Bali; the true island of Spirituality

She is a beautiful island; indefinable yet spiritually accessible to those who wish to sense the bosom of her soul. She is an island of knows and will never know. Most of all, she is the cradle of one of the most amazing and visually rich ritual cultures in the world. I have lived here for more than a year but have been in love with her since a child. The magic of the people never ceases to amaze and captivate me. I, in a sense feel privileged and alien to be in such a sacred space of earth's temple. A place where all around you the magic of latent spirituality dances to its own Balinese beat.

My love affair with Bali was consummated when I first stood on her sturdy soil some 10 years ago. I had been living westward on the island of java in the over subscribed metropolis of Jakarta. Bali allowed me to stroke her and feel the warmth of her latent spiritual sensuality. I felt in awe; being in the presence of something truly beautiful who saw me; and who had seen many like me, before me; entranced in my own transfiguration...spiritually speaking.

Bali is also an island of where not all is as it seems. In one of the most definitive books on Balinese rituals and cultures; the learned Balinese writer Fred B. Eiseman, Jr in his book Bali Sekala & Niskala explores this subject in his opening pages:

" In the West, one is accustomed to a world built upon opposites, sacred and profane, positive and negative, constructive and destructive, male and female. The Balinese also recognize this polarity, which they call rwa bineda. But in the Judeo-Christian tradition, these opposites are presented as mutually exclusive choices: either one does/is good, or one does/is evil. In the Hindu-Balinese scheme, this division is neither so stark, nor at all exclusive. And it includes what can be considered a third position, "center", which balances the other two."

Herein lies the quandary of Bali; the reality is that in simple terms; what you see and  what you get do not necessarily equate. Is this right or wrong? Its an irrelevant question as the real question is how we are affected by what we experience and whether it is a Ying or Yang experience. Bali makes us feel the latent existence of our inner self in a much more articulated manner than most other places or islands on the planet. The access or entry point for spirituality awareness has a DNA so different to other parts of the world; even within Asia. In a sense in Bali, the "finding oneself" is a spiritual symbiosis between island and self. This spiritual alchemic formula is truly individual to each person on his or hers journey and dependant also on the level of depth one is in search of on the path to self discovery.  

My Bali is a cacophony of places and images. There are the beaches of the island which offer some of the most amazing surf breaks in the southern hemisphere. Close offshore, a pod of dolphins can be easily accessed. The inland volcanoes; lakes; rice fields combine together to weave a land of true seismic activity. Near Uluwatu, one of the most sacred of the temples on the southern tip of the island you can access the seaweed farms which are Neptune's eiderdown of colour and continuous activity. Seaweed farmers move effortlessly from space to space with Gondola like movements; harvesting and sowing as has been carried out for generations in a chlorophylic paradise.  Fused with this culture are those who come in search of sand, surf and the ultimate break. Some come planning to stay for weeks and never leave. Others plan to come for life and realize its simply not for them and depart; confused. The areas of Kuta and in more recent times Seminyak promote a life style personifying with these more traditional and contemporary lifestyle pursuits. As one moves more north on the island it becomes more remoter quickly paving a way for a journey through small fishing villages and sparsely dotted farms.

Balinese food or Mekan is another signature statement of both Bali and Indonesia; from the Nasi Goreng (rice dish) to the traditional Satay's; one is never far away from a food experience of locally epic proportions. The food is naturally spiced and each layer of tastes adds to the joy of consumption. Food in Bali and the consumption thereof is a sense of bonding of families and of huge social and cultural importance. It is a form of bonding between land and sea and the desires and rituals which lies in between.

Bali is so full of unqualified energy. In my personal Bali, you have a polarization of energies at both sunrise and sunset. Both are an offertory to the spirit world  we wish to sense and feel part of. Nowhere on the island can the energy force be felt more at these sacred times of day than in Ubud; the self ordained art and cultural center of the island; where the artists, stone masons, wood carvers and word smiths hone their skills; some for generations on end. I am touched deeply by Ubud, not just by the place but what lies behind the place. I paint there; I write there but most of all I always dream there. It is the center of my dream world. I wrote the following two poems in the last few months while being held in spiritual suspense there. The Source being a salutation to sunrise while Soulphabet celebrates the fusion of sources at sunset and the magical like cloud formations that acts like a palate to the imaginary world.

The Source

Sayan smiles
on new day dawned

land and spirit
in an unspoken pact
of fractional oneness

spanned bridge
surging valley and sky

sacred Ayung sighs
on secrets
through generations
of cleansing

cacophony chorus
greets the spiritual birth
of everything various

presence of spirit
proof of purpose

the balance
of good and evil
reflected in
orbed smiling faces
in costumes drenched

a crossover
of sorts.

karmic balances

of hope
of peace
Om Canti Canti
Canti Om.


Jettisoned letters
angled in
sunset whorls

choir of nature
ferrel to

on earth
as it was
in heaven

tears from sky
light fronds

of earth
and sky
honed harmony

The Balinese love rituals and religious ceremonies. Almost everyday, somewhere on the island there is a celebration to one or another range of Gods. The celebrations are overtly accessible to foreigners and the plumage of the local people in both their dress and offerings make the island one ongoing spiritual celebration. There are hundreds of deities in the Balinese spirit world. Watching the Balinese in their Temple rituals give a great insight into the true Karma of the people. It is not a silent reverent process; rather an engaging and interactive affair in which silence is not something heard in large quantities. When I compare this to my own traditional Irish catholic upbringing; where in  Church, children should be seen and not heard; I look at the young Balinese children and realize that the ritual process is not an interruption for an hour on a Sunday; as it was for me growing up. Instead, it is an ongoing journey of sharing and joy. This journey of spiritual joy starts at birth and where Balinese custom has it that a new born child comes straight from God. Such is the reverence that children are held in that their feet are not allowed to touch the ground until they are over 3 months old to help protect their innocence. Balinese love children in a deeply natural manner and whether you are in the capital Denpasar or in the remotest of Balinese locations; this respect and connection can be felt deeply and naturally.  

I feel privileged to live here and to be part of this dynamically simple world. Is Bali changing? Yes, some to the better and some are replaced by the Mac Donalds/satellite dish culture. But one thing is for sure the Balinese Hindu soul will outshine all challenges this modern world can and will throw at it, for the spirit is stronger and deeper and at night when you see the sunsets and hear the wind caress your newly discovered spirit awareness; you know the Gods will always be the vanquishers...Om Cantu Om.

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Gathering from Ecdysis 2008

Squirrels gather food
For the long
Dormant season

Why do we not
Do the same with

If we did
We would be
One full season
Of being.


2008 Bali

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©2008 John O’ by