as published in Bali Inspired Magazine
"Be the change you want to see in the world," spoke the beloved freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. For years, this sentiment has been glowing away in helvetica at the bottom of my emails and, in a sense, this message describes what brings me here to Bali. Like many of my new friends, I have journeyed in search of my own authenticity. To look within, if you will. As an urban yoga teacher, I spent most of my time helping others relax, meditate and become embodied. Through my own meticulous self-care regimen - mind and body - I was maintaining sanity, but only barely by the end. I made it out, finally realizing my dream of coming to Bali! It hasn’t all been butterflies and frangipanis, true that, but it is a blessing to be in a place that honors Spirit and respects the importance of the inner realms. And yet, as magical as it is here, it is often easy to forget why I came. It's easy to sleep in, to shorten my meditation (just like home). It's easy, on this sacred island, to feel over-sensitive and moody, and the next moment blissful. To be irritated by the little ants incessantly crawling across my sticky skin. Easy to get busy. To get lazy. To get worried.
This morning would be different - I was going to be productive. Laptop in tow, I make my way to begin working over cappuccino, Wi-Fi in the jungle. It is a hot, bright morning in Penestanan Kaja. My short stroll along the moss covered path to Yellow Flower Cafe winds beneath avocado and banana trees, plumeria blossoms waft a sweet scent from below. As the small footpath opens to the serene cave that is Yellow Flower, I see the Balinese owner sitting with members of his family and staff, playing a guitar and singing devotional songs. My timing is perfect. Sweet respite - music, Wi-Fi, caffeine. Another day on the Island of the Gods. There are no customers about and the young women are all dressed beautifully in lace ceremonial clothing, in fuschia and orange, teal and yellow - sashes and sarongs alike. "Upachara hari ini?" I ask, is there a ceremony today? "No ceremony, please join us!" This muscled, bulk of a Balinese man extends his hand to welcome me, with a gentle light in his eyes I have rarely seen. His beautiful newborn baby is watching his every move from a lap nearby, listening to every musical note with intense focus and fatherly love. This child is adored by so many, always surrounded by family and friends, held by abundant loving arms. I sit down on the bright pink sofa nearby and start humming along. Classic Bali moment. As they chant to Ganesh, OM Gum Ganapatayai Namaha, my original plan of busting out my technology flies out the window! I am loving this moment. The devotional songs conclude in a prayer. Heads bow, frangipani blossoms lift to third eyes. Many of the mantras I know from yoga. I close my eyes and listen, whispering along, and feel a stirring in my heart.
After my makan pagi and perfect froth are delicately placed before me, the kitchen staff join in to pray around the long table. With hands to hearts, incense burning and offerings coloring the place, prayers lift to the unseen world. There is no doubt of the reality of this invisible realm. This big difference between Western and Balinese cultures is precisely why some visitors feel more at home in Bali than back in their mundane Western origins. Surely, I am blessed to have a vibrant spiritual community back in California, but a reverence for Spirit is not what spins American culture. Back home the spiritual life is private, separate from everyday life. Faith in money and technology dominates. Here in Bali, there is no question that Gods exist. Spirits must be placated, both the benevolent and the demons, as the little offerings are placed everywhere, everyday. There is no question that each moment is precious and family and ceremony are of utmost importance. "God can call us back at any moment," my Balinese friend explains. "That’s why we enjoy life and make the most of each moment. We are just temporary visitors in this world; we never know when our time here is up." He smiles as he tells me this, clear about his place in this world, in his temporary visit on earth. The prayer at Yellow Flower continues, formalizing with each mantra. Out comes the holy water, the little hand gestures in perfect synchronicity. I am feeling blessed as I witness in silence, sitting behind my poached eggs and cappuccino. Time stretches out and slows down around us. My breath, sunlight through the lush green view, the soft moist air, and the sounds of the morning jungle. The veil between the worlds is thin. The Gods receive. For the duration of the prayer no customers arrive, no one is on the path, and there are no interruptions. This moment, this wonderful moment! This is why I came to Bali. To be here - in this moment, and this one, and this...
When we stop to breathe, listen, and feel what is around us - time slows down. When we communicate with the Divine within and all around us, the time/space continuum shifts. It is truly magical. A typical morning for me is suddenly transformed into a sweet meditation at Yellow Flower Cafe. Once again, I am pulled out of my spinning mind and into this beautiful life that is happening, now. This is one of the many great gifts of Bali, the gifts that draw us here in droves. At a new level, it hits me: how important it is to preserve this place!
The Balinese culture creates a virtual container; it holds a space of healing for all who visit here. The sad thing is that our very presence as visitors threatens the Balinese way of life. According to the Ministry of Tourism, nearly three million tourists came to Bali in 2012 and this number is expected to increase each year. Many expats continue moving to the island, creating more garbage, leasing land and opening businesses. It has happened, it is happening. We just can not get enough of this sacred place and its incredible smiling people. We receive so much here. This change is unstoppable. So how can we, as grateful hearts and respectful visitors, help preserve Bali? How can we be the change we want to see in the world?
We all must ask ourselves this question. The answer will be different for each of us because wherever we may roam - we bring our baggage with us! Many of us arrive here ready for a change, in need of healing, open to inspiration. And Bali delivers. We receive, we expand, we transform. So how do we show our gratitude?
We do not always give and receive from the same source, the Universe does not necessarily work that way. What is important is that we practice both giving and receiving. As a visitor, traveler, expat, or cultural refugee (now often called spiritual tourist), we must respect and revere Balinese culture, its people and this environment. We must acknowledge that Bali holds incredible space for so much healing to occur.
My own contributions have been humble, from Bahasa class to volunteering - I am always discovering new ways to love Bali! I am inspired by all of the positive things happening, and the conscious people I continue to meet here in Bali. Donate, integrate, educate. Whatever you choose, make it personal and from the heart. Let's be the change! What is your gratitude offering? I guarantee your heart will sing from sharing it.
Sarah Jenness is a recently recovered urban yogini, currently residing in the Here and Now of beautiful Ubud.