Thursday, January 31, 2013

Village Life

After four days of incredible ceremonies at the royal temple around the full moon, I spent today at home all day, uploading the video to my computer and beginning the daunting task of organizing and editing. 
Some sneak previews – more soon . . . 

Puri Saraswati entrance

Saraswati in ceremony regalia
Penjor made from bamboo shaped like the sacred mountains

 Recording video is its own discipline, with alert attention and awkward body stances to get the best shot. It is often fatiguing, but always a powerful, meditative in-the-moment experience. I am exhilarated and exhausted afterwards. And after four days of ceremonies– I am in a state of quietly euphoric altered consciousness. I treat myself to an acupressure massage, and take it slow.

Some images of my home in Pengosekan, the street where I live, the main road one block over, and the village gathering space where people make offerings together on some days, have quiet prayers on others. 

View from my terrace

The street where I live at Danu's Guest House
Danu and his grandson Eka on our outing to Puri Ulan Danu
Ketut, Danu's gracious wife
Their daughters Iluh and Luhde
Their son Komang    

Today- lo and behold—the local Green Earth anti-pollution activist showed up with composting equipment for the villagers. His name is Wayan and he worked with an American woman for three years in trash removal. She taught him about global climate change, about the toxic effects of burning plastic in the garbage—a common practice here—and about composting. Not polluting the streams and rivers with plastic rubbish is part of the training. 

Wayan changes village life

Now he is out on his own educating villagers and providing composting bins. He and his friends made a colorful booklet explaining it all. The villages pay for the composters and he delivers them and trains people about using them. I was very impressed and glad to hear about this.  Very heartening.

Composters become toys!

Taking them home

I am happy, healthy and holy -- enjoying most moments-- bliss plus reality. Bliss = all the ceremonies, the arts and culture, the people. Reality = all the traffic with cars and many motorbikes with no pollution control so the air in the traffic is very bad.

I study Indonesian 3 days a week and it teaches us about the culture -- the language is mainly in the present tense. Life is like that here. The heat slows us down too – pelan-pelan- slowly, slowly. I learn patience here in many ways. (For example, it has taken two days of the internet working/not working/working to post this blog!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visit to a Balinese Healer, the Balian

(No pix from this event-- didn't feel appropriate- didn't even bring my camera. 
Pix provided to delight with other Bali views)

         I ride on the back of Danu's motorbike sidesaddle since I am in the ceremonial sarong, long, tight, down to the ankles. The crescent moon is hazy in the humid air. Bright stars glisten between the clouds. The wind is warm, perfect temperature. We join the others waiting, sitting on the beautiful stone platform with pillars wrapped in bright fabric, golden carvings on the doors and windows, a faint recorded mantra repeating om namo shiva as the daughter of the priest, a young woman wearing all white, gives water blessings to a few people one at a time.
            When the healer, his daughter and son-in-law come out of the temple area, they are casual, smiling, maybe joking. Everything is Bali rituals is formal with casualness surrounding it it. They take their seats on the raised platform of the building with the ornate gold carved doors and call family groups up one by one.
            The healer makes different motions and sounds for each person seeking healing. Sometimes quick bursts of breath, sometimes, guttural sounds, always his hand slowly circling toward the person, fingers moving in varied patterns, his eyes closed, his hand sensing. His daughter assists with different hand motions, burning incense. His son is in prayer pose or making varied mudras with his hands. They each channel some part of the energy.
            A pattern emerges. The men and boys who get healing sit quietly, cross-legged, hands on knees, then talk with him quietly, receive water purification blessings and something written on a piece of paper, perhaps a mantra, some kind of prescription.
            The women who get healings move a great deal. The first holds her arms out, shakes them, and makes crying sounds, possessed, in trance, resisting the holy water by turning her head away. The second has her hand held by the healer as he pulls hard on certain fingers. She recoils away from it, crying out in pain. He keeps pulling. Her son moves behind her, supporting her back and pushing her towards the healer so she cannot back away. At the end of each healing, the women talk quietly and are calm, even smiling.

            Next, it is our turn. I go up with Danu and Ketut’s family, their 16-year-old son, Danu’s mother and their oldest daughter, in her early 20s. Their son hurt his leg a couple of weeks ago, needed stitches, couldn’t play badminton or go to school for a few days. He has come to the healer a few times during the healing process, as well as a doctor and masseuse. The healer tells him to sit up straight in meditation position – the family laughs—seems a typical request for a teenager- stop slouching! The healer waves his hand around him and quickly smiles and is clearly saying positive, encouraging things to him. I can see it is about the strength the boy has, his power, about letting his power rise up in him. It all seems very encouraging, even without understanding a word of the Balinese spoken, just reading the expressions and body language.
            Meanwhile, his older sister is sitting next to him and is slowly leaning over towards the floor. She begins to cry, at first a soft weeping, then a louder cry. The healer turns his attention toward her but he addresses all his remarks to the son. Her cries get louder. She sits up and extends one arm, hitting her brother with the broad side of her arm, not hard but heartfelt, crying out to him with anger or frustration.
            I begin to make a story – she is jealous of the attention given him, the lavish praise. She cries to turn some of the attention to her. As a female, she will never get the respect that he gets and this is how it manifests. I feel great pain at seeing these women showing such emotion and anguish while the males are stoic, silent and praised. (When Danu explains what is really happening, it is easy to see that this story is my own projection. Read on . . .)
            The healer puts his hand on her hand. His other hand stretches across to the back of his daughter who is fervently listening to some inner voice and telling him what she sees and senses. He repeats it back to the older daughter, the conduit between the two. Slowly the daughter grows calmer, lays her head on her brother’s knee. He is awkward, puts his hand on her back, then takes it away and leans back on both hands.
            When she calms down, the healer talks to the family. The grandmother asks questions, the mother comments. The healer makes eye contact with the son and begins to compliment him again, makes eye contact with the father and talks, avoids eye contact with the daughter until it is time for her to receive her water blessing.
            Once the blessing is done, she smiles, makes some lighthearted remark, laughs. The family makes some joke and laugh in good humor as we go down the steps from the platform.
            I feel interested in the channeling the healer does with his family assisting, feel the energy of it. But I feel disturbed by the women’s anguish, so strong and disquieting. I read into it the cultural burden of women being seen as lesser than men. Less recognition, less respect, more need to weep and wail. It is painful to witness. Yet on a daily basis, the women are sweet and gentle, exceedingly warm. There is much this outsider doesn’t understand.

            When Danu explains it to me the next day, I have interpreted the healer’s message for his son very well. But his older daughter’s story is one I couldn’t guess, except the first part of it. Her mother-in-law doesn’t want her to be a teacher, but to stay home with her five-year-old son instead. The daughter wants to continue teaching as she has for a few years. Apparently the mother-in-law has used magic on her, giving her bad headaches and lower life energy. She is seeing the healer to help overcome the bad magic. Danu has asked his grandmother ancestor to tell him how to help his daughter, but she does not answer him because he did not pray to her and respect her enough. But his son has made prayers to her spirit every day in their family temple before he goes to school. The family feels she has reincarnated in him, so she is willing to talk to him about solving it. When the daughter hit her brother, it was her exhorting him to pray to great-grandma so she can have peace.
            There is no way I could have guessed this scenario. Yet, because I do believe in spirits and invisible energies, I find it all plausible. Yes, a mother-in-law can send bad energy and thoughts to a daughter-in-law, want her to do things her way. Yes, that can effect the young woman’s health. Yes, the brother can be spiritual and open to receiving guidance from wise ancestors. It is very complex, and perhaps far fetched to some, but it makes sense to some of us.
            On Monday, I will come again with Danu and his son and daughter for meditation and to receive a healing. The healer’s son-in-law speaks English, lived in Australia for years, so I will speak through him. Not sure what I will ask for or explain - perhaps about wanting to open to more patience and trust, since those have been my inner themes for my meditation. Perhaps about wanting to open to the healer within me more. Certainly about releasing tension stored in my body. I’ll talk to Danu about it.
            So I have had my first experience of a Balinese balian healer. It is intriguing to be sure. But the issues raised about women are difficult. Tomorrow, I plan to go to see a woman high priestess in Bangli, an interesting contrast indeed.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saraswati Ceremony

Saturday, Jan. 12

I go out at 8 a.m. see the ceremony this morning for Saraswati, the goddess of art, music and education. It’s at the local elementary school here in Pengosegan. Every school in Bali has a stature of this patron deity of schools and learning.


Books are blessed
The kids are lovely in their ceremonial attire. They do several dances from youngest group to oldest, then they all pray together. Very touching and sweet. I’ll let the photos tell it all.

Youngest boys do a warrior dance

Oldest girls make offerings during a dance
Restless, waiting for next event

Waiting their turn to dance

Not sure what they see, but they are definitely dubious!

 Water blessings after the prayers

Gathering emptied offering baskets

"Boys just want to have fun."

Striking the set

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lunch with the King

Wed. January 9

Last year, serendipity led to a friendship with Chokwah, a member of the royal family of Ubud. (See posts below from April- May 2011.)  I learned he was actually a prince within the royalty.

On Monday this week, I went back to the royal temple to inquire after him and as luck would have it, not only was he there, but he remembered me from last year and explained that they were creating a Barong, a fabulous animal creature dedicated to protecting good in the world and one of my favorites in the Balinese dance-drama stories.

The new Barong
On Tuesday, I return wearing my sarong and sash so I can enter the temple and capture the process in images. It has already been going on for two months. These are the last two days before the village people will come pick it up.

When I tell my host Danu about this adventure, he is impressed that I know Chokwah as a friend and tells me he will be made King in a few months -- after I am gone, alas.

I return today (Wednesday) to see the barong completely assembled and arrive just in time to see the creative team assess the movement of the Barong’s hinged mouth, watch them all take photos of their stunning creation. Chokwah gives me permission to climb the high temple steps to take photos, a privilege not usually allowed foreigners. I am honored.

Artisans assess their work
Refining Rangda's ornaments
Completed Barong
Completed Rangda
One thing I learn here is patience. Things move slowly because of the heat – pelan pelan, slowly slowly. After the photos, I sit with Chokwah, chat a bit, but mostly listen to Balinese, watch the tweaking of the barong, and sit still. He asks to see my camera and zips though the menu in a knowledgeable way.

That’s how I end up having lunch with the King. It is time for everyone to eat, but I don’t realize this until he asks if I would like some food. It is delicious, a bit spicy, but fine. Lunch with the king today -- how lucky can you get?

Quick shot of lunch with Chokwah (didn't want to disturb him)
As if this timing weren’t enough, I will also be here for an important three-day ceremony in his family temple Jan. 25 – 29, the time of the full moon, an important part of Balinese rituals.

Tomorrow morning I will go in full sarong and kebaya blouse ceremonial attire to see and video the ceremony for the barong before the villagers from Tebenon bring it home. It is their first Barong, a momentous occasion complete with water purifications given by the priests. Before the village only had Rangda, the guardian of evil in the world. The villagers tell me the new Barong and Rangda are a gift from the king, an act of great generosity since they are extremely expensive. Well done Chokwah.

Now they will have balance restored, the true Balinese belief—good and evil both exist. Neither wipes out the other, only power struggles that end in balance. Such a different worldview from our good guys-bad guys-good guys always win ethic. Many guardian deity statutes and banyan trees are wrapped in black and white fabric the Balinese use to show balance of good and evil, with neither ever winning over the other, both always present.

Ceremony for the new Barong and Rangda (documented by the ubiquitous iPad!)   

Post-script: It is clear the people who work with/for Chokwah like him, because they often joke around with him. One of them came over and made me take this photo -- the king being a worker and using the power spray to clean the temple pavement! A good practice for royalty . . .


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dawn at Danu's


Pengosegan, Bali           

            The smell of incense wakes me. It is part of the morning offering, so I know Danu’s wife Ketut is about though I did not hear her over the sound of water cascading past on its way to rice fields. Roosters crow, birds and insects chirp; the geckos are quiet after a long night of orations.

            Frogs sang me to sleep, though my body rebelled at being asked to go to sleep at an hour when it is broad daylight at home. Day turned night abruptly as the jet engine’s hurled us across the Pacific from San Francisco.
            I woke at 4 a.m. resolved to lay in bed time dawn, sleeping in short bursts, relieved at the daylight at 6 a.m. I’ll go for my morning walk now, then breakfast at 8 served by Ketut on my lovely terrace surrounded by palms and bamboo and birds with bright azure, brilliant yellow, trilling calls. Ketut and her children will help teach me Indonesian and I will exchange English with them. She will teach me how to weave palm leaves into small offering baskets filled with flowers and rice to greet the gods each morning and evening. I am here and can hardly believe it.

Morning walk

This morning's visitor
I walk the small road behind Danu's and find rice fields and the villas that sprout all over Bali, as the main crop becomes tourists instead of rice. Still, one paddy is freshly filled with water and the ducks  are here to eat insects and fertilize the water with their poop, creating good conditions for the small rice seedlings to be planted.

Next, a small spa that does an hour massage for $20 -- yes! Antidote to 30 hours travel. Further along is a wood carver pounding out a lion from a huge piece of wood, then a gallery with stunning wood carvings. I realize we are close to Mas the wood carving village. Each village near Ubud has an art specialty -- wood carving, painting (Ubud), jewelry (Celuk), shadow puppets (Sukawati). The families in each one carry on their traditions in each generation. A carving of Kuan Yin with a dragon (naga) is stunning. Much too large to carry home, but breathtaking to behold. The artist says he can carve a smaller one and I order it. Ready by the end of the month.

The urge to take Bali home is irresistible. Each trip yields another beautiful piece for my collection. They give deep pleasure and memories of this moist, mild morning on the ridge among the rice.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Return to Bali

This is what it means to be in Bali. To stand and watch two black butterflies spin their flirting dance near the red bird of paradise and lush green leaves. They pivot united by an invisible cord, not losing sight, not losing center, within two feet of me, now one, now near my face and I see how the Balinese Legong dancers choreograph their butterfly dance, understand the inspiration.

Hundreds of cars and motor scooters race by us. Some look to see what I see. I am still. I have time. I am in no time, now time. Their black wings mesmerize. Why walk on when this is right before me?

(didn't take photo till after they flew off, so don't strain your eyes looking for them -- imagine their duet instead . . .)