Magical & Mystical


Magical, Mystical Bali

by | Jul 10, 2017

Why Travel to Bali

Bali is a place where you can have a tropical break focusing on sun, water, and drink or immerse yourself in the unique and sacred culture. Upon arrival, friendly, happy tourists from Australia and New Zealand chat you up. Many of them party, drink and swim beneath the palm trees.  Bali is Down Under’s equivalent of USA’s Hawaii or Mexico. While Bali isn’t exactly a foodie capital, cheap drink is a major staple here. Plus, everyone agrees that the spa experiences are fabulous and cost about 10% of what you would pay for similar treatments in the U.S.

Elaborately carved Hindu figures guard the entrance to a cave-like grotto for massages and pampering in Ubud, Bali.  A river runs through it, creating relaxing sound effects and filling individual soaking tubs.

Genuine, Deep Hindu Spirituality

But that’s not why we went to Bali. Flying a total of 19 hours from San Francisco via Taipei, Taiwan I arrived tired and frumpy at Denpasar, Bali’s main airport. As a single senior traveler, I journeyed to the magical, mystical isle to join a small group of spiritual seekers in culmination of a 3-year study of the sacred feminine. This group of 28 mostly single senior women (plus 2 men) traveled as one aspect of Sacred Theater, an on-going journey of discovery lead by Peggy Rubin. We dove deeply into the unique Balinese celebrations of Hinduism and honoring of Buddhism. Basking in the many aspects of human connection, we also explored our sacred kinship with the natural world.

Bee pollinates a lotus in Sanur, Bali

Life vibrates in brilliant colors all over Bali, as this bee visits a lotus blossom.

Balinese Culture is Based on Supportive Community

My lasting impression of Bali is of very strong cultural identity. Bali is the only Hindu haven in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. The cultural focus on Hinduism is sweetly reinforced by a sense of human inter-dependence. All life revolves around community, whether in urban Ubud or tiny remote villages in the northwestern highlands. Social occasions, government, religion, school, work, and play are all embraced and supplied by the local community, or “Banjar”. The Banjar forms the basic unit of daily life on the island. Balinese people take great pride in their community and how it weaves into the fabric of Balinese society.

Tejakula, Bali portrait of mother and child

Proud mother shows off her daughter in the mountain village of Tejakula, Bali.

What Bali can Teach the World

Everywhere we traveled, people generously shared their heritage with us. The ancient Hindu culture is not a show for tourists, but a cherished basis of daily life. We were joyfully instructed in the proper forms of prayer in the Hindu culture. A different flower for each part of the prayer, held to the third eye.  How beautiful!  In fact, we learned many things, including the following.

  • How to prepare and bless masks for holy dances

Balinese priest with temple mask

Balinese priest prepares an ancient temple mask for a sacred dance. The process involves adding fresh greenery and leaves to bring the mask to life in the firelit performance.

  • Ways to release ancient injuries to your spirit and be more fully present in life

Priestess pours water over supplicants as part of the Melukat ritual.

The wondrous Melukat ritual is conducted by a Balinese priest or priestess to purify body and soul with the sacred waters of the Earth.  Buckets and buckets of sacred water….

  • How to play Gamelan, or traditional instruments (what fun, if a little painful to hear)

Gamelan musicians playing

Gamelan (traditional instrumental ensemble) musicians playing for a sacred Balinese dance performance in Tejakula, Bali

  • Proper postures and movements in Balinese traditional dance

Costumed woman in Balinese dance

Balinese dance is all about the poses – arm/hand placement, leg/foot angles, eyes, all have deep meanings.

  • The beautiful art of speaking with your eyes

Balinese dancing protege teaching westerners how to express the traditional stories with eyes and gestures

Traditional Balinese dancing protege demonstrates classic body postures and the art of speaking with the eyes.

  • How to Plant Rice

Diane learns the very specific technique to plant rice in straight rows, using 3 seedlings for every hole.

  • The art of carving Balinese masks

Balinese mask carving process.

Mastercarver of Balinese ritual masks gives us a lesson in the steps to creating one of his masterpieces using very simple tools.

  • Be reborn in an ancient cave

Ancient cave on Nusa Penida Island in Bali.

Ancient “Cave of Rebirth” on Nusa Penida Island off the southeast coast of Bali, Indonesia.

  • How to harvest and dry seaweed

Seaweed harvesting in Bali.

The process of harvesting seaweed in preparation for drying on the beaches of Nusa Penida Island, Bali.

  • To embrace the essence of a fully present people in joyful celebration of life

Temple waiting line on Nusa Menjangan, Bali.

Preparing to enter the temples on Nusa Menjangan during festival. Both Hindu and Buddhist temples exist in harmony on this sacred isle.

Life-Changing Experiences in Bali

I can’t speak for my 27 fellow travelers, but my life changed fundamentally in those 3 weeks. Relationships and old wounds healed, beauty infused my being, and I fell deeply in love with one island and her inhabitants.

Balinese temple silhouetted at sunset.

Sunset casts a mystical glow over a temple on Nusa Penida Island in Bali


How Bali Blends Tradition into the Modern World

And yet, like everywhere in the modern world, tradition struggles to meld with technological “progress”. Puzzling contradictions turn up. In the most unlikely of places, motorbikes steered by children careen past on roads, often precariously balancing babies on the seats in front of them.

Young girl and baby on a motorbike.

Young girl with a baby onboard steers a motorbike thru the narrow walkways of Tejakula Village in Bali.

A Startling Conflict

A jarring sight is the ever-present garbage strewn across the Balinese landscape. In the centuries-old habit of wrapping everything in biodegradable banana leaves, the people struggle to change their behavior.  They toss modern plastic packing over their shoulders as they have always disposed of banana leaves. This leads to some really huge garbage dumps in drainages, where debris concentrates. It is very painful for Westerners and eco-warriors to see, because we have made the same mistake in our culture. However, as was pointed out, Westerners have no right to criticize. When the time is right, I have confidence that the Banjars will craft a beautiful and uniquely Balinese solution to this blight.

Garbage accumulated in a Balinese drainage

Garbage litters the landscape everywhere in Bali, except in the most touristy areas.

Devotion is the Basis of Daily Life

Being steeped in the Balinese way of life caused me to reflect upon living in the U.S., where work is our primary focus. We fit other activities in when time allows. In blessed contrast, rituals, worship, and the arts frame the day and unite the Banjars of Bali. The people regularly create community religious festivals, temple visits, story-telling, shadow puppetry, wood carving, mask-making, and intricate stylized dance reenactments of those great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabarata. Spirituality is a day-by-day and moment-to-moment experience.

Shadow puppets in Bali

Traditional shadow puppet performance by firelight in Sanak, Bali.


Balinese People Express Devotion via Beautiful Offerings

Every morning in Bali begins by crafting gorgeous floral offerings for the home, office, temple and business.

Balinese floral offerings to the gods.

Offerings to the Gods for a bountiful rice harvest. Filled with color, beauty, and prayer, these are lovingly crafted by the community.

Offerings are mindfully arranged on the many altars shrouded in ever-present sweet fog of incense. Such spiritual mindfulness is uplifting in a way hard to describe. After a 21-day immersion into temple life and ceremony, I achieved something akin to spiritual ecstasy. And after 3 weeks of experiencing Bali on its own terms, transitioning back to the realities of my own life was hard in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Bali has a hold on me. And it’s a good thing. I hope my posts may be thought of as offerings to this genuinely beautiful culture and people.

Balinese children in red school uniforms

Happy Balinese schoolchildren on a morning walk thru the rice fields.

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Menjangan Island

Sanak, Bali, Indonesia

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tejakula, Bali, Indonesia

Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

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