April 24, 2012

Bhakti in Bali.

Underneath the chaotic complexity and frenetic energy of Bali, where the swarm of humans, motorbikes, and insects crowd and buzz alike; beneath the strong smells so unique to Indonesia of burning trash, heavy exhaust, incense, frangipani and wet earth, there is a sweet simplicity that will take you in with open arms, and leave you days, months later, for the better.

What belies Bali is a devotion so ignited you could call it wholehearted creativity and get away with it. A true island of Bhakti Yogis, where designation of the sacred informs all you see and do. This call towards the reverence of simplicity is, at its essence, life beckoning you back to meaningfulness.

photo by Cadencia Photography

Every morning since I’ve been here I’ve watched the small, regal, Balinese women placing hand-made altars of palm leaves, rice, flowers and incense in every threshold and doorway. Their prayers moving out into the world soft on their lips. The brilliant lace of their Kabayas contrasting impossibly smooth, dark skin as they perform abisheka, the ritual blessing of water tossed from flower petals to wet the feet of their deities. One of my teachers once said, “blind faith is dogma.” But participating with both the seen and unseen is to never forget the mystery and the magic of this world. The difference is engagement. Bali beckons you back into the real pith of your own active and alive conversation with the world. Whether you ask it to or not, it invites you to the artistic creation of practices and rituals that feed more than your physical body, that teach you the way out of fear and forgetfulness. Not empty action, but reverence for, and the practices of ignited, authentic creativity, which is all the world wants of us anyway. Simple.

A few months ago I found myself in the midst of an interview with the assistant editor of Yoga Journal for the May edition on creativity. I lay splayed out and exhausted in the best way after a morning of teaching at a woman’s retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii. I will never forget that conversation, and that languid afternoon, for it inspired a new level of understanding that continues to reverberate on the constant. A simple inquiry into my creative process sparked months of contemplation and I find myself repeating the words of John O’Donahue who once said: “we are all meant to be creators,” as japa mantra. Over and over and over.

The Tantric tradition teaches us first about empowerment.

Not some overt supernatural power that allows you to manipulate and control outer circumstances, but the power to make choices that best support your path, or rather, that best allow you to create, as in creatively, mold and shape your world. When your creative process is allowed to take grander form than long walks on the beach, journaling and bath-time (a few of my favorites) and instead take shape as the very foundation of your life, where all things are acknowledged as product of choice — from the quality of your relationships, to the organization of your desk and, yes, of course, to the watercolor painting hanging above it, then what starts to arise is a simple and often unbidden recognition of essence nature. The move towards primal creativity, free of judgement and from the heart.

A few things happen in that moment. One, you can no longer find it in you to call yourself a victim as you step into active participation, and two, the sacred starts to include a much larger space in your field of view. You may, perhaps, decide to honor it more often. Douglas Brooks teaches that “rituals tell us a mythic narrative.” The power of myths is that they allow us to wonder. They raise essential questions that can never really be answered. Why am I here? What do I stand for? What is most important to me? Questions that bring to light the ‘whys’ of meaningfulness.

What brought me to Bali this year was an event called Sacred Circularities (SC) held annually each year in Ubud fast on the heels of Bali Spirit Festival. As one of my co-teachers put it, SC is the “crown jewel of hoopdance gatherings,” not only for its other-worldly location set out amongst the rice fields, but for its manifested and richly articulated vision. Sacred Circularities takes the often quiet underpinnings of hoopdance to a larger contextual level and brings the sacred into, and out of, the circle, crafting an experience for participants to go deep within themselves in creative play and simultaneously offers a safe container for free expression. Theta healing, Tantric discourse and mythology, Clarity breath work, meditation, ecstatic dance, temple visits and Vedic fire pujas are just a few of the offerings inter-weaving and supporting the trick and technique of all-levels hoopdance play. The brilliance of SC is that for many of us — indeed, most of us, hoopdance has so successfully laid siege to our hearts because it is more than play — its introduction has been a catalyst to deeper conversation and inquiry. It is our embodied ritual. Our creative practice. Our challenge and our ceremony both.

photo by Cadencia Photography

The last day of the event I woke at dawn to the gentle sweep of a broom on concrete (nearly a ritual in itself here in Bali), and to the calls of the men in the rice fields, fighting their perpetual battle with the birds as the sun cast its golden flares across fields of staggering green. Around my wrist I wore a thread of black, red and white tied in remembrance of the fire ceremony from the night before, where we chanted mantra and offered all the best and worst parts of us into the fire of transformation. Indeed I felt new — so alive with creative inspiration, not solely as a result of the puja, but from the accumulative week of collective ceremony, creativity, celebration and connection. The uninhibited inner illumination that is mistress of safe discovery. As I walked though the rice paddies towards the wantalon where I was to lead the morning yoga, I saw the event for what it was — necessarily a microcosmic reflection of the teeming, transformational and very beguiling island it’s held on.

In Western societies we have lost much by way of ceremony, myth and ritual.

These practices, by their very nature, are a call to participate in the unfolding creativity of life. Bali reverberates with it. Day in and day out, the Balinese designate sacred space, they celebrate their families, they are quick to trust and to smile and invite you in. Community — be it composed of ex-pats, transients, travelers, or locals, happens as if by accident. The container that is cast in ritual holds the parameter to honor and challenge what’s within. Authentic creativity flourishes as a result.

In Bali I found myself deep in the folds of another’s world of meaning, where every act was a reminder, again and again, of my own. I can’t help but believe that the true warriors of this world are lighting the way to unseen and very personal solutions to common problems. Solutions that whisper empowerment. That ask us to step into the central conversation of our lives where meaningfulness comes first. Who are you? Why are you here? What do you stand for? Unbounded creativity, a primal calling to create our worlds with heart is the fallout, and what creation was made in the authenticity of our own unique and silent conversations, becomes our ritual. That simple, repetitive act of devotion that feeds our souls, that creates beauty, and brings the richness of our lives to new fervored, fulfilling heights.


Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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