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.