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End of Southeast Asian Days

INDONESIA | Monday, 10 March 2008 | Views [3129]

Lotus flower

Lotus flower

First it was mere weeks, then suddenly mere days, and now just mere hours until my Southeast Asian sojourn comes to an end. It is unreal that this life of traveling will end, unreal that in 26 hours I’ll enter the space and time shifting machine called an airplane and after jumping around the Pacific, I’ll be spit out in Boston in March. Bali in March and Boston in March feel many worlds and lifetimes apart. I will always be in awe of how this works. You go from one totalizing reality that is everything – what you breathe, see, how you feel, what you speak, what surrounds you – that is so very real and alive to you. And then, you get on a plane and eventually you are ejected into another completely different reality. All of a sudden, there you are, almost naked in this other dimension, where everything is completely different. It may even be familiar, but in those initial moments you feel like you’ve forgotten how to speak the language. It always feels like space travel to me, and the hardest part is that everyone expects you to be totally present in the second reality, especially when it involves going home. And you’re still thinking, “Where did it all go? How did I get here? Who are these little green people?”

The travel mode has become second nature to me. It feels like I am managing a little space capsule and I’m always thinking of what provisions (toothpaste, cash, bottled water, contact lenses) need re-supplying and when clothes need to be washed, and onward travel plans made. The space capsule must be maintained in full readiness at all times (I realize not everyone travels this way; I tend to be a bit anal, god forbid I be caught without sunscreen!). It’s been strange to realize that I can let this go. It doesn’t matter anymore.

The last week of this journey has been everything I did not envision. I had reserved this last week to be in Ubud, to practice yoga, drink up the blessings of Bali, and put energy into being focused, strong and calm before I return home. It was a sweet vision, but it’s been thwarted in every possible way. First, some nasty intestinal hijackers forced their way aboard during the ferry ride back from Lombok. Within hours of return to Ubud, I was reduced to a weak, feverish, achy, and unhappy lump of fatigue. I always thought the expression “the runs” referred to the way food “runs” through your system. Now I see the double meaning: it’s all about running for the toilet. I couldn’t believe it; after five months, my gastrointestinal tract chooses the VERY LAST WEEK to give up on me. From a near-comatose fetal position I whined pitieously: How could you betray me like this? I thought you were stronger than this! Haven’t I always been good to you? Why do you always give up right at the end?

Three days later, the magic of antibiotics returned me to health. Hallelujah! Time to dive into yoga for my remaining five days. Or so I thought. A small sign posted on the wall informed me that regular yoga classes would be cancelled f or one day because of the Balinese new year. OK, fair enough. But then, they’d be cancelled for OVER A WEEK for a special festival. I knew the festival was on, but I didn’t think it would affect the yoga schedule until after I left. I immediately hated the festival and was filled with bitterness, resentment and recriminations (emotions that are probably illegal in Bali).  It was so unfair. How could this happen when I had only five precious days left in Bali? And how could I have gone to the Gilis, leaving all those luscious yoga classes going on without me?

The town started to fill up with all sorts of eclectic types in town for the festival of music/dance/yoga/all-sorts-of-New-Age-stuff. I resented them for filling up the yummy organic cafes. It was impossible to get a seat and food took forever to arrive and in the meantime I had to listen to them prattle on about their energy and auras and their journeys and self awareness and how it was all so amazing and transformative. Blah, blah, blah. They embraced and kiss-kissed, but they all seemed to talk at each other, no one actually listening to anyone. I sulked in the corner and refused to be friendly to anyone. I snarled at the small children who screamed and ran around the café. When a man asked me if I was in town for the festival, I literally snapped back: “NO. I’m leaving. I don’t like crowds.” Poor man. I could hardly recognize myself in this state. On top of it, I felt so heavy, like I had gained 50 pounds since I had arrived in Bali. I felt huge and thick and felt unable to get out of the fog that had descended upon me.

I was bewildered by this negativity. Did it mean that it was time to go home? What was wrong with me? How could I lose the lightness and joy of traveling so quickly? I really didn’t want to go home feeling like this. The soul-sucking vultures of self-doubt, depression, and despair could not be far behind. I had left them behind back in October; what if they had been waiting for me at home all this time, hungry? The thought made me shudder. 

The week really wasn’t going very well.

Until, finally, today, my second-to-last day in Bali, something happened. I went to a Jivamukti yoga class. It turns out that for the price of two normal classes, I can attend one of these classes. And since I have three classes left and hate to waste them, I went.

The teacher, visiting from Hawaii, explained that this class would be devoted to Shiva shakti energy, the pure energy that is our true nature. Or something like that. She asked us to set our highest possible intention for today’s practice. As I sat there, her choice of words emboldened me. Feeling so low, so mortal, so heavy and so bound by this state, I desperately wanted to touch a bit of transcendence. I phrased my intention as a request, asking to feel my divine nature. Just the spark, please, anything so I know this beast is not who I really am.

The class started with a lot of chanting, to musical accompaniment. Then we got into the swing of a vinyasa-style class, and the sweat started to pour. Periodically our teacher would talk about encouraging the kundalini energy, the prana to move up our spine, to get the Shiva energy up to the third eye. Or something like that. Yoga is all about union, and most classes focus on the union between mind and body, using the breath. This is always a challenge, at least for me. But this class was about the union between the mind, the body, and the divine, in the form of Shiva energy.  At one point we were sitting with our legs spread wide, eyes closed, chanting “Shiva Om.” Or maybe it was “Shiva Ham” (I am Shiva). I wasn’t sure, but it sounded beautiful, all of our voices together, vibrating and resonating. And then, in the middle of all this lovely chanting, Neeraja, who was our musical accompaniment, started speaking these words:

Willing to experience aloneness
I discover connection everywhere
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end

Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game;
To play it is pure delight –
To honor its form, true devotion*

As she spoke the first few lines, it felt like she was speaking the words written on my soul that I didn't know were there.  It felt as if she had followed me on my journey.  Tears of recognition sprung from my eyes and streamed down my face, as naturally as sweat. And somehow, through this moment of deep resonance, everything softened inside me. From that point on, it seemed like I was able to let go in a deeper way, and found myself calming down, being filled with deep compassion. And then it came to me: this compassion is the manifestation of my divine nature.

There was more to the class, but I don’t really remember. I floated out, riding my bike down Jl. Hanoman in the sunshine, calling greetings to all my transport-guy friends along the way. I felt alive, awake, and filled with deep gratitude. It was my second-to-last day in Bali, and there was much I wanted to do. Yet somehow I was able to tell my worrying mind not to worry, to go with it, that everything would come together without force, stress or anxiety. On the street, a friend passed by and said to me, "you're glowing!"  As I ate a late breakfast at Kafe, a man came up to me and introduced himself, and unlike many of the past days, I welcomed his conversation and invited him to join me. We talked about many things, including the lucrative business of import-export from Bali (which he encouraged me to look into), but one thing he said stuck with me: “Bali is positioned to be the liver of the world. Sooner or later everything has to come here to be cleaned and de-toxed.”

Sooner or later, indeed.

Unrelated Post-script: The physical journey may soon be over, but the travel journal will not. I still am playing catch up, so watch for some of the following: “Up the Mekong Delta,” “Beauty and Horror in Phnom Penh,” something on Angkor Wat, and “Island of Dudes and Cats,” and “Nyepi.”

*The poem is entitled “Unconditional,” by Jennifer Paine Welwood

Tags: bali, end of the journey, fears, observations, poetry, writing, yoga

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