Day 174: Nyepi Reflections on Bali Spirit Festival
“Before a person can be healed, one medicine man told me years after medical school, he/she must answer 3 simple questions: Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? This Californian elder believed anyone who could give clear answers to these three questions would be well.”
- Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., "Coyote Medicine" (on Danny Paradise’s book list, a yoga teacher at Bali Spirit Festival)
I’ve been drawn to this quote ever since I found it sitting on the kindle screen of a new book I’m sampling. What the book is about (and whether I intend on reading it) is less important than the wisdom contained in this one sentence, as I sit here on this significant Balinese holiday of Nyepi, thinking about the events of this past week at Bali Spirit Festival.
Nyepi, for those new to this Balinese Hindu tradition, is also known as the Day of Silence for fasting and meditation, to purify both the spirit and people of the land. Everyone stays at home with family, holding space for this island-wide celebration of new beginnings – everything is closed down, including the international airport and apparently you can be issued a ticket from the “Nyepi police” or Pecalang for leaving your home (I mean, if that’s what it really takes)?? I can’t think of a better scenario than to be completely still in the jungle oasis homestay I’ve been lucky to call home for a month and a half, especially as I mentally and emotionally prepare for my departure to Vietnam tomorrow.
Back to the quote though, as I grapple with the connection -- as someone with a deep appreciation for festivals and gatherings of all shapes and sizes, I am always curious about the process of transformation and how events like Bali Spirit Festival can give us the space to do our “work,” “healing,” or whatever word(s) feel appropriate in the context of stepping into the unknown. When I think about the last festival that moved me beyond what I could have imagined, otherwise known as Burning Man, I describe it like this:
If time and money were not real things, how would you spend your day? Where would you go, what would you do, who would you surround yourself with? What would that reality look like, feel like, and smell like?
In the flow of how you choose to create your reality, you naturally come into your true essence and find that this being has been there all along. It’s not something you have to think about; rather, it’s something you can physically step into and embody if you really open up to that possibility. And what’s really standing in the way of that? Think about it.
Unlike Burning Man, Bali Spirit Festival was held inside a beautiful resort right outside Ubud in a rice terrace and jungle-laden landscape. Bamboo pavilions and huts dotted the festival grounds as sacred space for music and workshops of every kind, designed to move us out of the monkey mind and into spaces of heart and body. Colorful spandex décor stretched across most corners of the festival grounds, mimicking some universal spandex stretching happening across human bodies. Money and time are very much embedded into everyday festival realities (yes, I spent $40, more than my daily budget, on an amazing moonstone beaded mala and I have zero regrets!) and FOMO energy is a strong force to be reckoned with (especially as a volunteer welcoming guests and checking wristbands, I missed out on all the morning workshops before 12:30pm while hearing about THIS incredible reggae-inspired yoga class or THAT life-changing breath work session that just happened and oh-my-god I need to get myself to the crystal bowl sound bath right now before I explode from all these vibrations!). The workshop FOMO was real.
Snapshot of my experience:
/ Day 1: gong bath meditation
// Day 2: emotional freedom technique, hatha yoga, spirit soul dance song
/// Day 3: soul healing, trauma release, shiatsu
//// Day 4: freeing your voice, garden of earthly delights, ashtanga
///// Day 5: partner breath workshop, breathing with bliss
Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here?
From a mind space, I can see these questions making certain people run for the hills, myself included especially if you had asked me these questions a year ago. But at Bali Spirit Festival, there’s a deep process of darkness and light brewing just below the surface, giving life force and attention to these questions. You might notice yourself going all out on day one with back to back yoga and dance classes, and then ever so slightly, find yourself tuning in to the deeper needs of why you’re really here as you journey along into day three, four and five. The honeymoon dust starts to settle and it turns out the epic schedule you thought sounded amazing at 8am (and could have been amazing in a different lifetime), is not actually lining up with how you feel with all the physical achiness in your back and desire to carve out silence amidst overstimulation so you can maybe shed some light on what’s really going on. Maybe you scratch what you thought you wanted hours ago and listen to what you need right NOW (while meditatively holding the moonstone mala bead that you purchased only hours ago, whose energy is ALL about discerning what’s real from perception – yes, that really happened).
To give some color to these subtle shifts, below are diaries from day two and three…
2 brilliant ideas of the day:
- Invent a one-stop shop: sunscreen and mosquito repellant combo (with zero chemicals, period.)
- Design a workshop to help people combat festival FOMO
Welcome shift highlights:
- Met a guy named “Mischief” who told me he officially adopted this name today (big moment similar to receiving your Playa name at Burning Man)
- Was graced by the presence of Dave who I learned is passionate about trash management (part of Trash Heroes, a festival partner) and enjoys consciously proselytizing total strangers about trash and how to save the environment – key word: consciously. Crazily enough, I finally understood why Ubud as a whole is gung-ho about bamboo straws and recycling – turns out that because trash is not under the government’s purview, local communities must self-organize and create their own environmentally friendly services for collecting and disposing trash.
- Working it SO good as welcome-wristband-checker that I’m able to get off my shift 30 minutes early to catch a workshop that I felt called to check out: emotional freedom technique
- Doing a quick look-see and passionate shimmy while passing the Afro Jam Flow class en route to grabbing lunch WHILE on shift. If you notice a pattern here, I’ve scored the greatest shift and team of all time. Wanna take a walk on shift? Sure! Wanna eat lunch on shift? Of course! So grateful for good peeps.
Workshops attended: 3
- Emotional Freedom Technique with Liza Borja: tapping as a form of healing for self and others described so perfectly as acupressure without the needles. Not a fan of the needles, so I’m pretty happy this exists. It’s been around for 30 years and was discovered by a psychiatrist who worked with a patient that had a deathly phobia around large bodies of water. One tapping session was apparently enough to dissolve the phobia, forever.
Experiment: try this the next time I find myself in need of calming and observe the lung’s capacity, length of breathing, and overall sense of calm in the body
- Hatha Yoga with Emily Kuser: A style of yoga that combines different asanas but flows much slower in pace than the practice of Ashtanga -- a more relaxed style that I needed post shift to ease my body from full-time sitting to gentle stretching. The teacher came highly recommended by a festival friend, and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. Not to mention this all went down while looking out onto a gloriously fertile rice field while occasional breezes and bursts of rainfall chimed in.
Experiment: Always be open to other styles of yoga to drop into the “beginners” mind/body connection, the very essence of yoga
- SpiritDance SoulSong – Vibrance! Free Yourself Through Dance, Sound and Song with Daphne Tse and Ellen Watson: My FOMO moment of the day came out in full force right before landing here – both workshops I wanted to attend happened to be in tents sitting right next to each other. Really? Could this decision be any harder? After choosing SpiritDance SoulSong, I was still stuck in my head wondering if I had made the right choice wishing I could just clone myself and be in two places. At that moment, the facilitators moved us into tribal foot dance and root chakra sounding (sound: ahhhhwwwww), and the combo almost immediately dissolved any left-brain powers of mind. I dropped in and found myself immersed fully in the experience of my inner child shredding air guitar on a coconut percussion shaker, meowing on all fours with complete strangers, belting Native American sacred song and spinning ecstatically in circles with a fellow New Yorker friend that I met last year at Goddess Gathering (coincidence? I think not) – all against the backdrop of live tribal djembe sounds. There was a method to all the madness, but that’s beside the point. I was home again <3
Experiment: Song, dance and releasing the inner child = Medicine. Must do these more! No excuses.
Today began with a 6.4 earthquake. I completely missed it though, and I’m pretty sure it had to do with some bout of strong body shaking laughter exchange with a new festival friend. That was the talk of town, followed by the theme of body pain. After two full-on days, everyone was hurting – I suppose we had all done one too many downward dogs and spinal twists. I’ve been enjoying my daily ritual, which has shaped up to flow something like this – check in, apply bug spray while pining over how much the world needs some bug spray-sunscreen combo, b-line straight to the 20,000 rupiah coffee in the hidden garden, share small debrief moments with other volunteers about their favorite workshop the day before, eat my deliciously filling granola bar from Jukies, catch up with my partner in crime welcome wristband checker, and then spend the next 4.5-5 hours connecting with people passing in and out of what I like to call the festival ‘portal’ – that place where people enter the world of workshop energy and leave as more elevated versions of themselves. Convos can last anywhere from a few seconds to longer convos about how a tai chi flow can eventually emerge from years of ashtanga to helping a Chinese woman with minimal English find a tampon (which you think would be much easier at a predominantly female yoga festival) or helping a lovely lady combat a common case of FOMO/choice paralysis that I’ve already mentioned extensively.
There’s never a dull moment to be had in this role. The amount of energy consumed by all the small talk, deep talk and chats in between can be a lot. Not to mention, feeling the overworked residual pain of my own body settling in and telling me to take her easy and go low/slow today. Can’t have high vibes without the low vibes, am I right?
It dawned on me after reviewing today’s schedule one too many times that most of the workshops aired on the side of slow and easygoing, falling into the realms of sound healing, wisdom talks and body work. Whether a beginner or advanced in the world of movement-based stuff, we all can relate to that third day burn following an intense workout. It was cool to see the programming acknowledge that reality and feel our pain (snaps BSF team J). Also, let’s not forget that a 6.4 earthquake shook the island up only hours earlier, and there couldn’t have been a clearer sign from the universe to slow down and surrender.
After much deliberation about how to make the most of my afternoon and create the perfect schedule, I decided to take my own advice. I dropped out of the mind into my body and listened,
Why are you here?
Trust the inner voice.
Show up as you are.
The afternoon surprisingly shaped up to give me exactly what I needed in each moment, manifesting with: Soul Healing, Touching Essence and Trauma Release, and the Sacred Art of Shiatsu. I took notes on two:
- Soul Healing: I honestly ended up here because I was in dire need of air con and a chill intimate space, which happened to be the Zen Tent. As a small cozy group of no more than 20 ladies and 2 men, we practiced soul gazing which basically involves two people looking into each other’s eyes, looking to recognize themselves in the other. This was followed by intimate sharing between partners and a larger group discussion around what we all are looking to heal. We closed out with powerful invocations of “I am,” eyes closed. I was lucky to have partnered up with a lovely and very smiley Australian girl with a sparkly bindi radiating from her third eye. It blows my mind just how much exchange can happen in a such a short span of time.
Experiments: Don’t judge a book by its cover and certainly don’t judge a workshop by its name. I showed up despite all the mind chatter and judgment, and it was incredibly rewarding. An indescribable healing can happen within 45 minutes, as it did for me. As I was riding the wave of vulnerability (and air con), I decided to stay for the next workshop…
- Touching Essence and Trauma Release with Ellen Watson: With a focus on the psoas muscles, we were going to look at the muscle group responsible for movement in the pelvis and hips, and also the target of contraction when trauma is experienced in the body. I was more curious about locating this mysterious psoas than releasing it, so I very much got myself front and center on one of the eight bodies lying as demos. This muscle lies right above the hip bone, and with much focus and gentle digging, I was able to find and feel a rubber band-y box deep in there. Just as eager to experience this from the other side, I jumped at the chance to volunteer my own psoas for pushing. While not the most pleasant or relaxing experience, I was proud of myself for embodying vulnerability and surrendering to the curiosity of self and others.
Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here?
This brings me to the final day of Bali Spirit Festival, which began much earlier in a very powerful dream. I was standing in a building witnessing a rocket take off in Apollo 13 fashion, with an overwhelming cloud of smoke pushing against the earth. As the rocket ascended with full force, it suddenly stopped in slow motion and began to come right at me in all its fiery fury. I knew at that moment I was going to be swallowed, and as the overwhelming fear of death came crashing forward, I experienced an unexpected flash of light and insight,
We should all be more grateful
Gratitude is life
I woke up with a painful stomachache and a fully embodied sense of that dream. The feelings were incredibly real and present. What the hell was that? What does it mean?
I continued onward to Bali Spirit and went about my morning ritual. This was my final day here and I wanted to make it count by taking workshops with the more popular teachers on the schedule. However, something shifted in me the moment I saw Wylie come out of a breath workshop – there was a powerful energy shift and transformation in the making, and I was curious. Not to mention, the dream (or should I say vision?) kept creeping back into my psyche, telling me to probe from the heart space and seek out spaces for understanding.
Why are you here?
Trust the inner voice.
Show up as you are.
While the muscle of intuition was getting stronger by the day, I could see my mind and heart at war. But as always, the heart found her voice, recognizing I needed to do the thing I feared most. Breath workshop it is, times two.
Without getting too much into detail around something that can only be understood through experience alone, I’ll say this. Our bodies hold an unimaginable depth of wisdom that our minds alone cannot perceive. They hold a “living library of memory” as one teacher prompted, and can be accessed only with full attention and presence to whatever may come up. Just like a rusty mirror needs daily cleaning and maintenance, so do our emotional and spiritual bodies before they can reveal to us the clarity of wisdom we always already had. Of course, in the absence of regular maintenance, the process of cleaning and release may take that much longer or reveal a much uglier darker side. But just imagine the other side, waiting to be revealed and re-birthed in all its glorious abundance!
To close, I leave you with a goddess chant I learned with one of my favorite teachers this week. Embodying our full selves as we are and coming home to ALL that already is:
Om Namo Lakshmi Ma
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