After stepping off the plane and into the sultry night air on the other side of the equator, I drove the two hours north of Denpasar to Tegallingah. My destination was a small house in the Pakerisan River gorge, which would be my home for the next month.
The distance from that gorge in Bali to my home in Wisconsin was 12,450 miles. That’s how far I needed to go to find some sort of peace.
After my first cup of java every morning, I climbed the steep, wooden steps to the top of the gorge. There, I walked a path circling the ponds fed by the nearby river. The rising sun burned off the mist that rose from the tropical forest, while the lotus flowers in the prawn ponds drifted slowly.
The river was encased in cement. The villagers used it for cleaning fowl, bathing themselves, as a toilet, and for washing their clothes. It ran fast, murky, and was suspect. Farmers piped off what they needed for their rice fields and prawn ponds, and what drained away ran down the side of the gorge, around my house, and into the river below.
This lower river was the opposite of its human-directed cousin above. It was wild and knocked against the boulders, spraying the foliage that hung overhead. You could hear it, see it, feel the mist, but it was difficult to reach; the sides of the gorge were steep and the forest grew impenetrable along it.
After my circular walk above the deep ravine, I followed a muddy, switch-back path, covered with leaves and coconuts from the overhanging trees, to reach the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the path and a few feet from the river was a small platform of old teak wood with a bamboo slat roof.
Sitting there cross-legged every morning, I listened to the sound of the river. I couldn’t hear the cocks crowing, nor could I hear the early morning chanting of the priests in the village temple. There was no agenda and I didn’t wear a watch. I sat until I didn’t need to sit any longer.
The rest of my day was spent walking along rice paddy banks to visit nearby temples, or catching the local bemo ride into Ubud for an espresso at Rendezvousdous.
But the next morning would find me sitting next to the river again, amongst the birds of paradise, under the banana leaves, with my best attempt at having an emptied mind.
Bali is the only Hindu island in the Indonesian archipelago of 17,000 islands. Was my trip to Bali, to that platform near the river, a pilgrimage for the sacred water and its cleansing powers? Was it a genetic memory of a water-covered planet that triggered my body’s response of a slower heart rate, reduced anxiety, and overall calming of my mind?
I didn’t really need to know why; it just worked. As sunny day followed sunny day, I began to feel more in balance. My energy increased. I felt more mindful. I focused more closely on whatever I was doing, with less worry about home, or family, or what was going to happen tomorrow.
Living in the moment. Pindar said, more than two thousand years ago: “Water is the best of all things.” It had to be the water.
Water Never Ends
It probably didn’t hurt that Ketut came from the neighboring village every day and placed offerings at each of the three rooms of my home. These tiny baskets were woven from palm leaf and filled with pink and orange flower petals, a few grains of white rice, and a stick of burning incense.
These gifts for the gods were an art form, expressing gratitude to the generous spirits. I was lucky that they also apparently placated mischievous demons, preventing them from disturbing the harmony I was finding in my Bali life. The offerings were created with a spirit of thankfulness and a loving attention to detail that I found comforting.
The Bali I saw in the advertisements before my trip was a lover’s paradise, a surfer’s paradise; white sand beaches with glistening bodies and tall, cool drinks with tiny umbrellas and speared fruit. This was not the Bali that I saw.
Half way down the gorge, in my bed at night, I listened to the water cascading to the lower river. The torrent flowed fast on either side of my house, and even under it, so all I could hear was water. It rushed to reach the bottom of the steep ravine, as it pummeled the footings of the house and splashed over rocks, crashing and rushing downward, nothing impeding it.
At first, I waited for the moment it would cease, like the rainstorm with thunder and lightening that eventually exhausts itself. But this water never stopped, its energy was never depleted, and though it wasn’t the sound of a lullaby, it lulled me to sleep.
What has brought you temporary peace in your life? Share your thoughts below.