I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head, and sometimes I get really tired of the inner noise. It’s easy for me to get caught up in preparing for the future, reliving the past, or the constant chatter of labeling and critiquing everything in my present experience. Sometimes, I wish the voice in my head would just shut up and let me have some peace and quiet!
I attempt to set up practices and routines to help with this. Meditation and mindfulness have been powerful tools, as have exercise, music, time in nature, and more. But for some reason, it’s been difficult to get into lasting routines with most of these. And the needs of the four fabulous females I live with also come into play, as do the necessities of daily living, such as maintaining a house, finances, work, social life, and more.
So, recently, I decided to take a few days off, just for myself, to be alone with my thoughts and feelings, and to hopefully experience greater rejuvenation and connection. I went for 5 days, around the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia, driving freely on a little motor scooter.
But I made only two major stops. The first was a silent retreat center where people can come for a day to months at a time for silence, meditation, prayer, yoga, nature, rest, and amazing food. This sounded exactly like what I was looking for, and I ended up staying for three days. Bali Silent Retreat lies about 2 hours west of Ubud – a route that includes some breathtaking scenery. I only stopped a couple times for photos, as I wasn’t so much in a photographing mood, but these will give you an idea.
The accommodations were extremely basic. The floors and walls were made of unpainted cement, with the walls open at the top, so sound easily traveled from room to room. There was no electricity except for some solar lights, but I was glad to at least have a hot water shower. I also had to put the sheets and pillow case on my bed and wash my own dishes, so it was more like an ashram than a hotel or resort. Extra opportunities for practicing mindfulness were granted when they had me switch rooms my second night (to one with a view!), necessitating me unmaking my bed, and repeating the bed-making process in the new room.
But there was at least one definite luxury at this place – the food! By all standards, it was phenomenal! I mean, really top notch. I would even say that food alone is worth a return trip. The chef is from Holland and he makes all kinds of cuisine, buffet-style, all day long, using ingredients that come fresh from their organic garden. Very healthy, and very delicious. I slowly savored every bite of every meal. I enjoy savoring food in general, but I found it much easier when eating alone and in silence and in a beautiful location. It was quite blissful.
Of course, the main reason I went on this trip was to be alone with my thoughts, better tune into myself, gain some clarity and peace, and remove myself from the distractions of daily life. So I walked slowly wherever I went and tried to be mindful of what was going on in my head and body without getting caught up in the drama of it. And my thoughts did quiet.
I also very much enjoyed the daily meditation and yoga classes (yes, the teachers did offer some verbal instruction). During the end of one 2.5 hour practice, I came away with a profound sense of gratitude that I want to carry forward in my life. I felt deeply that all of life is a gift for which I do nothing to receive (or can do nothing to make myself qualify for), and to which gratitude and kindness/compassion/service are natural responses. Every moment deserves my gratitude. Every movement, every sensation, every emotion, every thought. All of life is grace. Another realization I had is that there is beauty in everything, and that kindness/love is all that matters. Being selflessly kind opens me to my heart, and I feel love and peace and connection. Gratitude and kindness became my focus throughout the retreat.
There was a library at the retreat center, and in it I found a book called Open Heart, Clear Mind, which sounded appropriate, and I read through most of the book during my time there. It gave a great introduction to Buddhist philosophy for the western mind, and also helped reinforce some of these things I’d felt during my meditation. It’s just what I needed.
On the day I left, I had an amazing healing session (energy healing / psychotherapy) with an Australian man there, where we tapped into some buried emotions, and I let out some heavy sobs that I felt had been under the surface for a while. My self-understanding increased, and I came away feeling completely amazing, peaceful, and tingling all over.
I could have stayed for much longer, but in other ways, I felt I had gained a lot and was ready to leave and start socializing again. I drove almost 5 hours to Amed, a beautiful beach town on the northeast shore of Bali, where I spent two nights. After enjoying some of the scenery (sorry, no photos – I was enjoying it too much), I got a massage, which was sorely needed (pun intended) after so long on the bike. And the next day I had lunch at a restaurant where some Balinese reggae musicians were playing. On my way out, I complimented one of them on his voice, and he asked me where I’m from. Discovering I’m an English speaker, he asked if I could help him with some song lyrics he was writing. We hung out together for an hour talking philosophy, and discussing his lyrics while I helped him correct some grammar and make his points more clear. It was really fun, and the kind of experience that’s much harder to have when traveling with kids.
I also enjoyed some time in the ocean and at the pool, and started reading a new book, which I really liked! It’s a new favorite and I’ve already recommended it to several people. It’s called The Untethered Soul and is full of direct, practical, and entertaining teachings that helped me become more aware of the thoughts inside my head, who I am, and how to have inner peace regardless of circumstances, amidst the thoughts and emotions that naturally arise.
On my 3 hour drive back to Ubud, I also listened to a talk by Adyashanti about seeing Jesus’ story as an allegory for personal spiritual awakening, which I found quite interesting, and which gave me greater appreciation for this story whose literal interpretation I not long ago rejected. In trying to find it online (I couldn’t), I just now came across a book he wrote on the topic, so I’ll share that with you instead. I may want to read it later: Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic. Here is one photo I took on my way home, near Amed.
Overall, my solo trip was very needed and very rewarding. I’m so glad I took the opportunity, and look forward to doing more solo trips in the future. I’d like to say that the great feelings of clarity, rejuvenation, and open-hearted peace and connection have continued with me permanently, but alas, they lasted for several days, and then wore off slowly as I got back into the grind of life, including catching a fever and sinus infection that’s been going around. But it’s getting easier and easier to carry with me the things I’m learning and focusing on.
Around the time I left for my trip, I read this quote and really resonated with it, and I want to end with it here:
Let us not fixate on a future goal called ‘happiness’, but create a living sanctuary of love together, where we can embrace the entirety of what it means to be an ordinary human being – honoring the messy, the confused, the lost and the broken, as well as the awakened, the clear, and the whole. Let our spirituality include all of this. Let us speak of the kind of happiness that knows no enemies, a bliss that is not a goal. And let us give our open hearts to this weary world, which, perhaps now more than ever, is so in need of a little tenderness, kindness, humility… and slowness.
– Matt Licata & Jeff Foster