It’s impossible to go untouched by the magic of Bali. Particularly in Ubud; its very core is a spiritual one. The scented streets, the daily offerings, the jungle greens that surround this space; the endless rice paddies, the hazy sun rises – the sunsets that swamp the town in an effervescent glow. A mecca for those in search of both enlightenment and themselves; people flock in their droves looking for a healer and in the hope of a spiritual awakening. Steeped in enchantment and allure, the town stirs something in so many of of its visitors, and having now lived here for a little over a month, I, too have felt the town’s impact.
It is, of course, horribly cliched to experience enlightenment (even the term makes me cringe) while in Bali. The likes of Elizabeth Gilbert and her bestselling book, Eat Pray Love, have inspired a generation of people in search of themselves to head to Bali’s sacred mecca.
When it happened to me, it was unexpected – as these things often are – and certainly not something I had planned or gone looking for. Much of my time in Bali – as wonderful and colourful and beautiful as it’s been – has been stained with the weight of shame, guilt and unease. Shame that – at 31 – I find myself gainfully unemployed and poorer than I’ve ever been, yet working harder than ever to try and make it as a freelance writer; guilt at having to rely on my boyfriend and parents for hand-outs to simply get through the month. Unease at what the future holds; not knowing how much longer I’ll be here, nor what my next steps will or should be. And for every strained smile; every filtered photo, and almost every waking day, the pain behind it has been palpable.
It began on my way back from Singapore when I shared a ride back to Ubud with a man I’d met at the airport. Both a writer and Harvard and Cambridge alumni, we bonded over our love for books and arranged to meet for lunch the next day at The Elephant; a vegetarian restaurant a short cycle from my house.
He’d recently done a talk on engineering happiness – the topic of his latest book – at Hubud, Ubud’s popular co-working space, and I sensed I needed some sort of advice from the man so well versed in a subject I clearly needed to put into practice. I was tired of a lot of things by this point; five weeks into my time in Bali, I was tired of worrying, of fretting about my future, of looking back on the past and the mistakes I’d made.
I asked how to engineer happiness; what tips he could give me on living a happier, more fulfilled and more abundant life. Among other things we spoke about meditation – something of a sore spot for someone who’s never been able to get my head around it. Rather than explain compassionate meditation – something he recommended practising – he took me through it in the middle of the restaurant.
I closed my eyes as he told to think of someone I loved endlessly and unconditionally; my best friend Lexy immediately came to mind. He told me to think about the love and happiness I felt when I thought of her, and to send her health, happiness, joy and a life of ease. I then had to think of another friend; someone who I liked but might occasionally have difficulties with and to send them the same feelings of health, happiness, joy and ease. Then I had to think of someone whom I had entirely neutral feelings towards – the person who served us lunch, someone I’d come into contact with that day – and do the same.
Next came the tricky part – I was told to picture someone I actively disliked, and repeat the same sequence. I felt my body tense, and my smile fade, as I thought of my ex-boss; the person who’d made my life an unspeakable hell for months. It took a real effort for me to pass the feelings I had for my best friend on to him, but it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders when I did. Next came the hardest part yet: ‘now, picture yourself. See yourself in the mirror, and send yourself those exact same feelings you sent your best friend. Say to yourself, “may you be healthy, may you be happy, may you be joyful, may you be at peace.”‘
And just like that, in the glimmer of a second it happened. My shoulders slackened, my face relaxed and tears began to fall down my cheeks.
The burden of self-loathing, the blame, the shoulda-woulda-couldas that constantly played on my mind dissipated almost instantly. I realised that everything – all the negative thoughts and feelings that had become so much a part of my day-to-day life – were entirely self-inflicted and that the only way to banish them was to treat myself with love and compassion.
I cycled home and felt free. The lesson is thus: life is magic, if you allow it to be.
22 comments on “A Spiritual Awakening in Ubud”
It’s a very valuable lesson, if you can remember to practice it. Be kind to yourself first, and others will follow your example. I’m so glad you’ve turned a corner; you have so much to offer and all that doubt and self-criticism makes you fail to achieve your great potential. May you be joyful and at peace, and I’m sending you a whole heap of love to get you started. K xxxx
Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! xx
Amazing post! Really eye opening and a great read!
This is beautifully written Lucy! I’ve been struggling with a lot of self disappointment myself lately as well, so I was interested to read how much this meditation technique affected you. I’d love to be free of this feeling! Maybe I’ll give it a shot xx
Hi Laura, thanks for stopping by. I really would recommend it – sometimes the person we are hardest on is ourselves which can be a big weight to carry. Also, I don’t know if you’re into books but I recently read The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari which was absolutely incredible & really helped shift my mindset xx
This is so sweet! Sounds like you had a life-changing experience, thanks for sharing!
I really did, thanks Lula! xx
I’m glad you bumped in on him because it sounds like he did you some good 😉 Cheer up love- everyone has their downs and an up is on its way! I totally get you, I’m 27 and also poor AF right now as I try to kickstart my career in freelance writing. It’s tough but we have to focus on the little things. It will all be good in the end <3
Glad I’m not the only one doing it – it’s a hard gig but will be so worth it it the end won’t it? Can’t ever really imagine going back to a desk job xx
What a beautifully written post about something so important, being kind and loving and forgiving to yourself.
I’m so glad you’ve got to where you are, this sort of self realisation is life changing, well done and keep exploring it. Obviously your boyfriend and family already know this about you too. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by Belinda! It really is such an important lesson isn’t it – one I wish I’d learnt years ago but better late than never xx
Wow, what a powerful piece. Thank you for sharing. I’ve just recently taken up mindfulness to bring some quiet into my chaotic life also… I’m going to try this practice tomorrow in my session. It can be so hard not to be frustrated with yourself – we set such high expectations for ourselves. A reminder to give ourselves a bit of self-love is always a good thing. Thank you xx
We definitely do have very high expectations for ourselves don’t we? I hope the meditation works for you in the same way that it did for me! xx
Beautifully written post. It can sometimes be hard to reveal the more vulnerable parts of ourselves but isn’t it refreshing to know other people feel similar self disappointments and shame? The way I see it, we only get one life. And it’s about time we shake away these expectations of what it should look it. I would consider what you are doing to be a massive success. Putting yourself out there creatively, taking risks and living somewhere new and experiencing new things. Money is one thing, the value you get from adventure and a life well lived – well that has a whole lot of value. Keep it up 🙂 And thank you for sharing your magic moment. Think I might finally try some meditation myself!!
Thank you so much for your lovely (and very wise) words. I am all about self-love from now on, and my mindset had definitely shifted into thinking this is a big adventure rather than a failure. And life does have a habit of working itself out doesn’t it? xx
I really like that exercise. The part where it makes its way to the disliked person is maybe expected, but then when it circles back to you sends a really powerful message. I fall into the shoulda-coulda-woulda trap a lot – I have so many creative ideas and not enough time to implement, and then I start to feel guilty when I’m not accomplishing all these things I want to be accomplishing. I will for sure be cycling this into my routine – I just wrote “you did not wake up today to be mediocre” on my bedroom mirror and that has helped heaps, too!
That’s such a good quote Katie! And yes it’s a very powerful technique – I hope it works for you! xx
I relate to this post on about 10,000 levels. I am 31, just quit grad school, am trying to make this writing thing work and frankly, have no idea what I’m doing. I love the authenticity in this story and believe that the most spiritual moments are the ones we never see coming. Thank you for coming into my life because even though we have never met, I feel like someone else gets it. 🙂
Oh Kelly, you know I’m such a big fan of yours too – so thankful for this blogging community. Always helps when you know you’re not alone. Here’s to being 31 and having zero clue what we’re doing. Life is a brilliant and beautiful adventure xx
I’m 39 and I can still relate. Though I’m finally in a place where I have more financial stability, life will continue to be a series of ups and downs, self-doubt, etc. This post definitely made me want to go to Bali and get some wisdom for myself. I think the first being that we can all benefit from taking a few minutes to be still and think about what brings us joy. xx
Thanks for your wise words Molly – like you said, I think it’s important to stop and appreciate what brings us joy. Bali is an amazing country so if you haven’t been before I will gladly give you some tips! xx