“See, if you stand still and just allow, nothing can sting you.”
This gem of wisdom was offered to me after I’d heeded the frantic whispers of a Balinese family, to remain motionless in the path of a golf ball-sized orange wasp.
It fluttered around my head, coming precariously close to my nose. My body tensed to run, my hands ached to swat and my eyes stung with the effort not to blink. I thought the very movement of my eyelashes would provoke the ‘killer’ insect into a stinging frenzy – my face the unfortunate target.
“It just wants to sniff you,” someone in the group stage-whispered.
Sniff me? Do wasps sniff? Where is its nose? Panic.
After minutes, or possibly mere seconds, it drifted away towards green rice paddies, obviously not interested in my scent.
The Balinese family fell over themselves laughing, offering me some of their lunch and telling me to go and get another Hatten Rose, the wine I’d peacefully sipped prior to the invasion.
The grandmother, twinkling black eyes squinting as she pulled at my short summer dress, said, “See, if you stand still and just allow, nothing will sting you.” And the simple sentence exploded in my solar plexus – a rare moment of ‘knowingness’, given by a complete stranger.
The moments came hard and fast after that, and in fact, started with the sheer synchronicity that enabled a recent trip to Bali, to attend the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. On Saturday, I had no idea the event was even taking place – the following Tuesday I landed in Denpasar. The information, the money, the flight, the accommodation came to me, all gift-wrapped in perfect ease, making me feel as if ‘I’ had little to do with the momentum propelling me towards it.
I intended to immerse myself in learning, in meeting people, in forging a path in the literary world. I also wanted to party into the wee hours of the morning and, like the pleasure-loving being I am, soak up any and all experiences until I dropped, exhausted and toxic, into my plane seat on the way home for a well needed rest.
A 5am meditation, staring across a river into the jungle on my first morning, took that side of me and, very peacefully, threw it over the side of the cliff. As much as I’ve read about moments in time – where all becomes clear, present, blissful – as much as I’d thought I lived in a space of awareness (most of the time), as good as I’ve become at monitoring my thoughts and ‘allowing’…I wasn’t prepared for the shift in perception the meditation induced.
One moment, I was relaxed, thoughtless, happy in meditation, the next, I actually blended into the surroundings. Completely. It was almost like watching a 4D movie. The leaves, the specks of sunlight glinting on the rocks, the very chair I sat on, blurred, then engulfed me until I was ‘one’ with them. Everything was energy, no longer solid, no longer separate. And I only felt…bliss.
Three hours later a Balinese lady came to place a Hindu offering on my table and as I heard her approach, instantly the outlines returned. I felt an ant bite into my foot, I could smell coffee and bacon and the dew covered soil. Three hours? I picked at my omelette and tried to grasp the fact that I’d been, not just in a meditative state, but somehow ‘gone’… for three hours.
I found I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t, and couldn’t, intellectualise it. I spent the day floating on my feet as I walked to the festival, watching talented panels of writers in a detached, dream-like state, with no thought of myself or furthering my career – just with simple presence. In the midst of hundreds of people, I was content and completely unbothered by the heat, the bugs, the noise or the toilet line-ups.
Twice, as I sat in the middle of the audience, people around me began to blur, just as the jungle had, and outlines became fuzzy. Nick Cave, being irreverent, funny and such a charismatic presence, grasped my attention so fully that at times I heard only his deep voice as my body slipped into a melting state of joy and my eyes shimmered with the energy in the room, rather than the solid objects.
Yet I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I wanted simply to ‘be’ with myself. I had a total sense of connection to myself and everything and everyone. And words held no importance. In fact, nothing held any importance, nothing except that feeling of connection.
The ‘mad monkey’, a phrase coined by numerous spiritual advisors as a way of describing our out-of-control thoughts, reappeared, again and again, in startling contrast to my all-consuming sense of well-being, as I began to speak with people. The jostling for intellectual supremacy, the complaints about Bali-belly, the eyes daring me to a challenge of wits. If I didn’t think, if I retained my connection and stayed present and alert within the conversations, I felt inspired, I felt compassion, I felt joined with each stranger.
But, screeching and clawing, the mad monkey would escape, labelling, judging, wanting to be right, needing to get ahead, only concerned with its own survival. Each time, I only awakened to its presence after an emotion hit my stomach – anxiety, intimidation, insecurity.
Another epiphany. Intellectually I already knew that emotions are our sign-posts, our navigating systems, there to keep us on the right path. Bliss = Right Path. Fear =Wrong Way Go Back. But now the pure ‘knowing’ of this felt like a burst of sunlight in every cell of my body.
I experienced many moments of harmony on this trip. They arrived with the speed of lightning, leaving me refreshed, connected and filled with this sense of ‘knowing’ – and, though this story is putting you in the middle of my own spiritual journey, it seems to me, to highlight the magical ability of travel to propel us towards self-growth.