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I like checking things off lists.

It could be a learned habit. My mother would usually do laundry while we watched movies as a family. Whenever I asked her to just sit and watch the movie with us, she would snap, “I’ll relax when it’s done.” She was the queen of multi-tasking. I have open three Safari tabs set to the NYtimes, Medium, and Facebook while I’m writing this, as well as my email client, Spotify playlist, imessages all open and I’m on hold with Chase to cancel my lost debit card. Taskmaster.

It could be a genetic trait. It makes little sense that I am a performer when my parents are doctor (mom) and accountant (dad, although he specializes in doing taxes for performing artists, of all people). My dad describes completing a tax return as solving a puzzle —narrowing down variables until you’ve reached the strongest constant on which to settle. I also really enjoy framing things mathematically and process of elimination-in-ating. There’s nothing I love more than inbox zero (well, there are lots of things I love more, but I really like inbox zero).

And so when I saw the row of holy water spigots at Pura Tirta Empul, it occurred to me to immediately set an intention for each spigot and wash away each specific fear.

Pura Titra Empul, or The Water Temple as some Balinese refer to it, is a place of spiritual cleansing. The springs are fed by mountain waters, and families journey once a month to wash and to be blessed anew. Many people also bring plastic bags which I saw being refilled at each station, until the bearer had 15 sandwich bags of holy water to take home and store in the fridge.

This and the exact process for how to cleanse yourself were relayed to me by a gregarious Balinese teenager in line behind me (it can get a bit crowded at Temple on a Sunday morning). I swear she had the most unlined, open, angelic face of anyone I’ve ever seen (or I was just starting to get g high on the juju of this temple).

At each metaphorical ‘station of the cross (there’s my Catholic upbringing), one says a prayer, scoops three mouthfuls of water into the mouth (do NOT swallow! Just spit back out, lest you want the dreaded ‘Bali Belly’ sickness), and then douses head and body under the running water. There were specific inscriptions carved into each station, including one of a Swastika (must be a holy sign in Balinese culture), and some spigots were strictly off-limits: the ones for the deceased and ones for ceremonies and ones only for new mothers/babies.

I had about an hour to wait in line. This moment felt like the culmination of two restless weeks in Bali so far. I had alternated between accepting the complicated emotions I’ve felt all alone out here, with an uncertain future when I return to the States, and sinking into feelings of guilt and worry for not having more fun, fun, fun while I’m on vacation! I have come to terms though that this is simply how I feel — and there is nothing I’m missing out on or failing to do. Why worry about my worry — it just is what it is right now. It’s funny — as my friend Ethan messaged me the other day, “A remote tropical island…this sounds like only something you could ruin.” But everywhere in Bali, I meet people in a similar state of limbo, wondering if they should extend their trip, others living impermanently here while they sort internal things out, and almost everyone pining for a mobile job so they can make money from paradise.

So I went back to making lists. I decided to let an idea or person I was grateful for come into my head at each spigot and make a prayer to them. I also allowed myself to think of people who stressed me out or who I had unresolved baggage with…the baggage metaphor heightened by me leaving my backpack just out of sight of the pool, so I had to trust in the goodwill of the Balinese and a million tourists that they wouldn’t steal everything I owned. Could I leave behind my personal baggage and not worry about it? I shared my concern with the angelic teenager behind me and she replied, “Don’t worry about bag! It fine! And next time, you can rent a locker for 70 cents, mister.”

This is what I prayed for at each spigot:

  1. Patience and presence to be in the moment.
  2. Forgiving myself for past mistakes, shame, or what I feel are failures. Embracing mistakes as the way to learn. Letting go of baggage.
  3. My father.
  4. My mother.
  5. My sister.
  6. My oldest friends.
  7. My peers and co-creators.
  8. New friends, acquaintances.
  9. Strangers I will never meet.
  10. People I have grievances with or felt wronged by.
  11. My sexuality, my body.
  12. Things I care for, like my precious dog Star.
  13. Earth, Nature, the world around me.

Funny enough, this list didn’t include what I do — the thing I’ve been most obsessed over on this trip: what will I do when I get back from this trip?

But I miscounted which spigots the public could use, and so I didn’t get to bless the most out important intention of all! Stepping out of the pool (and thank God, finding my backpack right where I left it!), I felt like I had missed out…while also banging my head about worrying over not putting my head under a spigot of problem bacteria-infected waters. But I knew it was important to physically make this intention in a Holy place.

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As I was struggling with what to do, the teenage girl came from behind me and pressed a coin into my hand. “I found it in pool, I thought you should have!” It looked very old, faded from the water. After doing some google image searching, I discovered it was 1 Satang Thai Baht coin. A 1 satang coin is rarely seen these days; shops in Thailand do not even accept them anymore. Looks like I got a lucky penny.

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It didn’t feel right to wait another hour in line just to go through the whole rigamarole again. Then I saw a lady selling offerings on the side of the temple. She had made these beautiful, ornate bundles of flowers, leaves and incense. I paid for one and brought it to the temple near the entrance, where I made my offering.

I prayed for:

14. Heart, love, laughter, and sharing joy with myself and with others. Letting go of worry, self-pity, and feeling sorry for myself. Trusting that things will work out OK.

I walked out of the temple feeling refreshed (for lack of a better world!). There was no reason I had to feel otherwise, to give into the story of me having a “complicated” experience in Bali. I could feel rejuvenated and healed simply by thinking and feeling that way. I got back on my motorbike, loaded up the GPS and Willie Bob’s “Evil Ways” into my Bluetooth speaker, and jetted into the forest road.

Lastly, it’s not the most flattering photo of me, but here it is — having just cleansed myself.

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Hallelujah.

Written by

Performer, storyteller, teacher - living in NYC and traveling worldwide (www.philipmarkle.com). Artistic Director of The Brooklyn Comedy Collective.

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