I have been many times to “The Last Paradise,” “Island of the Gods” and each time I have discovered a little bit more about myself. I don’t know what it is about Bali that has me returning time and time again; maybe it’s the daily spas that I love most; the ritual of disappearing unnoticed for a few hours to surrender my stiff tense body to warm Balinese hands. Or is it to have the luxury of time? The outdoor baths offer luxurious silence and sinking into oil- anointed waters I scoop handfuls of petals allowing them to trickle through my fingers. I notice the blueness of ‘Father Sky’ as they call it in Bali. But I think it’s something else deeper, like an invisible magnet that entices me to go back. My travels have taught me it’s often just enough to want to do something and not to question the ‘why?’ Now it’s busier this time than I have ever seen it but still I managed to find a pocket of it that is mine alone to enjoy.
I owe gratitude to Bali for allowing me the space to reach within, and to allow the opening of my heart. To my teachers that have imparted their yoga wisdom to me, keeping me from giving up as the going got tough. And to the retreats which allowed me to withdraw from the distractions of our modern world and dig a bit deeper into the ‘why and where?’ that I was seeking. It was on one such retreat that I had the privilege to meet Yoga raj Alun Finger who had flown in from New York to join my teacher and mentor Tamara. When these two energetic and inspiring souls collided, I was catapulted into an awareness that I wanted more of ‘that feeling.’ The beams of light that radiated from them drew me like a moth to a flame. It was Alun Finger who told me I was already at home when I was too blind to see it was already inside me all the time. As they guided us through the daily practice of yoga and meditation it encouraged me to shed what was not mine and peeled away at the cumbersome layers that life had draped around me. I dimmed the volume of my own ego voice and tipped out some of the baggage of life that I had been pulling around in my suitcase.
On my last visit to Bali I went deeper and signed up for Panchakarma. I have always been a seeker and curious to go deeper into the cleansing and wellness rituals of Ayurveda. It’s one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems and seeing the world completely out of whack I knew why I was drawn to learn more about it. I knew I was a perfect example of a Vata constitution. I was out of balance from too much travel, being constantly ‘up in the air’ from my nomadic life and from living in a place with windy and cold weather. I knew from feeling excessively cold, troubled by dry skin and hair that I was not grounded at all. My pulse, character and body composition confirmed the diagnosis that I was too much Vata and put on a personalized diet and treatment plan. I found it liberating having more self-knowledge, like I was becoming my own doctor. Our bodies are powerful, we have own innate healing abilities if only we tuned in and listened to what it was telling us. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, but I knew I wanted to bring myself back from my head to my heart, to feel less like a swaying tree, knocked about by the wind.
Anything acidic was out of the question, inflammation caused in part by my diet which still contained some animal protein and dairy was strictly forbidden. My new diet would soothe and allow the healing to take place. I knew that my stomach and digestive system was my weak spot: it was always the area to get upset and angry when I travelled. All meals except breakfast came with ghee. I always thought it was just something Indian Curry houses used in making their curries but when each meal came with a jug of warm ghee to pour over my vegetables, I had to use everything I had not to gag. As I turned up each day to my abhyanga massage I surrendered to the process of being smothered in warm sesame oil, the untoasted kind, and then left submerged up to my neck in the blend of 9 different herbs.
The smell of which was revolting but it acted as an anchor for me. I felt nourished and safe in my oily rubber bath, like a new born baby I felt snug and secure. I looked forward to this daily ritual and slowly began the process of moving out of my head and into myself again. Practicing mindful eating three times a day became like meditation, deeply nourishing and part of the process of reconnecting with myself. With nothing to do but eat or wait for my next treatment, I re-learnt the beauty of appreciating time. It had the effect of simplifying everything, clearing the muck off my windscreen, so I could see life again more clearly.
But it didn’t stop there with the oil. I had heard the other residents ask each other “Have you had it yet?” And I had no idea what they were talking about until the nurse knocked on my door with a hose and a pair of rubber gloves. It was my time for Basti. This administration of warm sesame oil and herbal tea each day was probably on a par with the indignity of having a Pap smear. So being British I disconnected my mind from the process and told myself to ‘think of England.’
This time I was here back in Ubud for a reason. I was going to work on my book, have massage and practice yoga. I didn’t have a deeper motive to come here than that, but the universe had other ideas. I decided to google some accommodation suited to a single traveler and a writing competition came up on google for a retreat in October. I didn’t hesitate to submit my entry knowing it hadn’t popped up without a reason. I received an email from its organizer who was living as a digital nomad in Ubud with his yoga teacher girlfriend. He asked me how I had found his competition and I told him ‘by accident.’ He asked me what I was looking for on my trip. I told him how I wanted to be alone but not feel lonely, to retreat but not to feel like a recluse, and to have a view of the tropical greenery that I love so much. I also wanted to be able to walk to a yoga studio and a café with healthy food and WIFI. “I will find you such a place. You will love where we live, there are no cars, no scooters and ‘The Yellow Flower Café’ is nearby. We will be neighbours.”
As humans we can be distrustful, hesitant to believe that there is not an ulterior motive behind a kindness. I chose to trust and go with my intuition that something bigger than me was once again guiding me. We exchanged so many fun emails as he sent me pictures of the places, he had gone out of his way to find. Not owning a car, I knew he had either walked or taken his scooter to do the search. I didn’t win the competition but suddenly it didn’t seem to matter I had a villa that looked in every way perfect and a new friend to meet. When the driver arrived at the steep steps that led to the villa up in the rice fields, I had a glimmer of recollection as to where I was. As he carried my suitcase on his shoulder, and I was shown to my villa I knew I had been right to trust my instincts. Next morning sitting in the yellow café next door looking out across the valley I was in exactly the same spot that I had been two years earlier with my friend. I had promised her that I would come back one day on my own and write my book, practice some yoga and eat good food. I had just never known how to find it again.