Day 90- Namaste, India!

This morning as I prepare to go to the airport I know I should be excited and deep down I really am, but layered over the excitement are many other less comfortable emotions. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. I feel like I’m running straight into the unknown. Maybe that’s because I am running into the unknown. I decide to just breathe through every moment because today is one I will probably never forget. Today is one of those whole day meditations. Without the calm breath, I might freak out.

Saying goodbye to Andrew is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but then again all the best things in life are. In love, I give my everything until I am drained and often lose sight of who I am. So this part of the journey, I need to continue alone so that I can find the greatest relationship I will ever know; the one with myself. Part of me thinks I am an idiot but that part is overridden by a deep-set sense that this is the right thing. I am on my life path and in order to find myself I have to do the search alone.

I have airport pick-ups all organised I have my next month of travel all mapped out in front of me but I still feel like a lost little child. Anything this terrifying must be worth it, right? If I think of the times in my life when I have truly felt afraid, like actually heart pounding, tongue dry fear, I know that this is nothing. Aside from my irrational fear of seeing clay cut with wire (yes I know, specific and weird), I can think of exactly three situations when I have felt real fear. Once, when a huge SUV ran a red light and missed me by about half a second; on 25th October 2010 when a tsunami hit the Mentawais islands and we didn’t know where some of our friends were; and when I felt an earthquake for the first time. Come to think of it, anytime I feel an earthquake is a terrifying moment.

But this, this isn’t fear. This is the unknown. This is the beautiful and crazy moment in life when I am facing a massive shift, when my life is literally getting turned upside down and I know I’ve done it to myself. It’s too late to turn back. I’m caught in this flash flood and the only way I’m coming out is on the other end. But I still catch myself thinking, holy f*** I can’t believe I’m going to India!

When I arrive at the airport I am shocked to find that nobody is yelling and trying to get my attention. I kind of imagined it would be like Indonesia, where the taxi drivers just tell and wave the minute you walk out but everyone just ignores me. I finally find my driver and he seems a little upset that he had to wait so long inside only to find me outside. As I get into the car, I ask him how far the hotel is and he says, “10 hours” with complete stoicism. I start to laugh nervously, you’re kidding right? He finally nods and then says, “thank you for smiling miss!” and I thank him for making me laugh. We make small talk and when I notice a small effigy to Kali he asks if I believe in the gods. This seems like too slippery a question so I answer with a simple yes. I was once asked at the Gandhi ashram in Bali which religion I prescribed to, to which I replied diplomatically, “all of them!”
I tell the driver Aji that I am Mexican and can speak Spanish he says, “Hola, Hola coca-cola” and “Mira, mira, Kashmira”, which is all the Spanish he knows. I find this absolutely hilarious.

We arrive at the Cottage Yes Please which seems to be amongst some kind of night market. It is almost midnight but the street noises never really die down. There are pigeons nesting right outside my window so I can hear feathers beating and the occasional coo.

Well, I made it. Here I am, still a little bit gobsmacked that I’m in INDIA!

Day 89- stay in bed meditation

I wake up but my eyes stay closed. It doesn’t matter which way I lie, this bed is the most comfortable place in the world to me right now and I can not think of any place I would rather be. It is my last morning of sleep-ins for a while, as tomorrow I head to India and then will spend the next month in ashrams where the usual wake up time is 4.30am. But not Bali. Not today. Today, I do not know the time yet and as I am lying on my side, curled up under the doona (the air-con is still on), and as I roll over with my eyes still closed, I feel all my worries and concerns leaking out of my ear and into the pillow. I can beat them out of there later. I smile in contentment and feel the empty space within where only breath exists. I let go of the day. It hasn’t begun for me yet, so really there is no point being attached to it yet. Anything could happen. I do not think about breakfast yet, as I usually would. I do not wonder why my phone vibrated a little while ago, or what time it is. I just enjoy being in bed. This is definitely a formula for waking up on the right side of the bed.

When I eventually open my eyes and come out of my bed-itation, I check my phone. I have been looking at my visa for India and wondering why the expiry date is only the 21st May. When I asked a friend, she said it looks like I only got the 2 month visa, which means I am already getting in ten days later than when it begins and I have to be out 7 weeks after I arrive. I feel the frustration and disappointment rise up within. I go to the bathroom in a huff and brush my teeth with more emotion than what is necessary for oral hygiene. Then I decide to leave all that negative emotion right here in the bathroom, where waste is usually left. Meditation only takes you so far, sometimes you need to make the conscious decision NOT to be a slave to your emotions. I emerge from the bathroom with a smile and resume my position in bed. After all, if I need to be back in Sydney by the 21st May, then I assume that it is for a reason and I trust that reason to be something amazing.

Day 88- make every moment sacred

Even after a ten hour sleep, I can still wake up feeling exhausted sometimes. It is frustrating. I have no motivation, no energy and I just feel low. I come into child’s pose but my knees ache. I sit cross-legged and close my eyes. I bring my hands into prayer position and on the inhale, allow them to slowly separate and expand out wide. On the inhale, they come back together. After about ten rounds of this moving meditation, my arms still feel tired so I change direction. I face the palms up, with the arms bent at ninety degrees and slowly lift them up on the inhale. At the top of the in-breath, I turn the palms to face down and exhale slowly. This flows a little easier and as my breath slows, so does the movement. After a few minutes, the breath and movement are flowing in super slow motion, moving the prana around me.

Slowly my arms come back to prayer position. I bow my forehead to my fingertips and offer an intention for my day.

Make every moment sacred.

Make every breath and every movement a meditation.

Day 87- meditating in Vishnu’s shadow

North of Jimbaran, Bali, is the GWK Cultural Park where there is an enormous statue of the Hindu god Vishnu. When I first went there over 7 years ago, I remember running up the steps to find a ceremony taking place and since I was only wearing shorts and a singlet, I took a quick photo and left. Now it seems more like an amusement part. You can rent a segway or a quad bike to get around the vast grassy plazas or ride down between the stone mountains on a flying fox. Today, at the great statue of Vishnu, there is a film crew playing Indian music and actors dressed like Spanish salsa dancers. This weird mix of latin and Bollywood, next to the deity makes little sense to me, but I find a shaded area around the back of the statue where I can’t see so many of the people. Every now and then a small part of the same song is blasted out of the portable speaker and I can hear a burst of “Hare, hare, hare…” From where I am sitting, I look up to the statue to see a pair of pigeons nesting in the back of Vishnu’s neck. A tiny blue butterfly is beating his wings slowly, dancing around in circles. When two swallows rush towards him, he flutters off into the leaves. As soon as the swallows fly away again, he returns, again going around and around in his slow circle. Another tiny blue butterfly comes out of nowhere and they connect, spiralling down towards the water fountain at the base of the statue, where they release and separate. I watch the path of the butterfly as he once again returns to his space of sky and starts circling again.

I am wondering why this temple is so different from the one in Candidasa, but the answer is obvious- aside from the entry charge, and the people in here filming, this place has become a cultural park. It isn’t really a temple anymore. If you come at night, they perform a Kecak at 6pm every night. As you enter, the cafe workers encourage you to stop for an icy coconut and you can’t leave without walking through the gift shop. The commercialisation of god is what separates this place from a genuine temple. But, if I can meditate on a plane then I can certainly meditate here in Vishnu’s shadow. A man behind me is lighting incense to make the midday offerings and the smell of sandalwood curls around my face. Again I find the butterfly, making his rounds and watch his flight in peace.

Day 86- one thousand crunches of doom

Don’t worry, it is a misnomer. I don’t really do one thousand crunches. I do one hundred. It is a trick I made up, I break it down into four lots of twenty and then two lots of ten; the first twenty crunches with feet on the floor or soles of the feet pressed together and knees wide, the second and third set of twenty with both knees to one side, the fourth set of twenty with both legs straight up and then ten for each leg in a scissor legs position. I have PMS so I wake up and have no energy or will to live, let alone get out of bed. I try to sit down and meditate but I can’t sit still, the cramps are just making life very uncomfortable. I am craving poached eggs. I feel a little dazed and spacey. How is it that every month I can be thrown completely out of sync like this?

I may be acclimatised enough in Indonesia to wear jeans but a hot water bottle would be beyond extreme so to deal with my cramps, I decide to exercise. I want to do a full flowing practice but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation. Since it is my abdomen giving me hell, I am just going to give it hell right back. With my ‘thousand crunches of doom’. The repetitive nature of the exercise clears up my fuzzy little mind and my irritability slips away, at least for the time being.

In the afternoon, the cramps threaten to return so I do another set of crunches of doom then plank, side plank, single leg lifts, reverse crunches and any other core exercise I can think of. When I practice asana, I generally leave out the core exercises, feeling like it turns my flowing yoga practice into too much of a workout. It’s like I think there is no room for the sacred when you do crunches. But today, I find the sacred in my crunches. Even though my body is moving, inside I find stillness. If nothing else, it is meditation in ACTION.

Day 85- hugging trees and kissing frogs

It is my last morning in the ashram so I wake up for the morning prayers at 5am. As I walk to the common area, I can feel wind on my scalp. I love that feeling. Several frogs leap out of my torch light and into the scrub. Frogs symbolise cleansing, inner beauty and opportunity through transition. I have been seeing them everywhere for the past 5 days and I have probably undergone more change in the past 5 days than the whole year! Shaving my head was certainly cleansing and I guessed comforted to know that there is a message of inner beauty as I struggle with the tennis ball fuzz that is my new hair do.

As I sit through prayers I find it hard to keep my mind still. It’s like I sucked in helium all night, it just keeps floating up and away. As I walk back to my room, I am blessed with a beautiful sunset and while trying to take a photo and walk at the same time, I stumble in a hole and twist my ankle. That would be the universe saying, “Get Grounded, Liz!” so I stop at a tree.

This grounding meditation I found a few weeks ago when I was flying to LA but all the city transits made it hard to find a good tree. When we got to the Mexican desert there was only cactus nobody wants to be hugging that! I have waited a long time to find the perfect tree for this meditation and when I look up at this tall palm tree in the dawn I know it is the right one. This tree has been helping me with handstands lately so it is already a friend. I also like picking the palm tree because a) I can get my arms around the trunk and b) the nature of the trunk draws water from leaves to roots so strongly that Indonesian people use the trunk upside down to build pillars of their homes as they suck the water from the roof down to the earth. I definitely need my energy to be pulled down to the earth so I approach the tree and kindly ask if I may have a chat. The tree answers in a booming voice… No, just kidding, trees don’t talk! (not that loopy yet) I place my hands gently on the wood and notice a rusty nail driven into it. I tell the tree what is going on in my life, any concerns or tensions. I tell it my deepest darkest secrets and worries and feel them all moving into the tree and down to the roots expanding beneath the earth under my feet. I finish talking and hug the tree.

As I sit down for a morning coffee I am blessed with a Monet sunrise. That would be nature hugging me back.

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Day 84- shaving my head… yes I will miss my long hair!

Hair, I will miss you. I will miss the way you tickle my back. I will miss the way you provide a pillow when I have none. I will miss your smell when I have washed you with coconut shampoo. Hair, I will miss the way you can make my face look pretty even when I have had no sleep and feel like crap. I will miss the mindless entertainment you provide when my mind is absent and I can curl my fingers around you. I will miss those times when I have come across a bad stench in the air I rely upon my hair to work like a filter and use it to cover my nose. I will miss the way you can shine in the sun and the way you feel after a macadamia oil treatment. But mostly I know that I won’t miss you for long. I know you will grow back faster than I expect and I know before long I will be struggling with baby hairs and frizz and split ends and cursing you for troubling me. I know that, like everything in life, our separation is only a temporary thing. Nothing is certain except the impermanent nature of the universe. You are a perfect example of that, hair.

I wake up and touch the long strands of hair that frame my head. I pour it over my face and breathe in through it. Then I flick it out of my face and sit up. It is a hot day in Candidasa and my hair is a huge mass of frizz already. The perfect day to chop it all off, really. At breakfast, I am talking to Janice, another ashram guest, who loves India and has shaved her head on the banks of the ganges. She suggests I go to the temple across the road for a short prayer before I head to the hairdresser. I cross the road and the Ibu at the gate wraps me in a sarong. The air cools as I ascend the steps. The temple is halfway up the mountain in the cold, dewy rainforest. As I ascend, the sounds from the road start to fade away. In the temple, I can hear only the sounds of the birds. The air is fresh and alone in this sacred moss-covered stone shrine, I open my palms and turn my face to the canopy. From within All I can hear, all I can think is “love”, pure love, unconditional love. Perfect clarity descends upon me: I am not my hair, I am not my clothes, I am not my tattoos. I am only that which is within.

I open my eyes and look around the temple. Churches may not make much sense to me, but here, amongst the moss covered stones and bird songs, I know that if there is god then god would live here.

As the electric shaver is taken to my head, I grow silent and solemn. It is not sadness that has overcome me, but a reverence in the knowledge that I do this to free myself from the bondage of vanity, to let go of the conditioning of society, to let go of the attachment to “pretty”and just to allow myself to be my authentic self. No masks, no strings, nothing to hide behind. This is me and I love me. Pure love. Unconditional love. With inner peace comes world peace. With love for self comes love for others. With detachment comes freedom.

Day 83- Nyepi the day of silence

I am not speaking today. Nyepi is a day of silence and meditation though it is well known fact that not everybody will be meditating all day. In the dry parts of Bali, where people depend upon rainfall for water, it is likely they will spend the day drinking palm wine. The roads are ruled by packs of dogs, free to wander. It is only the birds who have not been told about Nyepi. Or if they do know about it they just don’t care. Especially the roosters. I once met a man who said that one Nyepi he was playing the guitar when he got struck by lightening! But I’m not silent today out of fear, I enjoy the chance to just hold back on superfluous chatter and absent minded commentary. This is the first time in my life I have tried a whole day of silence. I actually really like it.

I spend the day meditating, doing yoga and reading about meditation. In my first meditation session, I simply stare at the water crashing up against the breakwall. I go upstairs into the attic to practice yoga and in savasana I have an epiphany about the flooded bathroom. The drain is blocked and two days of shower water covers the floor meaning anytime I want to go in there, I am standing in nearly ankle-high water. I realise it is time to bail out. I grab a bucket and start scooping all the water into the toilet. This works surprisingly well but I’m laughing hysterically at this situation. I’m bailing myself out of a bathroom. I feel like there is some underlying message in this for me. Am I sinking? Do I need to bail out of something in my life?

I am reading a free iBook called Introduction to Insight meditation. It is a short and simple guide to various Buddhist vipassana (insight) meditations. I enter the attic looking over the lotus pond. The lotuses have opened up for today like the thousand petalled lotus of my crown chakra which lets in the light of the universe. The meditation involves sweeping the attention over the entire body until it feels completely relaxed. I start at the head, paying particular attention to the face, and move down to the feet… When the mind wanders, the attention is brought back to the body to find presence. In complete stillness I resist the temptation to brush away the tiny ants tickling me as they crawl across my neck and back. Once the awareness is settled on the body and I am relaxed, I come to easy breath awareness. The best part is knowing that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, but sit here and meditate. I gently guide my attention back to my body several times and after half an hour I feel my eyes open on their own. I don’t remember giving them that command but it happens and I accept it.

After lunch I practice the same meditation and another asana practice. By 5pm I am again reading when something unusual happens. I speak. I don’t say anything important or really anything I can even remember. I don’t even realise I have done it until afterwards. It isn’t surprising that I crack my silence, what is surprising is that I found it so easy up until that point. I guess when I am one of the only ones here actually practicing silence it makes it easy to forget. I scan the skies for lightning among the dark rain clouds and check that the bathroom hasn’t flooded again. It seems I am forgiven for breaking my silence. Just in case, I keep my mouth shut.

Day 82- a day in the life at the Gedong Ghandi ashram

Situated in Candidasa, on the East coast of Bali is the Gedong Gandhi Ashram. It lies between an enormous lotus pond and the ocean and feels like one of the holiest places in Bali. I stayed here once before in April, 2010 and had one of those life changing experiences I will never forget. They remember me and even offer me the same bungalow to stay in this time. It is right next to a doorway made out of coral and wood. The door leads out to a break wall and in the distance beyond the clear blue water I can see the surrounding islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Lombok.

The morning puja begins just after 5am but in my eagerness I get to the common area at 4.30am. I sit in silent meditation and wait. I try a new technique today; instead of giving my mind something to focus on, I just give it ten minutes to think whatever it wants. I allow my inner dialogue to wonder why nobody has turned up yet for morning puja. Where is everyone? How embarrassing that I am sitting here alone. What if it isn’t on or I’ve come a whole hour too early? Maybe I should sneak off back to bed? I stop my thoughts. Ten minutes is up, guys. Let’s clear out. Who cares if you are the only one here. How great! You can meditate in peace before the puja.

After some time I get up and slowly walk back to the room. Just before I walk around the tiny school, I hear the bell ring. I’m probably equidistant between the common area and my bungalow but I don’t want to miss out. The morning puja is the best as it involves the Agnihotra, a small fire offering. Normally they burn dried cow manure patties but today they just use incense. The small collection of devotees of the ashram chant the morning prayers and I once again find stillness and peace.

The sun rises with the last of the prayers and I go back to the room. The young girls bring a thermos of hot water for tea or coffee soon after and my intention to practice asana is thwarted by more sleep.

The morning bell for breakfast rings around 8.30am and we are fed Bubur Nasi Hitam; black rice porridge and coconut milk, followed by crepes with shaved coconut and palm sugar. Hands down this is some of the best Indonesian food I have ever eaten in Bali. But I wonder if the food tastes better because we chant a prayer before each meal? One of my teachers, Twee, once said that food should always be honoured with a prayer before it is eaten because it goes through so much to get to our plates. Not only must it be grown and cared for, but it also passes through many hands to get to us. Considering the amount of energy someone can pass into things through touch, it makes sense to offer a prayer and perhaps clear out any residual ju-ju the food may have picked up along the way.

There is a tiny attic above the porch where a decent hour of hot yoga asana can happen. I push through my lethargy and make it happen twice today.

The wind carries away the sound of the lunch bell so we are late for the feast of fried tempeh, mixed vegetables, tofu and potatoes and fresh cucumbers from the garden. I seriously need to stop with the second helpings!

Kawi, who teaches yoga on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 4.30pm, comes around to apologise. There is no yoga today as they will be performing the Ogoh-Ogoh cleansing ritual in the village to clear the bad spirits out before Nyepi.

Afternoon tea is brought to the hut: tea, coffee and deep fried bananas. (I wish those things didn’t exist!)

Dinner is a tempeh curry, carrots and green beans, frittata and a vegetable fritter of some kind. Why does everything taste great once it’s been deep fried?

Evening prayer is at 7.30pm. By this time mosquito repellant is an absolute necessity.

Sleep comes quickly with the sounds of the ocean pounding the break wall. A distant lighthouse shines across the mosquito net around the bed; land is here.

Day 81- sci-fi meditations and the commercialisation of god

I can pretend to be the kind of literary snob that reads Victorian literature or Hemmingway but I have an undeniable weakness for science fiction. It is true that my secret shame is my addiction to Post-Apocalyptic novels and movies. I especially love a good zombie thriller. Never mind the fact that they scare me into quietly believing that a global pandemic could actually wipe out half the human race and leave the rest of us feeding off each other. I can’t help it.

Last night we sat up watching the new Transformers movie. Yes among the Terminator series, Jurassic Park and X-Men, I also love the metamorphous car/robot/aliens and secretly wish my car, Lola the Corolla, would one day stand up and save the world.

Anyway my point is that Sci-Fi movies have some seriously fantastic one-liners. Yoda (Star Wars) explains prana in the simplest way when he speaks of “the force” and I am guilty of quoting him when teaching. I don’t think it is a coincidence that if you flipped the ‘d’ upside down his name would be yoga.

Today, as we drive to the Gedong Gandhi Ashram in Candidasa, the hum of the bike engine is vibrating through my feet and driving me insane. I can’t handle that feeling. It makes my feet feel like they are going to rattle straight off my legs. I am silently cursing the bike for this irritating feeling when I remember one of my favourite lines from Terminator 4: Salvation.

“What is it that makes us human… It’s not something that you can program. It’s the strength of the human heart. The difference between us and the machines.”

It may not be a genuine buddhist quote or a meditative experience but it does remind me that this machine will continue to buzz through my feet whether I like it or not and I can’t change that. The only thing I can change is my own reaction. I can either sit here and grumble about it or I can get over it and enjoy the beautiful green Bali countryside.

We pass another motorbike that is packed with toys, mostly plastic balls and blown up figurines. I notice a small blow-up Krishna in his childlike form. Wow. The commercialisation of god. Later I notice him again spray painted on the side of a truck. Actually many of the trucks are painted with different gods and scenes from Hindu culture. Shiva, Ganesha, they are all there transporting earth around Bali, the island of the Gods.

When we arrive at the ashram I fall asleep and pretty soon it is dinner. After dinner I find meditation through the evening puja. I sit in the dark listening to the chants in Sanskrit, English and Bahasa Indonesia. Hearing Krishna’s name I remember the plastic effigy and the trucking deities. Really, whatever form god takes is irrelevant. In its simplicity, commercialisation or in the darkness of the night, faith is faith is faith. As long as you have it then isn’t that all that matters?

Speaking as a form of deity to the human race, Optimus Prime says:
“You may have lost faith in us but don’t ever lose faith in yourselves.”

Yep, I’m a nerd at heart.

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