If God is everywhere in India, then everywhere in Bali is sacred. Every corner houses a shrine, the civic statues depict Krishna and Arjuna in their epic battle against evil. The guesthouses drip with statues of various deities. There are flowers everywhere: growing in tropical profusion, arranged on altars, laid out on stairways. People start their days by lighting incense and giving offerings.
I swear, the air is infused with sanctity, especially in Ubud. It’s just woven into the fabric of daily life: get up, brush teeth, make offerings to Ganesh, leer at the scantily clad Western women. All sacred, all the same thing. A continuum.
On my second day in Ubud, I asked for directions - to Monkey Forest Road for those of you who’ve been there - and was told I just needed to go past the palace and the temple. Um. Small problem. I had no idea how I was going to tell which buildings those were - everything looked like it might be a palace or a temple, albeit slightly down on its luck.
Fortunately, Ubud isn’t an enourmous town, and I found my way to the temples I was looking for (the shops and restaurants of Monkey Forest Road). Where once were mostly rice paddies, I am told, commerce now abounds. Glossy shops selling fancy salt, designer clothes, and...wait for it...statues of the gods. Again, even though Ubud is no longer the sleepy town with one street light that it once was, its tourist industry has grown around its personality. It’s a town of faith. And yoga.
Yoga is about as prolific as the gods are. Pretty much every hotel offers yoga classes, and it’s a wildly popular destination for yoga retreats. I get it -- I was, after all, in Bali to lead a yoga retreat and film a DVD.
You can’t help but be influenced by Bali’s charm, its spirituality, they way everyone always seems to be smiling. And in turn, we Westerners bring our influence -- the tourist dollar. I can’t help but wonder if this is an entirely positive thing.
It’s really good that the Balinese standard of living seems to be improving, but there are things that might be lost over time.
While we were swimming between yoga classes at my retreat, one of my students told me that she’d seen a group of men at a construction site make an amazingly clever cement funnel, just from the materials they had to hand.
She’d admired their ingenuity, and they had responded by telling her that no, this wasn’t clever, it was Australia that was clever because of all we have.
Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. When you live in a safe, prosperous, clean, place like Australia, you probably need less faith to get through daily life. When you live in a developing nation like Indonesia, the comforts of the West must seem irresistible.
I plan to spend my tourist dollar wisely when I am next in Bali, and probably unwisely too, on massages an OM tshirts that I won’t wear at home, but in the meantime, I will take on some of the Wisdom Of Bali: