Magical, Mystical Bali
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.
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.
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.
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
Ways to release ancient injuries to your spirit and be more fully present in life
How to play Gamelan, or traditional instruments (what fun, if a little painful to hear)
Proper postures and movements in Balinese traditional dance
The beautiful art of speaking with your eyes
How to Plant Rice
The art of carving Balinese masks
Be reborn in an ancient cave
How to harvest and dry seaweed
To embrace the essence of a fully present people in joyful celebration of life
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.
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.
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.
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.
Balinese People Express Devotion via Beautiful Offerings
Every morning in Bali begins by crafting gorgeous floral offerings for the home, office, temple and business.
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.