With Love & Prayers from Bali

The one word that comes to mind when I reflect on my visit to Bali is “openness.” Bali is on the far side of the world and usually takes 30 hours to reach. It makes traveling to Europe look like a journey to New Jersey.

The one word that comes to mind when I reflect on my visit to Bali is “openness.” Bali is on the far side of the world and usually takes 30 hours to reach. It makes traveling to Europe look like a journey to New Jersey.

My plane was canceled from Los Angeles to Hong Kong due to the protests in Hong Kong and I ended up making a 60-hour journey via Beijing that included an unexpected visit to a remote section of the Great Wall of China where I saw only a handful of Chinese visitors. Finally, I made it to Bali.

Until about 1912, only aristocrats and the very wealthy made the journey to what was then the remote and mysterious Bali. A Dr. Krause from Europe published a book of photographs of beautiful Balinese women in 1912 that drew the attention of young men who had survived World War I and soon artists, writers, poets and others found their way to Bali and were both transformed by the culture and transformed the world that they found.

Everyone should be so fortunate as I am to have a brother who is a dear friend and has a spectacular boutique hotel where family can stay for free in Ubud, Bali. Stone House Bali in Ubud is only four years old, but already it has attracted the attention of some of the world’s finest travel magazines.

The newest addition is the Tree House – a completely bamboo structure built on bamboo stilts overlooking the rice paddies. At night, I listened to the most amazing animal noises and each morning I awoke to a symphony of roosters crowing. I slept soundly underneath a mosquito net with cool evenings in the best weather of the year.

Each morning and many an evening the staff prepared incredibly healthy, flavorful and beautifully displayed meals. Everything is farm to table. Much of the food is grown on the property. The Balinese are incredibly gentle and gracious people who exude peace and joy.

The average Balinese spends 30-40 percent of their annual income on religious rituals. Colorful offerings are made daily to ward off evil spirits and curry the favor of good spirits. Every village has four temples and each family compound has its own sacred temple area. I’ve never witnessed a culture that takes their faith so seriously and lives it out so naturally, easily and joyfully.

Bali exudes ancient desires to connect with the gods and source of life, peace, balance, wisdom and joy. It is this historic foundation of grace, love and spiritual gentleness that has created a foundation for people and seekers of spiritual life and human harmony to come from every corner of the world in search of something unique in Bali to feed their spirit.

My brother, Walker, noted that people either love Bali or hate it. It’s a place of peaceful experimentation that attracts hippies, yogis, New Age folks, millennials and carefree travelers from around the world. From funky healthy little restaurants to the Yoga Barb and a vast myriad of yoga studios to hundreds of massage studios and shops selling batiks, sarongs, sandals, jewelry and Buddhas in all sizes and shapes from Java, the place lives and breathes the search for inner peace and harmony and for aligning oneself with the flow of energy hidden behind the craziness of world news and reality.

Three fourths of the island’s population seems to be buzzing around on a motorbike at any given moment. It’s like driving a Vespa through Rome. The exhilaration of a cool wind, the stimulation of zipping in and out of traffic and the constant need to focus on the road make transportation and movement in Ubud and other parts of Bali something that you will either love or want to run from as quickly as possible.

Today, I drove my motorbike to Goa Gajah early in the morning to visit this Hindu temple that dates back to the ninth century. I later tried out the Pyramids of Chi which resembles the Sound Bath that we’ve hosted several times at Christ Church Greenwich. Laying flat on our backs with our eyes closed inside a metal pyramid about fifty spiritual explorers and I listened to the sound of gongs and other instruments along with singing and a guided meditation by our instructor. I left without experiencing any radical transformation but refreshed and sensing that had I lived in Ubud I would certainly make my way back here again.

On the drive over, I passed through picturesque villages and saw Giacomo – one of my brother’s friends riding in the opposite direction and waving. The previous day, he had given my brother and me and several friends a wonderful lesson in Xi Gong – a meditative practice that has similarities to meditation, mindfulness and yoga.

Giacomo, my brother and the men who belong to their band of brothers called Man Cave, which meets every other week for men’s fellowship and discussion on some interesting topic, all have children who attend the Green School. Founded only eleven years ago, the Green School is now viewed as the most sustainable and environmentally green school in the world. Created completely out of bamboo, the Green School offers a progressive, project-based education that instills self-awareness, creativity and respect for others, oneself and the environment that is attracting worldwide attention. Many families are moving from the United States, Europe, South America and elsewhere simply to enroll their children in this unique and incredible school.

While in Ubud, I availed myself of four great art museums of which my favorite was the Agung Rai Museum of Art, more commonly known as ARMA. The founder is one of Bali’s most respected and successful citizens. He grew up with nothing and wondered at times how he would eat. Now he manages a staff of over one hundred who run their beautiful art museum, hotel and restaurant. The founder can be found each day at his museum. There is something strikingly peaceful, balanced, joyful and serene about this man.

It was only after reading the small book that I was given along with my entrance ticket while eating lunch that I realized that the man who struck up an unexpected conversation with me in the garden was none other than the founder and one of Indonesia’s most respected citizens. After lunch as I headed out through the museum’s beautiful campus, I found Mr. Agung Rai watering plants in the garden with a beatific smile of serenity upon his face.

“You look like a man who knows great peace and joy,” I said. “Ya,” he replied vigorously. “What is the secret to peace and joy,” I asked. It is a question that I never ask as I sense few people have truly found it and have the wisdom to value and communicate it. “I live with my heart, and love leads me
forward,” said my new friend. This was the essence of my Bali spiritual experience.

Standing under the remote waterfalls, trail biking through the jungle and through rice paddies at harvest time and tiny villages with temples made from lava rock, watching the sacred Cadek or fire dance put on by dozens of villagers, many who know my brother by the revered title of “boss,” and spending an afternoon surrounded by little hysterical primates in Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest, and taking my first yoga classes and navigating my way through Bali on a motorbike were all part of the journey towards openness, which lies at the heart of the spiritual quest. What an incredible journey this week has been.

With love and prayers from Bali,

Marek