travel

Bound To Bali

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

-Laugh

-Dance to music I love

-Help people

-Romance

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.

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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.

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.

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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

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.20161103_151456

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.

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.20161103_185408

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.20161107_164518

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.

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.

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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.20161107_113456

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.20161107_091744

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.

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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).

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.

 

~Maktub~

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Writers and Coffee and Gays, Oh My!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. Part of the reason, ironically, is because I attended a writer’s festival last weekend, and it really took a lot out of me.

When I first contemplated this trip, and bought my Lonely Planet guidebook, I was pondering what time of year to go. October was what felt right. So, I looked in the guide book to see if there were any special events happening in October, and lo and behold, there was an international writer’s festival happening. The Ubud Writer’s and Readers Festival.  That was a clear sign. So, I planned my trip for the month of October (which then became part of September and November as well).

Yet, I did not buy my ticket for the festival. I thought I might volunteer, because anyone who knows me knows I love to volunteer, plus it would save a chunk of money on the ticket. Yet, I did not apply to volunteer either. This is what I do. Or don’t do.

Actually, scratch that. Change the language. This is what I used to do. One of my forms of self-sabotage. I’d hem and haw, procrastinate (i.e. push things further away), and in the end, make it all much harder on myself.

So, I hemmed and hawed, and deliberated for five months– from the conception of this trip until a few days before the event. Then, finally, I had a moment with myself when I thought about how good the experience would probably be for me, and reminded myself of the fact that I decided to come in October because that festival showed up… and now I was really thinking about not going? Old patterns die hard, and before they do they can be quite cunning.

I looked into volunteering again, but I was too late. The application was closed. So, with loving support from the The Brit and The Other Brit, reminding me that this would be a gift to myself and an investment in myself, I charged the ticket to my visa card. As soon as I did that I realized how silly it was for me to consider not going.

And the theme was “Tat Tvam Asi”, Sanskrit for “I am you, you are me.” Which is so fitting for me

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I’m so glad I went. The funny thing about events like this is that I usually go into them looking for inspiration from others, waiting for someone to say something that pushes me in a certain direction, but often what I get out of it is not anything that anyone else says, but a yearning to be a part of the conversation. Hearing questions asked to the speakers and really wishing I could be up there chiming in my own answers. Because I have something to say. And I have valid responses to people’s questions. And that is a pretty clear indicator to me that I truly feel like I belong in that role. Not from a place of ego, but from a calling, deep inside me.

There were a lot of incredible Writers, Speakers, and change makers that I had the privilege of seeing. And a lot I missed because they conflicted with other panels I wanted to see. But there was nothing that anyone said that shifted anything for me. It was what I had to say, and the yearning to say it that brought me closer to my role as a Writer.

But I still must mention some of the highlights of the event. My absolute favorite was a guy named Mayank Austen Soofi. A gay Indian man with a personality akin to Sophia Grace from the Ellen show. I have not read a word of his work yet. I tried to buy his book at the festival, but it sold out (so happy for him!). That tells you how much people loved him. He was hard not to love. He had the most pure, raw, joyful, exuberant, and magnetic personality. I really wanted him to be my friend.  Readers, please check him out!! I plan to get his book when I get back. He is a special soul and he deserves support and success!

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I really wish I had gotten a better picture of him

 

Another favorite was the award winning writer, Mitchell S. Jackson, who wrote a novel based on his real life journey from crack dealer to Writer, and Professor at New York University and Columbia University. I swear my affinity had nothing to do with finding him attractive, and my weakness for brown skinned men. Of course not.

I absolutely love real stories of people transforming their lives.  And from the book excerpts he read, it seems as though there’s a rhythm, almost a beat, to his writing, which is quite intriguing to me as well. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that I find the brain to be the sexiest part of the body and intelligence is a huge turn on, but I swear my attraction to him (and based on the way he looked me up and down, I think it’s safe to say the attraction was mutual) was purely professional. Yeah, totally.

My one other favorite part of the festival actually had nothing to do with writing. It had to do with something very close to many writers. Coffee. There were many food booths there, and one coffee booth hidden way back in the corner. My first few days I wanted to caffeine up before I arrived. But on the last day I just wanted to go straight to the festival and decided to get coffee there. I am so glad I did, but so bummed I only discovered this place on the last day.

Coffeenatics is a coffee company out of Sumatra. These guys came from Sumatra to Bali just for the festival. And they were not only one of my favorite parts of the festival, but some of my favorite people I have met on this trip.

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They were the best!

I walked up to the booth and one of the guys immediately said, “You look good! I like your style.” Motioning his finger up and down in the air. Now, I’m a smart, intelligent woman, a deep thinker, a spiritual being. I believe I have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer the world. I also carefully picked out my flowy Balinese outfit that day. So, it made me really happy to have my efforts recognized. After all, fashion is still a creative process.

That was a nice way to begin our interaction. Then, as I waited for my coffee to be made, I walked into the grassy area to discover a lovely, peaceful hammock, just waiting to cradle me. When I imagined coming to Bali I was hoping there would be a hammock involved at some point, when I exclaimed about the hammock the Coffeenatics said, “Go lay in the hammock! We’ll bring the coffee to you!” As if they hadn’t already completely won me over! The only thing that could’ve topped that would’ve been if they started fanning me with a giant banana leaf. I officially loved them at that point.20161030_101659

I lay in the hammock for a few minutes, but at that point I actually was more interested in hanging with them then hanging in the hammock. So, I left the hammock and sat by them for a bit. They then offered to fill my water bottle with cold water, which is a big deal for a several reasons. Hydration. Hydration is important, especially for us whities who aren’t used to this heat and humidity. Trash is a big deal here on Bali. And it really sucks to have to keep buying plastic water bottles. (That was my one real complaint about the festival- they need water refilling stations). So, it was awesome to be able to get my water refilled and not waste another plastic bottle. And it was cold! Most refillable water is in big 5 gallon jugs that of course aren’t kept cold. So, cold water is a bit of a luxury. Oh, and there was lemon in it!

Did I mention the coffee was good too? I visited them again later in the day and had my lunch over by them. In the big scheme of things I only spent a short amount of time with them, but I felt like I instantly had new friends, and they made me want to go visit Sumatra, and of course stop by their café when I do. That’ll be the next time I come here.

As far as the rest of the festival, there was a slew of intriguing writers, and amazing activists. It felt really good to be in such an intelligent environment. Some other people to highlight:  Suki Kim, the investigative journalist who lived undercover in North Korea (for I think 2 years?). She is the only person to have ever lived undercover in North Korea. But, because she is a woman, her book is marketed as a memoir and given a pink cover. I’ll just leave it at that.

There was Shandra Woworunto, a survivor of human trafficking. And holy shit. That woman is amazing. After all of the horrific abuses she experienced, she has triumphed with a bright, beautiful, positive spirit.

There was Baz Dreisinger, a New Yorker who has worked in prisons all over the world and does a lot of prison-rights activism. She was so fucking intelligent I just enjoyed hearing her brain make words.

There were some really great auxiliary events, some free and some extra charge. There were workshops, children and youth programs, movie screenings, speaking engagements and poetry slams. I attended the main festival  poetry slam with The Handsome Indian.

The event opened with an Australian Muslim hip hop group. I was excited and had high hopes because I thought their mission was pretty cool (to spread awareness and break the shame and stigma of being Muslim). I had wanted to find some hip hop since I arrived. But unfortunately I didn’t think they were that great. I still give them credit for doing what they do.

The poets, however, were fantastic! It was so marvelous getting to hear people from all over the world bring all kinds of poetry to the stage.

Another highlight for me, which deserves honorable mention, was actually one festival speaker’s partner. I attended an evening event, which was advertised as something way different than it was (there were a few of those). The speaker was pretty boring, but at the end, when he introduced his partner, that was worth it. His partner was bold Balinese man wearing a plaid sarong, platform heals, a huge wide brimmed ladies hat, t-shirt, blazer, and fanning himself with a hand fan. God, I loved him. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Remember I said I wanted to find my gays? (By the way, The Brit turned me onto a spa run by a couple of flamboyant Balinese gays, so I’ve been getting my pedicures there. If there is anything better than just any Balinese person, it’s a flamboyantly gay Balinese person).

The festival ended with a big closing ceremony celebration. I was so tired and worn out from that festival, it was really hard to drag myself out to that last event. But I’m glad I did. That hip hop group performed again, a little better this time, because they had a more of a party crowd vibe to play off of (but still not great). There were fire dancers, more poets, the most adorable MC’s who made me feel like I was at something between a high school rally and an Asian variety show. And then, to close the night, they brought out a band called The Soul Brothers, which I knew would make me happy. I was so low energy I didn’t think I could get myself to dance, but then they played Cosmic Girl by Jamiroquai (my obsession band from 2001-2006) and I couldn’t not dance.

If I don’t like the music then I don’t really enjoy dancing that much. But with the right music, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. And I’m not sure if it’s physically possible for my body to not dance when Jamiroquai comes on. Plus, one of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was dance, and I managed to remind myself of that when I was thinking about how tired I was. Just dance, my soul whispered.

They played all kinds of other disco hits, a couple more Jamiroquai songs, and closed out the night with Jungle Boogie, which was probably the most fun song they played.

The second the music ended I was out of there though. I got a ride home on a motorbike taxi with the sweetest older man, named Wayan, who enthusiastically recognized me from the last time he gave me a ride home (I did not remember, which is rare, but he knew where I lived so I guess he was right). He exclaimed what a good arura I have and how I bring good energy to Bali. He gently held my hand to his heart when he dropped me off and I put his number in my phone for when I need another motorbike ride somewhere.

I’m really glad I bit the bullet and went to that festival. It was an investment, and not something I will ever regret spending the money on.

Next year I will apply to volunteer early though.

There is so much more I have to say about my experiences over the past couple weeks, but for now I’m keeping this post just about the festival.

Today is my last day here in Bali, and if I don’t get to a blog post before I leave, I’ll have plenty of time at airports and in flight to get some writing done.

But for now, I’m off to meet up with The Brit and The Mini Brit for one last Bali experience.

~

There was also some incredible art as well.

Don’t forget, you can see more of my pics and video on my Instagram page.

Environment Matters

My houseplant taught me something, right before I left for this trip to Bali. I was doing my final plant watering before leaving and I noticed how happy my fern is in its current spot. It gets just the right amount of filtered sunlight for it to flourish. And it dawned on me: environment matters.

A cactus cannot grow in a swamp, and a lotus cannot grow in the desert. Environment matters.

This was a bit of an aha moment for me, because until then I had been telling myself, for so long, that “wherever you go there you are,” -which is totally true, but… environment matters too.

And that thought has traveled with me across oceans and continents to accompany me here in Bali.

From the moment I arrived, I’ve wondered what’s going happen when I get back to California. All I could think and all I can think is that when I try to reach people, 90% of the people I talk to will be “too busy”.

And I simply do not have the energy to chase people around and beg for a timeslot in their schedule.

Many of these people I love deeply, and their circumstances are not solely on them. I mean, shit, with the OBSCENELY high cost of living in California (especially the Bay Area), everyone is swimming against the current. But I’ve worked too hard and spent too much time designing my life around having time and space for my loved ones. So, to still feel like I have to chase people in order to have a relationship with them is beyond my capacity at this point. And it’s taken me ‘til now, here, across oceans and continents, to get honest with myself about it.

I’m not thinking of any one person in particular, I’m just speaking generally. I carve out time in my schedule for what I call Relationship Building and Maintenance, and I can think of very few people who do the same. Most of the people I carve out time for- to check in on, to see how they’ve been or what they’ve been up to, I would easily go six months to a year or two without hearing from them, unless I contact them. Except, of course, for the percentage of those people who only contact me if they need something from me (even if all they need is to hear themselves talk to me).

And don’t get me wrong, I love being there for people! But there needs to be balance and mutuality. If all I am to someone is: there, for them– then what kind of a relationship can truly be had?

Different relationships require different levels of attention and energy. I have plenty of mutual friendships where the give and take is the same and we still only manage to see each other every few months. That’s fine, and it works. Then there are people who I put so much energy into, and still only see them every couple of months.

I’m not looking for constant contact, or for people to revolve their lives around me. And I’m certainly not interested in anyone feeling obligated to put energy into a relationship with me. That would probably feel just as shitty.

I know this is not something personal. This is not something that people are doing “to me“. It’s just that they don’t have the time and space for this person that is Me. So, I’d rather put my energy into people who do have the time and space and energy.

It’s unfair to both of us (whomever the ‘us’ may be) if I try to wedge myself into any little slot of someone’s time. Because really, in doing that, I’m lowering my own self-respect, which is not an authentic way to live and love, and it’s not bringing my Truth to the relationship. I’m putting more on their plates instead of looking towards people who have room on their plates, and invite me to their feast. Wedging myself into someone’s schedule, and therefore life, also enables The Other to continue taking people for granted. And do I really want to spend my energy wedging myself  into someone’s life? Wouldn’t it be better to simply open my arms and be met by another pair of opened arms?

I have cultivated a truly beautiful community of truly incredible people. I love my friends, just about as much one can love. But no matter how incredible they are, I can no longer carry the weight of my relationships. I have been down that road way too many times. I’ve cut out so many people from my past because of this very same issue (combined with them just being toxic people).

So, I am coming to terms with the fact that I may not have the same relationships when I return. This does not mean I am cutting people out, disowning, or closing the door. It just means that even the thought of how much energy I spent on people (especially in comparison to how little they spent on me), is exhausting.

So, I’m not going to do it. I will no longer work so hard to get a piece of other people’s time.

And this does not mean I don’t love them. In fact, it is going to be very difficult for me, because I love them. I love each and every one of my friends so, so much.

But I can no longer over-give and show up faster, further, and more available than others show up for me. I have to take a step back, and only give as much as has been given to me. Otherwise, I am just depleting what I have to give.

I will return to California with new boundaries and start looking elsewhere for people who can really understand and live this with me.

There is absolutely no love lost. The love is all still there, it just could not flourish in that space. So, the time and energy must be allocated elsewhere.

It’s time for this lotus to bloom.lotus

A Day In The Life

When I told people I was going to go to Bali for six weeks, I was often asked, “Are you going there for vacation? Or some other reason?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. I really don’t like the word “vacation.” I use it, just because I know that’s what people understand, but I still really do not like the word. It suggests the need to vacate, and I whole-heartedly believe in creating a life that I don’t need a vacation from. For the most part, I’ve been succeeding at doing that too.

So, my reason for coming to Bali for six weeks was simply: to live. To experience the world in new ways, to experience life in new ways, to experience myself in new ways. I didn’t know what I would do when I got here, where I might go, what I might see. I just knew that I wanted to get to know something completely new.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been living. In Bali.

When I arrived, as a first time traveler, everything seemed so different and unfamiliar. The longer I am here the less different it appears and the more familiar it feels. I’ll admit, the town I am staying in is very westernized, so that lends itself to familiarity, but I also think I’m just settling into the flow of things here. And I really love it.

In California I felt frustrated a lot of the time because it seemed like everyone I talked to and everywhere I turned I would hear the words “too busy,” or some variation of that. Honestly, those words kind of make me cringe even thinking about it. I got so tired of hearing “I’m so busy!” Granted, a lot of people are busy with positive things, like building a fulfilling career for themselves or raising a beloved family, but too often I felt like too many people were too busy just being busy, and not actually Living. And too often “busy” can be a form of escapism.

Of course everyone has times where they have a lot going on and can be pretty busy, but when “busy” becomes a way of life, it seems like one is just begging for burnout, if not something much worse, like a terrible illness or a total meltdown .

And if it’s not being busy, the other thing that I got really tired of was alcohol consumption being such a major part of the lifestyle. I guess living in wine country (and now it’s beer country as well), one could only expect that routine alcohol consumption would be a part of the living there, but I got really fucking tired of it. I love a nice drink once in a while. Hell, I love having a few drinks once in a while, but when alcohol is accompanied by anything else you do, and is a part of everyday living. Every. Day. It really wore on me. Especially after spending so many years surrounded by so many raging alcoholics. I longed for a community that didn’t revolve around alcohol.

So, I am happy to say that sobriety and healthy living is more of the norm here than partying, or having a drink with every meal. Maybe that’s partially because alcohol is really expensive here. A weak, light beer might only be less than $1.50usd, but a cocktail costs more than a meal. Forget about hoppy microbrews, you won’t find any. And the wine is shite.

I mentioned in my first Bali blog post that as soon as I got here I wanted a cigarette and a drink. That faded pretty fast. The idea of smoking seems so gross in this humidity. Although I will admit, I wouldn’t mind having a couple of cold cocktails with some friends, but the irony of that is that a lot of the friends I’ve been making are focused on sobriety. And that is a welcomed change for me. I’ll usually choose the clarity of sobriety over inebriation any day. So even though a nice cold cocktail sounds good, I am perfectly happy staying sober if it means having more authentic connections with special people.

Along with sobriety and healthy living being a part of the norm here, a lot of people I meet are also working in or working towards similar ways of making a living as I’m working towards. Lots of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, wellness practitioners, and people wanting to help others live happier, healthier lives.

I’m primarily talking about the western culture and expats, but even a lot of the Balinese folks I’ve talked to have the dream/goal of starting their own business.

So, it feels really good to be here. I’ve been meeting some beautiful people and having some wonderful experiences, but I’ve also just been in the flow of daily living, and that in itself has been special.

I’ve been developing a really great friendship with the Brit and the mini Brit, as well as with the Other Brit who lives in a different house. They are all special souls, and that’s really the only way I can think of describing them. Special souls, and I do not belive it to be a coincidence that we were all placed in each other’s lives like this. I am truly grateful to be getting to know each of them. We spend quite a bit of time together, whether it’s been swimming in the pool, meeting up for dinner and frozen yogurt, or going on some beautiful outing like the Full Moon ceremony I told you about, or visiting one of the water temples.

The Brit and the mini Brit are only here til the end of November, and the Other Brit lives here. But it’s hard for me to think of parting with any them. Thank God Truth for Facebook.

As much as I love the westerners that I’ve been meeting, I try to get to know Balinese people whenever I can. Last night I saw my friend Made at the tour company and hung out with him and his friend Wayan for about an hour or so, just talking and hearing about life and customs in Bali.

Bali is a very special place in many ways. The weather here is paradise, the tropical trees and flowers are heavenly, the food is delicious, the air smells like incense or flowers at most times, the scenery is breathtaking, very often a dove or a giant butterfly will just flutter across your frame of vision like magic. But, by far, my absolutely favorite thing about Bali is the people.

The Balinese people are extraordinary. You know that distinct feeling you get when you fall head over heels in love with a new lover? When a Balinese person smiles at you, it’s like getting a quick shot of that feeling, straight to the chest. Especially the older people. I swear they have Disney sparkles in their eyes! They are so magnificent!

It’s even more special because, in California, eye contact and smiling at a stranger is often perceived as either an invitation, or a threat.  I’ve really missed simply being able to smile at a stranger without feeling like I would then either get hit on, or receive the stink eye.

But just like everything and everywhere, there is a shadow side. There is a very interesting juxtaposition here in Bali. The air may smell like incense and flowers at almost all times… until you get a huge whiff of sewage or traffic fumes.

The people are gorgeous, but there is some corruption and you have to be careful that you don’t get taken advantage of. Most people won’t, but just like in the States, it could happen.  Like, remember the guy who sold me that incredible painting that came from his heart? Well, I started looking inside a lot of the many shops and market stalls selling art, and a lot of the art looks just like the stuff he sold me. So, either he didn’t at all paint them, or he did and it’s just replicating a style. It’s ok though, I still love it and think it’s beautiful, it just has less meaning, because it doesn’t feel like it authentically came from his imagination.

The traffic may be unruly, but there seems to be a system to it, and it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of accidents, relatively speaking. By the way, I’ve been learning how to navigate crossing the crazy traffic here pretty well. It’s like playing real-life Frogger. Though sometimes, if it’s especially bad, I may end up walking a block past where I’m trying to get to, until I feel it’s safe to cross. Then I’ll either turn around and go back to where I need to go, take a long walk around the block and make a lovely detour of it, or just decide to go someplace different than I had planned. More often than not I manage to get across just fine.

And when you get out of the bustling town centre, the scenery is like you’ve stepped inside of a dream, but if you look in the ditches, they are filled with trash. I’d thought about wanting do some clean up, or somehow be able to contribute more to the community here, because it’s all so beautiful- the land and the people- and even though tourism brings a lot of money into this area, I’m guessing, relatively speaking, of the total sum of money that comes in, a very low percentage actually makes it to the Balinese people.

So, I’d been brainstorming and journaling about wanting to do something to help out. Remember how I said you get to witness my synchronicities in real-time? Well, I never said a word about my yearning to help to anyone, but one of my other house-mates happened to send me a Facebook invite to a trash clean-up day! Every Wednesday evening at 5:00pm.

When Wednesday came along, there was that small part of me that wanted to talk myself out of doing the trash clean-up. Or at least put it off til next week (where I could easily put it off until the week after that, then not end up doing it at all).  I was feeling a little ungrounded that day anyway. I noticed that I was starting to get a little complacent in my routine of going to get coffee and breakfast at my favorite café, then just hanging out there for a couple of hours until I felt called to either wander around, or go back to the house for a swim. I wasn’t branching out much and I wanted to see a little more of Bali, besides Ubud center.

I kept reminding myself that I needed to continue practicing leaving my comfort zone and facing my fears, no matter how small and easy to sweep aside they may seem. Like when I finally got my money changed! Which I’ve done a few times now (and it was seriously no big deal, and totally legit).

Part of my apprehension came from needing to get a motorbike taxi to get out to where the trash clean-up was happening. I could’ve gotten a car, but it’d cost twice as much. I was nervous about another motorbike ride. I’d only been on one once, that night of the full moon. And that was with a woman whom I trusted because she was a friend of a friend (and little did I know she’d become a beloved friend of mine as well). Getting a taxi would mean having to hold onto some stranger and hope that they would drive safely.

But I did it, and I’m really glad that I did. I found a guy, negotiated a price, and he drove very safely. I must say, pretty much every Balinese person I’ve ridden with has been an excellent and safe driver, so I can see how the disorganized traffic works.

He was very nice and he knew where to take me. We drove down one of the city streets, leading out of the centre, and soon we were amidst those magnificent rice fields that I had only seen in the full moonlight. When I got to the trash clean-up meeting spot I paid him and parted ways, heading into this huge, beautiful café that was still a work in progress. I was early, because I figured better early than late. So I ordered a virgin pina colada and sat at a little table with the most incredible view of the rice fields.

When I arrived in Ubud, I expected a quaint, serene village. I did not expect a constant buzz of traffic and tourists. This place, about 10 minutes outside of town, was everything I’d ever imagined Bali to be. And I couldn’t believe it took me so long to see it!

I hung out in a state of awe until the rest of the crew arrived. There was a middle-aged Aussie woman, a handsome Indian man, a young Canadian woman, a Spaniard woman, a couple of young I think they were Japanese ladies, a couple of Balinese folks, a few Balinese children, and the most beautiful old Balinese farmer. He definitely had Disney sparkles in his eyes.

It was such a gorgeous experience! Wandering through these lush landscapes, picking up so much trash (yet not even close to enough), knowing that I am doing my small part to help preserve the beauty of this magnificent place, hearing the children laugh and chatter, seeing women in their finest ceremonial clothing wandering around the country roads with their heads stacked with trays of fruits or baskets of goodies of some sort,  getting little love shot after love shot from each of them as they blessed me with their incredible smiles.

Since the trash clean-up is every week, it’s only about an hour long each time, which is just enough to get some loads of trash, but not tired yourself out too much in the heat and humidity.

I had asked the Aussie and the handsome Indian earlier if either of them would be going back to Ubud and if I could get a ride. It worked out that the handsome Indian was going back through on his way to a friend’s house, so when it was time to go I hopped on the back of his motorbike and rode back through the rice fields right as the sun was starting to set.

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So dreamy!

 

Once again it was like a dream. With the warm wind blowing through my hair, the sky turning a soft shade of pink, palm trees lining the horizon of rice fields. There was nothing to feel but immense gratitude.

As we got closer to town the handsome Indian said that he was going to a gathering of expats for a game night and invited me to join. All I wanted was a shower. I felt so gross and sticky. I proudly wore one of the “Trash Hero” tee-shirts, but it was over my tank top, which means that I was wearing double layers on an especially hot and humid day. But I debated in my head- it’d be good to do something new and meet more people. But… SHOWER. Plus, the introvert in me wasn’t sure if I was up for any more social stimulation.

I eventually decided that I could take a shower any time, but I might not get to meet these people or have this experience and it’d be good for me to do something new. So I told him I was up for the game night. And again, I’m glad I did.

Yet another thing I’d craved (and lacked) at home- game nights! Game nights used to be a regular part of my life back when I was surrounded by raging alcoholics, but in the past few years, game nights have been few and far between, and I love a good game night.

We got to his friend’s house and hung out in his beautiful open air living room and had a lot of fun.

The next day (which was yesterday), I was feeling so good about the day before, and realized I wanted to see more of those beautiful country villages, and get out of Ubud a little more. But I wasn’t sure how I would go about it. Ask my housemates? Ask my new Indian friend? Grab a taxi? Or a shuttle to somewhere a little further away? Book a tour with my friend Made? I knew at some point I wanted to see one of the water temples, so that was on the list, but there are so many choices. I didn’t know, but I planned to spend the day at home hanging by the pool, relaxing, writing, and thinking of where I might want to go the next day.

Then, yet another synchronicity… I was hanging out in the pool with the Brit and the mini Brit, when the Brit asked what I was up to for the day, leading to the question of if I wanted to join them on their outing to the water temple. Well, there you go!

The Brit is here in Bali doing a personalized health program with a guy named Scott, who actually used to live in pretty much the same town in California where I live. So, the Brit and the mini Brit rode on their motorbike, and I rode on Scott’s motorbike, and we made our way to the temple through all kinds of beautiful little villages and rice fields. Scott even was able to give me some information and history about some of the villages, and because I already kind of knew him from the house, I felt more comfortable actually holding on to him. He also graciously offered me his helmet which I really appreciated.

It was yet another unplanned for, magical day of really experiencing Bali.

There are so many of those moments here. Like, a few days before the full moon, I turned down a normally busy street, but it had been blocked off for some ceremony, which involved some traditional dancing which I found incredibly beautiful. I was just on my way to coffee.

It really is a truly special place here. You think it, speak it, ask for it, and if you are in Truth with it, it appears. Even the Other Brit, just had a really wonderful job opportunity show up for her today which couldn’t have been better for her and couldn’t have shown up at a better time. It’s just as splendid getting to witness these moments when other people experience them as it is when I experience them.

And I absolutely love that the people who come here all seem to seek a certain way of life, and seem to truly being “doing the work” that I really relate to and seems so much harder to find in an authentic way in the States.

So, I’m putting my own questions out into the Universe, letting my Truth carry them to the Balinese winds, and asking for my own prayers to be answered. Like, y’know, getting paid to write, for one. Ahem!

In the meantime, I just try to bring myself back to the moment, check in with my Truth, and embrace the immense gratitude I feel every day here.

Here are some more sights and scenes from my life here. I am unable to upload video to this page, but you can see videos and other pictures on my instagram page.

Purnama

There’s quite a bit to fill you in on since my volcano hike, but I’ll have to backtrack in a future post, because I absolutely must tell you about my day yesterday.

Well, I’ll backtrack here a little bit too.

On Friday night I was having a lot of trouble staying asleep. I woke up at one point, around 4:00 a.m. and found myself in the midst of a little mini anxiety attack.

The fears that I arrived here with have greatly dissipated in the last couple of weeks. I have been slowly feeling myself soften and open. So to seemingly out of nowhere get struck with that level of anxiety was jarring. Like I said, it wasn’t an extreme situation. I managed to calm down and fall back asleep relatively quickly, but when I woke up the next morning, I was feeling tight, tense, foggy, and groggy.

I did my usual light stretching then headed to my favorite café for coffee and breakfast. As I journaled, and lingered, and thought about what I wanted to do with myself for the day, I decided that it’d be good for me to just have a mellow day. Just hang by the pool at the house, maybe even watch a movie on my computer. But as things work here in Bali, plans can change very quickly. So by the time I was walking home from the café I decided to stop by to see my “glam squad” and hopefully get a nice deep tissue massage. I planned to get one after the volcano trek, but I never got around to it and I could definitely feel that my body needed to work out some tension.

I walked in and they greeted me cheerfully, as usual. I asked Koma if she could do a deep tissue massage. She said, “yes, my friend here can do it.” There were only two of them there, so I think she needed to remain in the front. I hoped her friend had as strong hands as she did. Ketut was her friend’s name, and I was not disappointed. Ketut was wonderful and it was a really amazing massage. Just what I needed to let go of some of the tension.

When I left, I realized that the timing was just perfect for me to catch a meditation at Yoga Barn. I had been hearing about Yoga Barn from many people for months before I arrived. And I guess all the hype (and the exorbitant prices) turned me off, because every time I thought about going to check the place out, I felt an aversion to it. Plus, since I have my own yoga studio/meditation hall literally right outside my bedroom door, why go elsewhere?  But the elements aligned this time and I felt I could really use the collective meditative energy, so I headed there to check it out.

It really was a beautiful spot.  When I walked into the main hall (a bit early) the most gorgeous specimen of a human man was walking around. He was obviously one of the teachers. He looked like he was maybe Brazilian or something similar. I could then see the popularity of the place. I hoped that he wouldn’t be leading the meditation because it would’ve been way too distracting for me. I was lucky, it was some white guy, who was obviously a lovely, gentle soul, but he did not have the stupefying beauty of the other guy.

As we began the hour and a half session, he explained that there would be some gentle yoga moves to prepare our bodies for the sitting meditation. I was not planning on body movement, and not happy about it. I just wanted to sit. But the yoga was very gentle, a little yin and a little kundalini. It was actually just what my body needed on the especially hot day.

During the sit I actually had some nice moments of clarity come to me, and I really focused on letting go more and opening myself up further. I had a visual pop into my mind that was similar to parting curtains, only it took a lot of gentle, yet tough, work to get them open.

The meditation was wonderful and I was starting to feel much better. When I left the meditation hall I saw that I had missed a call and had a voicemail from one of my house mates. I’ve been getting to know the Brit and her mini Brit pretty well, and I really adore them both. Like me, they are temporary residents at the house as well. The message was from the mini Brit. How sweet it was to walk out of a meditation to hear the sound of an eight year old British boy, on my voicemail, asking me to join them for frozen yogurt. After a bit of phone tag, we managed to catch each other on the line and planned to meet up on a street corner a couple blocks away.

As I exited the Yoga Barn property, and got to the road, I walked straight into a crowded street- full of people. There was a huge procession to celebrate the Full Moon (Purnama, or Bulan Purnama). I love full moon rituals and celebrations.

In high school there used to be huge full moon drum circles around a big bonfire at the beach, all the time. I loved those parties. I’d go there and see everyone I knew from all the other high schools in the area. I think it was the only occasion to run into all my different friends from different parts of my life. I miss those parties. I wish there were more celebratory occasions like that in the States.

So, it was really wonderful to stumble upon this procession. Everyone was dressed up, in all white. Drums and music were being played in the distance. I could see people up ahead carrying big, colorful, decorative umbrellas. The energy was festive and happy. My heart was so incredibly happy, I started crying.

I was especially happy because a few days earlier I had really been starting to feel the magic of this place, but then I felt like it kind of left me.

Earlier in the week I met up with some friends of a friend who were in town. It was nice to get to hang out and be social after spending so much time alone with my thoughts. And even better that it was with some other Americans who know someone who I know. But they found Ubud a little too hustley-bustley after spending time in some serene beach towns, so they got out of Ubud and headed back to the beach. I can’t say I blame them, I’d probably feel the same had I gotten to experience that level of serenity first. It was definitely a lot for me when I got here, but I’ve settled in nicely at this point.

They were only here for about three days or so. But I guess my focus had shifted to being socially engaged, so when they left, I was surprised what an adjustment it was for me to get used to being on my own again. I think that adjustment may have partially had something to do with the anxiety.

I was worried that the magic of this place that I had settled into had gone on without me. So, walking amongst these truly beautiful humans, to honor the glorious full moon, I was so overcome with gratitude and joy. My heart was on fire!

The procession led to one of the temples where everyone either went inside or dispersed. So I just kept walking to meet the Brits.

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Stumbled upon this frizzy haired little guy on the way. “Me too, dude. Me too.”

I finally reached them and we wandered around for a little bit then headed towards the frozen yogurt shop. We got our treats then headed to the soccer field across the street so the mini Brit could kick the ball around and hopefully get a chance to play with some other kids. There were a couple of Japanese looking men throwing a really cool looking natural fiber, woven Frisbee around. Soon, some of the Balinese kids joined them. One of the men was especially silly and jovial and really fun to watch. Next thing you know, the Brits and I are in a giant circle with the two men and the Balinese children, tossing that Frisbee around to each other, as well as a second Frisbee the Brits brought. It was a really simple pleasure, but it made me so happy.

Some of the other kids playing soccer

Some of the other kids playing soccer. “100% LOVE IS THE GOAL”

Dusk began to fall, the game started to die down and the children began dispersing. So we went and got some food at a restaurant right next door. The Brit had mentioned earlier the possibility of going to a full moon ceremony at the holy water temple and invited me along. I was very excited to be a part of any full moon ceremony, but the way plans change from moment to moment here, I wasn’t sure what would happen. She ended up making plans to go to a ceremony at an ashram near her friend’s house, and since the Brit and mini Brit were on a motorbike, she got her friend (another Brit) to zip over on her motorbike to pick me up.

This was my first time ever on a motorbike. I was scared. Especially since there wasn’t an extra helmet. But tons of people go without helmets here, and this trip is all about facing my fears. It was definitely a “let go, let God” moment for me.

I have to say, for my first time on a motorbike, it doesn’t really get much better than riding through rice fields, under a big, bright, full moon, with the silhouette of palm trees tracing the nearby horizon, and the warm Balinese wind in my hair. (Especially since the feeling of warm wind on my skin and in my hair is one of my all-time favorite sensations). My fears dissipated, my grip on the sweet girl driving loosened, and I was able to take it all in. My heart was filled with gratitude.

We arrived at the ashram and were greeted by a very happy black and white dog. I told you about the dogs here. They are scrappy. Even the dogs people have for pets don’t really seem to give a shit, and the lines can be blurred between which ones are pets and which ones are street dogs. So I generally move to the other side of the road when I see any dog here. But this dog seemed just like any other dog we’d have in the States. It was jumpy and happy. I still kind of kept my distance though. Just in case.

We wandered past the entrance, which was under construction, and entered the grounds, where we removed our shoes and were greeted by two women who were renting sarongs. Everyone had to wear all white. But I only had a white top, so I rented a white sarong for about $1.50 USD.

The friend who gave me the motorbike ride had been to these ceremonies before, so we followed her lead.

As we got inside the grounds we were greeted by a different dog. A young, soft, clean, yellow lab looking dog. With everyone dressed in white, the dog seemed to fit right in. The mini Brit loved the dog, of course, as did I. This one I couldn’t resist. It had a magical presence. And this dog accompanied us through the grounds, like a gentle spirit animal guiding us.

We walked down a cement walkway, over a bridge that crossed a creek, and our first stop was at this fountain of holy water. Each person, one after the other did the ritual of  filling the cup that was there with water from the fountain, dipping one of the fragrant flowers at the water’s edge into it, using the flower to splash the water onto the top of the head (doing that three times). Then with the left hand we poured the water into the cupped right hand and were supposed to drink the water (three times). Supposedly it was totally safe to drink, but I only put my mouth to it, without really drinking. Then the head splashing again, then the feet.

As we stood in the short line (maybe just a couple of people before us) and waited for each person to do their ritual, a group of what I thought at first were monks, dressed in all white with sarongs wrapped around their heads, arrived at the scene. Later I realized that I think they might have actually just been regular guys, because everyone was dressed like that. We stood in the warm night air watching each person bow to the waters, doing their ritual, and the men started singing and chanting. We were surrounded by this beautiful chanting, all of us in white, the gentle souled dog at the side of the mini Brit. I had a hard time containing myself. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, exclaim with glee, howl at the moon, squeal and jump up and down, or what, but again, overwhelmed with gratitude.

After that, we followed the walkway around to various other statues of deities, stopping at each one to bow and pray, one person at a time. There was an offering at each statue with various things like incense, flowers, rice, and candies, even a little box of milk at one. As we stopped at each statue to pray, the dog snatched up whatever offering was edible and would munch while we prayed. At one point the mini Brit pulled me aside to show me that the dog had even nabbed the little box of milk. I told him that in my opinion dogs are gods, just misspelled, and as far as I’m concerned the offerings went to the right place.

We continued the pathway of the gods, and at one point the stepping stones had- not quite jagged, but certainly protruding pebbles jabbing out of them. As you progressed down that part of the pathway, the pebbles on the stepping stones protruded less and became not as painful to walk on. This was supposed to represent the process of enlightenment.

Eventually we got to a little cave that you had to bend down a little to enter. Inside was a statue of Shiva on the right, and a beautiful “jewel” encrusted Ganesh on the left. We bowed and prayed to each one, then followed the narrow cave hallway back outside.

The final prayer stop was in a courtyard next to the open air meditation “hall”. There was a huge stone raised up on stairs, so I didn’t see what all was up there, but it looked like more offerings. It was centered in front of a  giant gold OM and some other beautiful writing that I couldn’t read. There was a fire on a platform next to it, and some men sitting in the courtyard meditating to the sounds of the singing and chanting that was happening in the big meditation hall/hut. We walked across the small courtyard and into the meditation hall/hut and sat down with everyone else, letting the sounds sink into our souls.

I perched myself in the back with the two Brits, and the mini Brit sat front and center where the dog laid down in front of him and went to sleep. Every now and then they’d do a chant that I could join in on, like “Om nama shiviya shiviya” But most of it sounded like devotional songs, that many of the Balinese people knew the words to and sang along with, but no way I could figure any of those songs out.

At one point, the people stood up and did some traditional dancing. I watched what others were doing and followed as best I could, sometimes I was right in the flow with everyone, and other times I felt like I was just flailing my hands around, but it was such a beautiful experience to participate in. The whole time there was a little bat that kept fluttering around above our heads, like it was rejoicing in the music (although realistically just probably finding a lot of good bugs for dinner)

It was getting late so the Brit and the mini Brit headed home. The other Brit lived right next to the ashram so she was not going back to Ubud, but an Irish friend of theirs was also there and heading back to Ubud, so I shared a taxi with her and headed home.

Every moment of the day and evening yesterday felt like a gift. When I got home, I thought to myself, this night can’t be over quite yet! So I went up to my room, threw my swimsuit on, and ended my night floating in the perfect temperature saltwater pool, with the warm night air and full moon glow all around me, savoring every second, and repeating in my head, over and over, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

I was planning just a mellow day at home. And lamenting over feeling disconnected from the magic I had started to feel here. I let Bali have Its way with me last night, and It took me on a beautiful journey that only Bali could.

Have I mentioned that I love it here?

Mt. Batur

Before I came to Bali, a good friend of mine was telling me about when she came here. She mentioned this sunrise volcano trek. I didn’t think much of it when she mentioned it, but when I thought about how I would be in Bali for my special 10/10, and contemplated how I would honor that day, it dawned on me (no pun intended) that a trip to the top of a volcano could not be more poetic or full circle. Add to it that it was a sunrise trek- the symbolism of that- and the fact that I love hiking, and that became one of the only plans I made for what I would do once I got here.

I did my research and found some tour companies online (this was still before I even left for Bali), most companies stopped at a coffee plantation on the way back, which I loved, but I found a couple of companies that stopped at a hot springs too. I knew I wanted that full package, but the places online that made both stops cost between $65 -$85 USD, which seemed pretty outrageous to me. So I figured I’d wait til I got here and hope for the best in finding a similar but cheaper package.

I told you about my new friend, Made, from the tour company, whom I have not seen since (although I did go by there a couple times, but he wasn’t there). He helped me specially arrange to have a driver take me to the coffee plantation, and for an extra charge the hot springs as well, totaling just under $30 USD.

Since this was a sunrise trek, we begin the journey in the dark. The driver was set to pick me up at 2:00 a.m., which meant I had to wake up at 1:30 to get myself together. From everything I read it gets pretty chilly once you get to the top, so it is recommended to wear long pants and a hoody. I brought special clothing with me on this trip just for the trek, because I get cold VERY easily. If someone says it gets “a little chilly” my feet will probably feel like frozen ice blocks. I did not want to be miserable up there, so I prepared myself. I brought my jeans that I often hike in, football style socks, a tee shirt and a hoody, even though we start at ground level where it’s still pretty warm.

When my driver finally arrived, I tried to be friendly right from the beginning, and started making conversation as soon as I got in the car. I figured it would be just the two of us for the couple of hours drive, so i was hoping I’d be making a new Balinese friend out of it. As we’re heading out on the road, and I’m asking him questions I notice something out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head just a bit to see, in the darkness, a man in the back. I jumped and startled loudly, at which point I realized there was also a woman in the back. It was then clear to me that this was going to be a group car ride. I could not stop laughing!

I knew that once I got to Mt. Batur there would be other trekking tours happening too, but I guess since the hot springs package was specially arranged, I figured it was going to be just me for ride out there. Once I pulled myself together I introduced myself to the other trekkers, a French couple, or, as I call them- the ghosts in the back. Seriously, that is an earie experience to see someone in the back of a dark car when you’re not expecting it, especially after only sleeping for 3- 4 hours.

Anyway, we then made our next stop to pick up a couple more trekkers. Two Austrian dudes, probably in their mid-twenties. The driver kind of sucked. He clearly did not give a shit and was not a good communicator. His English wasn’t great, which didn’t bother me, but he just didn’t communicate anything that was happening. We’d pull over to the side of the road, out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, he’d get out and disappear. We had no idea what was going on. Eventually he came out, with two more trekkers, another French couple, probably in their sixties, which he crammed into our already cramped van. One of the only times being single is socially beneficial is when you are in a packed tour van and are given the front seat.

As soon as we got out of Ubud it started raining and rained the entire drive. In a tropical environment like this it’s a craps shoot anyway whether we’ll actually get to see the sunrise or not. So we were just hoping that the rain would let up by the time we got to the top.

After the last French couple, we continued on our way, until we pull over to some roadside coffee shack, still dark out, with tons of people crammed under the tiny roof. Part of the package was two breakfasts, one small one before we start the trek, and one small one once we get to the top (I brought granola bars with me just in case- and I’m so glad I did). Since there were so many people already crammed under the coffee shack roof, we were told we would get our coffee and breakfast in the car. We all just kind of shrugged our shoulders. Except for the Austrians. They were passed out.

A man comes to the car, holding an umbrellas and a tray of little espresso mugs and passes them around. We sip our little coffees in the car, giggling at the ridiculousness of it. Then, we are delivered, in the same fashion, a tray of banana pancakes (not the good ones I was telling you about before, these were more like how we would make in the states). With no serving utensils or anything, we each pick, with our hands, one tiny, lukewarm banana pancake from the pile, and pass it through the van until we’ve all gotten one. Again, we just giggle. After a few minutes of no driver in sight, he finally returns and we head to the mountain.

Like I said, I knew there would be other trekking tours happening, but what I had in my mind was a few handfuls of groups such as our own. When we arrived, there was a huge packed parking lot with probably about two hundred trekkers ready to set up this mountain. We were all given our second breakfasts to carry with us to the top- a little plastic lunch pack with some white bread, with a little packet of pineapple jam, a banana, an egg to cook in the volcano steam at the top, and a bottle of water. We were told we would be given flashlights as well, but I brought my own headlamp, and I’m glad because a lot of people had to share flashlights.

It was still raining. In fact, later, one of the guides said it had been raining non-stop all night, but about five after we started walking, the rain stopped! The Austrians and I walked together for quite a while, until we really started gaining altitude, then I had to slow down and take some water breaks. They were super cool and we got along well. When I told them where I was from, they referenced Arnold Schwarzenegger being governor, which I thought was funny.

Anyway, when we started the trek I had no idea who or where any of the guides were. There were so many damn people! In my research, they claimed that (I’m paraphrasing here) if you are in decent shape this trek should be fine. Being that I hike frequently, sometimes every day, I thought I’d be fine. But I have to be honest, it was pretty strenuous for me. It was good, but it was strenuous. I had to stop to catch my breath and drink water so many times. I regretted the damn jeans, socks, and tee shirt. I would’ve been fine in some flowy Balinese pants or light leggings, ankle socks, and a tank top under my hoody. Yes, it was a little chilly at the top. I needed my hoody for a few minutes, but for the duration of the experience I was drenched in sweat, and I don’t usually even sweat very much. On my frequent stops I met the loveliest Indian couple, who were also making frequent stops. We made our way up the rest of the mountain together.

Because there were so many people and our pace was determined by the crowd in line to get up the mountain, the sun started rising before we made it to the top. It was okay though because we still got to see a lot of the colors and view as we made our way up the last of the trail. The view was breathtaking. It looked over Lake Batur and some other small mountain.

I have a pretty good photographic eye, and can snap a good shot, but I was disappointed I wasn’t able to get better photos. There were too many people. Every time I’d get the angle or the lighting just right, an arm or a head would get in the way. It was also difficult to really take it all in because the crowds were so distracting. When we finally made it to the top, the sun had risen from the horizon, but it was still pink and beautiful. We got up there just in time, because about five minutes later the fog rolled in and covered up the view. It eventually cleared again, but we had already moved on from the viewing point… to the monkeys.

There were tons of monkeys at the top and I did manage to get some great shots of them. But, man, I could not believe how stupid people were being with those monkeys. It made me sad. Giving them candy bars, and taunting them, then surprised when the monkeys freaked out at them.

I enjoyed the monkeys a lot. After a while with them we eventually made our way back down. On the way down I finally met our guide and he was super cool. I also found myself walking alongside a group of Euros who seemed like a really fun bunch, and had me laughing with their conversations. I ended up running into them the next evening, but unfortunately it was their last night in Bali, which was a disappointment, because they would’ve been a lot of fun to have a few drinks with.

So, overall, as meaningful as it was for me to spend my 10/10 atop a volcano, the tour was a bit of a disappointment to me. It was great in a lot of ways, and I’m certainly glad I did it, but it would’ve been a more powerful experience (no matter the date), if there weren’t so many people.

What did make it all a powerful experience for me, was the hot springs. When we finally found our driver, the Austrians, and the older French couple were shuffled into other cars, and the younger French couple (a.k.a the ghosts) and I were taken to the hot springs.

It’s hard to think of what to say, other than: HEAVEN. The mineral pool was an infinity pool that edged along Lake Batur with that other little mountain  right across from us. SO MAJESTIC. That was when I really was able to sit with my thoughts and reflect on the power of the moment. How grateful I felt to be there, to have brought myself to that place, in every sense. Soaking in the warm mineral water, with elephant fountains shooting hot water from their trunks, after spending the morning on a volcano, thinking about how I would’ve never gotten to experience that, had my wedding actually happened. I can’t even imagine where I would be, nor do I want to. It actually makes me cringe to think about.

I spent the rest of the morning soaking in the warm waters and taking in every detail I could, knowing that as soon as I got back in that van, it would all be a memory.

When we did get back in the van, there were still more memories to be made. We stopped at the coffee plantation, which was a lot smaller than I expected, but it was a nice little tour. The French couple had already been there a couple times, so they waited in the car. My tour guide at the plantation, Putu, was awesome. At the end of the little tour, I was given a coffee (and tea) tasting. I barely had any though. Between our car ride coffee, and a couple of cups I had at the hot springs (I paid a little extra to get a breakfast buffet while I was there. I needed sustenance), I don’t think my stomach could’ve handled any more coffee.

After that, we made one more quick stop to check out the view of the rice terraces, which were so beautiful, and everything you would expect them to look like (but also lots of tourists).

Then we finally made our way back to Ubud, where traffic was especially bad, so my driver asked if he could just drop me off on the side of the road. I didn’t care, it was right at the corner of my street, which I walk all the time anyway, but I still thought it was a funny way to end things.

Full Circle

10/10

I was staring at the incredible view from the hot mineral pool. Elephant fountains shooting hot spring water from their trunks. Majestic. Absolutely majestic.

And all I could think was, “I did this.

I could thank God, The Universe, Truth… Oprah- whatever you want to call it. God, The Universe, Truth did not “do” this. God The Truth just is.

I did this.

I brought myself to this IS.

Our experiences are results of co-creating with The Universe Truth. We have to place ourselves into Truth.

My Truth is that seven years ago today I was supposed to get married. And it never happened.

The not happening, was one of the best things that ever happened to me. That marriage would’ve been the death of me. It almost was.

And in that almost death, I found my life… my light. And I decided to take back the date 10/10. It belongs to me now. And every year, instead of lamenting over what wasn’t and what isn’t, I celebrate what IS- the Great IS that came from it all… the Truth that was revealed.

Somehow, in my almost death, when there was nothing left of me, I managed (with some help) to find  myself atop a volcano. I was broken and scared, desperate and devastated. But that was the moment I began to heal, to become whole (something I never was).

It was a long road from that volcano top. And now, seven years later, on the day that I reclaimed, I am once again atop a volcano. The sun is rising and the light ascending. But this time I am whole and happy. I stand atop this volcano in all my glory, my power, my greatness, my love. The Earth’s core, and mine, alive inside. I have come here not to seek what I cannot find, but to know myself in this way.

God did not do this. The Truth did not orchestrate it. This existed. And I brought myself to this place. Here. And now.

I did this.