(All photos here are by me except the first and last one – by Tilli Bucher)
After the April Radical Self Love Retreat in Bali, I realised that the place I had been searching for – my happy place – a place with community and connection and love and a feeling of family and good weather and peace, was right here in Bali. Prior to this I had spent time in India and New Zealand, looking for possible future home bases. I went to visit Auroville, an intentional community in South India, and in New Zealand I spent time in the very laid back Coromandel Peninsula.
But in the end Bali ticked all my boxes, and so after going back to Melbourne in April, I packed up my flat and belongings, and returned to stay in a beautiful apartment at the Bali Sandat guesthouse in June.
Some people have been asking me recently what it is that I love about Bali and the answer was too long for a message, so I decided to write this article.
The primary reason that Bali keeps drawing me back is the spiritual connection of the people.
Balinese people are very devoted to their spiritual practice – Balinese Hinduism, and this is perhaps the most important aspect of life here.
Each and every day – various times a day, men, women and children create offerings in the form of small baskets of flowers, fruit and incense – to offer to the Gods.
This is a form of acknowledging the primacy of spirit, as the source of life, and the sacred relationship between humans, Gods and nature, known as Tri Hati Kitana.
Tri Hati Kitana states that humans need to care for the relationship between
- humans and Gods,
- humans and humans and
- humans and nature (mother Earth, plants and animals),
and as long as they take care of these three foundational relationships, and build their life from there, all will be well.
This principal guides much of Balinese life, from the way that villages and communities cooperate in the building of each others’ houses and in the frequent ceremonies (that require days of work and preparation), to the management and distribution of resources as represented by the subak system, which is a carefully managed irrigation system that distributes water to all the different homes and rice paddies in the whole of Bali, from the same original source.
For someone from any western country such as Australia where I am from, with its strong focus on materialism at the expense of spirit (though of course back in the days of the Aboriginal people’s occupation it was the opposite), this focus on spiritual connection is a welcome balm for the soul.
Here in Bali I don’t feel the energy of striving and competition between people that as an energetically sensitive being I do feel when living in big western cities.
Something else that I love about Bali is the connection I feel with the Balinese people.
As I ride my motorbike up the mountain or to the waterfall, I am very often greeted by many Balinese children and adults who call out to me enthusiastically ‘Helloooooooo!’, with a huge grin on their faces in many cases.
I shout back ‘Hellooooooo!’
And my spirit is immediately lifted and inspired by this instant connection with other souls.
Connection is essentially what all humans are here on Earth for, and here in Bali whenever I leave my house, I am greeted: people look at me in the eyes and smile or wave or shout hello.
Just recently I was walking through the tiny back streets (or ‘gangs’ in Indonesian) of the village where I live, and amongst the people calling out the customary ‘hellllooooos’ was one family who invited me in to their compound.
They were sitting around their courtyard together, eating, and asked if I would like to join them.
I politely declined the food as I am vegetarian and it was some kind of ‘daging’ (meat) but I sat and chatted in a mix of Indonesian and English for a half hour or so.
As a nature lover, Bali is also the perfect place for me.
I live right on a black sand beach, and I am a ten hour motorbike ride away from the mountains and the stunning lake Batur.
In ten minutes I can be at my favourite waterfall where I can hike up for half an hour and be in the most pristine nature, which is literally humming with life.
Dragonflies hover over the water, their wings refracting the sunlight spectacularly in prisms of light. I am often left in awe as I look up and I am circled by swallows who are doing a sky dance above me, circling and circling and circling joyfully fluttering their small wings in carefree abandon on the updrifts of the wind.
One day when I am feeling adventurous, I will get up at 3am and climb to the top of Mount Batur in the dark, guided by fellow adventurers with torches, to see the sunrise. This is still on my to-enjoy list.
After that hike I can reward myself with a soak in the natural hot springs, warmed by the embers of the active volcano – Mount Agung – the highest mountain in Bali at over 3148 metres above sea level. That one is not clime-able because A: It is very steep and B: it is, ahem, and active volcano.
According to Balinese culture, Agung is the most sacred mountain in Bali, which is why it its foothills are home to the ‘mother temple’ – the temple of temples for the Balinese people – Besakih.
Don’t travel nearby here on a high ceremony day such as the Galungun or Kunigan days as you will be stuck in traffic for hours, fighting through literally thousands of Balinese worshippers just get to where you are going.
As a beach lover, the beach where I live is a black sand, volcanic beach, and as opposed to the big surf of the south, the waves here are very small or non existent on quiet days.
There is a lot of coral out in the sea right in front of my beach, and I often go out with my snorkel and flippers on to say hello to the rainbow colony of fish who live down there. If I am ever feeling low, the rainbow fish are sure to cheer me up.
Life itself is an absolute magical mystery and in Bali this is something that you are constantly reminded of.
It is incredible that we are even here, given that, in thousands of years of searching, we still haven’t found another planet with life such as exists here on Earth.
Thus, I believe it is very healthy to stop regularly, drop everything, and celebrate the fact that we are here, we are breathing, we are alive in this magical place.
Hence – ceremony.
Every full moon, across the whole island of Bali, village temples host a ceremony.
The order of proceedings differs in each region, and each temple, but it is sure to involve offerings, blessings with holy water, prayers, music and dancing.
It is customary to where white, and if not white, to wear at least your best most beautiful batik sarong (kadeng), sash and a kebaya (a body hugging blouse embroidered with lace on the nape of the neck and at the wrists) if you are a woman, and sarong, batik shirt and an udeng (a beautiful head dress which is essentially batik material wrapped expertly into the shape of a sort of hat) if you are a man.
Art, Dance and Music
Music, art and dance are all integral parts of Balinese culture.
The visual and plastic arts and are on vivid display at any temple ceremony. And artistry also finds its way into even the smallest details of the Balinese way of life.
In preparing the offerings for the temple ceremonies or for every day, first the little baskets made from palm leaves must be woven. Then they are filled with elegantly arranged flowers and fruit, before being taken to be deposited in the appropriate place of worship as food for the Gods.
At a recent full moon ceremony, where I took some of my Radical Self Love retreatants, after the blessing by the priests and the sprinkling of the holy waters, a Gamelan orchestra started playing. And after a half hours, warm up, the first troupe of dancers took the stage – in this case the grassy grounds of the temple.
Dressed in white kebayas and yellow sarongs elegantly finished with a long yellow sash, about forty village women of different ages took their places for the dance. In a square formation, they danced a slow and mesmerizing dance, with the usual very elegant hand and head movements, that reminds the viewer of a curious bird.
Following the women, after a respectful break, a troupe of male dancers, very colourfully dressed up as Barongs – the demonic dragon-like characters of Balinese folklore – took the stage and started their much more explosive performance, imitating a ferocious village fight where humans and Barongs face off until death or surrender.
The beautiful thing about these dances, is that they are totally inclusive. It is not a spectator sport where only the select chosen few are allowed to take part. If you wish to join your village dance troupe, then you join. You go to rehearsals in the evenings and on the ceremony night you are the star along with all of your fellow villagers. It’s something where everyone takes part.
A stroll along many of the artisan streets in Ubud is another feast for the eyes and for the lover of arts.
In the famous rice paddy district of Tegallalang, just North of Ubud, there is a long street of about five kilometres, populated almost exclusively by artisans and craftspeople – there are wood carvers, creating enormous Buddha statues, or finely honing beautiful sculptures from tree roots which then support all sorts of shaped glass objects. Then there are those who specialise in mobiles and dream catchers made from shells, feathers and precious stones found in Bali, each object sightly more extravagant and beautiful than the next. Then there are painters of every kind, many of them painting in traditional style – scenes of rice paddies and country life, as well as mythic scenes of Gods and dragons, wars and epic marriages of princes and princesses.
So I could not leave this one out. I love Balinese food, and as a vegetarian, particularly I love all the tempe and tahu (tempe and tofu) which frequents lots of the cuisine here.
Some of my favourite dishes are Tipak Tahu – tofu with peanut sauce, rice and mung bean shoots.
I also love Nasi Goreng – Indonesian fried rice, with a fried egg on top and sambal (chilli sauce) on the side.
And then there as the drinks. At Bali Sandat they make some amazing drinks, from luscious papaya juice with lime, to home made lime soda, to Es Bir – a drink with coconut sheds floating in a lime and coconut juice mix.
And if you are a lover of all things vegan, vegetarian and raw, Ubud would have to be now one of the world meccas for this cuisine, with many amazing restaurants such as Alchemy, Seeds of Life and Sayuri specialising in raw and plant based cuisine.
Cost of Living
The fact that life is much cheaper here compared to Australia or Europe, is definitely also a very attractive part of living in Bali.
I pay probably about a third of what I would pay in Melbourne for rent, and I can also rent my motorbike cheaply compared to any western country.
This means that because financial stress is greatly alleviated, it is easier to focus on developing the things in your life that really matter to you.
For me that’s focusing on my daily meditation and yoga practice, sharing that with those who come to to my classes and retreats, as well as having time to do things like compose music.