2014 lessons, successes & memories, part 1

Indulge me while, over the next few posts, I’ll take a stroll through 2014, learn its lessons, smile at its successes and remember its most memorable moments, most of them exquisitely good but one, awfully sad…

I lost my beloved Dad a year ago, 25.1.14.  He was 89 years old.  I’m not going to tell you tales of what a wonderful man he was or how deep the loss is.  Not here, not now.  But I will explain a little of how being in Bali helped me deal with my emotions.

Harry Edward John Silvester, my Dad

Harry Edward John Silvester, my Dad at 88 yrs old eating his favourite pie and mash

You see I’ve come to a realisation… I believe there is no such thing as ‘death’.

I believe that the essence of who Dad was, the essence of who we all are, is ‘energy’.

You cannot create, nor destroy ‘energy’ but,
energy can, and does, change…
from one form to another.
In a similar way that water can become ice – can become steam.

I believe we are all ‘energy’ currently housed in flesh and bones and when our bodies returns to dust and ashes, our essence, our ‘energy’, will continue on a journey that we cannot currently comprehend.

Like one realm closing, in order for another realm to open.

I miss you Dad, in this realm, but I know you still exist in some unknowable way and I take comfort from that.  And, my oh my, what an amazing legacy of fabulous memories, love, advice, jokes and anecdotes you’ve left us with – so it is as if part of you is still here.

Thank you Dad.
1924 – 2014

Dad as a young man working in the London docks

Dad as a young man working in the London docks

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A most unusual ceremony

This is about one of the more unusual Balinese ceremonies.  Barong Berutuk only occurs in Trunyan village deep in the volcanic caldera, in the shadow of Mount Batur, on the edge of Danau Batur.

The boys make their own costumes and whips

The boys make their own banana leaf costumes and whips

It is supposed to happen every two years – but it’s been over 10 years and so I felt very privileged to be there for two days of the ceremony for ‘the Lock of the World’.

It inspired me to write this poem:

Forests burned their message on the hillsides

Forests burned their message on the hillsides

Barong Berutuk (Pancaring Jagat – Lock of the World)

They’d been waiting
far too many years
for this sacred ceremony

so long
that the lake rose up
as a reminder

forests burned
their message on the hillsides
the mighty volcano simmered…

An auspicious day finally arrived
and with it
boys of the village took their barefoot place

a flounce of dried banana leaves

a flounce of dried banana leaves

on the soil of temple grounds
shielded by inhuman masks
dressed in a flounce of dried banana leaves.

Three days of fasting
delivered an excess of energy
to these youth

disguised perhaps
as nature’s spirits
but is it a disguise?

Prowling the courtyard
whipping as a healing
letting out bad blood

island-wide guests
dare to get close
as long whips push them back.

Whipping as a healing

Whipping as a healing

People in bright colours
a roar from the crowd
when their neighbour is caught off-guard, lashed

offerings given
blessings received
the white masks are most powerful
so they say.

White masks are most powerful

White masks are most powerful

Brave souls get close
bartering cigarettes
for a touch of the handle
upon bowed heads

risking a beating
in exchange for banana leaves
like rare prized feathers
dry and brittle

symbols of good fortune
worn behind ears
of the fortunate.

And so the dance goes on
for two scorching days
paid for by a government

Prowling the temple courtyard

Prowling the temple courtyard

who know of its importance
for the
lock of the world

for without harmony here
to turn the key in the heart
the whole land risks turmoil

as already threatened
by nature’s uprising
though tomorrow her fires
will rest once more

Temple adorned with offerings

Temple adorned with offerings

 

 

 

Ketut and Martini leaving the temple gates

Ketut and Martini leaving the temple gates

 

Towards the end of the ceremony there’s a dance by two of the boys – one representing a male the other representing a female.

Their performance, crouched low to the ground, resembles a cock fight – banana leaf feathers rustling.

They need to connect at the end of the dance – it’s a symbolic way of saying that the boys of the village will find a wife.

Male female mock fight

Male female mock fight

Then, at the very end of the day, they’ll all jump into lake Batur, banana leaf feathers and all.

And we return in the back of the same truck that took us there:

Travelling - the Balinese way

Travelling – the Balinese way

Thanks again to Gede and his family for another amazing cultural experience.

 

 

Gede & Ari’s wedding – Kintamani style

Gede, who’s been working for me for over 2 years, got married to Ari on 29 Oct 2014.

Many Congratulations!!!

The double ceremony, with Gede’s cousin Wayan and Sugiani, started early in the morning next to Gede’s family home up in the cooler mountains of Kintamani.

Praying in the open air

Praying in the open air

Below the couple are balancing offerings… Gede on the back of his hands, Ari in the palms of her hands.  Seconds later they tossed them over their heads – with the help of guiding fingers that you can just see holding Gede’s arms.

In fact all through this ceremony, called Mekalakalan, the bride and groom have people standing right close up behind them, doubtless to keep them safe.  However these guardians at their backs must be younger than the bride and groom.

One of many rituals

One of many rituals

The next thing to be tossed over their heads was a small chicken which was caught by a lucky guest (in England the bride throws a bouquet of flowers and whoever catches it is supposed to get married next – makes me wonder how many countries have similar customs?).

Soon it was time for purification which involved taking some clothes off, Gede had his back washed while he washed Ari’s back.  I asked Gede if he was okay about me using this photo… he was pleased as it shows his local traditions (which are different from other Balinese weddings I’ve been to).

Purification

Purification

Purified, they put on fresh clothes – right there at the side of the street.

This Mekalakalan ceremony, took place in Abang village – literally on the street running alongside lake Batur, inside the volcanic caldera.

Mekalakalan Ceremony

Mekalakalan Ceremony

Now they are about to kick the past away… the offerings are taken away from the makeshift table, that’s been held up by family members throughout the ceremony and together, as one, the couple kick backwards at the legs of the table, which topples over.

They walk away from it and don’t look back.

Kicking the past away

Kicking the past away – with Mount Batur in the background

We all head back to the house, but before the couple can enter a ceremony has to be performed by the Mangku (Priest)

A ceremony before entering

A ceremony before entering

At the entrance (photo above) you can just see the Balinese greeting ‘Om Swastyastu’ written in letters of the alphabet.  Below, you can see it again written in Balinese Aksara.

Look closely and you can also see the swastika… used for literally thousands of years as a positive symbol of good luck, strength etc. (a perfect testament on how things that can be good one day can be perceived differently, by different peoples, the next day – maybe in a similar way that the ‘lower gods’ of today could become the ‘higher gods’ of tomorrow, which is why offerings are given to both, i.e. offerings are placed on the ground and up high too – maybe you might have to be here in Bali to ‘get’ that?  Anyway, Gede was visibly shocked when I explained that many people, in the west, associate the swastika with such opposite emotions as it is perceived here).

Om Swastyastu

Om Swastyastu

Inside there’s a feast ready to feed an army (they’d printed 300 wedding invitations but it was not enough – that’s a lot of mouths to feed).

And of course there was a huge number of offerings for both couples, who had to spend the first night, right here, in front of the offerings – to connect with God as much as with each other:

Offerings

Offerings

And now another change of clothes including earrings and make-up for the couple

Just let me fix that for you

Just let me fix that for you

Don’t they look stunning:

Gede and Ari in traditional Balinese wedding outfits

Gede and Ari in traditional Balinese wedding outfits

We all get in cars, or in the back of open pick-up trucks, and head up to the temple at Abang Songan.  The ice cream seller does a brisk trade outside the temple gates – I choose a wafer cone, but the most popular choice is to have ice cream in a bread roll.

Outside the temple at Abang Songan

Outside the temple at Abang Songan

A number of Mangkus arrive and one of them is Pasek’s uncle who I’ve met many times (Pasek built my house):

Me with the Mangku

Me with the Mangku (Priest)

Here the two couples are sitting down inside the temple just before this part of the ceremony is about to start.  The guests and the Priests sit on the floor too – we’re all barefoot.

The two couples inside the temple

The two barefoot couples inside the temple

The happy couple posing in front of a family temple at a Mangku’s house in the village

Posing in front of a family temple

Posing in front of a Mangku’s family temple

And below are an assortment of other pictures from the 2 days that I was there (the first day for the ceremony and the 2nd day for the reception)

Nyoman, Gede’s father, takes center stage in this picture and Teddy, who used to work at Rumah Jepun too, is right next to him and on the far left is Wayan, the other groom:

Wedding guests, including Gede’s mum on the right and next to her is Sugiani, the other bride from this double wedding

I took this photo as the couples walked through the village, from the Pura (temple) to the Mangku’s house:

Here are some family members, she has a great smile and he has a regal bearing, don’t you think?:

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Me with the happy couple:

Just about to pray:This is my favourite picture of Gede and Ari:

Although this is a great picture too:

And one showing them feeding each other (I love this part of the ceremony… feeding each other from the basket of love):

Let’s finish with this fabulous professional picture which was used for the wedding invitations:Congratulations and I wish both couples every happiness – or, as Yaniq would put it, ‘Happy in Happiness’!

Oh, and if you want to see more about this area of Kintamani click here: lakeside tranquility overlooking a volcano

Or to see photo’s of other Balinese weddings I’ve blogged about click here: Ketut and Komang and here:  Wayan and Chandra

Peaceful Warrior – unleashing tranquility

After reading a book about the Hindu epic, ‘Ramayana’ (a story which pre-dates the Mahabharata), I was moved to write this poem:

Peaceful warrior

The peaceful warrior went to war
carrying caskets of swirling mists
laden with gentle delights

sprays of restful comfort
gifts of golden joy
essence of benevolent laughter

fine shimmering dusts of compassion
and amulets that when looked at
released soothing tranquil music

The peaceful warrior won.

And now, for the first time in this blog, which has featured all my own original material, I’ve decided to share a post copied from elsewhere.

Why? Because it connects so well, because it made me laugh and because I hope the Buddhist’s aim, ‘to unleash tranquility on west’ succeeds.

Please feel free to share this too:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/buddhist-extremist-cell-vows-to-unleash-tranquilit,34623/

Nyepi poem

Nyepi is the Balinese New Year.

It is a silent day.  Full of introspection.

For 24 hours there can be no travelling, no electricity, no work and no entertainment.  The really strict will fast too.

Nyepi Day fell on 31 March 2014 – which is 1936 in the Balinese Saka calendar.

The airport closed, the streets were empty and even the TV stations shut down from 6 in the morning until 6am the following day.

I love Nyepi Day and it inspired this poem:

Nyepi Day

The water fountain
in my pond
stopped tinkling

Lights
on the ceiling
lost their way

Rock music
on my stereo
simply ran out of tune

Whistling kettles
stayed cool
for a whole day

The silence
sent me into
meditation

No laptop
meant I wasn’t
enticed to play

My thoughts invented stories
usually only found
on TV

No radio
gave silence space
to have it’s say

It’s true
Nyepi saves
gas and electricity

It’s true
Earth hour’s
also paving the way

But for me
Nyepi gives time
for life…

to be appreciated
that’s why I really love
Nyepi Day

To read more about the lead up to Nyepi (i.e. noisy day) click here.

Happy New Year – Bali Style

Welcome to 1936, yes folks that’s the year according to the Balinese Caka calendar.

And, as usual, a big crowd gathered in Ubud tonight to watch the Ogoh Ogoh’s being paraded from the football field to the Palace, before the dawning of Nyepi Day – the silent day that starts at 6am.

Take a look at these pictures and tell me what you see, other than the fabulous Ogoh monsters themselves – look closely now…

Garuda carrying Vishnu

Garuda carrying Vishnu

Wicked

Wicked

Monsterous

Monsterous

Gigantic, red and mean!

Gigantic, red and mean!

Well – did you see the orbs?

By the way, I’ve described Nyepi in more detail in a previous blog post which you can read here, meanwhile, Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi (Happy New Year)!

Fashion – made from rubbish

Now this really is a different way to re-cycle…

Turn that trash into fabulous fashion!  A great concept, and one that pulled a big crowd at Delicious Onion, Ubud on Saturday.

The organiser and host of this Trash Chic Fashion Show, Alexa, wore extremely colourful garbage and had a train of broken, old, flip flops trailing behind her as she walked.

Trash Chic Fashion Show host, Alexa

Trash Chic Fashion Show host, Alexa

Still on the wedding theme, here we have a wedding dress made from Bali Advertisers!

Wedding dress made out of the Bali Advertiser

Wedding dress made out of the Bali Advertiser

How about using an old fan as a rather cute hat:

One way to keep a cool head!

One way to keep a cool head!

Her dress was made from inside-out rice sacks ‘sewn’ together with inner tubes!

What about this next one – just purrfect… all dressed-up in kitty food packaging (presumably washed before being worn!):

Outfit made from cat food packaging

Outfit made from cat food packaging

And here they used frangipani flowers for the Balinese style headdress and made the dress itself from offerings:

This man really put his back into it…

Who got your back up?

Who got your back up?

Thanks for putting Ubud’s first Trash Chic Fashion Show together Alexa!

Click here for the last fashion show I went to in Ubud – complete with Edward Scissorhands!

A piece of cake or… a cake of peace

What a great way to teach values at a school.

Get the kids to make a paper cake, where each ingredients, such as the paper, tape, decorations and even the air inside and cherry on the top represents a value, such as respect, honesty, peace, compassion, love etc.

Cake of Peace

Cakes of Peace

These cakes were made by children at Karuna Bali, located at ‘Open Heart Space’, Campuhan College, Ubud.  Teachers in the western world, please take note.

Get far more than a piece of cake – get a cake of peace 🙂

I have a poem that fits with this idea… it’s called ‘Ingredients of Life’ and it starts like this:

Ingredients of Life

The most important ingredient
in our meal of many flavours
is love

The essential component
of our house built with strong hands
is heart

          and it ends like this:

The sole reason for our happiness
is the attitude we chose
to take

When we mix all the ingredients together
the word on the cake
of life says,
simply,
‘Love’

(if you want the whole poem, please email me and I will send it to you)

Spiritual Art expressed as Dance

Diane Butler calls it sharing ‘Awakening Art’.  But what does that mean?

I googled ‘Awakening Art’ and found, unsurprisingly, a range of sites about painting.  They mainly focused upon artwork of a spiritual nature and some of them sprinkled yoga or music into the mix.

But Diane is a dancer at heart and so she uses embodied movement to express and share her art.  It’s a term that other dancers may be familiar with, but I’m not a dancer, or am I?

Goa Gajah - elephant cave

Goa Gajah – Elephant Cave

We met by the lotus pond in the garden of ‘Goa Gajah’ (the Elephant Cave) in Bedulu Village, not far from my home in Ubud.  The surroundings of this atmospheric temple go back to circa 9th century and it is thought to have been two hermitages where Hindu and Buddhist monks had resided side by side.

A small group of us sat on the ground wearing our sarongs.  We introduced ourselves under dappled sunlight while the rest of the jungle spread itself down to the river below.

At this point, I was too focused on our conversation to hear the birds sing.

On the other side of the pond we could see a niche in the cliff above.  This small, bare, south-facing ascetic’s hollow is where meditators from ancient times would do their practice and here we were, in 2013, to engage in own practice right in front of this holy place.

An ascetic or monk, probably lived in that small cave for months or even years, whereas we stayed for just three hours.  Their form of meditation would have been very different and the results, after such long periods, would have been significantly more intense too.

Perfect place for meditation

Perfect place for meditation

I wanted to drink from the same natural spring that these spiritual Balinese ancestors would have used, and I did.  Well, it was right there, convenient for us and those monks of ancient times.  What’s more, it was, ‘Banyu Pinaruh’, a special day in Bali for purifying yourself with water – perfect!

Our surroundings were stunning but we were not tourists.

We were there to use our bodies as moving art, to share, flow, express, learn, be at peace and become one with ourselves, each other and nature.  We were there to utilise energy, to embody movement, to embrace space and to ‘be’ Awakening Art.

Diane, an American movement artist living in Bedulu for the past 12 years, had brought us Balinese canang.  We were to use these offerings of small baskets made of coconut leaves containing coloured flowers and incense, while moving. 

I reached into the bag to take a canang and noticed that it was less perfect than the others.  I could have exchanged it, as there were spare ones available, but I decided to keep it.  It reminded me that everything is perfectly imperfect.

This one is a pretty perfect canang

This one is a pretty perfect canang

Nothing happens until something moves – Albert Einstein

We moved.

In the garden down there in the valley, below the temple, beneath the meditation niche and below the constant supply of fresh and holy water, we moved.

Some more skilled, confident or more graceful than others, not that it mattered.  At first I was very conscious of being looked at by sightseers who didn’t have a clue what we were doing, or why.  Initially I felt embarrassed, but when I overcame that anxiety and gave myself to the moment, and to the movement, it felt liberating.

Sometimes we held the canang, other times the incense was used and its aromatic smoke wafted along the side of the lotus pond.

At one point I held the canang up high.  It remained in my hand, yet to my eye it appeared to take centre stage of a coconut tree.  It was as if the branches of that giant tree were emanating out of this small offering perched on my finger tips.  Slivers of bright blue sky shone through the leaves of both the tree and the canang.  I would never have seen this view without this opportunity to share Awakening Art through embodied movement.

Lowering my arm I moved my hand around to my back where it met my other hand.  I transferred the canang and watched as it appeared from the left side of my body.  It moved fluidly through the air in my hand, now to the left and downwards, now curving back upwards in a slow spiral.

Both the canang and my hand moved through Diane’s outstretched arms and towards someone’s shoulder.  Although we were aware of each other and moved through and past one another, there was no eye contact and only occasional, random, physical contact.  We just kept moving.

Sometimes Diane asked one of us to tap a small piece of tile with a shard while someone else hummed.  All through this ‘musical’ accompaniment participants flowed and embodied movement.  The back of my hand briefly met someone’s upper arm.  Moments later I smelt the incense as a hand moved past my face.

I couldn’t help thinking about how few adults ever get the chance to move in this unfettered way.  Usually the nearest you would get to relative strangers is by accidentally bumping into them on a crowded bus or jostling for position in a queue.

I imagined how professional dancers must practice… let go of their inhibitions about movement, shed their concerns about daily life, purely move where their breath, heart and desires take them.  But I suppose that’s incorrect, as ‘formal dance’ requires set moves and what we were doing was the opposite.  This was open to possibilities of different artistic expression through movement.  It was free of rules, constraints and expectations.  It was even free of charge.

Not only could you place your right elbow on your left shin and leave it there for a moment.  But you could contemplate the relationship between these two points of your body which, quite probably, have never made contact before.  You could see and feel things from new angles, different perspectives.

Me, Diana and Brandon in front of the meditation niche

Me, Diana and Brandon in front of the meditation niche

We sat back down on the ground and, following a conversation about time, Diane advised that some elder Balinese people still know what the time is by the sound of particular birds.  As soon as she said this, I heard them.  The jungle was full of bird song.  But to be so close to nature that you know the time because a certain bird sings, or because of the silence when it stops, well, that’s really something.

She also explained that generally people in the east perceive ‘mind’ as being located in the heart-centre, more than the head.  It made me question my own thinking about the word.  I would have said it has to do with the head… and yet, when I say, ‘I don’t mind’, that comes from my heart, doesn’t it?

This reminded me of my own maxim about, ‘Learning how to unlearn’ (i.e. unlearn all those old ‘truths’ that no longer stack up).

The mosquitoes were getting the better of us, so we decided to move from the peaceful pond to the running river, fed by small waterfalls that spring out of a cliff.

Long ago a huge stupa fell here and its moss-covered relics interrupt the flow of the river.  You can walk around these massive boulders with your feet ankle deep in the clear water, and we did, still carrying the canang, still moving.

As sunset was approaching, we stopped and sat chatting about how we felt.

I felt awake, uplifted, happy and grateful that, just maybe, I am a dancer after all.

From healing to astral travelling

I went to a free talk by John Wong, author of, ‘Awaken your Healing Power’.

In 2005,  John, a  31 year old molecular biologist, suffered an illness that paralysed him from his neck down and he lost his sight too.

However the man standing in front of us showed no indication of these major issues that occured in his life just a few years ago.

He had been healed and… he had healed himself, after medical science had given up hope.

He spoke of spontaneous recoveries that can happen when you truly ‘know yourself’ – and, during the paralysis, he went deep inside and got to know himself.

John reminded us that we only use between 3-5% of our brain, and only the same percentage of our DNA too – the rest is dormant… deep inside.

He describes DNA as a form of antenna and gave some interesting facts about how, just by being close to things, we can sometimes pick them up in our bodies (as a molecular biologist he would be aware of such things – like how lab technicians, after many years working on a particular thing, actually get that thing within them, even though it is not ingested, or airborne etc., nor is it dangerous to them, it’s just there – it’s the ‘antenna’ at work).

During his illness, which resulted in a kind of inner meditation, his antenna appears to have tapped into something beyond the usual 3-5% of brain power or DNA.  He calls it Transcendental Connection and it healed him.

If you are in Ubud today (18/9/13) go to Taksu Spa, Gootama Street, as he will once again be giving this very interesting free talk at 5.30pm.

He also has some free tickets for a symposium this weekend in Denpasar about complimentary medicine.  He will be speaking there, along with well known international speakers talking about things from Spiritual-Hypnosis Assisted Therapy, the use of the QI (quantum information) laser, through to holographic scaling, the future of thermography and astral travel etc.

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