Bali felt like one giant, maternal hug. I now get why people have described this island in Indonesia as “magical” and “rejuvenating” and “peaceful.”
However, Bali also transcends these descriptions. That’s the problem with the question, “How was it?” and the reliance on language to try and encompass a wave of experience and emotions when you return from traveling.
To me, these adjectives — “magical” and “rejuvenating” and “peaceful” — could also describe a superficial tropical getaway that involves sunscreen, colorful drinks with umbrella straws, tropical massages and paperback beach novels.
Bali is not that. It wasn’t for me anyway. I would never put it in the same bucket as Cancun or a Caribbean island.
There is a deep nourishment that comes with experiencing this island in Indonesia and a special energy that I haven’t experienced in other tropical locales such as Belize, Koh Lanta (Thailand), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Honduras or Mexico.
Something about the place gently encourages spiritual and emotional growth, versus simply providing an “escape” from the everyday grind. When I close my eyes, I can feel that Bali embrace. It’s strong and loving.
Of course, Bali can be that quintessential tropical escape. It’s got the white-sand beaches and spa resorts to transport you to temporary state of bliss. But if you open your eyes, your mind and your heart, it can gift you some take-home bliss — and provide healing you never knew you needed, as it did for me.
A promise to be more like monkeys
Bali’s heart beats in Ubud, a village in the center of the island. This is where I based myself for my stay. Its shops, cafes and yoga studios are nestled among lush, green vegetation. Its main roads buzz with motorbikes, but there’s no honking. Its narrow sidewalks are lined with tourists, ex-pats and locals trying to avoid bumping into each other or stepping on small flower offerings sprinkled every few steps.
Each day, families and shopkeepers make flower, fruit and rice offerings to the gods for luck and prosperity, a tradition that bridges Hinduism (the dominant religion in Bali) and ancient Balinese spiritual rituals. I loved seeing these sweet offerings and watching people take such care not to disturb them.
The main tourist attraction in Ubud is the Monkey Forest. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a forest full of monkeys. Visitors can meander the paved paths and bridges within this canopied forest and interact with semi-domesticated monkeys. Granted, they are still wild animals — but they’ve gotten used to humans and will even perch on your shoulders if you offer them a banana.
The monkeys scamper about the forest and do funny things — chase each other, swing from trees, steal water bottles from unsuspecting tourists. Watching them reminded me of our most basic human instincts, the things we’d like to do if we weren’t conditioned by what’s “right” and “wrong.” Monkeys do as they please. They don’t seem to give a damn. They act on instinct. They live in the moment.
Funnily enough, the monkeys were a great role model, or metaphor, for me during my time in Ubud. I saw them a lot. Not just during my visit to the Monkey Forest, but they also scampered around around my villa, as it was right next to forest. I would study them. There was a joyous wonder to everything that they did, even when they were play fighting. Of course, it helps that they don’t have to worry about a job or health insurance or mortgages or any of the human responsibilities that keep our civilization running. That stuff can suck the life out of my omnipresent “joyous wonder.”
The monkeys, our ancestral cousins, were a reminder that this needn’t be the case. I want to take a cue from the monkeys and act on instinct more. So often I hold myself back from doing or saying things because I second-guess myself or don’t want to be seen as weak, uniformed or vulnerable. Screw that. A monkey wouldn’t obsess about those things. They act upon what they want. I need to do that more often.
I want to be more like a monkey. It sounds so silly when I recite that sentence out loud, but there is some juicy context and meaning behind this statement inspired by my time in Ubud.
Allowing sacred tears to flow
My intent in journeying to Bali, an island halfway around the world, was to focus on yoga and meditation. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding, and I’d heard that Bali is a great place to study — Ubud, specifically.
I practiced regularly at the Yoga Barn, which is Ubud’s predominant yoga center. It offers an eclectic mix of classes, from vinyasa and yin yoga to gong baths and tibetan bowl healing sessions. I devoured it all, keeping the lens of both teacher and student.
Yet, something unusual happened while I practiced in Bali: I cried. It happened at least six times over the course of my practices at Yoga Barn.
Out of nowhere, I would experience a welling from deep within my chest that would erupt into silent tears. I either would be in seated meditation or on my back doing a gentle hip opener when the emotional wave would wash over me from within me.
It was a million flashes of my life at once combined with all of my longings and desires for it. It was intense gratitude mixed with intense confusion. It was a strange yin-yang of gratitude and confusion. Sometimes one emotion would be more dominant than the other; but most of the time, it rapidly bounced back and forth between the two within the span of a single inhale-exhale.
I would let the tears — or “sacred water,” as my teacher Shiva Rea calls them — flow. They needed to come out. I also thought that by leaning into these emotions (a different sort of “leaning in” versus its meaning for women in the working world), I might make some sort of breakthrough or self-discovery.
But that didn’t happen. Tears bred more tears; confusion more confusion; and gratitude grew exponentially.
This frustrated me. There I was, halfway around the world, experiencing such intense emotions … and no signs? No epiphany moments? No clarity? What the fuck. Shouldn’t a setting like Bali inspire some sort of “Ah-ha” moment, just as I’ve seen it do in the movies, where the heroine travels to Bali and discovers the meaning of her life.
I wrestled with this anti-climactic, tear-soaked experience. But I’ve come to this conclusion: These tears I experienced in Bali were breaking the seal on something bigger. It’s all part of my personal growth, one that cannot be rushed or prodded or advanced. I need to trust the process. I need to recognize the power in what happened, even though it didn’t immediately materialize into starting some new business or making a big life shift. Perhaps in hindsight, I’ll look back on these moments while crying in meditation, and it’ll all make perfect sense, even if they didn’t make sense at the time.
Indulging without overthinking
My favorite piece of advice for anyone traveling is this: “Say yes to everything. As long it isn’t illegal and doesn’t compromise your morals or ethics.” (It’s a great piece of advice for life in general, too, I suppose.)
I think I do a decent job at keeping this lens on life, but I decided to go all out with it while staying at the St. Regis Bali Resort.
And it felt SO GOOD.
I employed Tantra philosophy — to enjoy life and see the divine in everything — during my two days on this property. When I wanted a coconut drink, I got one. When I wanted to nap, I did so. When I wanted more cookies, I asked. When I wanted to chat with someone, I’d smile and engage in conversation. I went wherever my whim took me with positivity and a lot of self-love, without letting my brain get in the way.
There was never a “wrong” move. Everything was awesome because it was me saying “Yes” to myself over and over and over again. I was saying “Yes” to the little girl that has been conditioned to accept “No” for this practical reason or that safe reason. All of that got thrown out the window.
I plan to bring more of this into my everyday life — to indulge without being so damn hard or critical of myself for doing so.
A return to Bali
Um, that won’t be happening anytime soon. Not because I didn’t absolutely love the place — that much should be clear from what I’ve described so far.
It comes down to the journey in getting there. It took me more than 30 hours to get to Bali and another 30-plus hours to fly back home. The phrase, “It’s about the journey not the destination,” doesn’t apply here. Traveling to and from Bali was miserable. Totally worth it, but not something I’m eager to repeat anytime soon.
And I don’t need to … as the energy of this special place swirls in my heart. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m THERE. I an immediately feel Bali wrap me in her love. It’s crazy awesome beautiful. It’s a forever souvenir of bliss, always available to tap because the power resides WITHIN me.