Day 134: Week of Poison to Medicine
Week two of Ubud, complete; the good, bad and ugly. Mostly good, but let me get this ugly outta the way while it's fresh in my head.
This particular week has showed me the dark underbelly of "the cultural capital of Bali," just as much as it's shed light on all that makes Bali the incredibly magnetic place that it is.
This dark underbelly exists in every place, but I suppose my reality check hit earlier and harder than I would have expected, and of all places, it happened to be on Facebook:
A crazy social media firestorm beginning with a well intentioned post calling for all expats who may be interested in sharing their story for "experiments with living." The post signed off with the simple salutation "namaste," which set a whole thing in motion...
Something to the effect of "If you'd like to reach people beyond the world of yoga, you should seriously consider deleting 'Namaste'."
It never occurred to me that a word so positively charged could stir such digital (and very real) commotion/emotion, but apparently in this strand of "Ubud community," a word as beautiful as namaste can bring out the prejudice, hate and nasty side of a community supposedly designed to bring good people together. I was simply riding off my days in India, greeting everyone -- yogis, nonyogis, everyone in between -- with a word that basically equates to "hello" with a more spiritual slant, literally "i bow to the divinity in you." Good to know that word boils blood, will be sure to steer clear of those vibes from now on.
I guess it's my mistake to assume all Facebook boards are created equal. Back in the rishikesh days, it was the digital gathering place of all things happening around town; a place to exchange knowledge, music, events; a place to ask those random questions when you're totally new and clueless to a place. It seemed natural to try that out here in Ubud, the land of supposedly open minded, welcoming nomads who, once upon a time were new kids on the block too.
Damn, was I wrong. So happy I did it though -- I needed to see this all play out, to burst my bubble of this perfect Ubud I had created and romanticized in my head up until this point. For two straight days, my Facebook notifications fired up left and right without stop. The leader/admins of the board were completely on a mission to prove their case - that using the word namaste was not welcome, only catering to "yogis" and those in the camp of "Indian Hinduism," and would supposedly segregate us from reaching the community beyond.
Strange to say something like that, considering namaste is a completely secular word used unanimously around rishikesh and I'm sure other parts of India as a universal salutation. Did they ask if I was a yogi? Why such narrow minded assumptions and guidelines for the word? (An Indian girl had my back the entire time, namaste Sharma!)
Seriously, I don't get it! Also, props to Wylie for calling them out, though any attempt at self defense quickly backlashed.
I would normally shrug this whole thing off, paying it as little energy as possible, but the magnitude of reach and response it generated completely amazed me. Made me take pause and appreciate the kind of community I do wish to find, create, cultivate and inhabit for the long haul, and not once take for granted the models of community that have inspired me in the past, ones grounded in acceptance, open mindedness, and compassion (wink to my home in New York and recent India home in Rishikesh). You guys have taught me well:) Unfortunately, America is far from the only place suffering from such closed minded, self righteous minds and hearts in this moment. Even islands known for healing, suffer.
Okay, ugly: released. Now on to some of that good that's definitely come from all this.
A guy by the name of Juju reached out in the midst of all this chaotic digital diarrhea that was this Facebook thread- a Belgian guy who moved to Bali a year and a half ago, leaving a well paid job in Singapore to pursue his passion project of designing and building the first ever solar electric boat to grace the waters of Bali.
To give you a sense of Juju (besides the fact that he has one of the coolest names ever), upon meeting him for the first time, his first words: "Namaste!" Haha, great guy with great humor. Ain't nobody got time for self righteous nonsense, we've got important stories to tell and solar technology to bring into the world. Let's get on with the real stuff.
It was incredibly refreshing to interview Juju, a true world adventurer slash pioneer slash curiosity seeker-- an engineer minded dude who has no shame in seeking out life clarity in the wisdom of a local Balinese water priestess. You'll just have to wait to watch the film to understand what that means :)
Anyways, after the interview, Juju imparted great advice about how to travel around the island (officially persuading us to do it by motorbike despite all the horror stories), scored us great bargains ($1.26 for bike rental a day for the next month, worddddd) and basically exposed us to a new area right outside Ubud that is essentially the Brooklyn equivalent of Bali - chill, spacious and insanely more livable. Shopping mall life or rice paddie life? I’ll take the latter thank you.
So all that to say, lots of good came from the whole Facebook fiasco. As we Nichiren Buddhists would say, poison can turn into medicine, if we choose to approach life that way. The poison was in fact a point of real bonding, not to mention a ridiculous “Ubud-landia” moment of being exposed to this very strange side of an expat community. One day, it will be funny, I hope.
While on the theme of poison to medicine, I experienced another wonderfully serendipitous series of moments all stemming from a weird eye irritation that sprang on me this week. I had a whole day planned out involving hiking a beautiful nature trail (Campuhuan Ridge Walk), which I soon realized I’d have to postpone so I could spend that afternoon finding a reasonably priced doctor to check it out. I spent the afternoon popping into local clinics, coming to find out their wildly high prices ($30+). Strangely enough, as I made up my mind that my condition wasn’t serious and could heal itself naturally, my eye irritation slowly began to subside, and instead of dropping G’s on a consultation, I treated myself to some delicious coconut gelato topped with coconut meat and brittle. SO much better!
Post gelato, I also mystically stumbled on the studio of a famous Balinese stone/wood sculptor that lived to the age of 116 years old– his studio still intact and open to the public. Nothing to brighten up the mood than with a spontaneous encounter with a beautiful Balinese art studio peppered with what appears to be regular rocks and tree stumps from afar, until you realize the intricately carved faces and bodies emerging from these organically shaped structures. Mood levels = way up.
The poison to medicine turning point came the moment I realized it was Thursday, and in just a few hours, women’s circle was happening at the Yoga Barn. My FOMO brain of “I tried that already, shouldn’t I be trying something new?” kicked in. Something about that women’s circle and perhaps wanting to connect to an aspect of Ubud’s community after the whole situation went down (key word: offline) took me out of the FOMO indecisive spell and into a spontaneous flow that would continue throughout the night.
It was a special women’s circle to say the least. All our funds went towards helping a village that had just been wiped out due to the intense rainstorms coming down around Bali the last few weeks. I was able to look more deeply at my connection with “spiritual activism” which was the topic of the night, and empowered to both share and hear about how we as women embody activism even more subtlety than we give ourselves credit for. I picked some interesting cards: “Sarasvati, Goddess of the Arts” and “Shadow Queen” – a ritual that I think helps you ground in whatever emotion or condition you come to circle with. And post circle, I met some ladies, one of whom is working Bali Spirit Festival and the other, wait for it…from Chappaqua! Seriously, Westchester is never that far away and that moment just showed me how small this world really is.
After women’s circle, the pulsating rhythms of nearby electronic music drew me deeper into the Yoga Barn to see if I might be able to sneak a peek at Ecstatic Dance happening in the upstairs yoga hall. A part of me craved dancing in that moment, but was stopped by one of the Yoga Barn guys who said I required a wristband. In that moment of indecision and slight distaste for the clubby vibes coming from upstairs, I was met by a sweaty expat who came downstairs and asked if I want his wristband – it was “too clubby” and he was actually on his way to a more intimate free five rhythms event, EXACTLY what I was hoping to find in that very moment. Um, YES please.
Serendipity following uncertainty, conscious movement, release, and sweat -- perfect way to end a Friday night in Ubud.
In case you’re wondering what I did plan and manifest this week, there were loads. Tegalallang rice paddies, Gunung Kawi Temple, and a Green Village Tour and a bamboo factory only about an hour outside Ubud were the highlights. And of course, the best vegan food I could ever imagine.
Bamboo Village: A true experiment in green living, where investors from around the world have come together to build homes made of 80-90% bamboo. Totaling 12 homes, most of them are open for long-term rentals and mostly inhabited by families sending their children to the nearby Green School onsite. We were lucky to take house tours of two homes, one owned by John Hardy and one by a Singaporean investor.
Bamboo Factory: Only about a 5-minute drive from the Green Village, this factory is operated by around 150 workers doing everything from bamboo harvesting, preparation, builds, and custom designs. Bamboo grows as quickly as grass and are ripe and ready for use as early as 3-5 years old.
Gungung Kawi Temple: Built in the 11th century and still standing. Home to the most amazing plants and spider webs (and sarong wearing photo shoot moments).
Tegallalang: Crazy to think that this land was once a collection of hills that have been designed into complex water irrigation systems.
However, it’s worth mentioning -- the lush greenery, smiling faces of rice paddie farmers, and smell of incense emanating from temple entrances, all permeating the countryside of this island makes every minute of being lost on a motorbike actually more desirable than the plans themselves.