Saturday, April 27, 2013

There, and Back Again

A wonderful way to feel greater presence is to buy a ticket, take a trip, and enter a new world. So my journey to Bali this Spring, after a transformative year, was a delight. 

As I re-enter my world after visiting another one, I remember the story of the famous home-loving Hobbit who travels to an exotic land in search of dragon's treasure. There, and back again.

Now I'm back again, but I am still absorbed in There.  Beautiful Bali, oppressively hot, teeming with tropical life,  and filled with tender people engaging each day in reverent ritual.

Letting go is part of the key to enjoying new experiences, and good travelers know this. You must strike a balance between attachment to your goals (what I call the checklist) and relaxing into whatever is happening. Otherwise you’d spend the afternoon drinking rum down the road from the temple or shopping in markets instead of climbing the volcano.  While either option is good, you do need to choose - inspired by the knowledge that, as in life, your time is limited.

Travel teaches us how to handle curve-balls like tummy aches and bug bites, lost phones, long lines, getting hustled or downright ripped off, or just feeling unsettled and standing out in a crowd like a, well, a tourist.

Here's the secret: it's All Worth It. My treasure, found in a temple complete with a dragon: Sitting on the stone before the altar, breathing incense deeply, flowers behind my ears, hands in prayer pose against my forehead.  

Naturally I would get the smart-ass Hindu priest, who smiled down at me and asked, "American?" and when I nodded yes, he laughed and said, "For you, just make a wish, OK?" 

Sitting alone with this priest and my guide at Besakih, the Mother Temple, praying beneath the volcano on a muggy overcast day, I was at peace with myself for one blessed moment. My spirit woke up, saying to me, "Ahhhhh, This, now this is what you came here for!"

Then the priest poured holy water into my hands to drink (it tasted sweet, like lychee fruit) and daubed my forehead with a pinch of rice. "For prosperity, " he said, and my guide laughed and added, "Now you look Balinese!" 

Riding side-saddle on the back of a scooter, learning to make Banten offerings, and otherwise ever so slightly morphing into the culture through respectful action, words, posture and dress is my favorite part of travel. I admit, I like to "go native" as much as possible, and why not?  

The reverence that the Balinese bring to so many details of life reminds me of what the lady caretaker of a simple 13th century church in Tregaron, Wales, told me: "God is in the little things." This is my belief, too. Whether shooing sheep out of the cemetery or making coconut leaf flower baskets, presence arrives by paying attention.

And now, as my beloved traveling companion told me upon our return, the goal is to "keep the Bali breeze in the belly," despite the fevered rush of our contemporary Western lives. In America, we pretty much find, or invent, our own way. There is no national formula for achieving peace, and fewer common threads of community and ritual. With abandon, we make it all up, and muddle forward with as much graciousness as we can.

Yet, my trip to Bali taught me something vital: the power of reverence. All I need  to do is sit in stillness, hands in prayer, maybe inhale a little sweet incense, and magic happens.

Mt. Batur volcano, with swallow
Blogger at Besakih
Banten offerings
Lotus at Ananda Cottages, Ubud