Since I arrived in Ubud nearly one year ago, many people have recommended an assortment of healers to me. The name of one balian/shaman (Balinese traditional healer) came up many times: Tjokorda Rai. I read about him, heard many stories about him, met his friends (especially foreigners who raved) but still hemmed and hawed about seeing him; I was wary about the post-EPL (Eat, Pray, Love) effect, wherein healers had rapidly morphed into minor celebrities, included on the checklists of many a single woman’s trip to Bali. So over many months, I vacillated.
But then, B texted me out of the blue a couple of days ago – right in the midst of my gloom – to say she was going to see Pak Rai. I asked if I could go along. Sorry no, she replied, Made is driving me by motorbike. Oh well. But then, her driver’s plans changed and well… time, place, purpose, spirits and my angels finally aligned themselves. I knew in an instant that it was the right time to go.
Welcome to Bali. The Island of the gods – and synchronicity.
Tjokorda Rai (aka Cokorda Rai) is the grandson of the last King of Ubud. He is a renowned Balinese healer and shaman who began to use his gift of communing with deities and spirits over forty years ago. Tjok Rai still sees Balinese people who come by in full dress. But tourists by the busload and celebrities from around the world also descend upon his royal compound of Puri Negari, a short drive from Ubud, eager for consultations, for healing, for cures.
My neighbor Gede drove B and I out to Negari early yesterday morning; early enough to avoid the throngs that would arrive throughout the day. We entered the expansive compound, a secret garden filled with overhanging trees, multiple bales (pavilions), and three dogs that surrounded us in moments. We stood on the steps of the healing bale, awaiting his arrival… shortly heralded by the whooshing sound of Tjokorda Rai waving his dogs away.
Already in his 80s, Tjok Rai is as sprightly and energetic as men less than half his age; his second wife is apparently younger than his daughter. He is tall and gangly, draped in sarong and cotton shirt, a mala dangling around his neck. He is undeniably charismatic, radiating warmth and a brilliant smile; he carries the knowledge of his spiritual and healing powers with a dose of humility. There’s a sparkle in this eye – even when he speaks with utter seriousness.
Pak Rai sat on a chair and, like the royalty that he is (only by virtue of lineage), summoned me to his side. As I approached, he took one short look up and down and announced – as if it was the most obvious thing in the world: your sacrum…between L1 and L5 something is not right. I stared at him in astonishment, then remembered that the Chinese doctor in Kuala Lumpur had conducted a body scan just last year, with similar pronouncements.
Gede explained that I was to sit on the floor, my back towards Tjok Rai – and my legs stretched out in front of me. Yikes! I hesitated, scooted back to my bag on the floor and pulled out my pillow. As I settled onto the pillow, Tjok Rai was already tsk-tsk-ing me; what’s this with the pillow, you must sit down on the floor, right on the ground! You need to absorb the energy that comes from the earth. I know, I said, but it’s too painful. Can I sit on the pillow? And in lotus position? More pshaw-ing from the master: The pain, it’s all in your head.. what have the doctors done to you?!
He held nothing back, this grand old man. He called me on everything: I was coddling my body, protecting it, not letting myself heal through and past the pain. He rambled on about my Kundalini energy being blocked, the energy not moving through my system, the snakes being stuck…
Once I’d begun to make sense of this healer’s rantings, without warning Pak Rai placed the palms of his hands on my scalp, then moved them down to either side of my head, around my face and then.. right into my ears. He pushed and prodded, commenting on various parts of my body; this is fine, this also.
I laughed some more.
I was then signaled to lie down on the bamboo matting and when I pleaded for my pillow, he exclaimed: why the pillow?! You must lie your back directly onto the ground, you need to absorb the earth’s energy! Unwilling to subject myself to further castigation, I removed the pillow and lay right on the thin matting, the bump on my sacrum in close proximity to the hard marble floor below.
Tjok Rai sat on the ground near my feet and picked up the healer’s ubiquitous tool, a small branch. I tensed up at the mere thought of what was coming next: He poked the pointed end into various meridian points on each toe of my left foot. Your liver, ok. Your pancreas, ok. Your spleen, ok. Your heart, ok. All was well.
Then, YOWZA! Oh, he said, that’s pain in your mind. I told you, he continued, your mind is too busy, your imagination is working all the time, thinking up bad things, making up stories, worrying too much! And then another painful piercing on the side of another toe; that’s the physical pain, ok. So everything is ok except for your mind really, your mind and body are not well connected.
I didn’t laugh that time.
He continued to reprimand me for my (involuntary) stubbornness, for my tentativeness, the caution he observed in my stance: you must stop with the fear. You think it is pain, but it is only your mind telling you that. At which point he reached for my left leg, lifted it up and banged it down on the floor. My bad luck: he’d used my left leg, the one with thinner padding, the one I rarely put down on hard surfaces; the one that still feels like a vice is wrapped around it, squeezing itself into every muscle and vessel in the foot. But he would have none of it, none of my holding back. You must let it touch the ground! You must let it drop hard,.. at which point he began to jump up and down, banging his feet strongly onto the ground.
I laughed yet again.
Suddenly, without warning: a shift. He stood at the edge of the matting, closed his eyes and placed the bottoms of his feet against mine. Without introduction, Pak Rai began whispering mantras and god-knows-what, twirling his hands around in front of him, drawing mandalas in the air. He waved his arms over my body, and in moments he was done.
Sitting by my lower left leg once again, he pinched the same points on my toes with the branch. Something had evidently shifted in my mind because, whereas earlier I had nearly leapt from the floor out of agony, now there was no pain. But still, the point of physical pain remained tender and hyper-sensitive to his touch.
B was up next. Tjok Rai, his fingers prancing about her head, pronounced her healthy all around. So what are you doing here, he asked. She raised her hands and explained: arthritis. Not so serious, he said. But, he continued, you need to have peshin. We were stumped, what was he referring to? Finally Gede said: I think he means passion. And so he did.
The healer pontificated further, while B watched him with a smile sneaking up on her face: You must stand in front a mirror each day. You smile. (Not like that, like this, big smile!) Then you reach out to yourself in the mirror, you take the smile, you bring it to your mouth, stick out your tongue and put it on your tongue (not the lips, don’t put your smile on your lips!). Then you must swallow your smile. Yes, those were his exact words: Swallow your smile.
As we drove away I felt a lightheaded-ness that I hadn’t for days; perhaps borne partly from Tjok Rai’s spirits and spells, and partly from freeing myself of the dead-weight I’d been carrying around for a couple of days.
Here’s what I realized about Tjokorda Rai: He’s not just a healer and shaman, not just a man that connects with the divine and with spirits; but he is also a jokester, a comic and a sage – and an everyman too.
He was sweet, good for the body and soul.
Just what I needed, right when I was hungriest for it:
A hearty dose of Tjokolate.*
* Although I mean it in the most respectful way, I also think Tjokorda Rai would appreciate the humor 🙂
**PLEASE NOTE: Before you write to me about contacting Tjokorda Rai, I kindly request that you only do so IF you have a bona fide physical or mental health issue that would require healing in your own country, if such healing existed. If you are a tourist coming to Bali, and are merely curious about meeting Tjok to broaden your horizons or simply for the experience of meeting a healer, I’d ask that you kindly refrain from contacting me. Thank you!**