I recently came back from a yoga retreat in Bali, the land of many lotus. Lotus gardens are ubiquitous. I feel incredibly fortunate to have made this trip and thankful beyond words for the experience. It taught me much about living in peace amidst the crash of breaking worlds. The Balinese people are the most contented people I have ever encountered; their lives defined by graciousness and gratitude. In front of every home, every shop, every temple, every convenience store, is a small handmade offering of flowers, seeds, fruits, which represents their joy and gratitude to be living in God’s beautiful and bountiful world. The consciousness of the Divine is always with them. I noticed this in Conde, our friend and guide from the Balinese Cultural Center who took us through the rituals and ceremonies of the Balinese New Year, Nyepi, which we were honored to participate in. I noticed this also in Pande, our driver who for $15 US per day, drove my friend Katherine and I all over central Bali, introducing us to her food, culture, animals, rice fields, shops and history.
In Bali, the guest is God. One day, while shopping in a small shop selling hand carved masks and statues, the shop keeper Arjuna and I spent a pleasant hour discussing Balinese art. I ended up buying two masks and a Krishna statue which amounted to about $200 US total. Not a huge amount. The day was hot and I needed to flag down a driver (no Taxis in Ubud) to take me and my treasures back to the Yoga Shala where I was staying, about 1.5 miles away. Arjuna insisted on closing his shop and putting me and my purchases on the back of his motor scooter and driving me back to the Shala. I was flabbergasted but accepted his kind offer. Another time, while buying a few articles of clothing for friends and family back home, the shopkeeper’s son entered the shop with a large pan of cakes he had just made for that evening’s pre-New Year festival. All insisted that I join them at the back of the shop where they lived and partake in tea and cakes, saying they would be honored if I helped them bring in the New Year. What a delight and how different from shopping experiences here in the US!
Genuine kindness was the most remarkable characteristic of these lovely people. Everyone asked where I was from. This is not, of course, an unusual question to ask a tourist. I made a habit of asking everyone I met if they had been to America. No one had. Most had never left Indonesia and many had never left Bali. Of course, international travel is very expensive but this is not the reason cited for never leaving. Most of the Balinese I spoke with said that there is no reason to be anywhere else because Bali is the best place on earth. To my western mind, this is true…and not so true. Bali is beautiful to be sure. But it is also very hot and humid, full of bugs (spiders as big as my hand) and rife with poverty. Roads are crude, very little signage and everywhere workers are seen toiling in rice fields or carrying huge bags of wood or concrete on their heads. I observed many families of 3-4 piled on small scooters as cars are not affordable to most. When I asked about their government, more than one person giggled and said “Oh, very corrupt”. Even the middle-class homes I was lucky enough to visit, were primitive by western standards. Why, then, are these people so damn happy and content?
I think the major reasons for this have to do with understanding what’s most important in life. Friendship and family are highly valued. Strangers are welcomed and treated with respect and kindness. Gratitude and the desire to live good lives worthy of God’s love is an important attitude. Joy is practiced and cultivated, always looking for the beauty and positivity in everything. Bali is primarily Hindu but I was told by several people that their brand of Hinduism is mixed in with Buddhism, Animism with a sprinkling of Christianity. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and the Balinese live in peace and harmony with their Muslim brothers and sisters who populate most of their nation.
Even in the muddy waters of poverty, corruption, myriad religious beliefs, weather challenges, insect invasions, the Balinese see only the beauty and chose only to experience joy. The Balinese, like the lotus, live in these muddy waters.
May we all live like the lotus…comfortable and growing beautifully in the muddy waters. This determination is the most treasured gift I bring home from my journey.