Living at the Edge

Some people are not cut out to live on the edge – of a construction site.

I learned that fact earlier this week, when I arrived in Tabanan, at P’s meditation retreat center – a.k.a. a work in progress, every day looking less like a motley assortment of hardware, materials and abandoned one-room buildings that some crazy gods may have inadvertently and haphazardly dropped in the middle of Bali.

Truth be told, when I spend time up at P’s place, we don’t actually sleep on-site; there’s a lovely 2-floor house, bathroom included, that overlooks the site, a mere 5 minutes’ walk away. Ok, so it also overlooks a shoddy-looking massive corrogated steel storage shack and sleeping quarters (gudang) – temporarily erected in the midst of the rice fields, smack dab in the middle of a picturesque view of the Batu Karu mountain range. And yes, the daily drilling, sawing, hammering sounds are reminder enough that silence (did I mention this center will be for silent meditation?) is mostly still elusive.

So, when I met the Belgian monk-in-training who’d arrived one week earlier and had become instantly smitten with the place, promising P that he would stay a few weeks, then fly to Nepal to pack his belongings and return to stay… well.. for a very, very long time (eliciting an enthusiastic response from P), I expected him to be around for well.. a very, very long time.

However, when P returned to the house in the evening with news of the not-quite-monk’s departure (what, he already left?!), I admit that I was blindsided. Another one bites the dust. Here was yet another in a growing line of visitors (some, friends of P) who arrived bearing goodwill and solid intentions of settling in for at least one year or more. None lasted more than a few months, tops.

These sudden, unexpected departures made me wonder: sure, it’s a construction site, with bamboo poles, wood posts, panels, nails, bolts and chain-smoking Javanese laborers everywhere – if you saw them balancing themselves on slanted roofs in nothing more than flip-flops or bare feet, you’d certainly call THAT living on the edge!

Of course there is sawing, shaving, beveling; there is flotsam and jetsam all over the place, motorbikes with the boys delivering huge bags of cement, wood and tiles. Under the midday sun, deliveries are delayed, trucks spin their wheels in mud trying to get unstuck, towel-turbaned women (yes, women!) shovel truckloads of dirt onto great mounds on the ground while their driver stands in the shade with his arms crossed, watching, commenting,joking – not lifting a finger.

There is dust and noise and pollution and Bintang (local beer), men with towels wrapped around their midsection heading off to the stream for a washing; shards of wood, waylaid nails, used foil packets of soap and shampoo.

Yes, yes, there is all of that. But wait. There is more. So much more!

There are rice fields and mountains, blue sky and sunshine, low-lying clouds, jungles and forests nearby; there are coconut, cacao and papaya trees, a gargantuan organic garden sprouting like mad – broccoli, kale, rosemary, eggplants, dill.. never mind a whole host of medicinal plants.

Priests chanting and women singing at a nine-day temple festival across the valley; roosters crowing, cicadas and crickets and birds and bees and butterflies and dragonflies and caterpillars and ants – oh so many ants. 

In the village, rice farmers lumbering through in rubber boots, pirated brand-name t-shirts and bamboo hats; 5-year old Rizky playing with his traditional Balinese racing car (of bamboo, hand-crafted by his guitar-playing dad); Yupi inquiring about English lessons; her neighbor scrubbing his chicken with soap under a tap; another neighbor revving by on a motorbike, one arm partly hugging his toddler daughter perched precariously in front while gripping the handlebar, the other palm holding an over-sized canvas bag stuffed with freshly-cut grass stashed behind him; the warung owner peddling fried tofu and prawn crackers to a small crowd; 1.5 cars, 10 motorbikes, 3 bicycles and 1 overhead fluorescent lamp to light the shortest stretch of road this side of Ubud.

If I live on the edge of anything, while in Tabanan, it’s on the edge of my (interminably hot) seat, because it is here that I get to live, eat, work, read, write, reflect, do yoga, breathe and walk in harmony with – and up close to – nature; watching the grass and weeds and vegetables grow, marveling at how the sun and moon share at once the same sky, reveling in the sweet sounds of near-silence (yes, there is even silence) that descend from the night sky.

But even more than living on the edge, I’m loving living at the edge – of mountains, rice terraces, endlessly changing landscapes, visions, dreams and one dead end road that may seem to lead to nowhere except the busy and noisy proyek. And yet, in more ways than one, believe it or not, it’s the edge of paradise.

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