A cure for the living dead
Travel a day and a night to the island. Surrender to your conflicting time zones and allow your restless bones to raise you for a frangipani sunrise. It stirs even the heaviest soul.
Get lost on dirt paths. Get swallowed by rice paddies. Even what appears to be forgotten here is not unloved. The lost are found and turned fervently green. With time they sprout wild orchids and drop sticky pregnant mangoes at your feet.
The island will always shine warmly on the weary.
And if that doesn’t work, let the smoke from the burning fields stain your hair, the smoldering exhaust pipe of a motorbike leave kisses along your calves, and the saltwater sting your eyes. Do as I have told you and you are sure to remember how to live.
Your unconditional tour guide
Bali is the most guttingly beautiful place I have ever seen. If these geographic coordinates were a scent they would be the spice of ceremonial incense and the pheromones of the palm tree. I traveled here with friend and collaborator Lucette Romy, who had called Indonesia home for half a decade and where she still manufactures the eco-friendly, plant-dyed clothing line The Wylde. Seeing this place through her eyes was both enchanting and bittersweet, and I was along for the ride. As we wisped through towns she yelled back to me over the engine of our rickety rented scooter to point out what used to be untouched and was now unrecognizable.
“People come to Bali to find themselves,” a half-Indo guy tells me as he wields a surfboard under one arm, a bike helmet hanging off the other. “Like the movie.” He means like Eat Pray Love, the 2010 book-adapted-film in which Julia Roberts flees James Franco’s warm bed to eat her bodyweight of pasta in Italy, seek solace and silence in an ashram in India, and finally finds the pace of her heart in Ubud. I’ve heard more than a few locals grumble about how the film was a catalyst for the contemporary swelling. As hesitant as I am to admit it, I too came here for something.
There are 17,508 islands that make up Indonesia, each undeniably its own patch of paradise. Yet every year millions of us set our sights on Bali to take us on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage, hoping to board our flight home with newfound clarity. You see, I’m hesitant to admit what I came for because we’ve already demanded so much of this humble place. We’ve tasked it to act as guru, as backdrop to our dream vacation, as lover to our travel-tired bodies, as endlessly patient receiver of our existential search and rescue. More vegan food, more nightclubs, more air conditioning, more Wi-Fi, and indie-pop.
We’ve asked it to take on the projection of what we deem “the perfect destination” and when reality strikes and it is, in fact, a messy contradiction of growing pains between untouched nirvana and some form of urban puberty we’re all too ready to reprimand it, forgetting the part we, as outsiders have played. But still, Bali welcomes us, kisses our face, and asks what we need it to be.
A case for meditation
It is so all-encompassing of an experience that one almost forgets what lies beyond the veil of banana trees and rain-heavy air. It was here, for the first time in maybe my entire adult life, my heart didn’t try to tug me away from what lay against my bare kneecaps. Past and future subsided long enough for me to get a little intoxicated on the present. Something we should all do a lot more of. The needs of the outside world were no longer any of my business. There is something to be said for spreading your arms to the wind as you ride down waving roads that mirror the sea, allowing the warm wind to take on the weight of what you carry—even just for a second. For letting the sweet milk of a melon run down your chin and fall back into the Earth. A meal shared with Mother Nature is the most satiating kind.
In its simplicity, Bali teaches us how to be happy in the present, because like meditation, if your consciousness veers out of the task at hand you stumble. In this case undoubtedly to be crushed by a passing stampede of motorbikes, taken hostage by a wave or thrown into a state of despair at the hands of some tap water. If you find you still seek that guru, take a pilgrimage along the slimy rocks of the natural springs, open your eyes to the worlds beneath the surface of the sea, or hold conversations with the marigolds. This is the only way to meet the land in its purest form. And while you’re busy flirting with the flowers you’ll realize that if there truly is a divine guide you’ve come face-to-face with her.
The corners of the Earth that don’t have a geotag are the most rewarding
Take off on foot down a gang (road) with no name, see where it takes you. Close your eyes to the preconceived notions you had and let it show you who it is. There’s a lesson here, of course, a souvenir to take back with you—don’t hold expectations of what something might be. Who someone might be. Take on the journey of finding out.
You must harvest your crops to feed your soul
There’s smoke everywhere, “They’re torching the rice paddies,” Lucette tells me. She explains that farmers burn what’s left of their crops to create more nutrient soil. Instead of closing my doors to the pervasive smell, I dance in it. And for days my clothes, skin, and hair smell only of this. Someone once told me the only way to create a truly successful revolution was to destroy all the entirety of the foundation that came before it. But in the billowing diaphoresis of the rice paddies, I understand all that came before can be used to benefit what will come. Each crop that fails to come to harvest becomes fodder for the bounty of our next season.
Often in searching for the hands of the healers, we miss the slow burn of transformation and let me tell you this place will change you. But only if you play by its rules.