For those of you who never watched Oprah or maybe spent 2006 in a coma, you may have missed the sensation that was Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir recounting her journey of self-discovery that eventually became a movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts. And, for those of you who missed it, you’re probably unaware that the “Love” part of the book took place right here in Ubud – where Gilbert discovered the meaning of life, met her soul mate and lived happily ever after…..allegedly.
The wild success of that book had a largely unanticipated effect on Ubud — hordes of middle-aged women clutching dog-eared copies of the book, clad in flowing clothes, descended on Ubud in search of spiritual transformation and their own Javier Bardems. This created a backlash with some of the locals, (and by locals, I mean westerner transplants wearing flowing clothing who had arrived earlier than the aforementioned tourists and already achieved profound spiritual transformations). A few got their hemp drawers in quite a bunch and created t-shirts and posters with “Eat, Pay, Leave” -clearly demonstrating how much more evolved they truly were.
Thankfully for us, the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love had died down by the time we arrived but, the nature of Ubud is largely unchanged. Ubud attracts people of all kinds but, there is definitely an otherworldly feel to the place. Visitors often become imbued with the Hindu traditions and practices which are an integral part of life, allowing them to see spirit in all things. At least that’s what I read on a brochure the other day…..sounds great, doesn’t it?!
I was hoping to experience my own spiritual awakening during our stay. I don’t think you can live here without becoming at least a little curious. I also wanted to discover the secret to the peaceful countenances so prevalent on the Balinese. Ironically, my opportunity came along recently during an especially chaotic lunch with the kids at a local warung (cafe). I met a woman who helps non-locals set up appointments with traditional Balinese healers. It sounded perfect!
We settled on a date and I roped in a friend to join me. After an hour in the car, we arrived at the traditional Balinese compound where we were led to the healer – a very distinguished looking, older man dressed all in white. We settled onto the tile floor of the bale (which is basically a porch outside one of the houses) to wait our turn. We were told to write down some questions we might want guidance on from Pak Mangu. About three hours later (it must have been a Bali HMO), we were up. My friend went first and began to ask some personal questions to which Pak Mangu answered with wildly inaccurate responses. Trying to overcome her skepticism, she moved on to a more specific question about a physical issue and Pak Mangu went to work on her using his hands and feet. He seemed to have an intuitive touch and was able to hone in on areas of discomfort redeeming himself a bit to my friend. After about 20 minutes, it was my turn. I was somewhat intimidated now for several reasons — one being, Pak Mangu didn’t speak any English so, we had a translator with us who would repeat our questions to him loud enough for anyone sitting within earshot to hear and comment on (amongst each other and only in Indonesian). I felt like I was in an episode of Seinfeld. I asked him “How long should we stay in Bali?” to which the gallery giggled after they heard the question. This was not going like it did in the book. Clearly, not the appropriate question. I quickly decided that, at least on this day, Pak Mangu’s soothsayer skills were on the blink so, better to stick with more concrete issues. I had been struggling with a cold so, I told him I had been sick and feeling tired all week. He laid his hands on my head and pushed on several points on my body and at times I would feel a surge of energy. Not the worlds colliding, heavens opening experience I was expecting but, after four hours on a hard tile floor I was grateful for anything. After our treatments, we were ushered to the temple where we prayed and Pak Mangu prepared our “medicines” which were curiously from the same bottle.
On the ride home our guide told us that our readings may have been inaccurate due to the full moon that was happening that night. Apparently, this affected how the gods were communicating with Pak Mangu. Maybe in the future the gods could mention beforehand that they are going to be tied up and spare us the four hours on the hard, tile floor.
Funny, the next day I felt really good. My cold was gone. Had it runs it’s course or did Pak Mangu actually heal me? Who knows? What I do believe is where we put our intentions our thoughts and actions follow so, maybe I wanted to be better and so, I got better. Not to diminish what Pak Mangu does for people. He struck me as a man who practices healing with a sense of purpose and dignity and I’m sure many people benefit from his dedication.
The subjective nature of spiritual experiences is becoming clearer to me. I’m certain our interaction with Pak Mangu was colored by our feelings of discomfort and lack of faith in the process, while others who visited him that day reported great results. Analagous to what I recently heard about Ketut Liyer, the healer who still lives and works here in Ubud, and the man Gilbert credits with bringing about her intense spiritual awakening. Apparently, he gives everyone who comes to see him virtually the same advice. Seems the gods are often distracted by the moon.
Although this didn’t pan out exactly as expected, I plan to keep trying as many new experiences as possible. Being in Bali is a gift, and one that I don’t plan squandering just because my first experience was not the transcendent adventure I hoped for – in any case, I’ll keep you posted.