Flashback

With Sukri in the kitchen

With Sukri in the kitchen

Flashback to the beginning of January when I’ve been living at the Ratu Bagus Ashram for a month.  This Ashram is in East Bali and Ratu Bagus teaches an ancient shamanic shaking practice. Everyday we shake for an hour and a half, three times a day to a whole range of music from techno/trance, to pop or chanting. We do this to raise our energetic vibration for health and well being, as a spiritual practice and as a healing practice. With Ratu’s guidance people have healed themselves of Cancer, Hep C, and other fatal and chronic diseases. Some people are on the spiritual path and others are cleansing and healing themselves of drug and alcohol addiction. Initially, I came to write an article but over time I realized I’m on the spiritual path and I’ve stayed because I love the people and I’m learning how to love myself and laugh again. That’s what Ratu actually teaches. He brings out  that deep spontaneous belly laugh that babies do naturally. For so long I had lost my laughter. Life wasn’t funny  any more and I lost my sense of humour about it all.  I realized how much I needed to laugh and how much I wanted to laugh. Laugh at myself, laugh at my ridiculous thoughts and all the wild things I do.

By the beginning of January I found my laughter again, so it felt strange that as my laughter was coming back and I was happy at the Ashram,  I kept getting this powerful feeling that it’s time to go to India & Nepal. At the same time I got an email about an AJWS (American Jewish World Service) trip to India. About six years ago I went on a volunteer trip to a village in Mexico with AJWS and it was a fantastic experience. Their mission is to empower people throughout the world (not only in Jewish communities) to achieve justice and self-sufficiency through the promotion of human rights, education, economic development, healthcare and sustainable agriculture.  This  trip was designed for younger donors and the itinerary consisted of one week of going to three cities in India primarily to meet a few of the partners who were receiving money and support. I knew it would give me access to people and experiences in India that I wouldn’t be able to have on my own. When I arrived at the Ashram in November I wanted to go to Burma and now I was definitely getting the pull to go to India & Nepal.

I can hear you…please stop saying, “This is sounding more and more like Eat, Pray, Love everyday…”

India has not been on my radar and I don’t write like Elizabeth Gilbert! I admit I had moments of serious doubt before I left. No men signed up for the AJWS trip so it was going to be a “sisterhood trip” and that made me hesitate for a moment. Some very cool and very wise women quickly talked me out of that negative self-talk.

Then slowly it started to come together. First Bangkok for a few days to brush up on my photography. Then, Chennai & Pondicherry for a week before I met up with the AJWS group in Mumbai. After that it was just going with the flow to see what unfolded next. That is how and why I came to India. I was shaking at an Ashram in Bali, I got an email about an AJWS trip to India in February just as I was asking the universe for a fun, heartfelt trip anywhere that was filled with love, friendship and romance.

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

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Shaking with Ratu Bagus – Bio Energy Meditation

As I entered the Taman, in front of me was a 9 foot tall Ganesha wooden statue. To the left was a 5’8 photograph, simply framed of Ratu Bagus in the Vatican in Rome. In the background are other visitors to the Vatican. Next to him is a ghost like figure, clearly outlined and visible on film. It appears as a ghost, those who know him understand it’s his soul captured on film.

To the right of the Ganesha is another framed photograph. Ratu Bagus is performing a fire ceremony. The fire is burning bright and rising up in front of him. Take a closer look and you’ll notice the flames make a dragon shape.  Above Ratus’ human figure is another figure hovering above the scene that is clearly Ratu. Captured again on film is Ratu Bagus on the astral plane as well as on the physical plane. To the right of both aspects of Ratu are long flashes of lightening. It looks as if a lightning storm is happening right behind him. Countless people who have trained with Ratu over many years and healed themselves of what were considered incurable diseases describe connecting with Ratus’ energy as being burned from the inside until all the poison’s inside them was cleaned out.

I walked over to a corner in the front of the room and to find a picture of Ratu I connected with and just stood in place and started shaking. I had no idea what I was doing. House music was blasting from the sound system, then some salsa. I kept standing in place shaking to salsa and saying the mantra, ‘Om Swastyastu-Ratu Bagus”.

Suddenly Ratu walked up to me and greeted me.

“Hello – what’s your name? Where are you from?” He gave me a little hug. Motioned for me to stand with my feet further apart and put his hand near the middle of my back.

“You are electric, You are electric,” He kept repeating to me with a warm smile.

I felt an intense surge of heat rush into my face and my shaking began to flow more gently and softly instead of jerking around trying to dance to the music. I spontaneously raised my arms and my hands moved and vibrated as I lifted them up and down.  My left ankle hurt and my neck was stiff.

“Good, good, very good,” he said encouragingly and gave me the thumbs up signal before he walked away to help someone else. After he left the heat was not nearly as intense. But he left me with a feeling of gentleness warmth and softness.

My intention was to empty my thoughts, clear the chatter. Thinking about Becky, wondering about Michael, my mind drifted to all the articles I wanted to write.

For five days I shook off my preconceived ideas of who I am and why I came; to feel with my body rather than understand with my mind. It was a tall order for someone who thought they were there to write an article about the shaking practice and bio energy meditation. I recognized we all have the power within us to heal our bodies naturally, whether we understand it or not.

Ratu Bagus teaches his students that he is not god, god is inside us, he’s there to help and advise, while providing encouragement and laughter, so we can experience it for ourselves.

From the moment I entered the Taman it was clear I had to leave my rational, spiritually inclined, analytical mind behind. Loud music boomed during the shaking sessions with Beatles, Elvis, Annie Lenox and traditional chanting . A painting of the movie poster from  “Happy Feet”  had Ratu Bagus’ head superimposed on the one of the penguins as it sat on an easel in front of the alter. All tools that got me to leave behind my ideas of what traditional healing or spirituality are about.

During each shake, I heard hysterical laughter, screaming, twisting and people rolling on the floor people around me. I felt comfortable with other people’s deep releases having already experienced people’s Kundalini awakening. What caught me off guard was the deep emotional and physical process’ that came up for me in such a short amount of time.

What I felt and experienced those first few days was clearing my head of all the chatter and then really feeling my soul speak about needing to clear energetically around a Kunalini-Tantra teacher I had been training with. Something that wasn’t even on my mind when I arrived at the Ashram. It was however, lodged inside me and I had been struggling with it for months, going around in circles.

By about day two, I saw myself in meditation pose, cross leg, sitting there above Ratu’s picture. On the ground my hands were in the air, I was shaking, getting hot and I kept seeing myself above his picture.

When I had thoughts of my brother, thoughts of my mother, I focused on the mantra. Then I had a thought about Lisa, someone close to this Kundalini-Tantra teacher.  I was shaking, sweating, raising my hands in the air and I could feel Ratu telling me I’m connecting, he didn’t say a word out loud, I could just feel it.

He came and put his hand on my back again, slightly higher than the day before and repeated, “You are electric, You are electric.” and walked away. There was no great surge of heat like before, I just continued to shake. He stood next to me for awhile, we made eye contact and smiled, he walked to other parts of the room and then came and put his hand near my back again, and reminded me, “You are electric, You are electric.”

I began to shake vigorously as thoughts and memories of practicing with Nina surfaced in the most powerful way.  I felt as if Ratu stood next to me and said, “She took people into Balinese Cremation grounds and they weren’t ready?” (something that happened that frightened me)

He didn’t say this out loud, and he couldn’t have known this. But I heard it, in my head and suddenly the anger and disgust for her surfaced and all I wanted to do was shake it out. I was so fucking angry I just wanted to shake it out as hard as I could. The conversation in my head went something like, “ You fucking bitch, you fucking witch, you took people to cremation grounds before they were ready. You said they followed you but you letthem follow you. You fucking bitch.” And that’s how my clearing started…

I was shaking my arms, shaking it all off me, the memory of it, the energy I was holding onto around it, around her. They way she tried to pick me apart in front of everyone one day when I expressed feelings of being scared. She tried to poke holes in everything I said.

As I shook I was so disgusted with her. Then I felt Ratu next to me, physically, standing on my foot, actually holding my back not saying anything as I started making noise. Breathing and remembering Nina pointing out how confused I was to everyone and the flaws in my thinking. I shook with so much anger and rage as Ratu stood on my foot.

It felt as if Ratu was holding up a mirror to my soul so I could see that I understood the dangers of what this woman was playing at, even if I didn’t believe it. As if deep inside I haven’t yet been able to find the words but I understood the game she was playing.

The lesson was profound. I was so angry with her for taking people into energetic practices when they weren’t ready. When they didn’t understand key elements of what she was doing and where she was going with all of it. I started to recognize that these energetic practices were outside of my intellectual ability to understand, I had to just feel them.

A few instances came to me so powerfully that I recognized I didn’t have words to describe them. It wasn’t an intellectual doubt that I could express, it was much deeper inside. Like an internal navigation system deterring me away from her and how she was teaching. Not exactly what she was teaching but how she was doing it. I could see myself above Ratu’s picture as I stood in front of it shaking and sweating and my soul was going into the whole story, the whole narrative about those moments that I knew inside when circumstances were taking a turn I didn’t want to go along with.

I felt like I was stuck and in the shaking I started to get unstuck. This process became more real once I was home from the Ashram. Waking up the first morning in bed, feeling the effects of a cough coming on, I felt free of my questions about Nina. The chapter was closed and I felt lighter and at peace with myself. I could feel that part of my life was behind me and something new was emerging.

Strolling to Tutmak [Hipstamatic]

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It’s dusk in Ubud and I leave my villa to walk to Tutmak for an early dinner. Walking out of Ani’s Villa I cross the street towards Bridges Restaurant and turn left walking over the Champuan Bridge. I walk carefully on the small narrow cobblestone sidewalk to the right of the bridge. Looking over at the old dilapidated, wooden foot bridge twenty feet to the right, I’m careful to avoid it because it looks like someone could fall through at any moment. The Champuan River runs fast and loud below as I cross the bridge to the other side.

Passing Murni’s Warung I’m offered a taxi by a local. I know it won’t be the only time on my 20 minute walk I’ll hear, “Taxi? Transport?” Walking slightly up hill heading into the city center I try to be as careful as I can of the treacherous pavement. It’s uneven and filled with so many gaping holes anyone could easily twist an ankle or go straight through the sidewalk into the sewer. Quickly and carefully I head into the most run down stretch of sidewalk with stone walls on either side of the road and big banyan trees that form an overpass above.

On my right I come up to Jl Bisma and I know I’m halfway there. Another local offers me a massage and I quickly reply, “No thanks” in Indonesian. Once I come to Beetlenut Restaurant there’s a few men hanging out ready to offer me another taxi ride. Picking up the pace I pass by a group of people sipping happy hour cocktails outside at Casa Luna and pass the Ubud Music Store.

I’m offered a third taxi ride in front of Arys Warung and as I say no, I look directly across the street to Jl Kajeng as motorbikes turn a fast left to join traffic on Jl. Raya Ubud. Continuing on Jl. Raya for about 5 minutes I’m at the intersection of the Palace Road and Monkey Forest Road.

A quick right past traffic has me walking down Monkey Forest Road as I almost lose my shoe in one of the grates on the sidewalk. I stay on the narrow sidewalk and the Ibu Rai Art Gallery is on my left with lights twinkling in front of the adjoining restaurant.

Approaching the football field I cross the street and turn left, walking on narrow footpath next to the football field. I can see the Shisha Lounge in the distance at the end of the field and Tutmak Restaurant just before it. I go in the back entrance to Tutmak and find my favorite platform table vacant near the back door. Ketut, the waitress who always remembers my name, smiles sweetly and greets me. I relax and smile as I sink into the cushions on the floor of my favourite table.

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A Bucket List Dive at Manta Point, Nusa Penida

First dive we swim towards the cleaning station and I feel the gentle swell and surge pushing me right and left as we swim along at about 10 meters. Moving slowly I see blue spotted Stingrays. First one, then two, then a group of four stacked on top of each other. The entire 49 minute dive goes by without one Manta. The water is beautiful, there are plenty of Stingrays, Triggerfish, Oriental Sweetlips and even a rare Octopus sighting. But not one Manta…returning to the surface I’m feeling cold and disappointed. When we got in the water I heard that little voice say, “Say a mantra and be grateful”, but as I got out of the water it was hard not to feel let down.

As we pile on the boat my sea sickness starts to return. It’s the first time I have ever felt queasy on a boat. Nico takes a vote to see how many people want to stay at the site and try again in an hour or so. It is the first time all season he hasn’t seen a Manta at this site and he doesn’t want us to leave disappointed. If we wait it out, there’s a good chance we’ll see a few, the day isn’t over yet. We all agree to stay, have lunch and dive this site one more time.

It was worth the wait. Close to 40 minutes later the captain of our boat starts whistling and yelling, “MANTAS! MANTAS!” Rushing to the side of the boat we’re yelling, “WHERE? WHERE?” As we look in the distance there’s one black fin, then another.

Zuri asked, “Wow – how many are there?” and Murray replied, “Why don’t we get in the water and find out?”

I had my equipment on and did a buddy check in record time. By then the Mantas were swimming closer to the boat. You could have put on a snorkel to swim with them.

We only descended about 10 meters and suddenly Manta Rays were circling all around us. I was in awe. Excited, afraid and totally in the wonder of it all, I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I watched Murray swim beside an enormous black one. It must have had the wing span of at least 8 feet. Murray was swimming as close as he could possibly get for a good shot with the camera. Their wide, triangular shaped fins looked like bird wings as they smoothly sailed through the water. I was filled with wonder as these enormous, majestic creatures elegantly glided all around me. I counted 10 circling around at once and I could see and feel a few more in the distance. Fins spread as they smoothly glided up towards the surface, then effortlessly dipping down closer to me. Six..seven…eight…nine…cruising all around me. I just kept floating, breathing in and out, slowing my breath down and making my air last as long as possible.

Their flat, black bodies looked like huge bats. The cephalic lobes that wrapped around their mouths remind me of a thick, wide, detachable Victorian era color on a man’s shirt. Acting as a funnel for plankton to get into their mouths it’s a built in water filtration system. The lobes were opening and closing as they swam around looking for smaller fish to help remove parasites from the mucus membranes that protect their skin.

A few more circled above me so I looked up to see 5 huge slits for gills on both sides of their bellies. I noticed some blotches on their bellies and their thin, sting ray like tails as they cruised around me. It seemed like there were at least 16 swimming with us.

I started to silently say to each one of them, “You’re beautiful, you are truly beautiful”. Did they hear me? Could I have a telepathic connection with a Manta Ray? I realized as they swam closer I began to feel more fear. They were enormous. I gently and consciously went in and out of fear and wonder, trying to stay in the wonder of it all.

After almost an hour of passing the camera back and forth and swimming along with them I started feeling really cold so I signaled to Murray and started to ascend. Hovering at the 3 meter safety stop I was still surrounded by Mantas, even more had begun to play closer to the surface. I gently lifted my head out of the water and floated with my regulator in my mouth and just watched them. The blanket like bodies looked flat from my view at the surface. Two came close to me as if they wanted to play, I got scared and started to swim away.

Murray popped his head up to the surface to talk to me and said, “Are you alright? Do you want to go back to the boat?”

“I’m cold” I said, “But I’m happy watching them from here.”

“You can get really close if they let you” he said, “I was trying to tell you to get closer to them. They don’t bite or sting or I wouldn’t be swimming this close.”

“I keep getting scared” I told him.

“Ok” he said, “then let me know if when you want to go back to the boat.” Then his head disappeared and he descended back down.

I decided to stay in. I made sure to stay between 3-5 meters on the surface, put my regulator back in my mouth and went down to play with the ones hovering close to me. There were two enormous black ones and I reached out to them. For the next 10-15 minutes I just swam 3-5 meters from the surface gliding along with 3 manta rays. One would swim directly towards me as if to play a game of chicken and then quickly turn left before I even had a chance to get close. I felt the tables had turned and I was the one moving towards them and they were playing hard to get. I simply stayed in the wonder of it. I felt the fear and just relaxed into swimming next to them and allowing them to come closer to me. Swimming as close as they would let me, I soaked up as much of the experience as I could.

For the next 20 minutes I floated next to some of the most fascinating creatures in the water. As I checked my air and saw it was getting low, I silently started to say goodbye to the ones around me. I smiled to myself as I reached the surface and said to myself it was a bucket list dive.