Since my return from Singapore, a series of tectonic shifts in my inner and outer landscape have shaken me up from deep inside my core.
It all began with news of a case of cancer recurrence overseas. The waiting and wondering seems amplified somehow by the vast oceans separating us, the different time zones. It colors nearly everything I do on a daily basis since then; it inevitably inserts itself into my prayers and thoughts.
And the skyquakes. As if an earthquake or two weren’t enough. A somewhat violent introduction to Bali’s rainy season has thus far included a number of incredibly turbulent and thunderous storms, nearly always beginning in mid-afternoon – prompting me to shake, shiver and dive under my pillow to block out the bone-chilling kabooms.
Bringing back stark reminders of monsoon season in Nepal, when locusts and cicadas spewed forth from the ground and trees, here the thunderstorms and downpours have unleashed creatures that hibernate unseen during dry season: poisonous green snakes creeping up through drainage gates and in temple water-pool; twirling, flapping moth-like insects (dedalu in Balinese) that continue to whirl around even after two of their four wings are plucked off.
Water in my bathroom – or the lack thereof, especially hot – was a near-constant source of simmering frustration and impatience. Cold showers in the morning, even while living in the tropics, are not always and for everyone a desirable way to the start the day. I’m sure Ngurah heard my shrieks through the screened windows, but if he did, he never seemed affected by them; oh, still no hot water? Are you sure?
Then there was the case of flying glass. Or more precisely: exploding AND flying glass. Sending shards all over the bathroom floor. Right over the toilet – just as I walked in. No explanation. Ngurah, still unaffected, brought in his handyman, who guaranteed that it would not happen again. A guarantee, I asked? It was all I could do not to laugh…a Balinese guarantee is a novel and, as far as I can tell, non-existent concept.
Then a crisis of confidence: My ex-pat yoga teacher invited me to participate in a Balinese ceremony called (pe)mewinten – held yesterday in honor of Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, enlightenment and creativity. Almost by accident, I learned from a Balinese friend that mewinten is a sacred purification ceremony meant to be undertaken only by Balinese Hindu who have already undergone other, lesser ceremonies that comprise rites of passage from birth to death.
Hearing this planted a seed of doubt in my mind, sending me off on a steep learning curve about mewinten, asking friends and Balinese learned elders for guidance.
Ultimately, unsure about the sanctity or rightness of participating, I expressed my sense of conflict to my teacher. Her reaction threw me off: She had apparently never had a student challenge her authority and decisions in these matters; she expected blind and unconditional acceptance (as she had gotten from all those who preceded me) and my doubt and questions ruffled her feathers and rankled her so that she blurted out insinuations and insults – only to rethink later and apologize.
Another near-crisis of confidence, with Kadek, my deep tissue healer. Details aside, he treaded on thin ice. It shook me up, shifted things around, triggered me in ways I hadn’t expected. But then, he too apologized and, with his understated, wise and blessed ways, laid his hands on my head and back, ‘refreshed’ my all-too-busy mind – until I fell limp and disoriented into his arms – and healed and lightened my psychic load.
As if my soul knew it needed to bring a close to some seismic shifts of the past week or so, I headed out to holy springs today with my Balinese friend Manis. The day after Hari Raya Saraswati, Banyu Pinaruh, is an especially auspicious day to purify, pray for good health and cleanse oneself.
Getting on the back of a bike at 5 am is not exactly my idea of a good time, but driving through the Balinese countryside at dawn, alongside hundreds of others in traditional dress (covered up by down jackets on their bikes) on their way to pray, make offerings and purify themselves in holy water, was an exercise of faith – and of re-setting my spiritual compass.
We first drove to the mother of all holy springs, Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring. It is an exquisite but overwhelming sight, hundreds of people lining up and wading through the pools as dawn breaks (many had already dunked themselves through the previous night), edging towards the spouts from which spews forth holy spring water. Offerings and smoke rising from incense rendered the scene even more dramatic. But, in no mood to shove through the crowds, we set off again, just after six o’clock, to Mengening, a short drive away.
Mengening, a jewel in the jungle. A steep descent leads to a wondrous sight of temple, holy spring, children playing in the water, women scrubbing and shampooing, others arriving in full dress to lay offerings and pray at the shrine. I begged off because of the early-morning chill, but Manis joined the others, with offerings, praying and purifying in the water. She emerged and dressed, arriving a vision of purity and holiness – all in white and lace. Looking like a princess. I felt that I was in the presence of spirit.
And then, off to Gunung Kawi. Another gem of nature. Arriving still in the early hours of the morning to a nearly-empty site: Eleventh century caves and shrines carved into the hillside. Temples. Lush greenery, bridges, rushing water, shrines everywhere. We prayed. We meditated. Manis sat, I lay on my back, and we talked on a stoop overlooking rice paddies dazzlingly bright in the twinkling of the sun’s first rays.