Friday, September 26, 2008

Escape the World Retreat

This last week was so magical that I have decided to let the photos tell the story. (Read as ... I am really short on time and haven't written anything post-worthy).

My amazing fortune continues... I am setting sail this afternoon for an eight-day transfer to Singapore via Borneo.

Notice: If I don't put up a new post by October 7, send out the Indonesia Coast Guard or assume that I have become a wench on a pirate boat.


Offerings

Offerings are EVERYWHERE here. They say that Balinese women spend 60% of their lives in devotion, mostly making offerings.
We were treated to an offering-making class. These are the ones I made and offered up to the Ganesha statue on our last day.

Bali Botanical Gardens
Hedge labyrinth
Bike Trip
Traditional Balinese village

Bali children

Artisans


Sunrise yoga at Mt. Batur, VolcanoEscape the World retreat group
The resort

Rice

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trinity

In Hinduism everything seems to come in threes. There are three main gods, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Prayers come in sets of three, flower offerings come in threes, it goes on and on. So it was fitting that yesterday was a day of three major events.

Satu (one)
I awoke to find myself a teacher at a yoga retreat. I am one month out of my training and here I was in front of students from Australia, England, Holland, Canada… all in Bali for a week of practice and rejuvenation. Once again I felt completely at ease in the front of the class and the yogi smile that takes over my face when I take that seat was in full view for all to see.

I am both teacher and student in this retreat and I drank in every drop of yogic wisdom I could from Iyan while trying to embody the perfect trikonasana (triangle pose) so the students would see by example where their hips, shoulders, arms should be. I told the class about bandas (energy locks) and led them in pranayama (breathing exercises), and when classes were over I felt that yogi high I have come to be a junkie for.

Dua (two)
In between our morning asana practice and our afternoon restorative class I got an email informing me that my best friend and I are officially, legally, no longer married. By decree I am once again Rachel Roberts and I can now add to the list of monikers I am amassing… divorcee.

Wow.

This has been a long time coming and really is a small detail since my best friend and I decided to not be married anymore months ago, but for some reason the state of Colorado recognizing the dissolution of our union brought all the sorrow home again.

I met Mary for coffee and took a moment to be thankful I had a close friend here to give me a much needed hug and some sage words to help me see through the clouds. Mary said to acknowledge that what he and I had chosen to do was not leave each other, but to give ourselves back to ourselves. I have chosen to give him the opportunity to be the best person he can be and he has returned that gift to me.

And now, half a world separates us but our paths are more closely aligned then they have been the last few years. For this I am immeasurably thankful and in a strange way I feel that we are closer now we were when we were sleeping under the same roof.

As I write this tears are streaming down my face and I am interrupting the serenity of this retreat with nose blowing every two minutes or so, but here and now I can recognize that these are tears of sorrow yes, but they are mixed with tears of hope and tears of joy for the man he is becoming and the woman I now am.

A cup of coffee, a few words of wisdom from Mary and one hour of restorative yoga class and something profound happened. I realized I’m okay. The sky, of what was my whole world, has fallen and I am okay.

Tiga (three)
After dinner everyone in the retreat went to the Tirta Empul Temple. This is the source of Bali’s holiest holy water. Legend has it that the god Indra struck the earth with his sword creating the spring to provide pure water for his soldiers. The spring provides a huge amount of water to this day and is the main source for the Sungai Pakerisan River.
One of the beautiful parts about Hinduism is that everyone is welcome to participate in the traditions, regardless of beliefs, religion or lack there of. With the assistance of Iyan and a Hindu priest each of us presented offerings, prayed at two different shrines and underwent the Tampaksiring Purification ritual.

The real cleansing takes place at the waterspouts of the temple. The first pool has around 13 spouts. We each stopped at every spout first raising our hands above our heads, then splashing water on our faces three times, followed by submerging entirely three times, then splashing our faces again three times and finally hands above our heads. We did this at each of the spouts. Then, we went to the second set of pools and repeated the process at five more spouts. From here we went into the temple and completed the ceremony with one more set of prayers and an offering of flowers and incense.
For me the symbolism, and ceremony of literally washing it all away… of total cleansing… on this of all days… was powerful and profound. When it was over my skin and hair felt so soft, baby soft. I felt grounded and light at the same time. And while I was still feeling some of the weight of the day’s events, I also felt indescribably different than I had before the springs.
Now it is the day after trinity day and it is a day of silence (mouna) here at the retreat. During mouna days I do a lot of writing. Basically, the idea of silence is to not carry on a conversation with anyone but yourself and that for me is what this dialogue is. It is a snapshot of one day in my life – an extraordinary day that I will never relive. A day that brought me happiness and growth, deep sorrow and pain, and finally it was all washed away, leaving me perhaps imperceptively changed, but changed nonetheless.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Drive, Work, Purge

Driving
I did it dear readers… I rented a motorbike. In fact I not only rented it, but I have been driving it around for days. Seems there is no boundary too logical or sacrosanct for me to not cross any longer – what has become of me?
Count the passengers...

I have been cruising throughout Ubud at all hours of the day, I even carried home a box so big I had to sit on it and while this may seem a small accomplishment when you consider that Indonesians carry everything from entire families to airplane propellers (I swear I saw this) on their bikes, this was big for me. In fact it bordered on reckless.

The bike has given me some much appreciated freedom and has introduced me to some fun new Indo-isms. Like buying gas from anywhere. Many houses and pretty much all stores have a petrol rack out front where fuel is stored in jars, the most popular vessel for this is the Absolute Vodka bottle. These easily identifiable jugs filled with pale yellow fuel can be seen everywhere.
Fuel is heavily subsidized here, which allows me to fill my tank for around $3.50. Oh the joys of being in a country with a favorable exchange rate! For just slightly more than $100 US dollars you get $1,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah. I am a multi-millionaire in this country!!! Why just the other day the woman in front of me at the health food store was short of cash for her bill so I gave her 1000 rupiah. Look how generous I am, just throwing out 1000’s left and right. Okay I know it was just a dime in US money, but it felt GOOD.
Also, I have learned that you can get away with anything in this country as long as you either beep your horn first, or erect a sign that says hati-hati (be careful). For instance, want to cross four lanes of traffic while carrying three generations, two prized fighting cocks and your annual rice crop? No problem, just smile and beep three times.
Want to redo the walkways in front of your home? No problem, rip the old ones up leaving the cavernous water ditch below uncovered and simply place a hand-painted hati-hati sign about five feet before the sidewalk ends. As there are no street lights around, be sure to check the ditch in the morning for evening strollers who either can’t translate hati-hati, or could not see the ample 2x3 warning post-it in the dark.

Working
I have been asked to assistant teach a private yoga retreat in Ubud next week. It is the kinda retreat where well-ish-to-do women (primarily) come for a week, do yoga and go on a bunch of cool tours to the volcano, rice fields, temples, and this is all topped off with days at the spa. The man who runs these (he does one every other week) broke his foot and has asked me to basically show the poses to the students and help with adjustments.
The retreat organizers have also asked me to write an article about my experience and submit photos for their website. For my labors I get to attend the retreat events – I’ll be staying at their resort, eating all my meals there and I even get paid a little. Life is sweet.

Purging
In other good news I seem to have contracted some vicious intestinal bug leading to my spending my first full day ever on the loo. This has resulted in a drastic and rapid flattening of my belly just in time to be a yoga model. Funny how the universe provides.

Of course this diet is not without it’s challenges, like I keep running out of toilet paper, I feel like I am throwing away money by eating, and the charcoal tablets Wayan gave me only seem to make my belly do slightly less frequent summersaults. But, I am dedicated to my practice and if this is what I need to do to look the yogi part, then so be it. That is assuming I can get off the pot in time for the course.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Solitude, If Not Solace

My favorite day of the week has always been Sunday. Saturdays are nice too, but I usually need that day to unwind from the proceeding week and so it is Sunday when I can really relax. The only flaw with Sundays is that they are immediately followed by Mondays, but here in Bali with no one on my dance card, Mondays aren’t too bad either.
On this particular Sunday I am being decidedly, blissfully non-productive in my solitude. Perhaps that is too harsh, it’s not like I am still in bed or anything. Among my meager accomplishments today, I finished reading What is the What, by Dave Eggars, which I recommend highly. This task required that I sit in the sun poolside for an hour or so resulting in a deepening of my tan and amassing of perhaps another 20 bug bites.
I strolled leisurely next door to Indus my most often visited neighborhood restaurant, where I can get Wi-Fi access while enjoying various delicacies - my favorite of which is a warm Tunisian salad served on mashed beats which sets me back about $4 and is more food than I can possibly eat in one sitting – that is unless it is Sunday and I allow myself to sit for three hours.

I have plenty I could be doing of course, like deciding when I am going to leave Bali, how and where I am going to spend the next month, what I want to do in Vietnam, Thailand, Australia or any of the other countries I am still planning to visit. And of course there is the ever-present hum of the future nagging me to decide where I will live and what I will do for a living when this journey is over.

Some days I think about speeding up the trip after Bali – perhaps not a month in each other country, maybe a few weeks here, one week there, get back to the US while I can still get some ski runs in. Or maybe I should abandon my return plans all together and see how long I can ride this wave out here in Bali, convert my life savings to Indonesian Rupiah – actually might not be a bad idea given the financial events of the last week.

But the universe has a funny way of setting goals and deadlines for you and half a world away a series of events, seemingly unrelated to me, have dictated that I be in Europe next July. So at least I know where I will be ten months from now.

Apparently little known cyclist from Texas has opted to ride in Le Tour de 2009 and well… I’d be a friggin moron if I didn’t book my ticket to Paris today. It is however, surprisingly difficult to book a ticket to Paris when you don’t know the city you will be departing from. No matter, it will all work out.

Monday
This week got kicked off with morning meditation in the Ashram/resort I am living in. These practitioners adhere to a tenant that is not exactly in keeping with my chosen path, but there are enough similarities that I feel comfortable in their presence and I am having some of my best meditations alongside them so it feels right to join in their fun.

What has become my routine here in Ubud is one that brings me great joy and calm each day. Every morning I practice yoga (asanas), be that in my villa, the shala or by attending a led class at the Yoga Barn. Then I stroll to Kafé for a latte and lunch or sometimes I go there before class. Afternoons are different each day but generally involve me walking for long distances. Evenings I venture out to one of the many ridiculously inexpensive and truly wonderful restaurants, where I sit alone most nights and watch the world go by.
I should explain that there is a sort of a yoga mafia here who controls most things yoga-related in Ubud. The Mafioso run not only the main yoga shala in town but they also operate my favorite café and a yoga clothing shop that I am powerless to pass with out making a monetary deposit.
This mafia however trades cement shoes for bare feet, ‘whacking’ for meditating, pasta for nasi campor and zoot suits for organic cotton yoga pants. Bali Spirit, as the mafia is known, does a fantastic job of centralizing all things yogic, metaphysical, holistic, organic and healthy in Ubud. And their restaurant Kafé is like the Grand Central Station for trains departing to enlightenment – also they make the best vanilla lattes in town. And as we all know, my Pavlovian bell is the sound of frothing milk.

So I write this morning from Kafé, over an organic/free range breakfast burrito filled with green chilies, which is good enough to bring me right back to Colorado and a homesick tear to my eye. In a few minutes I will leave and go take a class at Yoga Barn and then I am off to rent myself a motorbike.

I know… I know… I said I wouldn’t do it, but I have evolved and besides it scares the crap out of me to drive here and this trip is largely about conquering fears. Did you know that not long ago I was terrified to spend the night alone, and now look at me. If I can sleep in room whose doors barely lock, surrounded by every kind of biting insect imaginable, half-way around the world from those who have for so long comforted and protected me… then maybe, just maybe, I can drive a motor bike on the left side of what passes for a road in Indonesia.