One hour and fifteen minutes, that’s what Google Maps said. The reality, two hours and twenty minutes. Bali traffic is next level. Not like Los Angeles next level. But like you to took a backcountry road and made a major thoroughfare and kept two lanes. Add in chickens crossing, dogs running, kids playing, scooters & cars intermingling that’s Bali. It’s not bad, just busy. Patience is the name of the game. And of course, “Hati Hati”” – which seems to be a cross between carefully and slowly in Indonesian.
Today we joined into the fray of Bali traffic and spent two hours and twenty minutes on the back of our little scooter. Scoopy is its name – well not its name, its the brand but we like to refer to it as Scoopy. Today we nearly lost Scoopy after parking in next the street amongst dozens of other Scoopy’s. Never leave Scoopy alone, or it might just blend in, fade away, never to be seen again. On a particularly steep hill, I yelled out “Scoopy Power””, referring back to Scooby-Doo. Scoopy Doopy Doo where are you – no I didn’t sing that out loud, but I sure thought it.
Two hours and twenty minutes, we road through main roads, rice paddies, interrupted a few ceremonies and nearly hit a cat.
So why did we take this journey, our longest to date? To see the witch doctor, that’s why.
She went “Oo ee oo aa aa, ting, tang, walla walla bing bang”.
That’s not true and highly offensive, but it certainly was on my mind as we arrived at the temple.
Way up in the mountains, forty-five minutes past Ubud, and down a dirt road is the Ida Resi temple. Here, the youngest High Priestess, Ida Resi in Bali was going to give us a water purification ceremony. I hate being doused in cold water but I’d make an exception this time.
Surrounded by a dozen other Westerners, who we gathered to be Estonians, we waited for the High Priestess to arrive. Estonians have surrounded us this trip. Why are there so many of them here? And why do they seem to stare at me a bit longer than I feel comfortable? Perhaps, in Estonia, I’m particularly attractive? Or maybe I look funny? Or perhaps that’s just how they look at people?
After a good thirty minutes after the ceremony is set to begin our High Priestess makes her entrance. Carrying her mixed Indonesian and American baby, she greets us for a moment and then proceeds to walk off to give the kid to the sitter. This is all feeling very normal. The baby, of course, gets a collective, “awe” from the crowd and I realize I’m the only guy there. Not that men don’t “awe” at babies, it’s just when I realized I was the only guy there.
The ceremony begins, and we all get ourselves positioned in our best meditative poses. I go for the Zazen pose I learned at the temple in Oishi, Japan. I cup my hands in a small circle with the thumbs just a little bit apart, straight back and crossed legs. My head is tilted a forty-five degrees angle downwards. This pose is different than the pose I learned from Sadhguru, which was palms upwards on the knees and head looking slightly upturned.
The High Priestess starts to chant verses. It’s beautiful. It sounds almost like someone singing a lullaby to their child. I begin to become still in my mind and enjoy her Balinese chants, whatever they mean. She has instructed us to think about something we would like to release, something we need to let go. So I think of sadness. Or that I would like to have the absence of sorrow.
For whatever reason, I’m always a little sad. I don’t know why. Sad I’m not still working at Apple. Sad I don’t live closer to my parents, or even with my parents. Sad we don’t have a house in Hilo where we can call our own. Sad. Sad. Sad. Blah. Blah. Blah. It’s all self-loathing, I guess. But I sure would like to experience some uplift. It has been easy to find a temporary up-flit in alcohol or antidepressants. I’ve worked hard to quit those things. I don’t know a fix for my sadness and the sorrow stakes claim to every part of my being. So I meditate that my sadness goes away.
After five minutes, of what already seems like an eternity, my back is hurting from the posture. My legs have started to throb in that little spot between my lower torso and the upper thigh. This is why repetition and practice are essential in yoga. I’m waiting for my Zazen guru to wack me with his stick to regain my focus. So for twenty minutes, I try to focus my thoughts on removing this sadness and at the same time, argue with myself that I should not be feeling pain. And then I argue with myself for not doing what my Zazen teacher did, which was to practice every day. I’m not ready for this.
The High Priestess dings the bell three times to signify the end of the mediation. Ahhh. My legs are numb but happy now to be straightened again. I think to myself, what if our Scoopy were like Kit from Knightrider? Scoopy could come to my rescue and whisk us off.
But this was only part one, and there are three parts to this ceremony. OK, back to focusing. The Priestess explains that we will now begin the water ceremony. I don’t know what to expect. The first people go up, and they seem to have some pretty profound experiences. While the water pours over their heads, they breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Some people moan loudly, one lady sounds like she will throw up and others seem pretty orgasmic. At the end of the watering, the High Priestess gives each attendee a particular blessing. Two at a time, the visitors go through this routine and then walk off soggily and quietly to change clothes.
When it’s finally our turn, I’m a bit apprehensive. Will I be making the orgasm sound or the throw-up sound? Or will it be both? Or even worse what if it’s neither and the Priestess frowns at me? What would that mean?
The ceremony begins, and I am told to clasp my hands in prayer. The Priestess then says to close my eyes and begins chanting. OK, here we go, orgasm central. The first gush of water goes over my face, and I feel like I’m drowning. Not a little bit but like full-on waterboarding drowning. I can hardly breathe as the water goes over my face. The water has a delightful smell, and it’s not that cold, and I can’t seem to figure out why I’m drowning. A helper behind me pushes me further into the water, and I continue to choke my way through the ceremony. I feel like crying, but I don’t. Finally, the Priestess stops and presses between my eyes and tells me to “Find your compassion look to your heart”.
Sade, on the other hand, later tells me that she didn’t feel any sense of drowning. She loved it and was quite emotional for her. This is some deep voodoo shit, I think quietly to myself. When I get home later, I immediately Google, why did I feel like I was drowning? Was this a part of the purification process that I had failed to recognize?
Afterwards, we gather together in a circle with our Estonian mates. The Priestess has us do a series of “Ommms” and other mantras. She sings Balinese mantras and plays a large bowel. The bowl makes an incredible sound that seems to fill up the entire open areas where we are sitting. I truthfully enjoyed matching my “Ommming” to the noise from the singing of the bowl as we meditated. The ceremony concluded as simply as it had begun with a few dinging of the bells.
What did I learn from all of this? One I can navigate a scooter for far longer than I ever imagined! Two, repetition and practice are the key to unlocking the potential of mediation. Three, being sad all of the time is getting old. I hope as we continue this journey that I find that small sense of joy somewhere out there. Fourth, the only thing over the years that has consistently given me joy has been my wife. She can light up a room. Sharing this journey with my wife and being pushed out of my comfort zones by her may be the therapy my soul needs.
We jumped on our Scoopy and whisked back along the country roads, the rice patties, past the kids playing in the streets, and avoided the cat as we made our way home. Hati-hati.
The High-Priestess, Ida Resi Alit can be found at this website.