3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD POST 12: 27th January 2017, Ubud, Bali.
Ever since I first backpacked around Indonesia as a fledgling 20-year-old, I have secretly wondered if I could live here full time. 21 years later and 8 weeks into our 4-month-long stay, my dream finally seems to have materialised. Leaving for a 2-day visa run to Singapore this week and realising that I really missed the Balinese vibe, only confirmed just what it is (aside from the obvious) that attracted me all those years ago.
It is the speed of life. It is so SLOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW: here, no-one is ever in a rush; no-one is ever in a frenzy and no-one takes pride in being ‘too busy’ to stop to do something else. People talk meaningfully, they always look you in the eye and everyone’s movements are considered and deliberate. Time doesn’t seem to be measured here in quite the same way as it is in Europe; there is no notion of either ‘on time’ or ‘late’, and group as well as individual schedules are flexible whatever the ‘importance’ of the action being programmed: just as yoga classes, language lessons and even religious ceremonies often start late, pupils and adherents often turn up late. No one is fussed about a few minutes (or hours) here and there because there is no notion of missing out (on the part of the attendees) and there is no concept of disrespect (on the part of the organisers).
Here, timeliness is not a quality to aspire to so it is not considered ‘rude’ not to do so. Indeed, there hardly ever seem to be any grounds for taking offence. The Balinese live in harmony with the flow of life and accept that with flow, naturally comes flexibility.
Photo caption: just one of the hundreds of ceremonies that take place nearly every day throughout Bali but our first as participants. This one was in honour of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. It was celebrated in temples across the country as well in schools - this one was held for Pelangi school parents, pupils and teachers. Needless to say, it started an hour and a quarter after the 'scheduled' time.
This is also the case on the roads. There is no sense of possession over lanes and so no resulting outrage from those in the one opposite to your own if you spend too long in ‘theirs’. In fact, here, the act of overtaking takes priority over any other manoeuvre: oncoming traffic slows down to give you more time to complete it and vehicles move to the side in order to make room. Horns are used thoughtfully in warning rather than angrily to sound outrage - if you hear a ‘toot’ it is because the driver behind you is gently informing you to be careful because he is about to overtake.
The Balinese accommodate each other – slowly – and the overwhelming vibe is that of working towards harmonious balance: with one another, with nature and with the gods. Life is lived very much in the present moment. They literally embody the spiritual mantra that not only does everything have its time and place but that everything is perfect as it is. Just observing this being played out around us is calming and nourishing. So bit by bit, we too have followed suit and just as ‘busyness’ is contagious in Europe, ‘slowness’ is as infectious here. There simply isn't any other way to be.
Photo caption: Offerings or "canang sari" epitomise the deliberate slowness of life in Bali. Even the word itself is made up of ca - beautiful and nang - purpose as well as sari (essence). Whilst they range from the simple coconut leaf trays left daily around the house to the fantastically intricate kinds offered up on a full moon or ceremony day, they are always beautifully crafted to combine various elements that each represent a major Hindu god. Flowers (which are a symbol for sincerity and love) each represent a different deity and are placed pointing in a certain direction (white for Iswara which points to the east; red for fiery Brahma which points to the south; yellow for Mahadeva which points to the west and blue or green for cool Vishnu who points to the north). Placed on top is a stick of incense - as it burns the essence of the offering rises up to heaven. They are seen as a kind of selfless act - an offering of money and time made partly in gratitude and partly in appeasement to the potentially 'mischeivous' lower spirits. Equally importantly, the act of making them (always a female task) offers a chance to pause and meditate in communal creativity.
This slow pace is particularly good for me because my natural inclination is towards the opposite: I speak fast; I react fast; I think fast; I move fast. Going from ‘a’ to ‘b’ was always a self-imposed mini challenge: how many calories could I burn in getting there? How much muscle power could I convert into accelerated motion? How late I could I leave it before setting off for the next destination thereby maximising the time allocated on whatever I was doing before? I often listened to reply instead of to understand; I used to try to fix things in order to move on rather than patiently witnessing their unfolding.
Having previously always lived in capitalist societies, whose mantra, 'time is money', had until now seeped insidiously into my belief system, I always thought that speed was necessary. Not only because I had so much to cram into my ‘tight’ schedule: three small kids to manage, a house and its chores to oversee, a wine events and consultancy business to run, womens' circles to organise, blogs to write, yoga classes to attend, runs to be completed – how else could I possibly fit everything into a day? But also because I secretly loved (and still do) the adrenalin rush that comes with speed, the thrill of acceleration, the whiff of danger it exudes.
Photo caption: family-time Balinese style.
I thought that working in a frenzied state was not only desirable but laudable. But what I didn’t get and do now, is that acting rushed never does extend time. In fact, it usually does the opposite. And so pushing through instead of surrendering to the flow meant that I never felt that there was enough time, regardless of how fast I completed things. It also meant that I was rarely in the present, distracted instead by the ticking hand of the clock and what was next on my ‘to do’ list.
Here, on the other hand, the time at my disposal feels more spacious. I really can be a human being rather than a human doing. Bali has allowed me to slow down, to be more conscious and as a result, to tune into my intuition, heart and emotions. Now it is they that lead the show rather than my busy, cluttered state of mind.
It definitely helps that we have a weekly masseuse, that I outsource our laundry and ironing, and that there is home help who sweep the floor (yay) and make the beds (double yay – isn’t it so much more relaxing to climb into a neat bed that wasn’t made by yourself)? It also helps that the two eldest kiddies are at school with the youngest at nursery in the SAME venue, which means that for the first time in 7 years, I have one drop off, one pick up and a WHOLE DAY in between to do WHATEVER I WANT. Oh yeah!
Photo caption: Bali's simple, timeless pleasures are food for the soul: the sight of locals tending to their land, atmospheric sunsets, lush paddy fields and exotic beaches.
But it is more than that. I have changed my attitude: I no longer feel guilty that someone else is doing my washing, nor that I am not the sole provider of entertainment, comfort, instruction and love for my children. Crucially, I no longer feel that it is my duty to do everything and to be everything to everyone just because I am not yet contributing enough financially to feel justified in doing my own thing. Instead, we have realised as a family, that by spending that little bit extra on outsourcing what you can, you get SO MUCH MORE. You get the extra time that would have been spent on chores of course, but you also get space. And from that stems a desire to create that comes from inspiration instead of from a self-inflicted pressure to perform. This then leads to real productivity and true abundance. I hope so anyway. I'm working on it!
I still speak fast. And think fast. But I move a bit slower and I feel less rushed inside. Now, rather than letting it annoy me, I enjoy the ‘bonus’ relaxing time that arises if a class starts later than its scheduled time; I travel in a leisurely fashion and leave more time to get to places; I have implemented a daily meditation practise (something I never felt I had the time to fit in before) and I have started to listen more actively. I have also started to breathe slower, to widen my shoulders and to open my chest (and not just in downward dog). And in finally surrendering to time, it now feels like there is so much more of it!
So the travel part of our year-long adventure has temporarily stalled - the kids and I are even learning to speak and write the local language. We have made a conscious decision to get stuck here, to explore living abroad in a slower and more meaningful way than is possible when just passing through. To quote a friend, Bali has become our 'happy place'. And that surely, has to be something worth pausing for….
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