When I arrived in Bali to shoot the first episode of my de-stress travelogue called ‘Letting Go’, the first unusual thing I noticed was the vast number of offerings that were placed on the pavement outside every shop and building on the island. Looking out the window of my airport van, I was moved by the sight of an old shopkeeper who was waving around a few sticks of incense before carefully placing her own offering at the entrance of her small shop. Every movement she made was with great care and respect, before disappearing into her little shop. Prayer was so intertwined with the culture and customs of the Balinese people that it was literally a way of life. It was etched into almost every landscape, building or monument on the island. This is why Bali was often referred to as the “Island of The Gods”.
In fact, for couples getting married in Bali, a “rain stopper” was even included in a list of items that can be ordered at wedding venues to help ‘stop the rain’ on your special day. As I made my way to the highlands of Ubud, the traffic of the city melted away and I was truly enchanted by the sprawling green rice fields, ancient temples and slower pace of life in the highlands. To this day, women carry baskets of goods on their heads, which is a precarious balancing act they pull off as effortlessly as urban women strolling through a city in their high-heel shoes.
The main religion in Bali was Hindu, and the deeply spiritual beliefs of its people are expressed through their rituals, intricate carvings and beautiful works of art. There were impressive stone statues and carved archways everywhere. There is literally a reverence for art and beauty everywhere you look. I remember seeing a backpacker’s motel that spilled out on to the street that was obviously a ‘no-frills’ budget joint but it still had a sense of art with a water feature and fresh flowers placed at the entrance to welcome their guests.
I was loving the charm of village life in Ubud and it was much cooler in the highlands. When I checked into my hotel, I knew I was going to sleep very well that night. There is something immediately calming about being surrounded by nature. Our body clocks seem to adjust to the laid back pace and serenity of our environment. In the absence of all that technological stimuli, which typically keeps us awake and so wired, we are sometimes not aware of how tired we actually are because we push past it. In such a relaxing setting, I crashed out really early and woke up feeling fresh and rejuvenated. When we are doing ‘nothing’ and living in nature, we are automatically more relaxed and able to sleep at a much earlier hour.
One of the most memorable things I did in Ubud was taking part in my first traditional dance class with a group of children that were so disciplined and dedicated, I was quite awed by them. Dancing was not just a hobby or something fun to do over the weekend. It was a part of their proud cultural heritage and this ancient dance form was essentially another offering to the Gods. However, I was amused by the fact that a signature feature of Balinese dancing was to really express with your eyes to convey the ‘story’ behind the dance. This required opening your eyes up really large, like saucers which gave my eyes a real workout, because they are not muscles you use every day in normal conversation.
Another highlight of my journey to Ubud was visiting the ancient Tirta Empul temple, built in the 10th
century where spiritual seekers have been making a pilgrimage to, for thousands of years to perform the ‘melukat’ ceremony which is an ancient cleansing ritual using holy water. To my surprise, I found out that “melukat” is derived from the Indonesian word “lukat” which actually means “letting go”, which was precisely the essence of my travelogue – to simply let go of all the stress and negative elements in our lives so that we can be free.
I waded through the waters of this holy spring and forgot for a wonderful moment that I was actually being filmed because I got authentically caught up in this sacred moment. With the fountain of water cascading over my head, I prayed for all the things in the world that money can never buy like inner peace, good health and love in my life. Sometimes, art imitates life and life imitates art and it was truly special to be on set, trying to share the values of ‘letting go’ as I tried to do the same myself, in this cleansing ritual. When we are able to ‘let go’ of whatever it is that could be holding us back from moving forward, we automatically feel more empowered and free. So, if you’re reading this now and you know what you need to let go of, find a way to do so, the moment you can.