ubud: how sweet the centre is

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I’ve spent a decent amount of time travelling over the past two months. Every time I’m on a plane descending on an international airport I feel something close to a physical surge of gratitude bordering on disbelief for living in a time, a life and a body that allows me this weirdly magic opportunity. The opportunity to jump on a plane and a handful of hours later arrive in a new country, a new city with new foods, smells and rituals to discover.

I’m writing this from Bali, it’s about 8am, it’s not hot yet, but you can feel the heat coming. For breakfast here at the retreat centre there are foamy fruit juices (watermelon, pineapple, dragonfruit) and balinese coffee made by mixing a teaspoon of coffee ground to the fineness of cinnamon with a tiny bit of raw sugar and hot water. I haven’t had instant coffee in years, nor with sugar, but I will never stop enjoying the way travel disrupts routines from the obvious to the mundane.

The first time I travelled overseas was to Thailand. I was ten years old and remember vividly Bangkok hitting me like a slap in the face. I spent the first ten years of my life in a tiny seaside town where everyone looked the same and everything was neat and tidy (even the trees and the pelicans.) The whole town smelled like the sea and sunday roast and the most exciting culinary experience available was the fried rice and pink lemonade at a Chinese restaurant on terralong steet. Needless to say, Thailand propelled me to a place of awe.  

Back home I wrote stories about Thailand, drew pictures of elephants and tropical fruits and little boats on the canal. I hung lanterns and tiny lights in my room. In the years following I  burned incense and stapled a diverse array of fabrics on my bedroom roof. There was a richness in Thailand that I perceived as lacking in my own culture – even as a young child.

Australia is an excellent place to live and to have grown up. But what chance does such a country have – one that attempted to wipe out an existing culture and start completely anew only a handful of years ago – have at creating a history of tradition and ritual? Something so crucial, so intrinsic to purposeful human existence.

In Bali, it’s the offerings. It’s the flowers. It’s the old wooden houses and moss growing out of stone statues that hold meaning far surpassing physical beauty alone. In Chiang Mai there’s a temple on every street corner. Same in Kyoto, where there are sweet shops that have been selling the same type of mochi for 1000 years. There are recipes passed down through generations. There are traditions that blur the line between religious and cultural. There are layers upon layers upon layers. It’s easy to glamourize tradition growing up without it. I know it doesn’t always make life easy. But I believe life without it lacks a specific type of colour and depth.

I have thought often about why we who have grown up in Australia feel so deeply connected to yoga. I have wondered why so many of us say yoga feels like ‘coming home.’ My own personal hypothesis, though difficult to put into words, is that from the very beginning, yoga felt like having direct access to that ‘richness’ I had experienced in foreign countries. The feeling I so longed for since that trip. Practicing yoga allowed me to feel that I had invited into my daily life something ancient, sacred and rich. Something both sweet and deeply challenging. Something with layers upon layers upon layers. I had found it in my own country, my own city, my own backyard. It has always been strangely addictive. It has always felt like the missing piece.

On retreat Doug and Sandy spoke about sweetness that resides in the centre. The centre of a mangosteen, beneath the shell. The sweetness that unfurls after you've moved through tightness in the hips. The sweetness that is accessed through hard work, through practice, through dedication. I noticed that this idea could be applied to holidays, to enjoying (or watching someone enjoy) a meal you have laboured over. It certainly applied to Ubud, like reaching the sweet jam centre of paradise after hours in transit by air and road. 

Walking home from town back to the retreat village, we use iphone torches to light the path. There are rice paddies and open fires, there are fireflies and the sound of drumming in the distance. Walking into the village we open the gate and at the statue of ganesh make a left hand turn. Bad spirits are deterred. Our path is lit by tiny lights, by fresh offerings with smoky incense, with the chanting of pot bellied frogs.

Falling asleep in the hills of Ubud there is a deafening symphony of soothing sounds. Like five massage relaxation cds from 2001 played simultaneously on repeat. In a wooden villa, wrapped in mosquito nets the sleep is peaceful and deep. In the morning the sun will rise over the rice paddies turning the sky purple, orange and pink. And it is my yoga practice that reminds me to fully see, feel and experience each of these precious moments. And it is my yoga practice that will bring me back. To this country, to this town, to this breath in, to this breath out.

Anyone else feel me on this? Similar expeirence? Totally the opposite? Let me know.


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