Ready for wellness? All you need is a trip to Bali!
‘What’s next for my 56 year-old self? Yes on travel. Yes on culture. Time to change the scenery. Time to step outside my comfort zone.’
That’s me in 2003 when I jetted off to Bali for a few weeks of adventure, peacefulness, cultural learning, and maybe a chance to see what ‘new’ could spark my passion. Little did I know that I would end up committing more than 14 years to building a transformational learning concept around the importance of the Balinese culture and what it could be teaching the rest of the world about healing the planet from the inside out.
In a nutshell, I found the Balinese culture to be a fascinating way to drop deeply into an indigenously-based universe. If you don’t stay in the tourist areas like Kuta, but venture into Ubud, Mengwi and other more remote villages, there is an ancient world thriving, although facing its own barrage of Western influences. Here there is a value system and social structure that’s built on centuries-old ways of interweaving spiritual, social, and economic cultural threads. Ceremonies, rituals and social norms continue to be maintained even with an economy that is based on over 85% tourism.
Bali is often criticised for being a spiritual culture that seems too focused on economic gains, yet underneath much of the negative press are people still trying to find their balance between a Hindu-Buddhist belief system and the enticement to be part of a Westernised world. Today Balinese walk in ceremonial processions while talking on their mobiles. Children can be seen playing games on their hand-held devices inside the temple prayer rituals. Yet the elders will just laugh at these distractions and stay focused on the deeper meaning of what they are teaching and showing younger Balinese.
At the end of the day, the values and learning from being in Bali still exist as strongly as ever. Health, healing and wellness are available for Westerners through authentic experiences that require travellers to simply listen more deeply and pay attention.
Here are five ways that the Balinese culture can engage and enlighten your journey towards personal growth and wellness
1. The importance of relationship
Here in Bali you find that people live collectively rather than individually. The family structure includes cousins, aunties, grandparents, etc., and all are part of the collective – and the needs of the group come first. Ceremonies are crucial elements of keeping the collective together; so everyone knows their place regarding the needs of their immediate community.
This also extends to the needs of the village – every small family unit also has a relational place within the larger village community. For example, if someone dies, the entire village is part of the ceremonial process. Duties to create the cultural and spiritual apparatus for cremations are quickly arranged and massive organisation begins with everyone knowing their roles and responsibilities – dictated by honour and duty and knowing that each person is part of the larger whole that keeps the village structure fully functioning. Imagine in your own neighbourhood when someone dies. Half the time we don’t even know our neighbours. We stand separated by our religious beliefs, political thinking, etc.
Because relationships are at the core of this culture, Balinese people are always ready to engage the traveller. Direct eye contact. Asking questions in the here and now like “Where are you going?” and “Where have you been?”. While Westerners often feel a bit uncomfortable with these straightforward enquiries, Balinese live in the moment. It doesn’t matter what you studied in school or the kind of work you do. What concerns them is what you’ve been doing right then in Bali. It’s a point of conversation that is alive and captures the real beginning of a relationship. They look for the entry into connecting with you as a foreigner.
How important are relationships to you?
2. The interconnection between people, nature and spirituality
At the heart of Balinese philosophy is a concept called ‘Tri Hita Karuna’ – the relationship between man to man/woman, man/woman to the natural world, man/woman to spirit/god. The ongoing challenge to finding balance among these three components is a major part of Balinese living. Ceremonies and rituals are critically important as these are daily enactments of maintaining balance.
The average Balinese is involved with more than 30 ceremonies or rituals every month including daily offerings, home temple birthdays, village ceremonies and more. Witnessing these ongoing activities can easily be ignored in Bali if you’re not paying attention. Every day, behind the loud motorbikes and busy tourism, you can see women and men tie a sash around their waist and make offerings using small bamboo-woven baskets that are filled with rice, crackers, some greens, flowers, and even a coin. Prayers are always made as these offerings are left at doorways, small family temple boxes, even at the corner of a special street or passageway. It’s one of numerous ways the Balinese are practising the connection between the seen and unseen worlds.
What are daily or monthly rituals you have in your own life that help remind you about this interconnection with the natural world, with your friends, and with your own spirituality? Imagine exploring how deeply connected we all are to our world as something we all share in common.
3. Recognising the seen and the unseen worlds at play
We Westerners have a hard time fully comprehending the interplay between the physical world and the invisible elements. Visiting Bali gives you a special opportunity to witness a culture that actively engages the mysteries and unseen forces that are at play, even if you don’t actually believe it. Offerings are a great example – all Balinese at some point during the day will make an offering to the unknown and unseen forces they believe are around them. We might call this activity prayer, but it’s much more. There are certain clothes that must be worn, preparations performed, and other components of this ritual that we might not understand.
Healers and shamans are available and used to address personal and collective issues and ailments that reach beyond Western medicines and psychological understanding. Here in Bali you are given a unique window into understanding complex issues through a prism of linear thinking and more intuitive knowing. Your own healing and wellness could very well be intertwined with this stretching of your imagination into new inexplicable forces.
How often do you recognise your own beliefs in realms that you don’t see, hear or feel? What happens when you touch into these mysteries? Where do you put that information?
4. The value of service for yourself and your community
Apart from their personal and family rituals, others of their daily rituals are for the collective within their small villages and some are for maintaining the cultural well-being of their island and their beliefs. Throughout their entire lives, they stay committed to this interior knowledge that being of service is a large portion of what makes them Balinese. If this thread were severed, they probably could no longer live with themselves.
Being in service is practised everywhere and is so clearly understood that it’s in their blood. It’s not about one’s commitment or dedication or self-sacrifice. It’s an absolute. For example, when Balinese have family temple ceremonies that they must attend, their jobs allow them to go. It’s just built into the way the business world works. Management understands that one’s participation in village or family duties is as important as the duties of the job.
When in Bali, you’ll notice that there are often hundreds of Balinese marching through the streets during a ceremonial procession. Hundreds of hours of planning and execution have gone into these activities. No one gets paid. No one is forced to show up. It’s a labour of love, respect, honour and purpose to a higher collective cause that all Balinese perform, all the time.
Where does your belonging to community provide a gateway to service and dedication to common causes? How is wellness connected to the power of service and being called to participate in your community ?
5. Place plays its part
The cultural importance of place in all activities, ceremonies, temple arrangements, housing compounds, buildings, structures and architectural design are interconnected to the core foundation of Balinese beliefs and indigenous knowledge. Place is a container of the seen and unseen. There is an ongoing exchange between creating space for something to happen, and recognising mysterious forces beyond the more linear mindset.
So, for example, every single structure that is built in Bali – including huts on the beach, compounds for family dwellings and massive hotels on the hillsides – has had huge ceremonies prior to taking down trees or clearing brush. The local high priests have gathered to pray for the land and ask permission to create new ‘place’ for whatever might be built there. Days of the week matter in determining which time period is correct for hosting such ceremonies. Villager’s outfits are carefully chosen, consideration taken in colours and fabric of women’s kabayas and sarongs. In this regard, everything is holy.
Place has its own potency and energy. Balinese indigenous knowledge reinforces this by participating in ceremony, prayer and specific rituals that help balance and ground unseen forces. The balance of these forces are said to affect how the place is able to support what it will be used for. If this is not done well, whole buildings have been known to be destroyed and have had to start again from scratch.
Everything is alive
Quite simply, everything in Bali is considered alive. The land. Trees. Mountains. Family temples. Here you find black and white cloth draped over the roots of specific trees. You would be told, it’s to balance the dark and light forces found at the roots of that particular tree. Direction of the winds is also included in design. Daily light shifts and the direction of the moon are also contemplated when a new structure is developed. The spirits are often consulted by the local shamans prior to moving the earth to begin building. Place is truly an exchange between heaven and earth.
Imagine if you believed this and designed your home around the environmental and spiritual forces intermingling. What can you do to create more exchange between your office space and your own interior self? Are there chairs or desks in the way of more positive energies to produce more dynamic exchanges?
Photo: Marcia Jaffe; the other is Marcia Jaffe with son Ryan Feinstein who is now President of Bali Institute.
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