Under The Banyan Tree


My journey so far has been very much about exploring Mother Bali, but understanding the Hindu or Vedic ceremonies has drawn me in, i’m intrigued. I’m also ready for some ‘all woman’ time, and i want to commit myself to program rather than flit about like a butterfly.

So i begin the nine day Durga Retreat, at the Sama Yoga Ashram in Penestanan near Ubud, the ashram is hidden away with a big Banyan tree guarding the entrance, and it is fondly called Under The Banyan Tree. The retreat is facilitated by the Sharada, a teacher of Vedanta (Hindu or Vedic philosophy) meditation, Vedic ceremonies, women’s devi circles, yoga deepening courses, sacred temple dance and mantras of Mother Veda. She is a slight young woman with Swiss, Phillipine heritage and its clearly not the first life she has dedicated to Vedanta. She has such poise, presence and a deep love of Sanskrit, and her discourse is mind opening, gentle and exquisite. She founded the Be Woman Project, whose vision is to empowers women to know that they are safe, loved and connected, and the Durga Retreat is part of this project.

The second facilitator is the lovely Norwegian Jannaki who founded Nordic Light Yoga, she is a teacher of Hatha Yoga, and her style is deep and inward going, slow and meditative. During our nine days together we will receive womb yoga instruction, practicing a deeply yin style of yoga and focusing on the four stages or seasons of the monthly cycle, and exploring different yoga postures and movement for each phase of the moon cycle.

The Vedic goddess Durga is of course our host, and “she who removes pain and suffering” welcomes us into her presence. Durga represents the archetype of motherhood, strength, courage and bravery, she protects the people who follow universal values, she is a leader & mentor in community. So it is her work to hold the rites of passage in our lives, mentoring us into growing and not only knowing her but also way-showing her. I absorb her essence and I’m thinking that she is a pillar of the structure of society, who governs and leads in a female style by holding, nurturing and loving. However she rides on the back of a tiger, she is fierce and can manifest as Kali an aspect of her who can destroy in order to create new life. Sounds to me like this lady has some healthy boundaries, and does not suffer fools, she will love strongly but also hold universal values and right ethics as sacrosanct. Yep she’s my kind of woman.

During the opening circle, I look around at the other women present (there are maybe 15 of us) and I know I am home. The teachings of Vedanta are new to me, whilst I have heard the names of the Vedic goddesses and have chanted some of their mantras, I have never immersed myself in this tradition. The woman’s retreat goings on are very familiar and just like our women’s circles back home and I’m able to connect the goddesses with the ones I know and work with such as Sarasvati and her counterpart Sophia, both goddesses of wisdom.

I begin to ask myself the question, how do I define my spirituality? As I have not really dedicated myself to one way, or school of teaching. I have gathered wisdom from many sources along the way, but circa 2019 here’s where it sits – There is one true God-source (non-gender orientated) of all creation, a unity consciousness from which we all created ourselves, because we are all intrinsically God-source and fully sovereign in our connection to source. However, along the way our inner God-source will manifest as teacher, guide, mentor. God-source is both God and Goddess and can only manifest the whole of creation by this Law of Gender, both are equal and our spark of consciousness is the third point in this triad, therefore to know God we must experience in our heart and mind this sacred marriage of God and Goddess, or Mother and Father. I have been influenced by many different teachings along my way but currently I am working with the Celtic Pagan Gods and Goddesses of the land upon which I live, because this is the story of my home land, going back before Christianity. I’m also very attuned to the Christian Essene teaching that were completed suppressed by the church and are about the path of the gnostic, mystic and knower of the Kryst (changed to Christ) which is a state of purest unity consciousness of our original divine nature before many of these teachings were stolen and reversed. The God, Goddess partnership I connect with everyday is Kryst(Christ)- Sophia. Unity, truth and wisdom.

However, it is the ceremonies and rituals of a spiritual tradition that I am most interested in, because its these rites of passage or markers along the path that have given humans meaning and purpose for thousands of years. Ceremony is so meaningful because in truth when we choose to make another human life, we chose to evolve and growth into knowledge of ourselves as god-source, to do that our highest consciousness must come into our body and express our highest truth and service. Ceremony helps this process, it helps us embody and pick up the fragments of ourselves and unify them within our own being, it helps us awaken, understand and know ourselves.

So I’m ready to embrace this journey with the Vedic sisterhood of sharing ceremonies within the tradition of Vedanta to mark the passages of a woman’s life. We will hold a ceremony or puja for stages on our own timeline. We will travel back and write about actual experience from what we have been told, or can remember, we will share these stories and ask ourselves – how would I like it to have been? Then together we will perform the ceremony or puja to mark this rite of passage for our own self, so we will be both ourselves along the timeline, the ceremonialist, and maybe also play the role of our mother or father. In Vedic tradition it is thought that by receiving these blessings at a gateway point /rite of passage we can make the best life with the greatest experience of belonging, meaning, purpose and self-awareness. We can be our best self. Although there are numerous rites of passage and corresponding puja in Vedanta we will be focusing on five:
Birth,
Initiation into learning (school),
First Blood,
Marriage,
& Death.

We will also be taking Ayurveda classes with Dr. Sujatha Kekada, who is the Head Physician and Co-Founder of Amrtasiddhi. – an Ayurvedic clinic in Ubud. She is a certified Ayurvedic doctor (B.A.M.S), who worked at one of the most respected and successful clinics in Kerala, South India before opening her clinic in Bali. She will talk to us specifically about woman’s health and how the principles of Ayurveda including, lifestyle, diet and herbs can support all stages of a woman’s life.

In our opening sharing circle, we tell a bit of our story by way of introducing ourselves, who we are, where we are from, what is happening in our life. So many of these stories reflect my own experiences, we are women of all ages, maidens, mothers, grandmothers, crones. From all corners of the globe, including a woman who is born and raised in Ubud, and yet there are so many similarities and a beautiful uniqueness too. We sing the name of each ‘devi’. I begin to soften.

So to anchor our intentions and focus our hearts and minds, we must prepare our personal altars. In Vedic tradition this includes statues or images of the deity, a brass bowl for water, a candal, incense, aromatic oil such as Frankincense, a bell, a shell, and other personal sacred items. But we are really encouraged to make our altar personal and so I lay out my travel altar mat that I made for this journey. I sewed into it, crystals, charms, prayers and feathers to mark the directions and guide me on my way. I lay out my crystals, herbal pouches, candals, incense, the Frangipani oil I bought in Ubud, the ashes from the Agni Hotra fire I did with the Balinese healer Pak Ketut Jaya, stones and shells I’ve collected along the way and my spirit flute. Our altars will travel through the whole five ceremonies with us and they will be our work space so to speak for the transformational journey ahead. Perfect we are ready. Arrival and day one complete.

There is something so special about being in a women’s circle and putting our world to right. Coming together and healing it, taking care of it, making it better is so sewn into the fabric of women. I like to think my recent ancestors would have been connected to a circle of woman in their daily lives and daily activities. They say it takes a tribe to raise a child. But now society has changed so much and so often woman are shouldering it all alone, and this is a bigger burden.

To me the Vedic Goddess Durga is like a mother figure, who holds up community values and serves the people through her love, support and wisdom in the journey of their lives. In addition to learning the Vedic pujas as we will also be creating our own ceremonies in our own style in small groups, so that we start to think about how we can offer this kind of service to our own community, and go forth and Be Durga in our own world.

May all the beings in all the world’s be held in a mothers arms

All Hail Mount Agung

What to do when a great mountain calls

I arrive at ‘Great Mountain View Resort‘ and the journey here is stunning. It’s about 30 minutes from Padang Bai to a village called Banjar Alas Tunggal, in the province of Sideman. We take a mountain road which just gets steeper and steeper and more winding. The area is covered in tropical jungle with deep drop away plunging valleys looking back over to the coastal plane and sea. The air gets fresher and we climb up to 900 metres. Great Mountain View Resort is in the middle of nature looking out across rice fields and right at the foot hills of Mount Agung! The place is ran by a Balinese couple, Nyoman and Wayan, and i’m told there has just been a silent meditation retreat held here for 8 days. I can’t really remember how i found the place but i give enormous thanks for my higher power guiding my here. It is so peaceful and beautiful, i’ve come to a very special place, i can just feel it.

The owners are very eco- friendly but not in a trendy over expensive way, just in a way that respects and honours nature. We are wrapped up in it here. The garden is lush with coconut trees, and many lush tropical plants. The architecture is all stone, wood, and natural materials. There are only a handful of bungalow cabins and I can’t spot another guest as yet. I find out later in my stay that Nyoman and Wayan have a passion for natural architecture and are currently building a beautiful house out of bamboo with open sides and glass walls, situated right in the rice fields out on their land, so you can wake up to see Mount Agung. Its costing them 600 million IDR, which is about £32,000. I’m shown the plans and it looks so elegant, natural and a temple to nature. Seems like I’ve organised myself a spiritual retreat for meditation at the foot of Mount Agung. Who knew?

On arrival I sit in the beautiful open sided bale looking out towards Mount Agung that is currently veiled by clouds in the mid-day heat, there are Balinese prayer flags everywhere. I eat rice noodle soup cooked for me by the smiling lady called Madi, whilst watching the white cranes fly over the rice paddy fields in harmony and union. It just feels so different up here, sort of rarefied and pure. I chat to Nyoman and he tells me that Mount Agung has great significance for Balinese spirituality as it is where Shiva dwells, it’s his mountain basically. Shiva is of course one of the three main Hindu gods, who is a bit of a work-aholic creating, protecting and transforming the universe as his day job, one of his other mountains is Mount Kailash. The connection that my home from home guest house back in Ubud is called Kailash is not lost on me. Shiva’s wife Parvati is the mother goddess, known for her fertility, divine strength and power. This volcanic mountain is definitely female to me, in her enormous fire power, strength and majesty, a part of mother earth that does not negotiate. Nyoman goes on to tell me that not only is Agung the highest peak, it’s also known as the purest energy in Bali, and the temple of Besakeh situated on its slopes is the mother temple of all temples in Bali. Holy moly! My higher self has really picked the spot. I sit on my front terrace and just breathe it all in, i still my mind and just receive the energy of the place. I fall in deeper, attuning to the mountain and drop into a breathing meditation, it would be rude not to.

Mount AgungMount Agung

Later in the afternoon Nyoman drops me over at Jagasatru waterfall, maybe 10 minutes away by car. I saw the sign on the way here and i’m told it is very tall and of course revered as a holy spot. I walk down and down the steepest road, again winding its way into a crook of the land. It’s incredulous to see the scooters go up and down this road defying gravity. Then a path and lots of steps further down into the jungle valley, and the crazy sound of cakowing going on (I find out later that this is the cungeretan, which is a kind of cricket), lush jungle everywhere and the sound of water. I approach the waterfall which is 250 metres high, plunging down into the clearest rock pool, there’s water mist in the air and the rocks are all shining and singing with the natural devic energy of the place. There are shrines in several places and a sign to say respect the spirit of the place, and no hanky panky! I’m all alone, so I unburden my bags and scramble over the rocks and slip into the pool. It’s awe inspiring and i fall into a prayful place. Thankyou for my life, Thankyou for this beauty, Thankyou to the water spirit, Thankyou to our mother earth, Thankyou for creation. Then I go under, once, twice, three times. Again it’s a reset, a cleanse of so much old story, karma.

Jaga Satru Waterfall
Jagasatru Waterfall

As i ascend back up again i’m early at the meeting point, which is a very small village above the waterfall. Whilst i’m waiting i have the loveliest time, an elder in the village comes over to talk, and he has a few English words, he welcomes me to the table of his sister and two nieces who are making Canang sari, the shrine offerings made out of young coconut leaves. They have a little shop and i buy a can of fizzy cold green tea, and we have a fun time chatting away in signs and symbols and i play my flute for them all, and then the children come over and say hello. When i leave with Nyoman they give me a big send off and on the way back we pass Nyoman’s cousin and he says he has heard that i was at the next village as the word came through! Just wonderful i love it.

Wayan recommends i get up at dawn to see the mountain appear, she says its normally clear skies and a very sacred time of day, with first prayers beginning at 6am. So for the first time on the whole trip i go to bed early, which is a good plan as the mosquito are out in crowds in this jungle terrain. So are the frogs who hold a concert in the rice fields, and the fireflies and gecko all over the path. The bed is so comfy and i’m covered with a mosquito net and i seriously have the best sleep ever.

I wake at 5:45 to my alarm, and it takes a minute to remember who i am and what i’m doing. Its cool in the mountain air so i bring my poncho and sit myself on the edge of the bale feet all tucked under to greet the dawn. Its so exciting seeing the mountain appear, as i haven’t see it in its glory yet. Its still dark, and the next 20 minutes are filled with wonders as the dawn chorus and morning prayers begin and the mountain comes into view. A soft mist like a fine gossamer veil rests over everything and there are a few flashes of very peaceful lightening. Its huge and conical shaped like the proper volcano that it is. I lap up this opportunity to go within and do my morning meditation practice, i feel deep peace. This is more to do with the environment than my immediate ascension but its a start, and i’m treasuring it. Below is my rather amateur video of dawn breaking in timed installments from 5:55am until 7:30am.

Mount Agung at dawn waking up to greet the day

After breakfast Nyoman’s cousin Ketut takes me round to the west side of the mountain to Pura Besakih (pronounced Be-sar-key) which takes about 40 minutes. Its a huge complex of temples, at an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level, with the mountain peak rising above. It is a Catur Lokapala temple which honours the four directions, with the Penataran Agung Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at the centre.

I must add that Mount Agung is an active volcano with the last major eruption happening in 1963, and the fact that the lava missed this temple site was seen as a great gift of god. It did become active again in 2017 and the whole area was evacuated as it blew off some smoke and fire but didn’t fully erupt. It was reported at the time that despite the volcano alert being a level 4 or 5 full moon prayer ceremony still went ahead at Pura Besakih. Nyoman tells me that the crew at Great Mountain Views Resort stayed put and they were full to the brim with visitors wanting to see the flumes of smoke and fire out of the volcano spout.

Its full moon today and this means there are many Balinese Hindu familys dressed up and looking lovely in temple clothes coming to pray. The temple has seven levels to it and it is reached by climbing many steps as the buildings ascend up the hillside. I cannot begin to describe the lay out to you, you can check that out here, but i can share my own personal journey. Firstly the views of the mountain and surrounding valleys are stunning, as is the temple architecture with its statues, gateways, ascending pyramid towers called merus, and inner and outer courtyards. There are strict areas for Hindu worship here and today they are absolutely packed. As a non Hindu westerner i stick to the edges and feel like i am looking in on a world that is very communal, colourful and celebratory. Its comfortable to be an observer and track the shadows opening up a conversation with myself about what this visit means to me. I share some heart opening moments with the Hindu temple crowd, as we wander about they smile and great me with Om-swastiastu (meaning – greetings) – a few times they want a picture together, its very friendly. The women are dressed up in their best sarongs with a long sleeved lace blouse and colourful prayer sash around the waist, often carrying woven baskets of prasad (flowers, incense, fruit, cakes, offerings) on their heads. The men are in sarongs and long shirt with the prayer hat on their heads (which is like a wrap of material that peaks at the front).

I find a quiet spot in the Vishnu temple (he’s the one who governs water so there is no surprise there) and i sit and unwind. Since our god is the same god, and infact has a goddess consort, i connect to divine masculine and feminine in the way i always do and start breathing in the energy of universal source. Well it’s quite a pokey spot i must say and the lights certainly seem turned on. I find myself making an energetic offering to the guardians of the temple, to the land and to the mountain. I go on an inner journey and i’m up and off on a magic carpet to float over the mountain. I sit for what seems like an eternity (in a good way) but is probably only about 20 minutes, as i’m still working on the virtue of patience. But i’m uplifted and energetic and feel like i’ve got wings so i bounce round the rest of the temple courtyards i’m allowed in and take lovely pictures of what is in fact quite a stunning temple complex.

Back at Great Mountain Views i’m wrapped up again by this peace and abundance of nature, i sip ginger tea and just roll myself out for the afternoon. I attempt a pastel chalk drawing of the luscious garden, i dip in the beautiful simple swimming pool looking out over the rice paddies, i have a Balinese massage under the stone arch by one of the extended family. Its all Nyoman’s and Wayan’s family who work here and they have a lovely community vibe, two of the woman are pregnant and the kids turn up after school. The pace of life is very slow here. There is prayful singing all afternoon, with a male voice chanting, then a female voice singing the Balinese version of Indian ragas. At 6pm, Wayan goes around dressed in her temple clothing and makes offerings to all the shrines. Its full moon tonight and there is an air of excitement as its a special day in the temple. They make me delicious rice, vegetables and peanut sauce for dinner and i eat early to avoid the mosquitos. The mosquitos are however horrific, there are so many and i’m bitten to shreds, i start using the mosquito repellant every hour. I’m really starting to slow down my crazy mind chatter and let it all in.

In fact by night fall i feel a huge shift. I decide to do my own full moon ceremony, and hop about getting a candal, incense, all my crystals, my bags of herbs, my tarot cards and journal and what not into place. Its mid way on my trip and i decide that my intention is now about creating what i want for my life moving forward, when i return home. I’ve focused a lot on letting go but i get the idea that i’ll make a vision for what i want to call into my life, and make some affirmations i can work on over the next few days. I’m sitting on my terrace just giving thanks for this bounty, looking at the moon and then i spot it, an enormous feeling of guilt. I tease it out a bit and unravel it, its just sitting there, this belief that i am just not worthy of all this. Its bloody tragic that i feel this but the good bit is that i spotted it because as i start to turn it around, i am worthy, i am worthy of this, i am worthy of god, there is enough of everything for everyone, as above so below, i feel such a happy release. I have a very special evening just creating and weaving positive prayers and good energy for my life firstly, and also my family and the planet. Think i might be getting the vibe.

The next day i chill out at home base. The weather is so changeable up here in the mountains, and i spend most of my time just taking in the moving panorama of the mountain. Dawn, first light, baking sun, rolling clouds, dark clouds, a huge storm with torrential tropical rain, thunder and lightening, the fresh clear sky after the storm, the hum of a simple life. I’m amazed at the sound that some of the local creatures make, repetitive calls that go on for hours, my brain can only register them as car alarm, broken water pipe, open gate knocking against wall. They are all natural, and as i’m playing my flute later, i get how it would have been completely intuitive to make an instrument to mirror the animal sounds and rhythms to communicate with the natural family in ones living environment.

Wayan sends me off on a nature walk following the irrigation channel over the rice fields, I find the path leading to the river, through jungle again then out onto the country lane. There is rice laid out on plastic tarps on the road, and scooters and occasional car just ride straight over as it is drying. I’m told that this is cool as it still has it’s skin on? I head back through the village and I just love taking it all in. The simple everyday normal things, the infants back from school at 11am, the people carrying all manner of things on their heads, fire wood, baskets, bundles of leafy branches, little fires everywhere, people working in the rice fields ankle deep in water, the village shop selling packet noodles, cigarettes and toothpaste.

Great Mountain Views Resort and the mountain region of Sideman has been an utterly awesome place to visit, and if you want to touch base with rural Bali then this is the place to come. Visiting Sideman was a top tip I received from a family member before I came and i’m so glad I did! Thanks hun! In reflection of my journey, my aunty sent me this poem by Miroslav Holub

Go and open the door. Maybe outside there’s a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city.
Go and open the door. Maybe a dog’s rummaging. Maybe you’ll see a face, or an eye, or the picture of a picture.
Go and open the door. If there’s a fog it will clear.
Go and open the door. Even if there’s only the darkness ticking, even if there’s only the hollow wind, even if nothing is there, go and open the door.
At least there’ll be a draught.

May all the beings in all the world be guardians of their environment

Journey of The Water Temples of Bali

Tirta Empul

Bali is an island of water magic

Over the last few days I have visited waterfalls and water temples. Each one more awe-inspiring than the last, and with each visit I can feel the magic of this water just dissolving all my hard-outer layers and transporting me to a space of flow, surrender, gratitude and humbleness. As I sit and write this afternoon it is raining, I mean proper tropical rain delivering an unquestionable cleansing to the earth.

Yesterday I heard that the ancient name for Bali is Tirta Island, meaning island of many natural springs. They are everywhere and there is often a water temple at the site. I’m so drawn to natural springs, like all the ancient pilgrims before me I feel intuitively in touch with something that is life affirming when I am there. I love being in water, I think I may be part mermaid, and I’m in heaven when I’m diving deep and immersing myself into its flow. Water is the element of emotions and flow, its easier for me to feel when I’m in water, to touch grief and joy, two essential emotions that have formed the shape of my life. I can touch gratitude in water and let my whole-self bubble up with thanks for what is. Just what is today, nothing more nothing less.

Sumampan Waterfall

My water journey began several mornings ago when I walked over to Sumampan waterfall just 10 minutes from my door. I enjoyed the wander down the rural lanes of Bali, passing people working in the rice fields and several dogs that looked like they were on a mission. I descended into the deep valley via a set of 160 stone steps to arrive at the valley floor and to be greeted by the tall intense waterfall cascading onto the rocks at the other side of the river over a sheer drop. I had the place to myself so sat for a few hours playing my wooden flute, apart from a monkey who ran across the tree trunk acting as a bridge over the river, I was glad to be alone as I’m a total beginner and I managed to compose a small tune dedicated to the waterfall and her devic nature spirit. I became aware of a small Balinese lady carrying a pile of rectangular clay bricks on her head walking up stream and then on up the small steps to the top of the valley. She came time and time again. I wondered about her life and how she managed to do this job, I puzzled over what she was doing with her crazy monkey mind to be able to hold focus and diligently perform this heavy weight task. I thought about how it would be to carry our burdens this way. Just one step at a time.

Soon enough a family and their Balinese guide came to join me, and the guide was quite sure it was safe enough to wade through the fast-moving river and up onto the tree bridge to go over to the waterfall. The papa went first, and he was so delighted that he came back for mama and the oldest child. I couldn’t help myself joining in with this fun and meeting the strong force of the river, the balancing act of the bridge and the wonder of the waterfall which invited us right underneath its flow, just in its arch, but not straight under as it was too fierce. I noticed how this water was helping me feel strong and playful and I thanked the family for including me in their fun (and giving me safe boundaries to explore). Back up to the valley top I returned home feeling excited and bubbling, on the way I stopped at one of the 2 village warung’s (meaning small family owned café) and was delighted to order a fresh turmeric, lemon, lime and honey juice. Amazingly, miles away from trendy Ubud this small café had a long list of healing juices including aloe Vera and coconut milk. It was a scorching day, so I returned to the pool side for the rest of the day to meditate, do yoga and forage around in my bag of pencils and chalks I brought with me and make some pictures. These are the things I really treasure doing, my pearls that I go deep diving for in my life back home. But somehow it still takes such discipline and diligence to draw myself back inwards and embrace these practises even though I have all the time in the world. My burden of heavy bricks has been lifted for one month and I aim to make my choices count in every moment.

Me at Sumampan early morning

Yesterday morning I woke to greet the day early as I had arranged with Pak Ketut Jaya, (the Balinese healer I visited a few days ago for a healing session) (you can read about this healing treatment here) to be my guide for the day and take me to the water temple, north of Ubud. I was half expecting that we would go to the famous Tirta Empul, one of the most well-known temples in Bali, but Ketut arrived on his scooter with other plans. He said we would go to a smaller water temple that was peaceful and a bit more off the tourist map, the place where he goes to make his prayers for purification, a place called Pura Dalem Pingit Sebatu. Pak Ketut Jaya would also be my spiritual guide for the visit, to hold prayer ceremony and guide me through the right way to do purification and prayer at such a place visited by the Balinese Hindu community.

The location of Pura Dalem Pingit, at Sebatu  was incredibly special and reached by a path leading to steps circling deep into the valley bottom. The vegetation was thick and lush with beautiful flowers and moss-covered rocks. Nature just felt so abundant with the smell of sweet fresh spring water.

Journey down to Pura Dalem Pigit

I can only tell you that the experience was very beautiful, I fell deeply into my heart, allowing my breathe to be deep and rhythmic, there were blessings upon blessings each ending with a flower behind the right ear. Ketut was very clear and direct in communicating what each prayer was about. It held a familiar form of asking for permission to the guardians of the place, connecting to god, to the goddess, to mother earth, asking for forgiveness of self and others, asking for purification of the ego. This translated into surrender, release, letting the heart unburden, connecting to the eternal infinite source of creation through the breath, feeling the elements all around and receiving the beauty of the water blessing.

There were numerous places to stop on the way down where much of this occurred, however it culminated at the bottom of the valley in the water pool that received the spring as a waterfall into its depths, with full immersion into the waterfall holding the breath for as long as possible. At first, I resisted and felt the fear of drowning but then on the third time I got it and just felt an amazing surrender. I could breath a little bit in short pants whilst standing within the waterfall and realised it was OK to just let go and stay there. This was the most amazing feeling, to just stay in the waterfall, I can’t really find the words, but it was like belonging to another world, like maybe before I was born or after I die. Yes, it was profound, and I think for one tinny teeny moment I might have released the grip of the mind and ego.

Pura Dalem Pigit

My intention was for the cleansing and purification of all the waters on our blue planet, for all the seas, rivers, streams, lakes and puddles, and I held this as my focus as Ketut performed a fire ceremony for bringing healing to our earth mother at the Pura Gunwang Kawi temple just around the corner from Pura Dalem Pigit. Throughout the ceremonies Ketut laid on the prasad – the offerings of flowers, incense, fruit, cakes and more for the altars. By the end I had so many flowers behind my right ear that I joked I would need to pray for bigger ears for next time.

The wind brought me back to my body on the scooter ride home and we did some good grounding things like visit the studio of THE master wood carver of Bali, the Ada Garuda Gallery, which was mind bendingly stunning, with enormous statues of Balinese gods and goddesses carved from a single tree piece, as special comissions for Hindu temples around the world. Yes really!

I must tell you about this funny drink we had when we stopped at a local warung, it’s called a daluman drink. It consists of coconut milk, tea and this green gel that is made from the daluman leaves, which are a bit like aloe-vera. It was crazy with big lumps of gel that slid down your throat, but it was also tasty and refreshing. It has medicinal properties and is cooling and soothing to the digestive tract, which is useful after all the chilli.

And there is more! Today I decided I would visit the water temple that everyone has told me to go to. The famous Pura Tirta Empul located close to the town of Tampaksiring in the village of Manukaya. The village is a 30-minute drive to the north of Ubud. This temple is situated right next to the president of Bali – Joko Widodo’s residency and was visited by the Obamas when they came to Bali. Its very much on the tourist trail and you can read about how it is all set out here. However I will share with you my very personal experience of the purification pools that consist of fountains of spring water entering two large bathing pools. The pool on the left is for purification and letting go and the pool on the right is for blessings on the future of your life, your family, your house, your new business and all things moving forward.

I enlisted a guide who called himself my personal assistant and he explained clearly about what to do, and he looked after my bag and took lots of pics on my phone. I’m glad I received his guidance as I could see tourists kind of getting it all wrong and sticking their heads under the fountains for the dead and such like. He was immensely kind and really held the space for me to meditate and go within to my own prayers and wishes. He also sorted out all the flower offerings and incense and kept calling out for me to look over for a photo, which was quite sweet and resulting in many good pictures to keep as memories of the day. I have been doing a daily meditation practice of breathing in these seven virtues – purity, patience, generosity, kindness, disciple, diligence and humility, so I decided to make this my focus and let go of all the opposite states of ego mind to these virtues.

Dressed in my sarong and sash I entered the cold spring water bath on the left-hand side and joined the queue of pilgrims. 10 fountains for purification, and then missing out 11 and 12 as these are for the dead, a 13th for clearing nightmares and a 14th for cleansing the 5 elements. At each fountain spout its 3 handfuls to drink, then 3 handfuls to wash the face, then head under the fountain spout to clear the crown chakra at the top of the head. Wow this was powerful and meaningful to make a ritual in this way with all these people. Then up and over and into the bath on the right-hand side, 1st fountain spout to clear the spoken word, clearing all the bad or nasty things you have ever said, then 2nd spout to clear all the nasty things people have said to you. Fantastic, I love this, its just my kind of thing. Then the final fountain spout to welcome water blessings into your future life and the lives of all your family, ancestors, future family and relations. Boom! Its done.

Bali I love you, I love your water temples and the possibility and invitation to commune with this natural spring water in this way. I also went over to the the place where the spring water comes out of the ground before i left, the springs are bubbling up the clay earth around into clouds and eddys, thick and fast, determined and in 33 places I’m told. Tirta meaning water, and Empul meaning up out of the earth. Wow what a water temple you are Tirta Empul. Thankyou for having me today.

On the way back I stop for a tea at the Tegallalang rice terraces, which is “one of the three most splendid terraced landscapes in Ubud’s shared region, with the others being in the villages of Pejeng and Campuhan”. They are green, beautiful, lush, layer upon layer of terraces lining each side of a stunning deep undulating valley, with a strange mix of rice padi farmers hard at work on their land in their conical hats and ‘we love Bali’ tourists looking for that perfect Instagram shot.

You could move way too fast through this land, but it would be a great sadness and terrible mistake really to miss the feel of the place. Slowly slowly the goddess of the land that is Bali is opening her arms to me.

May all the beings in all the world be love.

Goa Gajah Elephant Caves

The days have begun to blur into one already! This may be the tropical weather conditions which are very unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel as hot as dry heat, but it doesn’t take much before you are lathered in sweat. I’m not sure how to do this with the sun cream. It’s that oil and water conundrum that chemists have tried to work out for millennia. They don’t mix.

However it does seem to appear that Bali and temples do mix. They are everywhere! Komang my driver (that sounds so queenly to have a driver) has explained a bit about Bali village life. The pura desa or village temple is at the heart of village life, and along side it is the bale banjar which is a large covered open sided building, like a village hall where all the people who live in the village gather to discuss village matters. The meetings are held by the kelian banjar, who is elected for a period of time. He says if anyone is having trouble the bale banjar discuss it and work out how to go forward and remove obstacles, this can be personal, family, community, religious or government administration issues. They meet twice a month and we drove past a bale banjar in session and it was packed! Komang is really proud of the community.

I’m also noticing that many houses have an entrance gate that leads into a first courtyard with a statue of Ganesh there, guarding the gateway. Ganesh is the son of  Shiva and Parvati and in Hindu mythology Parvati creates her son whilst her husband Shiva is away and the boy stands at the gate of the house to protect his mother. Then there’s that awful business about Shiva coming back and not knowing the boy is his son, he cuts his head off as the boy refuses to let him pass. Parvati is obviously beside herself so Shiva intends to bring him back to life by finding another head. That’s how he ends up with the head of an elephant, and of course his mama loves him still and his papa declares him to be worshipped as a god to honour his virtues of protection. Thus he is the Hindu god for protection and removing obstacles. I’ve seen so many I’m tempted to do an instagram style #doorsoflondon  #ganeshafrontgatesofbali photo collection.

Ganesh

About Ganesh, yesterday morning I decided to visit the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave Temple. in Bedulu village, just 5km from Ubud. It’s very close to Kailash guest house where i am staying. This is a very old sacred site. The name is written om Negarakeertagama papyrus dated back to 1365AD and means hermitage on a river. Its thought that a Buddhist shrine by the river came first, and then later the cave became a place to offer prayers to Shiva, Parvati and their son Ganesh. At some point the front of the cave was carved with the face of a elephant with a giant open mouth as the door.

 I arrive at the site and manage to purchase a job lot of flower offerings and incense and set off down the many stairs into the gorge below that houses a river and the ancient cave. It’s a hot day and there is the ubiquitous market by the ticket office with the swarm of traders touting their wares of sarongs, sarongs and more sarongs. Everyone must wear a sarong to go into the temple space, it seems the Balinese are very protective about their sacred spaces and great natural custodians. I don’t escape without purchasing the most beautiful cotton flowery vibrant summer dress for my granddaughter, and a pair of gorgeous red with blue exotic flower shorts. This is because I am missing her such a lot. In fact, I’m really missing my family on this outing and I decide I’m going to make some prayers for them all down in the cave asking Ganesh to protect them and remove all obstacles to peace and well being in their lives. On the way down I see an Asian woman washing in the large stone bath with female statues pouring spring water into it, it seems that this is the place for purification before prayer. I place my first flower offering and douse my head in water, I notice that these statues have gorgeous curves and I reflect on the wonder and beauty of the mother archetype who is connected to an unlimited source of flow and fertility just like this water. I haven’t done any washing up or housework for days and I’m getting her vibe.

Purification at Goa Gajah

There are lots of tourists and everyone wants THE pic outside the elephant cave and there are tour guides speaking loudly in a few different languages. But I’m seeking something much subtler, I’m here to feel the energy of the place and wander back in time to touch that ancient pulse. I’m not a Hindu, I don’t even lean towards eastern spirituality particularly. I connect spiritually through nature and all forms of god and goddess delivering the message that we are all one, a unity consciousness. But today I’m going to offer up my prayers.

Flower and incense offerings

A lovely Balinese lady called Madi is laying out the flower offerings, so I go over and say hello. She bustles around getting me a tray for my offerings and flicking the holy water. She tells me she is 50 and has one son, I tell her I’m 47 and have 3 children and a granddaughter and I’m going to make prayers for their lives. She flicks me down with holy water and we share a bit of happy mama time. She takes my bag to keep safe in her shop and fusses over me. I feel special in my sarong with my flower offerings and off I go into the cave. Its dark and bare inside and there’s a long tunnel then an open space with 3 altars hollowed out from the cave walls. To the left is Ganesh altar with an elephant stone, to the centre is Parvati altar with a big round goddess stone, and to the right is Shiva altar with a set of stone lingums. I end up thinking about all the females in my family line at the centre, all the males to the right, then all the children at the centre. I set down my flower offerings and incense.

Me outside the elephant cave

I’m startled by the light when I come out, and Madi has fresh coconut for sale so I’m revived by this delicious drink “A nice sweet one for you” she says. As I wander on I go deeper into the gorge, sadly I see discarded coconut shells and straws thrown in the undergrowth on my way down to the river its self . I find a waterfall and it is here that the true spirit of the place talks to me, a prayer for mother earth bursts out of my heart, that we can learn quickly how to be better custodians of her, that the spirit of the Balinese way of caring for the earth can spread out before it’s too late. Further up there is a Buddhist shrine and I’m blessed with flowers and rice.

Ubud is so close and I’m invited back in to town by the thought of getting a plate of vegan food at the café Soma which has been recommended by a friend from Glastonbury, and describes itself on facebook as a cafe, a shop and community gathering space. Maybe I will feel differently about Ubud today? Soma describes itself as offering high vibe food and has a wonderful menu of raw vegan, vegan and vegetarian delights. Whilst I’m wandering around trying to find the place, I pass the monkey forest, so I decide to pop in. It’s a strange vibe in there as the tree shapes are so unfamiliar, with great hanging vines and a sort of swampy feel. I gravitate towards the holy spring which looks to be dedicated to Ganesh.

The monkeys are everywhere, and all the signs say do not look them in the eye or get out any food or drinks or they will nick them. I give myself permission to not like things on this whole trip. Its just that I’m so used to keeping up a positive attitude as a parent when holidaying with my family. We’ve paid in, it wasn’t cheap, we are only one step away from everyone breaking out into moans of how they are too hot, thirsty, bored or they just don’t like it, so its always been my job to keep up the happy vibe. You know the scene? So I just realise I don’t need to do this, I can if want to – simply just not like something if that’s what I really feel. I don’t like the monkey forest, I feel about 6 and the monkeys are scary. Not even a gorgeous mama monkey and cub melt me and I’m out of there like a shot.

I wander through Ubud market as I’d like to buy a special sarong for visiting temples, it feels like the same rules apply, don’t look anybody in the eye or open your bag or the traders will be all over you in a shot. I feel more vulnerable on my own, like a waiting target. I over pay a lady for a sarong and bolt out of there, I did haggle but I can tell it was still overpriced but I’m just too much of a softy for this, as all I can think about is her rent, food and kids.

Then I find Soma, its in the trendy end of town. Lovely narrow streets lined with gorgeous boutiques, musical instrument shops, exquisite jewellery and signs to spas and guest houses. Soma is set around a courtyard with a rather ancient looking gate standing alone like a nod to the past. The vibe is chilled out and I choose a gorgeous sofa at the back and literally lay flat feeling the heat. The menu is exquisite with delights like juices, smoothies, raw chocolate desserts, raw food salads and a long list of herbal teas. I order a large pot of fresh turmeric and ginger tea. Scanning the menu is a day out in itself, and just so interesting to read the mission on the front cover and then the wonderful synergies of vegetables, herbs and superfoods put together in an extensive and inspiring way. Soma is my kind of place. I order a raw vegan rainbow salad with peanut sauce, and a shiitake mushroom pattie with Asian greens. What can I say? I’ve found what I’m looking for! This food is outrageously wonderful, and I want to move in just so I can spend the next month eating my way through the menu.

Soma Raw Chocolate Dessert

I’m in love and I forgive Ubud immediately for its crazy scooter roundabout traffic, its monkey minded mayhem city vibe, its super trendy glamorous beautiful spiritual people poster look. Ok we can be friends! I’ve noticed over my shoulder I rather distinguished Balinese man who looks super chilled and like he might be the proprietor of the place, and soon enough he comes over and introduces himself in a very friendly way. Well it’s a small world because it doesn’t take long for us to discover that he knows and loves the Glastonbury crowd who come to Bali and with several mutual friends between us Soma feels like home. We chat about our friends, the food, the menu, the inspiration behind Soma and I just feel like I’m receiving a wealth of information about the spirit of the land from him and another Soma regular guest. I hear a story about the spirit of the Balinese farmers who are strong at sticking to their farming practices when tempted with take over offers from the big boys wanting to turn Bali into GM crops with Monsanto seeds.

The word Ubud I’m told means medicine.

My body is so happy for the food and as I wander off to meet up with my driver to go back to Kailash, Ubud is alive with the night vibe. A big ceremony is kicking off at the temple next to the palace and the whole place is crammed with the men in white temple clothes and the woman in lace tops, sarongs and prayer belts.

Houki, Keeku and Me

Back at Kailash the doggies come to greet me like a long lost friend, and i wonder if i’ll ever leave. I have a late night swim in the pool and give thanks for a day like this. I’m really intrigued about the story of this land. My friends at Soma tell me about Bali’s healing energy and how if you visit with your heart and mind open you will fall in love with the place. I’m intrigued to which part of Bali calls me. Is it her oceans, islands, mountains, springs, waterfalls, temples? Right now its my bed at Kailash and another good nights sleep. I breathe in deeply and out deeply reminding myself that i am allowed to take in all this loveliness.

May all the beings in all the worlds find peace.

At The Gates To Bali

I know its a big cliche i’m a 47 year old female and my youngest is 17, so its time to break free and quit my life for one month off in Bali. I’m blessed to have the money to do so, time off work and enough crazy wanderlust spirit to go for it. So the one month off, sole female traveler with no plans arrives in Bali. Well actually i do have plans, in order to pluck up courage i book one month air b&b home stay in Ubud, the centre of personal growth and all things spiritual, thinking this will be my home and i can come and go on short trips off to temples, the beach and whenever the compass points. Great plan, and to be fair this kind of security did get me here but on arrival i discover two things.

Firstly i’m not in love with Ubud, to my post 24 hrs journey nervous system its like crazy moped hell, with over priced yoga and matcha latte, and i just left my home town of Glastonbury, UK which is full of less overpriced yoga and less over priced matcha latte. However i did go and pay my respects to Pura Taman Saraswati Temple in downtown Ubud, a stunning water temple set with pink lotus flower filled ponds. The Hindu creator goddess Saraswati is the wife of Brahma, and only went and helped him create the universe. A wife who deserves nothing less than pink lotus flowers by way of honoring and acknowledgement.

Pink Lotus Flowers Framing the Saraswati Temple Entrance

Secondly i choose a basic Balinese home stay with traditional Balinese mattress. Air b&b describes “Bata Bata is quirky traditional styled guesthouse, built with bricks and wood as its main materials. We use traditional beds and pillows with ‘kapuk’ filling, cotton-like fluff from a tropical tree named Ceiba pentandra. Please note that as it is natural, traditionally handmade by Balinese local mattress artisan and is filled with ‘kapuk’, it feels rather harder than synthetic mattress. This kind of bedding is very good for healthier back”. So i feel really gung-ho, wild-and-free and au-naturel when i’m booking this homestay, only to arrive and discover i am like the princess and the pea and i cannot sleep on this bed AT ALL. So after two nights, a broken back, and buckets of tears i face up to it. I’m a beginner and i got it all wrong.

During my two days in Ubud i also sprain my ankle, get bitten by the puppy (quite painfully) every time i leave my cabin and eaten by mosquitoes due to the very pretty but really impractical open roofed shower. My inner child is desperate, lost and broken and i realise we are going to need to do this trip together and i am just not really the wild wolf woman “la loba” of my fantasies but rather a very domesticated 47 year old once princess now queen and i’m gonna need a bit of comfort and peace.

I can laugh now, as i’m sitting in my gorgeous room at the most lovely Kailash guest house’, a half hour outside of Ubud near the Tegenungan Waterfalls. Booked last minute on booking.com i’m here for only a fraction more of the price per night than downtown. About that – i made a mistake, i booked for a month, i’m pleading with air b&b for a refund, besides there was also no lock on the door to the cabin, no hot tub as advertised, no bedding and a crazy air conditioning unit. The lovely host was gorgeous and understood it wasn’t for me and agreed to a refund, saying the room will re-book straight away, but she has to wait for air b&b to approve this apparently. I really could do with that refund don’t get me wrong but i knew i couldn’t stay there. I didn’t feel safe, i know this whole trip is so far out of my safety zone that its off the map but i also know i need to feel safe, held, loved and heard. So i let myself off the hook and trust that all will be well.

So now for the good bit, i landed on my feet. Kailash guest house has maybe 12 rooms, 2 very small pools, and it is a beautiful Balinese architecture show piece built around the family house. It even has its own temple just off the courtyard. Its so peaceful and the bed is so comfortable, i slept like a wee small baby.

Tranquility at Kailash
The Kailash House Temple

There are dogs that live here, but not the biting types, just the cutest dogs you could ever meet. There is Mollie the pug, Miko and Kimi the blonde pekinese, and Houki and Keeku the adorabe cross-breeds who have been rescued by tourists.

Mollie hard at work guarding the temple

So i’m resting, arriving, breathing, stretching, getting over the guilt, giving myself what i need (that feels strange) and getting wet! Did i say it was the rainy season? Well tropical rain is just intense, it feels so wrong to an English person, like the roof is going to come in. Last night there was a dramatic storm, and i’m not only scared of biting dogs, unlocked doors at night in city’s, but also lighting. So i was so pleased to be at Kailash with the dogs and good company of fellow guests that were also loving the family feel. On the subject of tropical rain, well there’s a whole new level to getting wet, when i arrived at Tegenungan Falls today i just jumped straight into the natural spring water bath in the rocks on the way down as i was already soaked to the skin. Note to self – buy umbrella. BUT ITS WARM RAIN. Not that sideways freezing cold rain i’m so familiar with.

Tegenungan Falls after a storm