I arrive to Bali- the island of Gods- guided by a purple crab. I’m in the mountain town of Ubud at a yoga retreat center that is surrounded by rice fields and I don’t know how the crab got here. Ubud means medicine and it’s a place, like the sea, where people go to heal. I am here to heal. I am always healing. What am I healing from?
Bali has a fertile atmosphere and a biting sun. Every day is a ceremony and the full moon means something important. People take better care of their spirits than their bodies and when they say thank you, they place their hands in the form of prayer. I like the feeling here.
What does it feel like? Like California made love to Thailand with the most exquisite and sensual part of their souls. What does it look like? Jade, temples, motorbikes, rice fields, petal offerings, butterflies, monkeys, ginger flowers, forests, stone statues, rivers, trance dances, massive reptiles. What does it smell like? Incense, rain, cloves. What does it sound like? Cicadas, gamelan, cowbells, bamboo, songs, leaves, wind, and geckos mooing as loud as cows.
The drag about Indonesia is that it’s overpopulated, and they’ve just banned premarital sex which has made everyone hot, and also woman aren’t allowed to go to temples or do anything much at all on their periods. I happen to be on mine.
The yoga training is orchestrated by Mark Whitwell and Rosalind Lucy from the Heart of Yoga. They live in Fiji and Rosalind is a sailor. She read my missives between French Polynesia and Fiji and wrote me letters at sea. When we met in the flesh, we fell seamlessly into each other’s ozone.
There are 30 people, of every age, from all over the earth at this retreat. I could speak to each one of them for hours. Fascinating people, I tell you; an Irish witch, a man named Fish, a lovesick Iranian, a couple from Cyprus, a former French fire fighter turned fashion photographer, a chemist, a florist, a young lad from New Zealand who reminds me of Donovan. Not a one of them makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
Mark introduces me to the gang, “This is Olivia, she has arrived like the sea, with a cleansing energy. She is sailing around the world BY HERSELF, and she has a string of broken-hearted men trailing behind her in every port.” This is untrue, but I like his vision that I’m some Femme Fatale.
Mark is ageless. He has long white Gandalf-looking hair, is more fit that a fiddle, and as tall as a tree. He wears flowing button down shirts, John Lennon-style sunglasses, and exudes light in the dark like a star. He is not a guru, he detests the idea of a guru and yoga cults and systematic hierarchy. Mark teaches a hatha yoga practice with an emphasis on breath that bubbled to life in India back in the 14th century. How did it bubble to life? Who brought this knowledge to earth? A man? A woman? An alien? Did the wisdom come from outer space, a drop of water, an old woman’s dream, a trip on a psychedelic mushroom?
We all sit inside a bamboo-roofed room and do yoga for six hours a day, seven days straight. Breathing like the ocean, moving like serpents, chanting like monks. Someone says if we chant the mantras wrong then the opposite will come true. The mantras are in Sanskrit, there is no way in hell I’m chanting them right. And what do they mean opposite comes true? Like if the mantra says, “God, fill me with your light” or something and I chant that wrong, am I going to get filled with God’s dark? What is God’s Dark?
The Yoga practice elicits an exorcism of emotions. Impurities are pouring out, purging my body of it’s mush. I want to take my feelings, stuff them in a box, and feed them to the cats. I feel toxic, like I’ve been poisoned, and am going to vomit, and of course I cry. Next, I feel high and ecstatic, like I’m on some drug and I’m about to fly. After that, I feel wild, like I will turn into a werewolf and live by the teeth of the night. I fall, I fell, I flew, I flung. I break down and break through.
When we aren’t doing yoga, we are talking about yoga. Mark says cool things that blow peoples minds open; “We are all pure existence. You are everything. Everything is you…. You don’t have to become anything. You’ve already become. You already are… There is nothing to be seeking, nothing to be liberated from, no change of state is required…. If there is any power in the universe it is in you. Nowhere else!….You are the beauty of the cosmos. You and me and the trees…. There is nothing to change, you don’t have a problem. Your problems are thought created, you are perfect…. Everything in the natural world is beautiful, and you are of the natural world…. The body loves it’s breath, and the inhale loves the exhale, focus on the breath, obey the breath.” And my personal favorite, “God knows how many lives you’ve lived from the green slime onward…”
I ask, “If everything is perfect, how come I get into situations that throw me off course and mess up my compass. I mean sometimes I don’t know if I’m heading north, south, east, or west?” His tells me to get out of my mind and into my breath. Someone asks, “How do we choose an appropriate romantic partner?” Mark says, “There has to be like, love, lust, and laughter between two people before they have sex, and a couple has to have common destination or direction, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Beyond the yoga, I get a blessing from a Balinese priestess with an altar of bells and shells. I meet a forest being who holds all of the magic in his beard. I surf. I eat hot pink dragonfruit. I get my palm read- I’m going to live to the age of 90! I get lost in a music store. I see a gamelan performance in an ancient temple- I use to play gong, bass xylophone, and flute in a Balinese gamelan orchestra based out of the Indonesian consulate in NY and to be here, seeing this, is a dream. I ride motorbikes. I watch the monkey thieves; one monkey steals my guacamole and I see two monkeys make love. I like. I love. I lust. I laugh.
I’m leaving here blissed out and yolked up. Like I am the liquid in the middle of an egg, and right now you could turn me into any shape you wanted to. What shape do you want me to be?