Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Bali Taught Me

I came to Bali a month ago ready to embark on a spiritual journey and figure out my next steps in life. I thought a month in a spiritual place would bring peace, enlightenment and immense joy. Bali offered everything I asked for, but there were lessons I was not prepared to encounter on this journey and I am leaving Bali with some bumps and bruises but a smile on my face. 

I didn't know that spiritual journeys included tears and heartache. As I look back, I can see that the pain and discomfort was part of the growth and change. I had to let things go that I didn't know I was holding onto and deal with new hardships that arrived almost as soon as I began this journey. I think the timing was perfect as I was in a place where I could focus on growth and healing. 

There were four very distinct lessons I learned here...

1) Stillness: Staying in a small town among rice fields provided ample time to be still. I found meditation and prayer came much easier without the distractions I can provide myself at home. In stillness, I was able to listen to intuition and seek direction and discernment. I found comfort in the silence and solitude. My mind was able to shut down and peace began to bud.

2) Grace: This journey showed me that lovely things can blossom out of pain and hurt. The water lily is a symbol for grace and it grows out of the mud into a beautiful bloom. Without grace, I would drown in the messes and mistakes I have made. Grace is proof that the universe has greater plans for me and provides lessons and strength just when I need them. That thought alone blows my mind and fills me with gratitude.

3) Offering: I watched women place offerings in reverence every day on alters all over town. They spend time creating beautiful, colorful gifts daily. This encouraged me to offer something each day to show my gratitude and intention. I am beginning each day with an intention and offering gratitude and seeing a difference in my outlook. This practice is my offering.

4) Bravery: This is a theme that keeps coming up for me this year. In Bali, I faced my greatest fear time and again and now I barely flinch when I see rodents. I had to bargain and negotiate with a language barrier often and even demand our passage on a boat, which we had to ride on top of at full speed. I forged paths, dealt with scary truths and let go. Bravery frees my mind from fears I held onto and creates a new spaciousness for courage.

I am grateful to have had this experience, even with all the discomforts. I was told that in order to grow, one must experience pain followed by joy. I appreciate the patience and friendship Penny provided as I went through some difficult transitions. Our friendship is stronger and now we have even more epic memories to share.

My hope is to return home next week equipped with the lessons I learned here and practice them daily. Intentions are powerful and it is amazing what they can manifest. My journey in Bali is proof that by setting an intention, results follow, even if they don't take the planned path. Let go, be fluid, ask for guidance and the answers will appear.

Monday, July 28, 2014

To Market, To Market...

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Ubud, the central market sits with many vendors ready to sell their wares and strike a deal. We ventured downtown to pick up some clothing and jewelry and were invited to look at every stall we passed. I remembered from my trip a couple years ago to not buy right off the street, but to go into the market a little bit for the best bargaining power. I also remembered that if you were the first sale of the day, they rubbed your money on their goods for good luck.

We stopped at our first stall to pick up some flowy Bali pants that I had seen all over the city and the guy automatically gave me a price higher than prices I had seen in clothing stores. I countered with a price much lower and we went back and forth until we found a happy medium. It was exhilarating. Since my background is in sales, I love the art of negotiation. It is fun for me. Penny on the other hand, finds it stressful. So, before we set off to the market, I asked her what she wanted to buy and the prices she expected to pay so I could do the bargaining. 

At a couple places we bought from, they rubbed our money on their merchandise. It was already 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I thought how disheartening it must be to wait that long to make some money in the vast market. One woman had not sold anything that day and followed Penny whispering in her ear. I stopped to look at the jewelry and she yelled after us as we walked away "It's cheap, I give you good price. 3 for 1. Please! I need good luck." 

We found ourselves deeper in the market than we had ever been and people offered sarongs, pants, jewelry and art for just about free. I realized that they probably never see quite as many shoppers as the people on the way in. We were just trying to find our way out of the maze and ended up walking back into the whispering lady. I made a quick turn and luckily we found the staircase down to exit the market. 

It is funny to me that I enjoyed this experience so much. I can't stand shopping. Malls feel like a trap to me. Perhaps it was the negotiation. Maybe the layout and culture. Most likely it was the lack of advertisements and the certain energy of a street market.  I don't think this sales model would work well back home. But, just for a moment, I found myself having fun while shopping. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bali Dogs: Heartbreak and Hope in Paradise

One of the most vivid images for me of Bali are the dogs that wander the street. They walk around with mange, broken limbs and malnourishment. There are a few lucky dogs who live in homes and are well taken care of. In the place I am staying, there are about six pups who live on the property. I am in dog heaven. They visit us in the morning and I get to love on puppies. However, when I am walking around, my heart breaks for the street dogs. I remember my first day walking around the neighborhood and seeing a dog with terrible mange; his tail was about to fall off. I wondered if there was something I could do to help.

This led me to a bunch of research online were I found out about the native "Bali dog" and the history of the very old breed, Kintamani. These pups are beautiful with furry curved tails and pointed ears. There is a Kintamani puppy that lives here and he is my favorite visitor. My research also revealed that I could not actually work with the dogs without an anti-rabies vaccine, which I don't have. But there are many organizations that are working on feeding, sterilization and rehibilitation of dogs and other animals on Bali.

One of the characteristics of these dogs is their fierce independance. These dogs are scavenger survivors. They aren't aggressive, but will bark with what seems to be a helpless hopelessness. The other night, we were out very late. The entire town was mostly shut down and the only thing roaming around other than us were many dogs. They just roamed aimlessly ignoring us and howling every so often. One dog followed us for a while and then moved beside us eventually leading us. I don't know how this dog knew where we were staying, but it layed down at the top of our driveway as if to say "okay, you're home safe now." I felt so much affection for this sweet doggie protector while we walked home in the dark. 

Although I wish I received the vaccination so I could physically help out and be close to the dogs, I am grateful to know there are organizations that help them out...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leaving Gili: The Day I Learned to Let it Be

We left Gili Air in an adventurous way. Departure tickets were bought a day early to ensure seats on a boat. When we arrived at the harbor, it was clear that all boats were over booked, 150 tickets sold for 30 seats to be exact. I went up to the counter and a man took my ticket and started walking away. I followed him along with a few others who seemed to have given him their tickets as well. 

One of the travelers was on the phone as he walked with us explaining a tragic loss of friends. He needed to get off the island to get home to attend a funeral. There were a couple gals needing to get back to catch a flight and they were very insistent that they get on the boat. Every time I tried to get information, the man just walked away. I made sure to follow since he held our tickets off the island.

We returned to the harbor office where fellow travelers sat waiting. Time was nearing our scheduled departure and I still had not heard how we were getting off the island. It was as Gili Air was acting like a jilted lover tugging onto our coattails as we walked away. 

The gals with the flight to catch were yelling at the staff and I realized that I would have done the same thing only a year ago. I realized how demanding I was and how forceful it sounded. I was surprised that I did not feel the need to yell or panic. There was a calm that was new to me and I just asked what was going on and he responded to my calm. He asked if we could take the 3 o'clock boat, but my gut told me that boat was also over booked and I told him I preferred to leave at noon as we originally paid for. He got on the phone once again with my ticket in clear view.

In the meantime, I asked the fellow traveler what had happened to his friends. He told me that his friends were on a plane from Amsterdam to Bali and the plane was shot down. He lost 12 friends in one night. Immediately, the boat ride issue was minuscule. He explained how his football team was coming out to Gili to visit him and that he held a beach memorial for the dead until 5am that morning. He explained that he was still in shock and didn't know how to process the news, but was trying to be strong since he had a lot of travel ahead of him.

He assured me that the GIli way was to overbook the boats and not communicate, but that another boat is always found. The man with my ticket was still on the phone, so I went to sit next to Penny to explain what was going on. I saw the boat that we paid to get on enter the harbor and I got up and told the man my boat arrived and that I wanted my ticket back. He handed another person my ticket who then created another ticket and told me to go down to the harbor and speak to the captain of the boat to try to get us on the boat.

When we got to the harbor, one of the crew members was yelling "No room!!!" as people started climbing aboard. I walked over to the man I figured was captain like and showed him my ticket and he told me there was no room. I responded "We must get on this boat" and he responded "Ok, but you sit on top."

I turned to Penny and told her to follow me onto the boat and how we had to sit on top. We climbed on and were told to sit on top of the cargo bags. I was immediately grateful that we did not bring luggage and settled in hoping not to get sick.

The boat started moving and we started laughing at the fact that we made it on the boat and we were sitting on top of the cargo like stowaways. The boat stopped at Lombok first and we heard the chanting from mosques while we waited to head out. I am not sure if people got on or off. We applied sunscreen for our journey in the sun while we waited.

There were about 15 of us on top of the boat including the gals with the plane to catch and man who lost his friends. He began singing "Let it Be" with his arms outstretched and we all joined in after a bit. We sang together as we sped across the Java Sea towards Bali. The boat came to a dead stop in the middle of nowhere while we were singing and we quickly changed our tune to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and the boat started back up after a couple minutes. 

One of the crew members offered us massages, which added to the humor of the entire situation. He was the one yelling "No Room!" and now he was trying to make our journey more comfortable. One of the gals took him up on his offer after I asked him to quit rubbing my neck. I am so happy I did because he asked her to take her shirt off so he could "properly" massage her. I inched farther away from him and took in the lovely scenery that sitting below did not offer.

When we arrived back on Bali, the dock had many people holding up signs directing us to our proper shuttles. I found our driver and he told us to head to the office. Not knowing where the office was, I asked someone who led us to the row of offices and shuttle vans. We used the toilet which cost money and ended up being a squat pot with a bucket of water for flushing and half a door for privacy. I downed a Bintang after to calm my nerves and forget the toilet situation and boarded our van.

We paid for the van to drive us back to our place in Ubud, but apparently he was too tired or didn't want to sit in the horrific traffic and dropped us off in the middle of the city at a grocery store. Luckily, Penny and I knew where we were and began the 3 mile walk home. We cracked up at the hilarious events of the day as we dodged motor bikes, trucks and stray dogs. 

All of a sudden the reason we were not driven home revealed itself. I had been looking for 2 weeks for a certain item to buy my friend who is house-sitting for me. I went into several stores and finding similar items, but not the right ones. And then, on the street we were dropped off on, in a window, I saw them. I picked out the amount I wanted and I was ready to negotiate the price and she quoted exactly what I told Penny I wanted to pay a couple days earlier. It was a manifestation for sure. I was giddy for the rest of the trek home happy to have found her gift.

This adventure was further proof that being open and allowing things to flow as they intend to delivers joy. I could have had anxiety and stress but instead chose to stay open and let go. We returned to rain and I feel like the ride on top provided me one more chance to get my fill of sunshine and I definitely consider it a gift from the universe. I learned so much about myself that day and I am so happy that everything transpired the way it did.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gili Air

The Gili Islands consist of 3 small islands off the coast of Lombok. The forecast promised abundant sunshine, so we decided to leave rainy Ubud for a couple days in the sun. Negotiation seems to be the norm when it comes to purchasing travel or anything over here, so I was ready to bargain for our boat tickets. I had a price in my head that I decided was the highest we would pay. When I asked the travel agent for the tickets he quoted a price cheaper than the lowest I had seen available. It was so easy to deal with them and the ticket included a pickup from where we were staying and ride to the harbor. I could not wait to leave and grateful for the easy transaction.

Our ride picked us up and dropped us off at the harbor where we had to move through a crowd to check in and wait for the boat. The dock was filled with island hoppers and there were many boats waiting to take us to our destinations. The whole boarding process was pretty chaotic. Women purposely bumped into us trying to sell snacks and sarongs. Travellers looked like deer in the headlights trying to figure out which boat to board. I asked which boat was ours and it was parked next to a boat that sat next to the dock. We had to climb onto that boat and then hop onto our boat. The whole process was silly and confusing. 

Once we were on the boat, the crew passed out bottled water, Dramamine and barf bags...not a good sign. I decided to take the medicine since I have had sea sickness in the past. We settled in and the ride was immediately choppy. The boat bounced up and down, speeding its way towards Gili. The back of the shirts the crew wore stated "the fastest boat to Gili" and by the waves crashing on the windows, water streaming through the cracks and the feeling of being airborne, I agreed. 

We arrived almost two hours later and a bit queasy from the ride. In order to get off the boat, we had to shimmy our way on the side and down a make-shift gangplank to the sand. I was so happy to be on the beach and the sunshine cured everything immediately. 

The island is small and there are no motor vehicles. The only way to get around is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. The beach is lined with restaurants and bars with thatched roofs and beds to lay in the sun. The road is covered in sand or is entirely sand and traces the circumference of the island with a few roads crossing through. Everything seemed to move at a slower pace, including the waves. 

We checked into our very minimalist home stay and headed right back out to the beach. The sun was warm and intense and the water was perfect and turquoise. I spent my days alternating between laying in the sun and floating effortlessly in the Java Sea. Every morning, we ate banana pancakes with instant coffee. On the beach, we drank coconuts, watched boats bring goods from nearby Lombok and melted into the easy rhythm of the island. In the evening, we walked to the West side of the island to watch the sun set. Each evening, the sunset provided a spectacular show

I really didn't want to leave so we stayed an extra night and found a lovely place right across from our first place for less money. As we were walking to the hotel after the beach, the staff said "Welcome home, Miss Emily" and it warmed my heart. 

I wanted to try a new road on the last night to get to the west side. We trekked through the village and saw houses on stilts, children holding children and men building houses. The road was a lot of loose, fine dirt and our feet were filthy once we reached the coast. I could smell the ocean the entire walk and felt rewarded by the sight of the sea. As we were walking up the beach, Penny proclaimed "I knew I'd find one!" as she pulled an Indonesian phrase book out of the sand. 

I am not sure how she found something buried in the sand, but she had wanted one since we began our trip and its amazing that she found one on the beach. We continued walking and I saw men walking far out into the sea and felt drawn to see how far I could go out. I walked as far as I could to get as close to the sunset as possible. I felt fish and seaweed brushing against my feet; a sensation that usually bothers me. However, I am embracing my new found calm and let nature do what nature does and found myself enjoying everything about that moment. 

Allowing things to happen when they are supposed to has been such a valuable lesson for me. As we sat watching the final colors from the sun, I told Penny that a bonfire would make the night perfect. We walked up the beach stopping at a few places to drink a beer and relax. Right before we found the road again, we came upon a bonfire with no one around. I instantly felt giddy by the serendipity. We sat in the sand and a man came over to add more wood. He owned a home stay on the beach and said he had fireworks earlier. I could not believe the gifts the beach provided. Although small, they were incredible.

I think letting go has cleared up so much mental and emotional space where these positive little things are making such a difference. It is exciting to think about the significance of intention and manifestation. Small changes have been key for me this year. The manifestations are results of the intentions and the intentions come as small changes are made. I am so grateful for the trip to an island I had never heard of and the courage to jump on a crazy boat to get there. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raindrops and Moonlight

A shift happened for me this weekend. I made my way through discomfort to find a new level of comfort. After almost two weeks finding myself in a constant inward and outward struggle, I decided to surrender and let whatever was going to happen (bugs, rain, rashes...), happen. And it has brought me so much peace. The decision to just be present has really affected my happiness quotient and has turned otherwise dreaded happenings into opportunities for joy. 

Last night, the full moon was out and it was raining but we didn't let it stop us from going outside and practicing yoga--moon salutations. The power went out and we found the only candle in the cottage and lit it with the propane burner. Yoga was practiced by clouded moon and candle light. It was so much fun. In fact, after our practice, we jumped in the pool and the moon peeked through the clouds to give us ample light for back floats.

Earlier, the rain was pouring down in sheets, I thought it was hail. I saw Penny just sitting by the pool under the downpour. She looked so happy and content. I wondered what would happen if I tried sitting in the rain. She got up and I went out to try it. It felt amazing. It felt invigorating. It made me want to swim in it. I could not believe myself. I have been a lifelong fan of sunshine and opposer of gray skies and especially rain. But, yesterday, I think I may have fallen in love, just a little with rain. I jumped in the pool and the rain just kept pouring and all I could do was laugh.

It may seem simple to just decide to be present, but for someone who is often in her head figuring out a dozen things at once, it is very very difficult. However, I like where it is taking me. Those dozen things will always be there for me to figure out, but the present will not. I think it is interesting how water has been the constant symbol for me in regards to letting go. Water is fluid and adaptable...things I am still learning. I know growth and letting go will forever be a part of life, but I think I am finding a way to peacefully and joyfully embrace them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Discomforts of Paradise

Everything I was expecting Bali to be has not happened. I have had a hard, uncomfortable first ten days here. My intention on this journey was to write, be still and meditate on my next steps in life. All three things are happening, but there have been environmental and emotional factors that I did not expect.

One of my first nights here, I was bit in the middle of the night, hopped out of bed and sprayed DEET all over my body in hopes of warding of nighttime critters. I woke up the next morning covered in big, red and ugly bumps. They burned and itched. I went to a clinic and picked up some benedryl after looking up pictures of skin rashes online. Apparently, I am allergic to poisonous DEET. So, now I just deal with bites and luckily the rash is almost gone.

Then there is the rain. The endless rain. I am someone that needs sun. I learned about this years ago while living in Seattle. It was my first encounter with Seasonal Affectedness Disorder, aka: SAD. There are periods of sunshine and I rush outside and sit in any sliver the sun provides. Yesterday, the sun was abundant and I was able to lay in its glory for an entire day. However, the rain has definitely affected my mood, but provides ample indoor time for writing and soul searching.

I think the most uncomfortable occurrence was while getting a pedicure, a large rat hopped out of a pile of clean towels and scurried up the wall into a hole in the ceiling. Rodents are my biggest fear. I even had a hard time with squirrels until recently. So, this really sent me to another plane of fear. I figured I would see rats in Bali, just not that close up or in a spa. I wanted to cry, pee my pants and scream all at once. I was assured by the staff that it was only a small mouse, but I know what I saw and couldn't get out of there quick enough.

With all that said, there is a certain sacredness to Bali that I appreciate. The day I saw the rat was a turning point for me. It was gray outside, the rat thing happened, I was tired and moody and then we walked by the temple. Women were dressed up in beautiful attire with large baskets filled with offerings on top of their heads. The ceremonial feel of the procession filled me with awe as I watched them perfectly kneel down to offer their goods. I thought about my own offering and what I had been giving lately. My conclusion was complaints, tears, questions and frustration. However, I realized in that moment that offering is a ritual and the answers may not appear immediately but the practice is what was important.

Images of these women have stuck with me and I am determined to change my offering to positivity, love, compassion and trust. Trust is the hardest for me. I am fiercely independent and trust requires surrender. Letting go has been my theme for a couple years now; I expect a couple more. But, when I look back on my life, I have always been okay, despite my worry and anxiety, the universe has provided everything I needed. These provisions come through prayer, meditation and trust. I am a product of grace. When I look back at the gifts and opportunities in my life and see the complaints and negativity that have at times clouded my offerings, I know that grace has provided the lessons along with the gifts.

Today I realize that my lesson is getting through a transition with grace, peace and love. My gifts are experiencing this discomfort in a beautiful place and the realization that growth is eternal. I look forward to mindfully entering each day differently and offering myself in a more loving manner. I recently read someone feeling like hugging the universe. Today I offer my hug and trust. I can't do this alone.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Connection

One of my favorite things about travel is the gift of connection. I find myself so wrapped up at home that I tend to forget the beauty of human connection. On an airplane, we have the choice to ignore the person next to us or engage in a conversation. I admit, I don't always want to have a conversation on an airplane, but the ones I do end up having are great. It is fascinating to learn about other people's lives and hear their perspectives on things. If I'm lucky, maybe even hear some words of wisdom.

While I am here in Bali, I am with my dear friend whom I stay connected with through the beauty of the iPhone and FaceTime. But, seeing her face to face trumps whatever technology has to offer. There is a certain energy I feel when I am around her; a calm appreciation and acceptance. We also have to rely on each other to forge our way in a somewhat familiar place but still carries with it a foreign language and customs that we easily forgot. This interdependance draws us closer and strenghthens our friendship. I wonder if this would happen if we were next door neighbors again, like we were years ago...but I somehow think it would not.

Travel shakes you and makes your senses open up because of the unfamiliar. This makes me think that is why connection with strangers is easier away from home. Fellow travellers have stories to share, they are looking for a slice of familiar while away from home, and most likely don't have internet access, therefore, face to face connections happen more fluidly. Everytime we are out, we end up having long conversations with complete strangers, most ending in hugs. It's as if we have a silent code of honor "We're in this together. Let's connect"; especially if travelling alone. When I was in Costa Rica, I found myself with many new connections that I am so grateful for. 

I think my challenge will be to try to find this certain intimacy when I return home. Because even if I am not faraway from home, we are all still in this together. Spending quality time together just feels better than a quick text. Perhaps schedules will not allow the languid conversations that travel provides, but my goal will be to foster connection in each place I am by striving to be present and open.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"There's No Sauce in the World Like Hunger"

Today was a lazy day spent lounging by the pool and soaking up the sun. Our neighbors in the cottage next door came over to chat with us. They are an adventuous couple in their 80s who have so many tales of their travels around the world. Orginally from Austria, they now live in Australia and have travelled together all over the place including a VW bus trip from Germany to Australia over land through the Middle East and South East Asia. They are fascinating to say the least.

While they were telling their travel tales, I found myself missing my grandparents. They didn't travel the world, but they always encouraged me to get out in the world as well as learn as much as I could about other cultures. I don't think it is a coinicidnece that we went to the grocery store earlier today and I bought Bali's equivalent of ingridients for spaghetti sauce. After our conversation, I was inspired to go make sauce. I put on songs that reminded me of my grandma, including Patsy Cline and the Rat Pack's greatest hits and I diced, chopped, sang and simmered to her honor.

My grandma had a sign in her kitchen that said "There's no sauce in the world like hunger". The image of that sign hanging over her stove stayed with me as I made dinner tonight. In fact, while I was taking a shower after the pool, a ladybug landed on the bath mat. I know this was symbolic of my grandma. After she passed, a ladybug flew into my car and stayed on my steering wheel for the entire weepy trip. Therefore, ladybugs have always been a symbol of my grandma for me. The ladybug just chilled in my hands until I placed it on a nearby leaf. 

I think she would be proud that I brought some Italian vibes to Bali tonight. I may be in a foreign country, but I can still bring the essence of home with me, wherever I go. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bali Sensory

Bali is the perfect place to awaken the senses. The colors are so intense and bright and everywhere. Kites, flags, temple garb and nature burst with colorful blends. Walls are alive with geckos, various bugs and plants reaching for the sun. The scents range from the sweet tropical aromas of plumeria and pineapple to the near putrid smell of petrol coming from exhaust pipes of the numerous motorbikes whizzing by. Each evening, the sound of Gamelan, Balinese temple music, can be heard from afar. Every morning, I awaken to the smell of the rice fields burning. It is like Bali's morning incence; a ritual. 

In fact, incence and ritual are everywhere. Women bring offerings known as Canung Sari everyday consisiting of flowers, rice and incense. The offerings are prepared daily as a form of self-sacrifice to offer praise and thanks. Everything is sacred and the offerings can be seen on the street, dashboards of cars and alters in the rice fields. We received one during our yoga practice yesterday morning. I was rising from a forward bend as the offering was being placed on the alter next to the front door. I felt gratitude and reverence in the display of the sacred during my yoga practice. 

The intensity of Bali's sensory makes it impossible to go through each day without a certain awareness. Perhaps this is why there is so much gratitude and prayer offered daily. It is easy to find oneself wrapped up in the traditions and feel part of the commuinty that has graciously opened their doors to each visitor. Most of all, this display of sacred and sensory has encouraged me to find and appreciate the beauty surrounding me each day.