Ten years ago, I embarked upon a journey to the “other side of the world,” with big dreams and hopes for a fresh start.
I had no idea how drastically my life would change.
The things I’ve learned through the eyes of a different culture go beyond what words can adequately describe. Living on the little mystical island of Bali has shown me that there are many ways to experience the simple things—and the complex.
I’d like to share with you some of the most significant things I’ve learned from the Balinese culture.
The Balinese live their days on “rubber time.”
We get there when we get there. No reason to stress about it. You can imagine what it was like for me during my first year here—it drove me nuts!
Life is a ceremony.
There’s a ceremony going on every day on this little island.
There’s always something to praise the gods for. It’s like having a holiday several times a week. How beautiful to find something to celebrate more days than not.
I’ve learned a whole new meaning to the phrase “go with the flow.”
Not only when it comes to timing, but for just about everything. It can be a sunny day without a cloud in sight and within minutes, a drenching downpour will roll in.
There are certain things we learn very quickly—bring your own tissue everywhere, always have a rain coat or umbrella, and keep a snack in your bag just in case the only options for food involve a roadside street vendor with a spicy concoction that’ll take days to get over.
Privacy is overrated.
I don’t even know the term for “privacy” in Indonesian language!
Sometimes I wonder if there is one. Here, your business is everyone’s business. And I mean everyone. Gossip spreads faster here than in any small town in America. People here don’t really seem to mind if everyone knows their personal business. It’s just a way of life. I wonder how people can know so much about me. A mystery for sure.
I remember so many places I lived in where I didn’t even know my next door neighbor.
That is unheard of in Bali. Community involvement means everything here. Decisions for villages are always made together; the whole village is expected to attend every wedding, funeral and ceremony. There is no exclusion.
It’s such a beautiful thing to see people coming together so often.Photo: Alia Indrawan
Wherever you go, there you are.
Although I’ve lived in Indonesia for ten years, speak the language fluently, am married to a Balinese priest and sometimes manage to put my temple wear on correctly, I’ll never be Balinese.
I’m still “me” no matter where I go.
I’m realizing that I don’t need to solely identify with any culture or geographical location anymore. I’m simply “me” living my life as a world citizen. I kind of like it that way.
Most communication is non-verbal.
I’ve often heard this said but never realized how true it was until living in a foreign country.
I’m fortunate to know the language of the country now, but when I first arrived (in Java, Indonesia), just about every conversation I had was non-verbal. It’s amazing how much can be expressed without knowing a single word!
Respect the natural world.
The Balinese know the importance of living with the rhythms of nature.
Before houses or structures are built, ceremonies are conducted to ask for permission from the spirits of the land to build there. Offerings are given to the natural world. There are certain days every year where special ceremonies are conducted to honor the trees and plant life.
It’s rapidly changing with the tourism industry taking over the farm lands, rice paddies and other crops. Hopefully this little island will be able to sustain the natural beauty that makes it so special.
Silence is necessary.
One day every year, everything on the island, including the airport, completely shuts down.
On Nyepi, we must remain indoors, without lights or noise, keep off the streets and just be still. The whole island goes within. It’s the most beautiful experience ever. Just silence.
Honor our differences and focus on our similarities.
There are people from every part of the world on this little island. Every culture, religion, belief system imaginable is gathered here.
It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about other ways of life by meeting people on their travels through Bali. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. What I’ve found is that we’re really all the same.
Our differences are so trivial and unimportant compared to the collective experience we all share on this planet.
Now my time here has come to a close, as I venture off to my homeland once again.
I’ll always be grateful for the rich experience that life outside of the box has given to me.
If you ever get the urge to visit this sacred land, listen closely to the call. Don’t be surprised if you return home, sell all your stuff and move here permanently though.
It seems to be going around.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman