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.

Day 80- preparing for the Hindu new year in Bali, Nyepi

It is raining, so getting out of bed isn’t appealing in the slightest except that I am hungry. They don’t call it comfort eating for nothing… In case none of my posts lately have made sense, have patience. They will. I am grappling with one of those typical moments in life where decisions meet actions. It is so easy to make a decision, but having the guts to follow through is another thing entirely. All I can say for now is that my spiritual path is taking me away from my relationship and it is something we both have to come to terms with. How exactly this is going to pan out, neither of us are certain, but we can only have trust that if we are meant to be, we will find a way. Yes it is terrifying to let go, but going inwards, on that path of self discovery, I can’t take anyone or anything with me. It is the ultimate sacrifice, the final detachment from my physical world.

As I sit up to meditate, still under the doona, I look at the time (10.52am) and I think 18 minutes. Closing my eyes I notice the sounds outside. The ceremonies have begun for the upcoming festival of Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu new year that happens this year on Friday 23rd March. It will be the year 1934 according to their calendar. I can hear that beloved rooster from next-door (yes beloved is a euphemism for a much more profane adjective), motorbikes, rain, coughing, voices and the distant sound of bells and gamelan as the crowds of devotees march to their temples. Everything that is going on in the outside world is outside of my skin, so I stay inside my skin. In Bahasa Indonesia the soul is called the Jiwa. Sometimes I think it resides in my gut, where the instinct comes from. Other times I feel it in my heart, where I choose to be led by. Sometimes I am sure it is in my head, behind the third eye. But then other times I swear I can feel it in my fingertips; in a moment of passion when my fingers go tingly with pins and needles, or holding the hand of someone (even a small child) and feeling their divine energy sweep through me. Maybe the jiwa is never in one spot for too long. Like electrons- if I remember anything from science it was that you can never accurately predict where an electron is going to be at any one time. I meditate being within my skin. The jiwa, atman, soul, spirt, true-self, dances like licking flames, curling and shifting within my skin. Everything else that happens to me; sounds, wind, people, relationships… all occur outside the skin.

When I open my eyes exactly 18 minutes have passed.

The roads are blocked with the march of Balinese playing various instruments, their drums covered in plastic bags, raincoats over sarongs and of course, the sunglasses. Just because you are wearing a skirt, doesn’t mean you can’t look cool. They move as a collective Jiwa, their procession a united offering to the gods. They will spend the next couple of days clearing the bad spirits and negative energy out of the island and then come to rest o the day of Nyepi in silence and meditation. The crowd marches with joy through the rain, carrying gongs and flags and even through the traffic, I fall in love with Bali all over again.

Day 79- listen to your heart

Peace on the inhale. Patience on the exhale. This is my meditation.

It is so hard when I feel deep inside my intuition is guiding me one way but on the outside, someone I love and obey unquestionably is telling me something else. At the end of the day you must let yourself be your guide and trust that this is happening for a reason.

Peace I take in and patience I give out.

Day 78- seeking guidance from within

I dream of my left thumbnail. It has cracked straight down the middle and is coming off. The left side is feminine and the thumb means power.

There are many things in this world I can’t change. I can’t change the time the sun comes up. I can’t change the tides. I can’t change other people. And I can’t change the way I feel. Impermanence is the only thing that is certain and the sooner we accept that, the easier it will be to accept the changes that happen to us.

I close my eyes and move up the hill, to the inner temple. The wind is whipping around me and the sky is dark an cloudy. My true self sits inside the temple. She is calm and she has a smile on her face. She points to the ocean, over the cliff. There is a whirling vortex in the water looking dark and menacing. My true self wants me to jump but I’m scared. She holds my hand and promises not to let go. She promises we will be ok and she will always be with me.

Day 77- I’m sorry

I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

My meditation starts with ear candling but aside from the therapist’s insistence on showing me everything she digs out of my ear, she also digs a bit too deep and my left ear is throbbing throughout the day. I then steep my feet in water full of tiny fish who suck and nibble at the dead skin. The first couple of seconds make me giggle like crazy and then ultimately there is nothing left but surrender and trust. I finish the meditation with a Thai massage but the masseuse doesn’t dress me in the usual outfit so I feel her hands dragging at my skin. All over, of the three therapies, it is the fish I enjoy most. But today has to be a day of difficulty.

Change hurts and solitude can be terrifying but I find that no matter what anyone says, there is a voice inside telling me that I am doing the right thing because we are given intuition for a reason and if we always listen to it, it will never lead us astray.

Jane Hershfield wrote of Siddhartha;
“But there is no knowledge won without sacrifice. And this is one of the hard truths of human existence. In order to gain anything you must first lose everything.”

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