I was happy to tag along with my friend here in Bali when she suggested that we hire a driver and go on a day trip, checking off all those clichéd Bali things that I didn’t get a chance to do last time (healer, Holy Water temple, rice fields, traditional dance performance).
And so we headed off on a rainy, humid day, our first stop to visit a traditional Balinese healer. You’ve heard all about Elizabeth Gilbert and Ketut Liyer which I suppose has caused something of a resurgence of interest amongst tourists for such figures. Our Balinese driver, Putu, planned out our whole day and took us to see a healer that he had personally seen when he was a child and who had apparently cured him of a black magic spell. “I was sick when I was a child. I had bad stomach pains. Went to the doctor four times. He couldn’t help. Then my father took me to see the healer and I was better,” he told us.
While I believe there are probably some gifted healers in the world, those of the shamanic variety who have healing powers us average joes don’t have access too, I had low expectations of visiting this man.
We pulled up to his compound, a beautiful, well-kept maze of rooms, statues and shrines in typical Balinese style. The man himself, whom I later would find out is named Cokorda Rai, was working humbly with a patient (client? customer? seeker?) in the porch area where the people come and wait their turn. My friend and I gleaned that the woman and her friend who was waiting were Russian. We waited our turn patiently as Mr. Rai told the girl in broken English how to help herself, although we could only hear the occasional snippet. After waiting about twenty minutes my brave, recently broken-hearted friend took her place on the ground at his feet as he sat behind her in a chair. He wore traditional Balinese dress, complete with white cotton shirt, patterned sarong and traditional hat.
I watched as he felt my friend’s head and face as if he were blind (he’s not) and then pushed his fingers into her ears and felt around her throat and neck. She then lay down on a bamboo mat and he proceeded to poke her toes and feet with a small stick. I guess what he told her resonated as she walked towards us wiping a tear or two from her eye.
Then it was my turn. I get the full head-feeling treatment – and indeed I can attest to the fact that it feels weird when a stranger pokes their long gnarly fingers into one’s ears. He felt around my head and told me that I was strong minded, ‘like a lawyer.’ Unsure if that was a compliment or insult, I kept calm and let him continue feeling around. He asked what my profession was and didn’t seem surprised when I told him. He shouted out across to my friend and Putu that they should ask me for advice because I think I always know what’s best for others.
Then came the painful part.
I lay down on the mat and he proceeded to prod my toes with his evil little stick. It was painful. Like really painful. Like being stabbed. After some minutes of this torturous exercise, the healer comes to the conclusion that I have low blood pressure, that I shouldn’t do anything strenuous at night (it’s true I’m a ‘morning person’), that I need to eat more meat and take Omega-3 supplements. I wouldn’t disagree with analysis. However, I didn’t put much faith in the whole thing to begin with and before I knew it, I’d made my ‘offering’ of $30 and we were on our way to our next attraction. We said a polite goodbye to Mr. Rai and the German expat who was waiting patiently after us. I didn’t give the experience a second thought.
Cut to a few days later and I am forced to fly to Singapore to renew my visa due to some monumental fuckup on an immigration official’s part. I’m in the airport bookstore in the departures lounge (like a moth to a flame!) and a book about Balinese healing catches my eye.
I look at the photo on the back, and to my surprise, it has a picture of the healer whose fingers were in my ears just a few days before. It turns out this Cokorda Rai is quite the famous, revered figure with a lot of mana, both among expats, seekers and local Balinese alike.
More interesting perhaps is what I read about his life between the covers of that book. Encased within the first chapter was a hurried account of a swashbuckling life – a teen runaway, life as a thug on the mean streets of Jakarta, a series of failed business, marriages and some nine children born along the way. But this regal man (he comes from Balinese royalty) returns home and answers the call and fulfills his destiny…so today, here he is, this elegant man in his 80’s, sitting joyfully on his porch, waiting for those in need for what ails them.