Learning Presence in Bali 2017

I had strange dreams I hardly remember but have left me feeling groggy. Unsure of my role, perhaps mother, older sister, or father I take out fine China plates with an orange, yellow, and white mandala design on each one. I set places for the many siblings present who ranged widely in age. Someone asks me why we were using these plates. “It’s a special occasion today,” I reply. I’m looking at our family photos and wake up thinking, if only I could remember those familiar faces I have never seen. 

Today is a special occasion. Nine of us girls are being guided by Gusti and Katook on a midday 3 hour hike in the blazing heat. In the rice fields, farmers straighten and fold to the rhythm of their work. They are the live action to the stillness of a straw and lush, green scene. Wading shin-deep in a river offers little relief; we are all struggling in the sun. Each of us naturally takes turns hanging back with a slower mover or checks in on the group member who is exhaling through pursed lips, eyes closed to redirect the stings of sweat droplets striping the forehead. 

The heat I feel against my skin is nothing to the heat that will be radiating from it next week. I don’t yet know that my body will run a 38.5 degree fever, one that smokes my vision and convinces me I’m on fire. My professor will hold my hand when she walks me to the clinic so I can be tested for Dengue. It’s the same hand that high-fives me when the doctor delivers good news to her lodge. 

Farmers working

The flaming glow emanating from my body has to be the “hot energy” that brought the snake to my bedroom. My roommate and I stared at the loose black coil in the center of our room. The groundskeeper who removed him said snakes only appear on holy days and congratulates us on the blessing the snake’s presence has brought. They are attracted to hot energy, and I exchanged a knowing nod with my roommate that this was no coincidence yet we had no understanding about its meaning for us.

What was left in our room after the snake was removed

This afternoon post hike, we spend 3 hours in silence and solitude. In a grassy patch overlooking the valley, isolated and surrounded by shrubbery, a thin man appears. He is very old looking as if he were Father Time without the cascading beard and brown cloak. His strength defies his age as he hacks decisively through overgrowth with a large machete. The long curve of its blade acts as an extension of his arm. I observe him with few thoughts.

I have never known myself to have such slow thinking and an almost muted mind. On our first day we prayed in a temple. I listened to the words and quietly contemplated who I am talking to. We’re given representative flowers as prayer props. White for the sun god. After holding them between our thumbs against our third eye, the used flowers fasten our hair tucked behind our ears. I swallow exactly 3 grains of raw rice and water droplets paste 3 more grains to my forehead. I wanted so desperately to feel something.

The entrance of a home temple for daily prayer
Flowers growing for the purpose of ceremonial and prayer use

We joined a collective prayer ceremony, and I felt something. Our group rushed in to squeeze for spots and an incense stick. The wave of people who just finished filed out and the new wave replaced. I closed my eyes to breathe in the chanting over the loud speaker. At once, a vibrating cloud hovered over the crowd. It felt like an overwhelming sensation of unity and oneness. All of the individuals’ energies rose to merge with the cloud. 

Each morning and evening we meditate for about an hour. The first time, alone on my cushion, I felt a newfound sense of self-love. A home within myself and deep appreciation. This year has been hard for me. I’ve felt depressed and disconnected. All of this love I was feeling needed to be shared. I began by sending beams of the outpouring love one by one to everyone in the room. It’s magical how direct this felt, so I tried this for others on the other side of the world. I brought each of my family members to mind, each friend, my roommates, and even some of the people who haven’t made this year any easier. I thought of my most favorite teachers, and as they all entered I felt their energy as if they pulled up a cushion next to me.

At an evening meditation thunder and lightening seemed to be thinning the walls of the circular meditation room. I focused on the pattering and thunking of individual raindrops that together held one long note. The word “power” came to mind. I heard it and saw its letters behind my eyelids. Meditating is empowering, it gives me everything I crave, yet I can’t seem to make a habit of it. I know what’s good for me and refuse it. 

Angles of the meditation room in Sidemon

Moving from the machete man, I keep trying to walk around to examine the vibrant flowers and growth, but I have become too exhausted to continue making trips back to the bathroom. When I grant my body what it needs, I slip into a simultaneous daze and doze. An unprompted pang of sadness pumps from my heart through my veins. Rather than automatically analyze it, I roll over into compassion. I don’t analyze my happiness, so let’s sleep with the sadness. 

The growing self-compassion helps me to accept the results of my turn effortfully sharing in the group about my experience and tentatively prying myself open. I think about the power in my meditation, and how I wished myself sick. Every few days a member of the group would sit out with upset stomach or extreme fatigue.

Our group dynamic changed without them, and their energy was always noticeably missing. I couldn’t help thinking what the group would be like without my presence. I really wanted to know and on the final day found out. My sick mind desperately craving connection and demanding what it was that I offered to the group had a Munchausen’s-like effect. My thoughts created the reality as quickly as biting a poisonous apple.

The renowned healer of Indonesia, ageless, and who we waited an entire day to see first come first serve diagnosed me with over-thinking. He poked various areas until the pads of his pointer fingers felt like the tip of that machete to my temples. The translator didn’t pick up what he said to me quietly looking deeply into my eyes. I hope you will be okay is what repeated in my head, though I tried not to overthink it.

The grounds I explored in silence and solitude pre-nap

When I joined the group after solitude and silence, my professor spoke intentionally. She is here in her element with her husband she met in the Peace Corps, the two of them psychologists who have been flying to Indonesia together for over 20 years. She pointed out the distant chanting that was the lullaby to my melancholic sleep. She said how comforted she felt by the chanting because the monks were praying on behalf of all of us.

With vibrant energy and cleared healthy to fly the next day, I joined the closing ceremony an hour late. I saw bright, smiling faces full like the moon above us glowing in the light of the blazing fire. Joining the circle was better than I imagined because it was the satisfaction of placing the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. I felt like I completed the watercolor printed image.

I sat on my legs wrapped tightly in my formal sarong and sash as if my body were accordion-folded. The other girls had thrown into the fire what they want to manifest in the world. I had already tasted my ability to manifest, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the word I would’ve thrown in—healing

The monk caught me up to the moment swiftly dusting my forehead with charcoal and tying a twisted black, white, and red string bracelet to my wrist. The bracelet signified my membership in the community and was to remind me to be present. 

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