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The View from Bali

10 March 2011 One Comment

by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

Reporting in from where the gods look ferocious but protect, cleanse, and renew people.


“Bali Hai will call you.” How strong is this icon in the Western mind — this place like Oz where troubles “melt like lemon drops” and are left far behind you?  Of course, it is not like that.  No place on the planet may still be like that, or maybe ever was like that, for humans — but here one can step out of the fracas for a little while and experience life with care and an attention to details that is difficult from your living room at home.

I am in Bali at the time of the Balinese New Year.  Nyepi is six days of celebration that begins with each village bringing their temple gods (symbolized by paper mache and resin figures on carriers) to the ocean. With clamor and rituals, the gods are awakened so they can purify the people and the place for the new year.

The Giants

Next comes a night of the Giants, when creatures that to the Western mind are phantasmagoria — demons, devils, crones, tigers, lions, combinations of human-gods and animals – are carried on large grids of bamboo by 20-30 men each.  The Giants combine the Hinduism of most Balinese with the early animism of the islanders.  They are ferocious uber-gods in blazing colors, arms and breasts askew, lashing out with ritual swords, open-mouthed with long fangs. Amazing works of wire, plaster, and resin, they are so high that electric wires are taken down for their passage.

Then the new year day arrives.  Now that the gods have been awakened and paid tribute to there will be purification on a day of silence so total that even the airport is closed.  You are not to venture out of your home, work, or even use electricity.  The silence is broken only by birds and the communal beach dogs going through the goodies left from the days before.

I woke at 4 am that morning expecting to read a good book by daylight but found that over the water — I was a block from the ocean — an invisible magnet filled all of the sky and was pulling pulling pulling things, stuff, the past out of me.  Hey what!?

This pull continued through the silent day and night, palpable, mysterious, and so effective that when I stepped into the street the following morning, the sweetness of the air could be tasted.  I have never experienced air like that.

Patricia Smith Melton in Bali

I am coincidentally among several other Western visitors clustered loosely around a few enterprising U.S. expats in central Bali.  The conversations have tended towards world politics, the extremists of any culture, apprehension about the power of the far right in the U.S. and how they have changed the social dialogue, concern that young people aren’t the same as when we were young, and that this is a pivot point in history with both threat and promise—all wrapped within Balinese culture, food, dress, harmonies, and the discordances of change.

Coming to Bali is my first true vacation in nearly a decade. I envisioned solitude, not clamor.  I expected to be in silence, looking for and listening to my own best impulses, not barraged by presumptive energies that take over skies and work like magnets on people, cleaning their past, present, and hopefully future.

I may be among the Westerners, but I am witnessing a culture that believes purification from evil intents, thoughts, actions, and histories is possible, and I experienced that it works in real time.  And I can add one and one and come to that it only works because the Balinese believe in it, invite it in, and honor it.

This is not about one or any religion, it is about belief in the possibility of cleansing, which, by default, is a belief in a basic energy for good that can rise in humans and multiply. That is, it can rise and multiply when not shunted aside by anger, greed, vengeance, or fear.

The question is, how can this be multiplied in a world where rituals and actions for personal and communal cleansing are often ridiculed or disdained, considered childish, superstitious, even self-centered? How do people come to understand that the majority of blessings result from the natural laws of intent and action?

How do we recognize that harmony is not the providence of any one religion but the collective recognition of living in a world that can be blessed at any moment through our focused and conscientious intent and actions?

Walking to the ocean

Do enough of us believe that governments of the people can spread so that together we will make it happen?  Do enough of us believe that the economy will become robust again so that together we will make it happen?  Do enough of us believe that neighbor will love neighbor so that together we will make it happen as simply as waking up one morning and having the air be exquisitely sweet?

I do not say that Bali is all at peace, because it is not, but I am saying that belief, backed by intent and action, has the power to make things real, both for good or evil.

The thing of it is: love is easy, hate is hard.  Stay with that thought even if it rubs you as backwards — for it is true.  Hold it until it makes sense to you, until you believe it, until it becomes real.  Hold it until hatred turns dusty and can be swept away.

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One Comments to “The View from Bali”
  1. Jo Wharton says:

    Patricia,this is a wonderful essay; Bali is truly magical on many levels! It touched my heart. Jo

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