A Balinese Lesson in Spirituality

During my last birthday, I had one clear goal in mind: to travel outside of the country before I had another one. I put that goal aside when I was accepted into the Peace Corps because I was about to spend two years in a foreign country – which seemed to more than fulfill my desire.

But then that dream was postponed and the next thing I knew, I was purchasing a roundtrip ticket to Bali and using the time to cross a few things off my bucket list.

  •  Go on a Silent Retreat? Check
  • Visit some Temples? Check
  • Embrace yoga and meditation? Check
  • Learn to Surf? Check
  • Hike up Gunung Agung? Okay, I didn’t get around to doing this – as I was in no shape for the 12 hour vertical climb – but all the more reason to return again for this particular spiritual journey.

While I was in Bali, I was taken by the extreme kindness and openness of the Balinese people. Although it was easy to see where the Australian crowd, as well as the EPL women, have infiltrated some of the local traditions and ways, it was also easy to see the tones of welcome that echoed throughout the island. Equally as easy to hear was the roosters that echoed every morning and the musical chants of worship that echoed throughout the day.

What I loved most about Bali was the smell.

Everywhere I walked, it smelled like incense – the world was their church and their temple – and there wasn’t a moment that you forgot it.

Three times a day, every Balinese household and storefront gave an offering – whether for luck or for worship – these offerings consisted of lovingly weaved coconut baskets filled with bright pink and blue and purple and yellow flower petals with the occasional piece of candy, and topped with burning incense. As I walked on the side streets, I saw women with piles of dried coconut leaves as they weaved them into tiny square baskets. And with every step I took in the city, I had to look down – not only for the large holes that suddenly appeared in the sidewalk – but to acknowledge and appreciate these tiny works of art. And most importantly, to ensure that I didn’t crush them on the way.

These offerings was one of many rituals the Balinese practiced. Festivals are a daily part of their lives and the stories they tell relate back to mythologies of their gods and humankind. For the Balinese, religion or spirituality wasn’t an occasional practice. God wasn’t somebody to be worshiped one day a week – whether Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Spirituality was a way of life.

The rituals that took place each day was a reminder of the greatness of God, who is showcased in many manifestations, and as the island of 1000 Temples, it was impossible to go more than a few steps without seeing a rock, a tree, or a statue wrapped in weathered checkered cloth. This increasingly familiar cloth symbolized that a god or spirit had possessed that object and therefore was something to be venerated.

While in Bali, I felt the presence of God through the steps I took throughout the island, as I breathed in the heavy scent of worship. I drowned in the glory of God when I entered Goa Gajah; from the moment I walked into the cavern, I felt the heavy weight of each step – the wonder that completely engulfed me. Since that day, I’ve felt an extreme affinity towards Lord Ganesha. I was able to experience a blessing from a holy man, as I prayed for good fortune in the year to come, and washed my body in Holy Spring Water found at Pura Tirta Empul.

The Balinese way of worship may seem a foreign concept – no pun intended – however, understanding other people’s beliefs and traditions is an amazing way to strengthen our own. All of my experiences helped to deepen my connection with God and to feel compassion for the Christ-self within me. They allowed me to acknowledge and to hold in awe the divinity that is present in each person I encounter. And I hope that when you have the opportunity to engage in other cultures that you participate whole-heartedly and use every experience to cling to the beauty that that surrounds us in this world and through each unique persona that reflects the One.

In what ways do you engage in experiences outside your cultural norms? How have those experiences helped to grow your personal self?

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