I’m laying on a yoga mat; my mind is going insane.
I’m caught in-between being over-gorged on a buffet dinner I’d went to town on (eating tempura after tempura at the time felt so good, justified cause I’m on vacation, happy-happy-joy-joy), being bitten alive by mosquitos swarming over the parapet, alternating cold and hot, torn between action and inaction, and randomly lying next to some creaking wooden window frame that is driving a hard wedge between me and mindfulness everytime the wind blows.
This is me at the sacred Tibetan Bowl ceremony at The Yoga Barn in Bali.
Midway through my trip to Bali, I came to this ceremony because I had started to feel unraveled, like I was missing the magic. I’d been tied into Facebook and posting evidence of the wonders I’d encountered and connecting with the new friends I’d made out here — all the activities I’d been invited to do (ultimate frisbee, dance party, dinner, tango classes, teaching improv, colluding with other business people over lunch on how I could bring improv classes to Singapore), with no time for myself to do nothing. I justified this busyness as living in this country…and, of course, I’m terrified of the chasm that opens up when I have nothing to do. Those first lonely, solo days I experienced out here had brought up such inner sadness that I was grateful for the Gilligan’s Island-esque reprieve where I could just busy myself and party everyday with the Ex-Pats similarly stranded on this island.
Even for those that have taken up residence here, there is an unspoken countdown clock amongst Ex-Pats toward returning toward the Western world. That is why people speak of finding silence, of letting Bali ‘work’ on you, in the time you have here. There is temptation to do a million things and experience all the adventure in Bali, that perhaps can detract from the stillness that can transform you from just idling next to a river.
One of my best friends and a very wise woman, Nikki Zaleski, wrote me this in an email:
International travel, especially to the LITERAL OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD, is distracting. I found that it didn’t put me in an available or peaceful place — but rather, an adventurous and active place. Wandery, wild, moving a lot. Which can be wonderful, but also exhausting. I was surprised to discover that I’m sort of done with that phase of travel in my life — the kind that seeks adventure over stillness. I get too much adventure/stimulation in my daily life — I don’t need it from my vacations. So — it’s two weeks in the mountains for me every year for the foreseeable future. I was so grateful to learn this about myself — to be so affirmed that I am in a new phase of discovery, and I’m much more curious about my own internal landscape than seeing new cities or trying a great cocktail here or there.
Someone offered me the following question, which I also found insanely helpful for my time in Vietnam: “Are you in a position of asking or receiving?” On my most challenging days abroad, shifting to receiving rather than asking softened all the fray.
But back in the Tibetan Bowl ceremony: I came asking for peace and instead receiving insanity. Every time the mystic strikes the bowls, I feel a momentary, palpable tremor silencing the voices in my head. For a second, silence and pure physical experience exist. And then, like a swarm, the thoughts return.
Unable to get them to leave me and unsure of what else to do, I begin labeling the voices in my head. These were the voices competing for my attention:
- Escape The Room (just leave, abort, it’s not worth it, find another option, come back later, why put yourself through this mini-hell, eject!!)
- Move It Or Lose It (get off your ass and take some action! Move away from the window where you are freezing cold and acting as fresh bait to these mosquitos! Who cares if you’ve been told to surrender yourself to stillness. It is your damn ceremony; you paid for it; and you can take care of yourself). Note: I finally did find the ‘courage’ to shift my body surreptiously enough to move my blanket from underneath me to cover up my shivering chest, but that didn’t stop the mosquitoes…
- Woe Is Me (there’s no solution! THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME when I try to relax. Why can’t I just have some luck for once?! I will be bitten all over and have to suffer annoyance scratching myself for a week which will only make me more anxious! Of course this would happen when I needed this to restore my spiritual journey!).
- If Only (if only I had followed my gut and just taken the first yoga mat available in the back of the room — and not second-guessed my placement to get “closer” to the healing sound of the bowls and thereby put myself in this disastrous location next to Creaking Window and The Lord of the Mosquitos. If only I had moved when I felt the first bite, before the ceremony had become too solemn to shamble around the room. Shame! Shame on me not listening to my instincts!).
- Balance (this is a teaching moment. I can justify the torture of mosquitos, the physical discomfort, that see-sawing window, by comparing them to how I’m never satisfied with my setting. I approach healing from a place of desperation — I need to have this go well because my soul is at a deficit. This puts me in a losing game where the slightest interruption or difficulty makes me want to abort and start over. So let’s try to stick it out and to experience what magic I can, despite the distractions and consequences. Yes, I will be covered in mosquito bites, but there are far worse things that could happen and far more to be gained).
- Sensation (feel the reverberations from the Tibetan Bowls. They have a real effect on quieting your mind and resonating with your body. Give yourself over to it. This is living in the moment. Who says you or anyone ‘deserves’ to have things go perfectly? This is life, and each striking of the bowl is an opportunity to experience direct sensation and escape the Samsara of your monkey-mind, fidgeting thoughts).
- When Is This Over (I’ve done my work, I’ve stayed in one place, I’ve been a good participant, I’ve not given up — but for god’s sake how much longer...let this end, let me run from this as unobtrusively as possible, let me out, let me have a drink…I deserve a drink…).
- Stomach (why did I eat so much? I always know better but I eat thoughtlessly and now, three nights in a row, I’ve overeaten and am unable to fully experience peace because I have too much damn food sitting in my belly. Uh…I won’t sleep well tonight).
- To Do List (let me distract myself by planning how I will carve out my schedule for tomorrow. Let’s get those ducks in a row: Yoga in the morning, Balinese massage at 2 pm, then perhaps hop on my scooter and take a trip to East side of the island?)
- Insane (I think I may be insane. Who processes such petty, insistent thoughts during a beautiful ceremony?! How could this be normal?!)
- Tantrum (I am throwing a tantrum and letting panic rise just like when I was a kid. I want to leave, I want to leave, I want to leave!!)
- Countdown (you have less than 1.5 weeks left in your vacation and you are squandering your chance to restore yourself.)
I sat there in mild agony for 45 minutes, when I began to hear a much richer sound that overpowered the rest. It was a chorus of a thousand voices overlapping like the overtones of the Tibetan Bowls. They said:
- We Can Help You (Let us take care of you. Let us guide you when you can not control your self-destructive, thoughtless actions, and guide you to what you need. Let us bear the nervousness, guide you through uncertainty. You can let go of trying to manage your mind by yourself. There’s a multitude within you who cares for you and can nurture the lonely petulance, confusion, worry, bitterness, self-destructive behaviors, panic-striken voices competing for attention and satisfaction. Let us take the wheel.)
I guess this voice was Oprah and her live studio audience to the rescue. Whether or not I was truly watched over by these “higher selves,” it was actually the grandiosity of their statement that made me start to laugh. And the laughter broke my angst and the need to control it. Amidst all the clammer of the voices, I realized the mental guilt I put myself through over a couple of distractions during a one-hour Tibetan bowl ceremony was all a joke. In a room full of 150 people — there were almost certainly others who had similar difficult experiences! And who cares if not! The difficulty is the greatest teacher on this journey. Experiencing bliss isn’t the only way to restore onself. I am learning strategies that can serve me upon return to a stressful city. I have more time than I think I do: I have an entire lifetime to work on this. And it will be ups and downs no matter what! I will find quiet on a jam-packed stalled subway train, trapped without A/C underground, and I will feel tortured when walking around the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, when all I should experience is zen. There really is no “should” — there is only “could” when it comes to experiencing life. There is no absolute path that will restore and revitalize. You already are restored and revitalized; you just don’t know it. You already are whole and don’t need an experience to complete you!
Like the medicine man I saw earlier in my trip to Bali had said, remember laughter and laughing at life. It is the most important thing.
This whole experience…yes…was a joke! But a good one.