After our Tai Chi Class, we take an Intro to Hatha Yoga Class, enjoy $7.00 Balinese Massages, then return to the Yoga Barn an hour and a half early for what Andrew dubs “Competitive Meditation”. We get in the back of a line stretching from the front desk into the courtyard to put our name on a list early enough to be welcomed into the Tibetan Bowl Meditation Class led by Wakua Blueflame. (Yes, this is a person.)
When our names are called, we trod up a spiral staircase to a room lit with a circle of candles. A selection of various sized bronze bowls and wooden mallets are arranged in the center of a circle. Mats, blankets, cushions are laid out for us to choose a spot to lay down and watch the candle light flicker on the wooden beams crisscrossing above our heads. Soon, music playing over speakers is silenced and Wakua taps one of the bowls lofting a long, smooth, round tone above our heads. She gives us instructions for positioning our body, explains the purpose of the meditation, and calls “healing angels” into our midst.
“This is going to be good!” I think, trying to snake my way through my personal black hole in the fabric of reality.
“Allow your mind to release all thoughts, let them pass without judgment, without pause.” Wakua instructs while swinging a mallet around the edge of a larger bronze bowl.
Overthinker huffs. “Shhhhhh!” I say inside my head. Overthinker doesn’t like meditation, it’s generally an hour of me telling her “Hush up, I’d rather hear from Judith-The-Wise right now.”
An hour and a half later, Wakua releases us from what felt like some sort of isolation prison. My ears are aching from the tone of the bowls, my body is stiff from laying on the floor, the back of my head feels like it's on fire, my arms are tingling like I hit my funny bone in my elbow, my mind is irritable from being told to hush up and relax, and my spirit out of sorts because this didn’t go as planned.
“How’d that go for you?” I asked.
“Good, very relaxing!” Andrew tells me. I grumble. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that Zen-Buddha-Andrew "relaxed" while I find myself writhing around in a mental entrapment of my own making.
Overthinker is standing at the Court pulpit, waving her hands and pointing her pen at a power point of this, that, and the other. "Come on, Leslie, do you really believe Chi exists? Can you move energy around your body? Do singing Tibetan bowls escort you to a higher plane of existence to meet healing angels and whatnot? What’s with this Yoga retreat thing anyway? Why aren’t we just drinking at a surf bar?"
Bali is known as “Island of the Gods,” and home to Indonesia’s largest group of Hindu practitioners. For hundreds of years, the locals have been sending their souls skyward through yoga, meditation, weekly ceremony, and daily gratitude offerings. In the 60s and 70s, American yoga practicioners flocked to Bali in droves to learn from the gurus here and enjoy the surf. The “Pray” portion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat Pray Love” is set in Bali, and taxi drivers stick EAT, PRAY, LOVE BALI stickers all over their windows. Mysticism and magic, colorful traditions, and tight knit communities. If where the mind goes, energy follows - what must happen when thousands of years of a community’s collective mind is lifted to thoughts of the greater Universe? I want to feel the energy that must enliven Bali’s rich, volcanic soil.
But, at this point, Overthinker doesn’t care. Having been “shushed" for an hour and a half, she is feeling bitter and sullen. She wants her Bali gelato and a late night pizza. So, I promise her we can go visit with sacred monkeys tomorrow instead of yoga and this placates her. She thinks monkeys are cute.
Three Hindu temples built in the 1300s and their sacred monkey inhabitants are just a few blocks away from our hotel. We remove all our jewelry, sling the camera around my neck and leave backpacks at home. We’ve heard tale that the monkeys will search through your pack looking for food, or steal and hold jewelry for banana ransom. They love when tourists offer them healthy bananas, and they will climb on your shoulders or even your head to get them. They can get a little “hangry” though. If they think you have food, but won’t give it up, they are not beyond biting you. They are fat little thieves.
They are honored with offerings, just like all other objects of Hindu gratitude.
They rule the roost in the Sacred Monkey Forest, and can take up residency anywhere they feel happy to do so.
We had a great time meeting monkeys…
Feeding them bananas…
...and letting them jump from my shoulder to Andrew’s.
We kept an eye on them, though. Andrew says their temperament reminds him of his favorite red-head: friendly at first, but ready to push the murder button at any moment. At one point, a monkey was tugging on Andrew's pant leg only to get his little monkey foot caught beneath Andrew’s flipflop. This caused great offense, the monkey ran off momentarily, then returned with two of his bigger buddies.
I look over to see three monkeys, fists raised, teeth bared and screeching a high-holy racket. Andrew is backing away, waving his hands at them saying “Sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! I’m sorry!”
They step aggressively his way two or three more steps, become satisfied that Andrew knows who’s boss, then turn away and begin grooming each other. They carefully part each other’s fur looking for any unwelcome visitors nestled away.
“I don’t think they speak English,” I tell Andrew.
“They got the idea.”
Overthinker is well distracted by all the cute monkeys she liked to see, especially, all the Mamas, Daddys, and Babies hanging out together. So, after exploring the monkey forest, we decide to head back to the Yoga Barn for an afternoon attempt at another Tibetan Bowl Meditation.
The afternoon class is not lit by candles, so it is not as competitive as the evening class. I take my spot and add extra cushions and bolsters to make sure I’m more comfy. The first bowl tone strikes and I drift away in the darkness behind my eyelids, to the matrix of zeros and ones inside my brain, then above myself to a location I can’t put my finger on. I tell myself to relax and stop fighting the process, be curious, and just observe whatever happens.
I have read books that speak of how meditation can be more safe, yet as powerful psychedelic drugs in changing deeply held perceptions of the world if practiced well and consistently. I've never tried psychedelic drugs, but I try to meditate each day on my own with varied level of success. I am curious, skeptical, and afraid. This Tibetan Bowl Meditation seems like it would be more powerful than my usual efforts - due to the power of Bali soil, the amplifying of human energy, and the use of the sound to anchor my consciousness to something other than the ticker tape of my own thoughts. I want to crack my mind open to see the world differently, but I am afraid of how I might change if I crack my mind open to see the world differently. I am also certain this is a load of hooey and nothing will happen whatsoever.
The man playing the bowls walks around the room, carrying the bowl with him. As the bowl hovers close to my face, the sound is loud, deep and close. I am inside it. He moves to the other side of the room and the sound fades to a long distance; I am beyond it. I see flashes of light and color behind my eyes with each strike of the bowl, the light moves and dances as the tones string out high, then low, short, long, round. The hour passes, and we are called back into our bodies and to wake.
I sit for a moment and observe the room. People are undergoing their own personal post-meditation procedures with some, praying, bowing, or stretching. I am sitting inside of a peaceful nothing; everyone who usually chatters on inside my head (even Overthinker!) is quiet. The windows open to a jungle courtyard glow neon green to my fresh eyes, I see flowers and a butterfly in greater detail than I normally do. I watch the butterfly as it flits from one slithering vine to another, glowing golden in the sun. I am mesmerized, my sense of sight is heightened for a moment. This Tibetan Bowl Session felt better.
Bali, to be continued…