Sheri’s Rants # 56: Monkeys, Yoga, and Stinky Fruit

Posted on January 1, 2012 by

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How do I condense an indescribably transformative month in Bali into a readable-in-one-sitting blog format?  Hmmmm.  Having returned 2 weeks ago, here are my current ideas of the highlights:

Within my first 24 hours in Ubud (the spiritual, artistic and cultural center of Bali) I knew I was on a different frequency.  Things didn’t work the same as I was accustomed to, in a way that is difficult to describe.  Less linear.  More fluid.  From a place of feeling rather than intellectual process.  It was very easy to let go and let things happen.  For letting go and doing nothing, a lot began happening deep inside me.  I experienced a wealth of adventure and much of it does not translate into ‘what I did on my vacation’.

Internet access was spotty at best and too weak to sustain a signal consistently.  What a godsend!  I had left my phone at home, did not communicate through my usual computer channels, had no TV or radio, and limited reading materials.  I did have my knitting (sock yarn projects are great for hot, humid weather), which the Balinese found both incredibly interesting and deeply respectable.  The Balinese value spirituality, creativity, and family above all else.  To encounter a tourist calmly sitting and creating art was fascinating to the locals and I learned to tolerate long bouts of inquisitive staring.

Samantha knits.

I made a solid swipe at learning the local language, which is only spoken on the island of Bali.  I learned the phrases to communicate on a basic level as well as the slang that would keep locals giggling with (or at) me.  I did my best to respect local cultural customs, particularly dress, kept my mouth mostly shut, and listened.

Packed away in my essentials were some packets of instant coffee as I didn’t know the coffee situation in Bali.  I drank that my first two mornings (bleah).  On the third morning I tried Balinese coffee….it was a real ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment!  It is simply outstanding, and I laughed at my previous hesitancy.  In Bali the locally grown coffee is finely ground like cocoa powder and hot water is added (most Balinese drink sugar and milk in it).  It’s not instant coffee.  The grounds sink to the bottom, leaving a rich but quite mellow coffee.  I am still drinking my coffee this way.  The Balinese find it hysterical to filter and process coffee.

traditional Balinese market

I made an early newbie error by ingesting the local water and ended up with a highly uncomfortable 12 hours, after which the ghost of all things gone wrong digestively stayed with me for another month.  I relaxed into this discomfort and rolled with it.  It became remarkably easy to deal with.  I was also far more careful with what went into my mouth.

lunch for 2 - completely clean and incredibly fresh!

Food was clean, fresh, and delicious.  The tropical fruit was wild in terms of variety!  I enjoyed not only eating the variety but also figuring out how to get beyond spikes, quills, hard shells, and the like to get to the fruit.  Durian in particular is a hard shelled spiked fruit that I had heard much about in raw food circles.  My Balinese friends offered to help me out with it, but were very evasive about eating it themselves.  The fruit is pried open with a machete or large knife and pulled apart.  Inside are large, white, soft, strong smelling pods of fruit wrapped around dark seeds.  I pulled the pods out with my fingers and popped them into my mouth.  They have a very strong taste to go with the smell. One of my friends produced some mangosteen ‘for getting the taste out’ of the durian. After eating the pods in a section of shell they showed me to pour water into the shell, swish it around, and drink it to rinse my mouth.  The mangosteen helped with the strong aftertaste of the durian.  (I later learned that many hotels and bungalows will not allow durian in the rooms due to the pervasive and persistent odor.)

Fresh chicken, fresh fish, fresh vegetables, and fresh juices rule the local menus.  It is overall fabulously easy to eat fabulously healthily.  Rice grows locally all over the island – this is a staple.  The local spices are complex; both in aroma and flavor.  Both fresh and dried coconut flavors many of the foods along with the spices.

plate of assorted fruits

Ketut Mawa asked me if I liked chicken satay.   I said yes, I was eating a lot of it,  but the peanut sauce doesn’t do me any good.  He laughed and told me that the peanut sauce doesn’t do ANYONE any good, but they keep eating it anyway.  The Balinese cook their locally grown peanuts twice – boiled and then roasted before use.

Motorcycles are the main mode of transport due to low cost,  low emissions, low use of petrol, and narrow streets.

Ubud was my primary home; I left the area only twice.  One of those days Samantha and I lost track of time on a perfectly gorgeous isolated beach.  On another day I roamed the northern side of the island with Ketut Mawa and his childhood best friend, Jaya.  We had a gigglin’ blast. Sharing language and culture, we visited temples and rice fields that Jaya had never seen himself.   Ketut Mawa asked me, as a tour guide, how to respectfully deal with Christians who pointedly demand to know where he stands with Jesus Christ – and I asked him to teach me about Balinese village structure.

with Jaya at his family temple

I was invited into a local ceremony, into several family homes, and met smiling faces anywhere I attempted the local language.  The Balinese love the attempt.  I mean, they LOVE it.  One young man asked me, via a Blackberry translator device, to help him find an American to volunteer to teach English at the local school.

isolated stretch of beach outside Candidasa

An angry monkey in the Enchanted Monkey Forest bit me.  After playing ‘human scaffold‘ for 5 others – one monkey DEMANDED a banana.  Unfortunately a freaked out Samantha ran screaming with the bananas (purchased just for this occasion)- and that last one, he was pissed.  He climbed up my body, sat on my shoulder, climbed back down and quickly grabbed my left hand and bit.  HARD.  Held it long enough for me to understand the situation very clearly.  When he let go I stood up and roared at him, he roared at me, and I walked away unwilling to keep arguing with the mind of a banana crazed monkey.  My souvenirs from the Monkey Forest were a swollen, bruised hand and valuable impressions of the monkey-mind.  I kept thinking about the unpredictability of monkey- mind and continued to let go of my own.

I was done with monkeys after that and definitively not enthralled to encounter them on the street.

I did a variety of yoga while in Ubud.  I started out with the mainstream, popular yoga at the Yoga Barn.  They offer a menu of highly attended trendy classes in their large studio. I left 3 unused punches on my punchcard of 10.

Guru Ketut Arsana’s yoga at the BodyWorks Centre is another breed entirely.  The tiny yoga studio can hold 8 students.  Guru Ketut teaches a vigorous Kundalini/Tantric combination with an emphasis on opening the tailbone along with the mind.  I felt highly resistant the first class (‘you want me to WHAT?  I can’t do that!  I have this blah blah that keeps me from blah blah blah and so blah blah…’) – it mattered not, as I was the only student that afternoon.  I was pushed and it changed me. After three classes I was losing track of both time and resistance. After a final 2.5 hour session I knew I’d never see yoga (nor my self) in the same way.

at the Bat Cave Temple

Sheri w/ Ganesha (knitting bag in hand)

Samantha had made appointments for the two of us to see a healer at the recommendation of a friend.  I showed up not knowing what to expect.  When Mr Arsana, a beautiful, friendly older Balinese man touched me on the shoulder, I felt an uncommon surge of compassion.  He led me into his treatment room and asked me “What is your problem?”

“Um,” I said, “I guess if I had to come up with one, I would say it is that there are so many foods that make me ill.  Wheat, corn, soy, dairy, sugars, all grain, nuts…it seems like a lot.”

“So what do you eat?” he asked me.

“Meat, vegetables and fruit.  And some seeds.”

Mr Arsana stared at me.  Then he roared “WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?”

We locked eyes and I felt a giggle start.

“Look,” he said, “Everyone different.  You know what keep you in balance.  Keep doing that.  Stay balance.  You know what works.  This big.  This enough.”

He looked at me again.  “No rice?” he asked.  “No rice”  I replied.   We regarded each other again and both burst out laughing and laughing.   This island is covered in rice fields.

Then he gave me a thorough, unusually intuitive massage and walked on my back.  At the end he pronounced me healthy.  “You have no problems” he reported to me “all problems are in the mind, anyway.  You have clear mind.  Drink coconut water for balance while here.”

Then he gestured at my heart.  “I did little, you know, thing, to help with that.”

I thanked him and floated through the next 48 hours not really knowing which end was up.  Samantha was in similar shape after her session. The next week I started taking his yoga classes.

I learned in Bali that no matter where I am in the world my body seeks equilibrium by waking up pre-dawn for my meditation practice.  I learned to feel the change in the air on my skin when the tropical sun rises.  I learned that when free of all the distractions of Western living I absolutely adore who I am and I enjoy my own company.

Ceremonial Temple built in the 1400's

The most challenging aspect of Bali is the sheer travel (9 time zones) to get there.  The recovery on the home side was intense but passed very quickly.  By the time the jet lag passed I felt not only internally transformed – but stronger and more rested than I have been in many years.

Shrine for Rice Fields

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