Bye bye rationality, hello another healer

water_lillies_black_and_white_by_sugartasticvalentineIn Ubud everyone, especially the foreign travelers (i.e. rich white people) are seen first as potential customers, second as people. It’s like you’re some kind of defective muppet in desperate need of more yoga, more dance classes, more detox, more healing. My friend told me of an interesting healing experience he had with an Indonesian friend of his (“He barely touched me and I was thrown onto the floor!”). This man, who I would later learn is a well-known, award-winning documentary producer hailing from the island of Java went through a five day awakening and was apparently given superhuman powers. Before the end of my coffee date with my friend, he had sent me his name and number and told me to call this guy. My friend’s girlfriend, who has also had a session with him claimed, “He’s the person who knows me the most in the world.” That actually sounded quite terrifying to me (you know me that well so now I have to kill you).

But of course my insatiable curiosity won out over my rational brain and within a week I had contacted and made arrangements to meet this man. He came to my guesthouse, in his hipster black jeans, boots, t-shirt and obligatory man bun. He told me a little about his job and his family. Hard to believe that someone so young was married with three kids. I made him wait out on the balcony. “Wait here, I need to quickly clean my room,” I ordered. “Don’t worry, I’m going to see all the mess inside of you anyway,” he chuckled. I nearly choked.

The session got underway as I lay on my bed and him perched on a stool next to me. He told me that he didn’t heal people per se but talked them through their own healing. I’m not ill so I don’t really know what I needed healing for, but I guess he works on an emotional/subtle energy level. First we sat in silence. “I’m accessing your files,” he said. And then what he said next was unexpected. According to the information he received from his cosmic database, I had a twin when I was in my mother’s womb that died and was absorbed into the placenta. This means that I have attachment issues and experience separation anxiety more than most people. The grief from losing my twin means that I have been holding onto this emotion for a long time. He told me that one in eight people have this experience and that he also lost his twin in the womb. Consequently, he met a woman who he had a very strong, primal connection with and his relationship with this woman threatened his marriage. Luckily, he found out about this phenomena and felt that she was his long lost twin before his marriage imploded and now they share a familial rather than romantic bond. Apparently, I’m going to meet my twin next year (he was reborn from a different mother, and it’s a ‘he’ because I’m the feminine energy, so he must be the masculine energy). He wanted to make me aware of this because he said in his experience it was very unsettling and I should be prepared to be emotionally thrown by the encounter. Ooohhhhhhkkaaaaayyyy.

We went through the motions of him talking me through clearing what he perceived to be some blocks in my energy, letting go of particular feelings, letting in others. It went on for well over an hour. I have to admit that I lost track of time and went into a kind of light sleep state, although still conscious. I like to think of myself as open minded and open to new experiences, but things like this I am skeptical about. But then, near the end of the session something weird happened. He said he kept hearing a name in his head of someone that was close to me. He said the name aloud several times and I was slightly freaked out because indeed, this person had been very close to me but was no longer in my life, although my grieving had not ended. He said that he would sever the ties energetically so that I could get closure. I have to admit that I found this freaky and felt weird afterwards. After two hours of lying on my bed I really needed to pee. I opened my eyes to see him moving his fingers over me before I got up off the bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I peed for what felt like five minutes and then when I returned we slowly finished the session. He gave me some good advice about giving love in relationships, about following my heart and setting intentions. Who knows the value of this stuff. I don’t want to be a die-hard skeptic, but I don’t want to be a gullible sucker either. Let’s see if my supposed twin appears in my life. I’ll keep you posted.

Off to the healer we go

tjok-rai-bwI 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.

The weird life

11924915_10152909893926853_6672686374771263182_nSpending time in Bali means the following:

Getting woken up by a combination of rat, snake, rooster noises at 4am and/or by a prayer call coming from the only mosque in town.

When your yoga teacher used to be a gay drug addicted escort/ prostitute and porn star (but now is only addicted to yoga).

When your other yoga teacher tells you she can see spirits and communicate with the dead after showing you her piece of $6,000 medical technology that can cure parasites. Awkward.

When you have to hire a local male dancer for the evening to be able to actually go dancing.

When your capoeira teacher has class in the ‘living room’ of his house which is on a ravine above a gushing river next to a temple and meditation cave.

When you pay for the privilege of going to a farm and working your ass off all morning harvesting and planting things.

When you have to go to the immigration office to renew your visa and the person sitting next to you is a tall, blond American in a million jingly rings, who tries to get you to join her cult in India

When her young, rich American ivy-league educated student tells you all about his plans to create a startup which involves bugs becoming a staple of people’s diets.

When you find Diva Cups, Yoni Eggs and self-administered enema kits for sale in restaurants.

When the American women sitting next to you at a vegan restaurant earns her living by working two hours a day via Skype doing past life regressions.

When the British-Brazilian family sitting on the other side of you at a vegan restaurant live in a boat and sail from country to country as they please with no ‘home’ to return to.

When the old Beatnik couple sitting on the other side are engrossed in coloring books for grown-ups.

When all the local families you meet have two things in common: a father that passed away too young and at least a ten year gap between the closest siblings.

When you don’t ‘do’ yoga, but ‘practice’ yoga; when dying is ‘transitioning’.

When there are chickens literally crossing the (main) road.

When the elderly Hindu locals prefer to bathe half-naked in the chilly river rather than make use of their western-style showers, even in front of curious tourists.

When you discover that there are some 400,000 thousand dogs living on Bali and only about half of them have been vaccinated for Rabies. Meaning if you get bitten by a dog, you have a fifty percent change of dying.

When you meet a lot of whippersnapper expat male New Zealanders whom you wish well in their yoga, surfing and engineering pursuits even though you secretly want to punch them for the idyllic lives they lead.

Down the Ubud rabbit hole

10922787_10152835605896853_7435212503923004836_o (1)Having never been to Bali before, and having made a last minute decision to come here, I did not know what to expect. My lack of research landed me with some visa issues and therefore some restricted mobility, and that is how I came to spend almost all of my time so far in Ubud, the artistic and cultural center of this famed Indonesian island.

Surrounded by lush green rice fields and jungle, dotted with temples and quaint old-fashioned Balinese family compounds, there is immense beauty here. Deep ravines frame gushing rivers. Monkeys hide high up in the trees and huge coconut palms provide shade from the sun’s heat. Some four hundred cafes and restaurants cater to the transient population which is made up of local Balinese, Indonesians from other parts of the country, expats from all over the world (but particularly Europe, the US and Oceania) and the travelers and seekers just passin’ through.

Ubud is generally a quiet and peaceful place. There’s some traffic congestion on the main street and the markets get a bit crowded, but the pace of life is enjoyably slow and the people watching is phenomenal. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that the non-Indonesians who visit here fall into one of two categories: twenty year old supermodel couples or beautiful white, rich, married European couples with equally beautiful 2.5 children.

But then you spend some time at The Yoga Barn, a kind of yoga utopia, perhaps attending a yoga class or even the venerated Ecstatic Dance. Visit any of the dozens of raw, vegan, organic restaurants and cafes that dot the busy streets, rice fields and hillsides and you come into contact with a different beast altogether. I got talking to another New Zealander who has been living here for two years. He told me he calls this tribe the Trustafarians. And that’s exactly what they are: young, rich twenty-somethings living bohemian work-free lifestyles off their inherited money. They come to ‘find themselves’ but, my friend tells me, they end up staying and not really finding anything. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite – I’m all for a good old fashioned Eat, Pray, Love style mission – and indeed, I went on a short one in my twenties. I may even be on one now (replace ‘Pray, Love’ with ‘Read, Sleep’). But how much fucking yoga and eating kale are you going to do? It’s like the kids here have taken the fanatical new age, health obsessed culture of California to a whole new level.

So there we are, trapped far down in the interior, subjective rabbit hole. I hope these man-bunned, tramp-stamped, tie-dyed, colonically-irrigated, glittered beautiful people aren’t doomed to a life of navel gazing and spending their days doing Louise Hay-inspired affirmations (after their coffee enema and morning Vinyasa practice) at the expense of achieving something worthwhile with their lives, of having an impact. But hey, this kind of tourism is helping keep an island economically afloat (even if most of the places frequented by said Trustafarians are owned by expats and the local staff get paid shit and don’t reap any profits).

Perhaps I’m a little bitter. It’s hard not to feel a bit hard done by when you’re surrounded by such self-indulgent, self-absorbed people who don’t know what it’s like to flip burgers at McDonald’s. At the same time, I swing to the other extreme and feel an immense sense of gratitude. Most of the locals have never left the island. Many of them never had the opportunity to get an education. Many are illiterate. I’ve heard the same hard luck story from my various taxi drivers many times – born into a poor family, unable to attend school, limited prospects for employment and earning an income. And yet they managed to teach themselves another language and make a life for themselves. Just to be able to write that sentence (“my various taxi drivers”), just to be here and witnessing this kind of apartheid, the beauty, the poverty, the comedy and the tragedy is an incredible privilege and stroke of luck.