now I will share my list of things I wanted to experience:
-Meet new friends
-Make serious, heartfelt connections
-Have great conversations
-Dance to music I love
And that’s just the shortlist.
I put “meet new friends” at the top of the list because that was probably what I was most interested in- forming deep, meaningful connections with other humans. That is one of my favorite things in life. But when I first arrived, still with many anxieties in tow, that desire was met with the fear that I might not end up meeting anyone. But then people started showing up (or maybe it was me that finally started showing up).
I answered a Facebook post that led me to the door of The Brit and The Mini Brit. But that door was more of a portal. Because once I stepped through it, my world opened up in so many ways.
I’ve mentioned that The Brit came to Bali to do a two month “health program”, but really I was just sugarcoating the fact that she was doing a personalized, holistic addiction recovery program. It was less sugarcoating and more to protect her privacy. But now that I’ve gotten permission from her, I can be a little more candid in my storytelling. She was working with a former addict named Scott, who I’ve mentioned used to live in the small area in California where I live. He’s working on building a retreat center in Ubud to take his holistic program to the next level.
It was through Scott and that program where The Brit met The Other Brit, who became a regular fixture in our house (and hearts). The Brit and The Other Brit would attend meetings, with The Mini Brit patiently tagging along. Afterwards, I would meet up with them, and often many of the other meeting attendees, at the café next door to where they meet. And I have to say- recovering addicts might just be some of my favorite kind of people.
These are people who are really facing their shit. They are getting real and raw and doing the gritty work towards triumphing over the darkest parts of themselves in a way that I am not used to seeing from most people. And it’s so fucking beautiful and brave and god damn impressive. There’s no way I can look at them without having massive amounts of respect.
What many of the people I met showed me is that when you truly, truly put yourself first, when you take care of your health and wellness, and get really real and uncomfortably honest with yourself, you actually become much more genuinely available for others. I’ve known this, and I’ve experienced it, but only from the inside out. I was now seeing what that looked like (and feeling what the felt like) from the outside in.
One of the people I met in those groups was a guy named Steve Wofford. (By the way, if there is any question about exposing their anonymity, I have gotten permission from everyone to use their name and story). Steve is another American and another first time traveler. Except he didn’t just travel to Bali, he moved there! I think within about five minutes of talking with him I made a friend for life. We completely understood each other’s way of thinking, so naturally. There was no need to explain our references or break down our language. We just got it. And several times he made various references to living in Truth, so he’s definitely one of my people.
Steve is a coach and an entrepreneur, who coaches entrepreneurs. Specifically entrepreneurs in recovery, though he may be branching out his demographic. I’ve seen what he does, and this guy- you guys- he could be the next Tony Robbins or Brendon Burchard. Except he never will be, because he is the first Steve Wofford.
Our goodbye dinner. Though we never actually said “goodbye”. We said, “we’ll be in touch” and “I’ll see you when I come back”.
I only ended up meeting him a week and a half before I left, but we managed to build a strong, meaningful, and super supportive friendship in that time.
My last week was a bit tough, because I was thoroughly exhausted from the Writers Festival, I had to move house due to the person whose room I was renting was returning, and The Other Brit was taking off for six weeks to do an intensive yoga teacher training in Nepal. She was departing just three days before I was. So, it was a week of staggered steps of parting ways with people I care about and a place that I loved.
But the upside is that I ended up moving back to the place I stayed before I moved in with The Brit and The Mini Brit. I was actually booked to spend a couple of days in that beautiful spot I told you about– the compound of the medicine man from Eat, Pray, Love. But I ended up cancelling that reservation. Yep.
The compound only had 2 nights available anyway, which meant I would’ve had to move during the Writers Festival, then again a couple days later. And the place cost twice as much as the house I was in. I didn’t need to be out of the house until the 1st. So, after careful consideration, I decided to stay put and only move once.
As I went to cancel that reservation there was a small part of me that did think about getting the chance to actually see a place from inside my favorite book. But besides everything I said about not feeling the need to get any closer to that book, the place I reserved was not the place in the book. It’s obvious that the place I reserved is only as beautiful as it is from all of the money that poured into it because of that book. I can almost guarantee that is not the same place Elizabeth Gilbert experienced.
So, I cancelled my reservation, with no real regrets (I can always stay there next time, if I feel like it). I stayed in the house with The Brits a few more days, then I moved back to the last place I stayed, which was right in the center of town. And surprisingly it felt a little more peaceful and quiet than the other house that was a little more removed from town center.
The other good thing about that place (besides getting more of those green banana pancakes) is that it was right next door to the tour company where my friend Made works. So, whenever I went out, I would pass him, or his friend Wayan, whom I also got to know a little, and I’d either say hi as I passed by, or stop and hang out for a while. It was nice to have a cheerful pit stop right next door.
That’s Made on the left
His friend Wayan is on the right
And remember that artist, whose paintings I bought and I wanted to be his friend, but then found out that maybe he was lying about his art? Well, the more art stalls I saw, the more I did actually see people working on similar paintings. It’s just that many of them were pretty much replicas of everyone else’s. Though I did find one guy whose art was different than most- and it was pretty incredible.
An artist’s work in progress. Beautiful stuff, hidden away in a far corner of Ubud Market. I loved the big one behind him on the right.
Seeing people actually painting, helped me to see that the guy I bought from probably did paint the ones I bought, and being back in that spot where I first met him, I ended up running into him again a few times and he was just as sweet and adorable as I remember.
Giving me the thumbs up that he sold some more of his paintings
It was a really good choice for me to return to that space, and spend my last week there. And it will most likely be my landing spot when I go back.
Once I settled into that new spot, and the fact that I was leaving soon hit me, I embarked on a bit of an emotional and anxious roller coaster, thinking about having to go back to California, and having to say all my goodbyes to so many wonderful people.
My anxieties (as well as insomnia and sleep deprivation which are common manifestations of my anxieties) had significantly dissipated while I was in Bali, but knowing all that I would (and wouldn’t) be returning to in California triggered them again . The few abusive relationships I still have left in my life, the unavailability of most people around me, the collective anxieties and stress which is American life, and the uncertainty as to how I will make enough money to get back to Bali within the next year (or ideally six months), stay for much longer, and build the life and career I want for myself on top of it all- these were the thoughts that were keeping me up at night (and that’s just the short list). Yeah, I was a bit anxious.
After one particularly bad night of insomnia, I took a lazy day to myself and just hung around my room for most of the day, lamenting over having to leave. From my balcony I watched the palm trees sway and listened to the street sounds of Ubud- until I reached a point where I felt like I wanted to go out and BE with Bali. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, but I just felt the need to be out in it. So, I remembered when I arrived, how I just let myself go where I felt pulled and decided to walk out my door and see where Bali was going to take me.
When I passed Made and his friend Wayan, I lamented about not wanting to leave, and they reminded me, “don’t start living Monday already or you won’t get to live today.” Somehow those words have more meaning coming from a Balinese person.
I found myself being pulled toward Monkey Forest road, which of course eventually led to the Monkey Forest. The road curves around the city and so I figured I might just walk it in a loop, but when I got to the Monkey Forest entrance I felt pulled to go inside.
I love the city of Ubud, but there is definitely a lot of hustle and bustle to it. In California I’m used to hiking in the woods pretty frequently and I realized that the whole time I was in Bali I hadn’t really gotten out of that hustle and bustle much.
Even when I did get out of the city center I was on motorbikes or surrounded by people. I wasn’t able to just go at my own pace.
So, I paid my entrance fee and very slowly wandered into the Monkey Forest.
There were still tourists there, but tourism had significantly decreased after my first couple of weeks in Bali, and I found a sense of peace amidst the trees that I really yearned for. I also enjoyed the monkeys.
At one point a monkey jumped on my back and managed to get into my backpack and steal my lip balm! The irony is that I went into the forest to appease my anxieties, so to find myself literally with a monkey on my back felt pretty symbolic.
That is the look of: “oh shit!” Luckily some Russian tourists came along and helped me get the monkey off my back (and snapped some good photos for me as well)
I could’ve stayed in there for a couple more hours. It was so enchanting and there were so many incredible statues and walkways to discover. But I was due to go meet The Brit and The Mini Brit to say our goodbyes to The Other Brit on her last night in town.
We had a tearful last dinner where The Other Brit bestowed me and The Brit with sweet little Buddha bracelets and touching handwritten cards.
The bracelet went well with the one I was already wearing. It was given to me by a funny little dude I met, who worked at one of the warungs I had lunch at. He read my palm and tried to convince me to marry him. He was sweet, and funny, and totally full of shit. It was obvious he said the same thing to all the white women, hoping somone would take the bait. He talked my ear off the whole time I was there and I thought that I might have trouble getting myself out of there. But two other young white women approached him, admiring his bracelets, and as I backed out of the circle and said goodbye, he barely acknowledged me as his attention clearly had new targets. It was pretty funny.
So, I put The Other Brit’s Buddha bracelet on, alongside the one I was wearing. I thought I might want to get a few more similar bracelets like this, before I left, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of only wearing ones that were gifts.
The four of us finished our dinner and said our heartfelt goodbyes… and then there were three.
The day before I left, I wanted to have one more truly Balinese experience, so I went with Scott, The Brit and Mini Brit, and one other sweet man whom I met that day from the recovery program, to Tirta Empul, a Hindu water temple, famous for its holy spring water, where we partook in the prayer ritual at each water spout.
Me and Scott
outside of the holy waters
The holy waters were a bit crowded that day!
At one of our stops on the way, I got into a really great discussion with the sweet man who was with us, about addiction, recovery, addicts, doing the work, and what’s really important in life.
The thing about Ubud is that it almost feels like you are living in a self-help/personal growth conference. So many people were visiting from elsewhere, many on some kind of retreat or training. Health and wellness are the social norm, and entrepreneurship is kind of necessary. And it was so refreshing to be able to have so many fulfilling discussions with so many interesting people.
It’s not that there isn’t partying that happens there. I saw plenty of what I refer to as “Bali Bros” wandering around with their Bintangs and cigarettes. But most of the partying was happening in other towns and cities. Ubud was a much more sober place. Or maybe that was just the space I was in and what I attracted to me.
Speaking of what I attract. I didn’t find myself a Balinese boyfriend or get to kiss anyone. But for a moment I thought there was a chance for romance, or something close to it, with The Handsome Indian. We ran into each other at the Writers Festival and spent some good time together there. He also lives on my favorite street, which I wandered down almost daily, so we ended up running into each other quite a bit there as well. Plus we went to the trash cleanup together again, and the game night afterwards, and I was really enjoying the time we were spending together.
But the night I thought something more might transpire between us, I overheard him telling his friend that he was dating someone else. I don’t even know how I heard it either. The words just seemed to ring out above the social chatter, even though the volume blended in with the rest of the noise.
I felt like we were developing a really lovely connection up until that point and there was absolutely no indication that he was dating anyone. So, hearing him say that delivered a swift punch to the gut. And it stirred up a lot of shit for me (which is almost always a good thing, but almost never pleasant).
I felt like such an idiot. How could I have misread things so badly? And how I am I still attracting unavailable men? I wasn’t even trying this time! What am I still not learning? (I will say, at least the unavailable men I attract these days are really wonderful and interesting people, as opposed to the abusive deadbeats I used to attract to [with some exceptions of course]).
I slept on it and realized that I didn’t misread anything. I was possibly misled, but that might not even be true either. I only heard a tiny snippet of what was said. I don’t know the full story. I don’t even know if I heard correctly.
Maybe what he has going on is undefined and un-serious. Most of us have dated people casually and kept our options open while we figure out what is going on. That’s what dating is. You try dating different people and when something starts to gain traction you stop dating all of the other people. Maybe this was just a less formal, more organic version of that process (and since it’s Ubud it’s probably vegan and gluten-free too).
I would never knowingly try to get together with a man who is already involved with someone else. I wouldn’t do that to another woman, and I wouldn’t do that to myself. But the absolute Truth is that I don’t know what the situation is.
He truly did not seem like the type of douchey sleaze that would try to start something with someone when he is already with someone else. From what I got to know of him he seemed like a really grounded, genuine, good person.
And man, he gave good eye contact. Which is a huge deal to me, because eye contact is such a baseline for intimacy, and the last guy I dated almost never made eye contact, even in our most intimate moments.
So, I deliberated- do I continue to pull back, knowing what I kind of sort of might know? I checked in with myself, with my Truth, and my integrity. And the answer was that it’s not up to me to do the work of figuring out what his situation is. It’s his job to communicate whatever needs to be communicated.
I don’t have to try to make anything happen with him either. I can simply let him know my door is open. The rest is up to him.
I then realized that maybe what I have to learn from the situation doesn’t have to do with who I’m attracting, but how. Maybe it has to do with my past patterns of overcompensating for other people’s lack. See, me basing my actions on something I kind of overheard is actually me doing the work of gathering the information and assuming his communication, then taking the action (or inaction) based on something I don’t even totally know for sure. That doesn’t mean ignoring what I might have heard either. It just means remaining neutral until I know the full story.
So, although we did have some really lovely moments together, nothing ended up happening between me and The Handsome Indian. And maybe nothing more was supposed to happen between us, at least at that point in time. Maybe he showed up when and how he did for me, not just for the lesson I had to learn, but to simply remind me of what it felt like to have someone look me deeply in the eyes like that- and see me- in a really authentic way.
It’s probably for the best that nothing happened anyway. This was all unfolding the week before I left. I wanted romance, but had something happened between me and him (or anyone else for that matter), my trip would’ve become about an “us”, and this was an experience that really needed to belong to me, and for once not be all about someone else.
Besides, who knows what’ll happen when I go back.
We ended up saying our final goodbyes not in person, but in a really sweet message exchange. And at the very least we have a very lovely friendship.
On my final night in Bali, on my way out to get some food, I stopped by Made’s tour company to make arrangements for a ride to the airport. He had the day off but the young woman who booked the arrangements for me was really sweet. We got to talking and when I requested that Made be my driver, she asked how I knew him, and I explained to her how I became friends with him there.
I don’t even know how it happened, but she and I instantly became really good friends. I think it might have had to do with her bringing up finding me a Balinese boyfriend. I didn’t even have to tell her how attractive I found the men there. She brought it up!
She was really sweet and spunky and funny. Her name was Tiary. We chatted and laughed for a while . Then I asked if I could add her on Facebook and she insisted that we take some pictures together. She got me to pose in playful ways that I don’t normally pose in. We had a lot fun together, and she even adorned me with the rice that is part of the prayer ritual- on the top of the head, between the eyes, and on the throat, for purity of thought, purity of sight, and purity of word. Or something like that.
Then she excitedly told me to arrive early before leaving for the airport because she wanted to fix my hair Balinese style and make me “so special” before I leave.
On my way home that night, I had one last goodbye to say, and that was to my “Balinese Glam Squad” Koma, Desa, Ketut, and Wayan. I guess I should interject here and say that all of the names in Bali are the same. I forget that not everyone knows this. You are named in order of birth. If you are first born you are Wayan, second is Made, third is Koma, which Made informed me I was saying (and hearing) wrong, it’s actually Komang, and fourth is Ketut. There are some other names as well, depending on what social class you were born into and what year you were born. I guess in the eighties they added more names. But in all cases, it’s still in reference to birth order.
So, I stopped by the spa and Komang and Desa were the only ones there. We gave each other big hugs and I told them I’d see them next time I was in town.
Komang is on the left, Desa on the right. Such sweethearts!
The next morning when I checked out of my room, the man who ran the place gave me a small, carved, wooden box, to thank me for returning and for staying so long. I guess most people only stay there for a night or two, so they were happy to have me for a whole week this time. It was such a sweet gesture, and it was so Bali.
I went into my bag, and I grabbed that Lonely Planet guide book. I didn’t get much out of what was inside that book, and there was nothing in it that I couldn’t google. But what that book really did for me was get me to take a giant leap.
I was done with it now. I didn’t need it anymore. So, I handed it to him and asked him to give it to another guest who might need it. I don’t know if that book will have as much meaning for anyone else as it did for me, but I pray that whoever’s hands it falls into next, it leads them to something beautiful and life changing.
I brought my bags downstairs and sat myself on the little stool behind the counter of the tour company. Tiary had brought a bunch of extra flowers for my hair, and gifted me a hairclip that she said I have to bring back to Bali someday. She combed my hair, even though I warned her that I don’t brush my hair and my hair might break the comb. But it stayed intact. I really had no idea what she was going to do to my hair, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like it. But I actually loved it! She twisted and turned and entwined bunches of my hair, and clipped it back, pinning the fragrant Frangipani flowers to the side. Turns out, Tiary was much more of my true glam squad. I loved it so much! And I really, truly did feel SO special!
Then she taught me how to do the daily ritual prayer and offering, and again putting the rice to my head, third eye, and throat. It was the absolute best send-off I could’ve gotten. Then Made arrived and Tiary and I gave each other a big hug and have continued chatting on FB since I’ve been back, including making plans to cook together when I return.
We loaded my bags in the car, and off we went.
When Made and I finally arrived to the airport, it was so hard for me to say goodbye. I didn’t want to leave! We hugged, took one last photo together, and I wished him and his family love and blessings until next time I come back.
Love this guy!
All of my friends who were living in Bali full time said that they really felt that I would be back. But the person that meant the most from was Made. Because he was actually Balinese.
I absolutely love both the western culture there and of course most importantly the Balinese culture. But unfortunately I do feel like in Ubud the western culture overshadows the beautiful Balinese culture quite a bit (I am already contemplating how I can contribute and give back in a bigger way next time I go there, as to negate my western impact). So, I am sensitive to my western presence and when Made said that he sees so many people come and go, but he really feels like I’ll be coming back and staying for a while, it meant a lot to me. It was like he was giving me his Balinese blessing.
As I said, I arrived to Bali with a load of fears and list of things I wanted to experience.
I was scared of monkeys, but I ended up getting the monkey off my back.
I was scared about money, but I actually got a lot more comfortable, confident, open, and loving in my relationship with money.
I was scared of losing my luggage, but ended up getting rid of a lot of baggage.
I was scared of getting lost, but ended up finding an even deeper sense of self.
I was scared of language barriers, but I ended up amidst a community of people who really spoke the same language as me, as my soul.
I was scared for my safety, but I ended up feeling a deeper sense of safety there than I have felt since, well, I can’t even remember when.
I wanted to meet people, laugh, have great conversations, and make truly heartfelt connections, and I was doing that up until my very last night there!
I wanted to dance, to music I love, and I got to do that at the closing ceremonies of the Writers Festival..
I wanted to help people. The Brit told me that I taught her many little life lessons, which meant a lot to me. I also got to help clean up some of that beautiful island (which was less impactful in the act itself as it was teaching the children and old farmers about proper waste management).
Always, ALWAYS, Love Who You Are!
Look at these beauties!
He insisted I take his picture
One of my favorite images I captured in Bali
They were so excited about getting their own “Trash Hero” t-shirts!
And here’s a moment of uncomfortable honesty for me. Part of why I wanted to take this trip was because I was hoping I might find love. It’s totally cheesy, but it’s true. I’ve been single for a really long time, and even though I love being with myself, I’m really ready for a partner. Overall (with some exceptions of course), I have been very unimpressed, disappointed, and discouraged with my options in California. So, I thought, maybe if I go to someplace completely new I might find love. Maybe if I face my fears and do this for myself- this thing that I’ve always wanted to do, then as a reward, I might find love.
Well, I’ve done enough spiritual work, and I’ve seen Under The Tuscan Sun enough times to know that sometimes what we want might not show up how we thought it would.
I did get to experience a grand romance. It was with the island of Bali itself. And I did find love- with a Brit, a Mini Brit, and an Other Brit. I found love every time a Balinese person looked me in the eye and smiled. I found love in the hot, sticky air, and the warm breezes in my hair. And of course, none of that love was really outside of myself. It all came from within me.
And I knew, from the day I bought that book, that this is how the story would end.
I left California bound for Bali. I returned to California bound to Bali.