How I Got My Voice (and My Groove) Back
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
In a workshop on “Eros and the Divine” and its significance to our writing, Jan Cornall, our writing guru, noted that the principle of eros is about “being alive and feeling alive.” Tapping into that energy, according to this Aussie playwright/poet/songwriter will help us in our writing process.
Meditating, Jan said, will help us utilize that energy, adding that as a writer and as a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, “desire and longing are intrinsically linked to my meditation practice.” She them proceeded to guide us to meditate â€” with our eyes closed, our backs straight, breathing deeply. In her soft modulated voice, Jan asked us to think about a time that we felt some huge passion. To feel it, taste it, smell it, hear it. After about ten minutes of meditation, she asked us to center ourselves, open our eyes and just write all about it in our journal. She urged us to write freely, without censoring ourselves.
So I wrote, my pen scribbling the memories of a long forgotten passion, feelings of desire and longing filled the pages of my journal.
The workshop was held in Casa Luna, one of the western-style cafes that dot Jalan Raya -the main thoroughfare in Ubud, Bali. We were at a private conference room, surrounded by intricately designed furniture made of teakwood, Balinese paintings and loads of creative energy.
In fact, not just in Casa Luna, but the whole village of Ubud seems to generate a creative energy. Not surprising considering that Ubud is better known as Bali’s cultural center.
An hour’s drive away from the Ngurah Rai international airport in the Balinese capital of Denpasar and situated at the heart of Bali, Ubud’s landscape is dominated by temples and rice paddies, museums and art galleries.
Ubud’s reputation as Bali’s arts haven was established in the 18th century, under the reign of the Sukawati family. Dewa Agung Anom, who founded the Sukawati royal household, called in musicians, dancers, puppeteers and sculptors from all over the island to live and practice their craft in his court. His descendant, Cokorda Gedeng Agung Sukawati, who ruled in the 20th century, also focused his attention on the arts and even invited foreign artists to live in Ubud. These include German artist and musician Walter Spies, Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet, American musician Colin Mcphee and anthropologist Jane Belo.
Today, Ubud remains a magnet of creativity, attracting not only painters, sculptors, musicians and dancers but also yoginis, healers, priestesses, goddess worshippers and writers from all over the world.
Ubud in fact is a place teeming with people who let go of their former lives, recreated themselves, and in the process managed to live again.
Take for instance Salena Oppenheimer â€” a former model, former designer, former IT professional. The London-born Salena traveled all over Asia to learn more about meditation, healing and goddess worship. She’s now based in Penestanan, a quiet and secluded hamlet in Ubud, and making a living as a facilitator of Women’s Goddess Wisdom Workshops, creator of sacred and healing space, weaver of ritual, meditation guide, astrologer and aromatherapist.
“When I was 18,I began to realize that meditation was something that I was naturally drawn to. I think that this initial attraction to meditation was rooted in some kind of knowing that I would never be truly fulfilled from following a life of purely conventional values and that there was something deeper and more mysterious to our existence than this striving for a kind of superficial and impermanent happiness and a mere avoidance of pain, ” Salena said, explaining why she pursued a spiritual path.
I met another Jan, in Ubud â€” she’s a tarot card reader and a co-owner of a new age cafÃ© in Peliatan. Jan, ex-corporate lawyer in London, ex-english teacher in Thailand, went to Ubud a few years ago because one of her friends told her that she will find whatever she’s looking for in this Balinese village. For someone who’s into arts and spirituality, Ubud proved to be an ideal place for Jan. She eventually settled in Ubud, married a Javanese painter/musician and is now offering workshops on reading tarot cards.
The Melbourne-based travel writer Liz is also moving to Ubud later this year to try her hand in the handicrafts export business and concentrate more on her writing.
And then there’s our writing workshop guru, Jan, who’s based in Sydney but visits Ubud every now and then not only to hold workshops, but to seek inspiration for her writing. In one of the pieces she wrote for her own zine, Jan sang: “Drive me forever to your rice paddy temple/I don’t want to go back to my life, it’s that simple/I want to stay forever, I never want to leave/It’s here where I begin my rice paddy dream.”
Writers, like myself, are among the many people who go to Ubud as the craft of writing, after all, is about letting go. It’s about going deeper into yourself, confronting your inner demons and releasing whatever it is that’s hindering you from surrendering to life. In the bestselling book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, SogyalRinpoche, a renown guru of Tibetan Buddhism, noted “we are terrified of letting go, terrified in fact of living at all, since learning to liver is learning to let go.”
Rinpoche’s words echoed on my mind as I lay down on my yoga mat, savoring the breezy morning air in Bali Spirit, a rustic yoga studio in Jalan Hanoman, a few blocks away from the main road. All of us yoginis were in the Savasana pose (lifeless body posture in yoga; total relaxation mode)- legs and arms apart, eyes closed, breathing in and out. And in her soothing voice, Nicky, our yoga teacher lulls us “To let go. Surrender. Trust. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.”
I remembered the time, not so long ago, that I refused to let go and just live. I was stuck in a job in Singapore which practically retarded my growth as a human being and as a journalist. I was miserable but I was too scared to quit my job. I can’t give up the hefty salary, my fabulous flat, the annual vacation overseas, the comfortable lifestyle.
Then one day, I woke up and it hit me: I can’t live like this anymore.
So after weeks of thinking and reflecting, feeling and seeking, meditating and praying, I finally let go. I quit my job and followed my gypsy heart – the heart that finds stability in movement.
I backpacked around Asia â€” snorkeled in Pulau Sibu, photographed temples in Luang Prabang, worked on my breathing and asanas in Kuala Lumpur, trekked in Nepal, marveled at the blue skies and forested hills of Bhutan.
And then I returned to Ubud â€” my spiritual home, a place where I know I belong.
I harbor no romantic notions of Ubud, though. For me to believe that Ubud, or the rest of Bali, for that matter, as a paradise where one can escape cable tv and buzzing mobile phones, is naivete on my part.
Bali, the crown jewel of Indonesian tourism, draws in over two million tourists a year â€” a blessing to the Balinese economy but a curse to those who still harbor illusions that Bali will remain a mystical paradise. In Ubud, bars, cafes and luxurious spas have sprouted amongst verdant rice fields, touts were everywhere offering tours to various Hindu temples, cars for hire, paintings and silver jewelry.
Ubud has also become a part of the global spiritual hypermarket. This is a world where prayers, mantras, mala beads and yoga which once belonged to the sacred realm, were packaged and marketed like chocolate bars in the marketplace of the profane. Eternal bliss is available to anyone with cash and credit card.
When confronted by such crass display of spiritual commercialism, I just comfort myself with the words penned by the clairvoyant doctor of psychology Doreen Virtue. In her autobiography, The Lightworkers Way: Awakening your Spiritual Path to Know and Heal, Virtue wrote, “Too often we look to externals….to fill the emptiness within us. Nothing external can quench our inner longings for love. Only heavenly love, from within, fills the void.”
It’s from meditating and feeling that deep spiritual connection when I finally learned to listen to that small voice which I suppressed for so long.
“We have a deep reason why we write,” Jan said, as she encouraged us participants in the workshop to pursue the craft of writing.
I thought about Jan’s words and asked myself again why, despite the small paycheck, the long hours, nitpicking editors, politicking and intrigues among media people, what is it that’s driving my desire to remain a journalist?
I closed my eyes again, breathed deeply, listened to my heart and in my journal I wrote: Because I need to tell my stories.