Three Lessons from Bali, the Land of the Gods
My husband and I recently spent a week in Bali in celebration of 10 years of marriage. Strong in its traditions and daily Hindu ritual, the lifestyle in Bali is an experience of spirituality like no other place I have visited. The island hacks culture in the most extraordinary way, embracing its traditional identity while continuously adapting modern expressions of art, technology, music, and design to create an environment and energy of balance and harmony.
As we moved around the island it seemed like we were traveling through time. We began in the north in an area called Pemuteran Bay, which was our favorite part of Bali, culturally intact and not over populated with tourists. From there, we went to the cultural center of Bali, Ubud, which is teeming with hipsters, expats, and artists melding to create a robust collision of East meets West.
We meditated in century-old temples, swam with over a hundred different species of fish, observed the progress of a coral reef restoration project, and participated in a full moon ceremony which just happened to fall on our anniversary—Feb 14th—a day dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of art and knowledge. We bonded with the Balinese Hindu people wherever we went, visited the amazing environmentally-focused expats’ Green School, absorbed the culture and art of Ubud, slept on the edge of rice paddies, played with monkeys in a monkey forest, and ate our way through the island, enjoying as many native Balinese dishes we could discover.
In between all that, we learned three extraordinary things:
It’s all about karma
Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation and if you want to return in your next life to a better life you better have good karma. To achieve good karma, you have to do right by others, take good care of yourself, actively participate in Hindu rituals, and meditate and pray daily. This made brilliantly good sense to us and we committed to try to adopt this approach.
You don’t need to be religious to appreciate this lesson, which is really just about cause and effect. For us, participating in prayer, ritual, and flower offerings created a great ripple effect of luck, which was a nice reminder of how much of life experiences are created by the energy you put out into the universe.
For example, upon arrival to the Denpasar airport, Stephen left his camera somewhere between the baggage area and customs, and when we realized it was gone, we assumed it was lost forever. At the airport eight days later, preparing to head home, we decided to visit customs to see if our camera had been found. After a few phone calls, a customs agent delivered our camera back to us. Apparently another customs agent had taken it, brought it home, and returned it because he didn’t want bad karma. Crazy but true—karma is a great accountability measure to live by. Remember there is a divine justice in life and the more good you do, the more good you will experience.
Tat tvam asi (I am you and you are me)
In Bali, all things are seamlessly connected and there is a feeling of togetherness and oneness that creates a calm, raw kind of happiness in people. This gentle bliss is felt in everyday life and informs the way people treat one another, as well as how they treat visitors, animals, and the environment.
Next time you are being challenged by someone—a colleague at work, a family member, or even a stranger—repeat this mantra to yourself, “I am you and you are me.” You will find that where your focus had previously been on your own discomfort or aggravation or anger, it is now on what the other person is feeling or thinking. Empathy is one of the most powerful human forces (second only to love, I think) and this simple perspective—I am you and you are me—allows you to tap into that force in all of the everyday moments that so often drag us down.
Don’t bring bananas to a monkey forest
We visited a sacred monkey forest in Ubud and upon entry bought bananas to feed to the monkeys. Looking back on it, I can see that this was a bad choice! Twenty seconds after putting bananas into our backpacks, a monkey jumped on Stephen’s back and stole his entire bunch. While my bananas remained safe underneath my shirt we continued on our hike to the monkey temple. Once we reached the temple, I decided it was there that I would share my fruit as an offering to these sacred animals. I had no sooner begun to take the bananas out when I was descended upon by monkeys from all sides. It was a little dicey for a minute there, but I managed to share the bananas with several monkeys. When I got to my last banana, I reached out to offer it to a big monkey, who gracefully, almost shyly accepted it.
Once he was done enjoying his banana, however, his demeanor quickly changed from cute, cuddly monkey to feisty, angry monkey and he jumped on my leg and dug into my pockets looking for more. Frustrated not to find the bananas he suspected I was hiding from him, he bit my leg. That quickly ended the fun and I had to go to the First Aid station to clean and dress my small wound. It all turned out fine, but you see why I can’t ignore the oddly profound lesson I learned—don’t bring bananas to a monkey forest.
Join me on a trip to Bali in February 2015
Stephen and I loved Bali so much we have decided to curate a multi-sensory group retreat for 12 days of personal growth through travel. If you are interested, please email me directly for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.