Reflections From Bali On The Uncertain Nature of Life

This year I've been lucky enough to spend time in two countries known for their yoga expertise, their Hindu faith and their deep, ancient culture steeped in tradition and spiritual ritual - Indonesia (Bali) and India.  

In both countries, the rituals of life come first, but this post is specifically about Bali where I spent my Christmas holiday this year. I'm long over due to blog about India but that experience was so rich and full I haven't been able to distill it yet in my mind let alone on paper.


The Balinese insist that their temples are bigger and more grandiose than their homes, thus paying homage to their gods.  Their ceremonial dress is nicer and better kept than their everyday clothing.  They wash their ceremonial clothes after every wear, while their regular clothes are often stained or a tad dirty.  They don't do things because they are faster and more efficient, but because they are tradition, because this way of doing things is so full of meaning and purpose and honors something bigger and greater than their fleeting, earthly human desires.  I believe all of this faith leads to a life well lived, a life aware of our own lack of control over the basic forces around us.


During my 10 days in Bali, I stayed with a family (husband, wife and their 4 year old daughter) in a small village near the beach.  They had no wifi or internet service of any kind, barely any mobile reception and definitely no cable TV.  As a result, I had minimal, if any, connection and contact with the world outside of this village, let alone any pull to check my dead cell phone with it's constant beeping and attention seeking.  Life moves slowly but deliciously there (I didn't realize how much time my mobile gobbles up from my day until I was without it totally).  Every day, we were up with the sun, around 5:30am, to watch it slowly rise over the ocean, streaking the sea with a yellow pathway as if to heaven and painting the sky with yellows and oranges.  With no one as well as no possible way to text or instagram or Facebook the pictures to, I instead stood on the beach and just enjoyed the view.  How refreshing, actually living in the moment as it presents itself.


Yoga practice followed the sun rise, often joined by a few local Balinese people, and practiced on an abandoned house foundation overlooking the beach, surrounded by frangipani trees and butterflies.  My first day of practice, the two usual students were late and I was growing impatient and irritated.  By the second day, I quickly learned to occupy their time table, these guys were in no rush and felt no need to apologize for their tardiness, no stress over their lateness.  They simple showed up when they did, happy to see me and ready to go.  How refreshing.


Two hours of class flowed by with barely any effort as we faced the rising sun over the water.  The breeze blew across my skin, the heat slowly building with our poses but also to signal the day ahead.  Practicing outside, we were actually touching the earth below our feet and reaching for the sky above.  I felt grateful for this planet, for all her abundance and beauty and at the close of class, when we thanked the earth for all she provides us, I truly meant it.


With no one to be in touch with and no where to be, life is stretched out.  Time seems to expand and open up as if inviting me to dive inside.  Around 9/10am, the massage therapists, warung vendors and other beach hawkers arrived.  As they file onto the beach, each of them stops at the waters edge with their daily offerings of frangipani and other pink and yellow flowers nestled inside a handmade palm frond basket.  Through these offerings they are asking the gods for a bountiful and fruitful day in whatever form that may take.  They leave it all up to something or someone greater than themselves.  Because, after all, no matter how hard we try or how much we may want to believe we are, we are not in any sort of control over certain things in our life.


When I would ask some of the ladies, "good business today you think?".  "Will we have lots of sun today and no rain?"  They all answer the same way "we'll see".  Some days the tourists are aplenty and some days they're rare.  Some days the sun fills up the blue sky and some days by 11am the sky turns dark and thunder claps its warning of rain to come.  All of these things are beyond our control, even beyond our comprehension sometimes.  The Balinese know this intuitively and don't fight it.  They accept these uncertainties as part of life.  Westerners seem to fight these uncontrollable forces, myself among them.  watching the weather forecasts like a hawk, trying to predict the number of tourists based on past trends and a graph or two.  We grasp for any semblance of control we can muster over the things that are in fact uncontrollable (and most likely even unforecast-able).  I can't count the number of times I've been upset by the rain when the forecast called for sun.


When you ask a Balinese person to plan something in the future they never fully commit.  For the same reason, they don't know what's going to happen in the future, so how can they say with certainty that they'll do anything at all tomorrow.  "How about we go snorkeling tomorrow and then walk up the cliffs to watch the ocean?"  "I'm not sure, maybe, we'll see".  Because we won't ever really know.  We could die in our beds and not see tomorrow.  The rain could come early in the am and we couldn't be able to snorkel because the water would be cloudy.  The volcano could erupt again and we'd all have to evacuate or be stuck on the island without a return flight to Sydney.  Nothing in life is certain.  Plans can be made and well laid, goals can be set but a certain level of acceptance with the unknown and the possibility that they could all fall apart will make for a happier and more peaceful existence.  At least in my experience in trying to live like and with the Balinese for 10 days.  We'll see if I can keep up this mental attitude in Sydney!