Recently I had the blessing of visiting this very special part of the world. What stood out to me the most about Bali was not the beautiful landscape (and it is very beautiful!), but it was the Balinese people and their huge loving hearts. The Balinese are gentle, humble people with a sweet demeanor and a deep devotion to their spiritual beliefs.
Bali is famous for being a “spiritually elevated” place and is often referred to as the land kissed by the Gods or the land of 1000 temples. It is a place of deep spirituality where every family, rich or poor, has their own family temple. You’ll find a shrine around nearly every corner. On several occasions, while visiting the major temples on the island, I watched ceremonies with local people bringing offerings for the gods in baskets, very often balanced on their heads. I also witnessed pretty much everything being transported by motorbike from meals to building materials-very often carefully balanced on the head.
I also noticed how Balinese spirituality is integrated into everyone’s life. The temples are active-they are used multiple times a day. Their days are filled with ceremony. It is not uncommon to go out for dinner in the evening and to see rice (leftover from a blessing)on your servers brow.
Balinese spirituality is a unique blend of Hinduism and Animism. It is a devotion to Earth and Spirit equally. Animism encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical worlds. It is the belief that spirits exist in humans, and also in all other animals, plants and all other parts of nature.
The Balinese people very much live off of the land, and as a result, have a deep respect and reverence for All parts of nature. Being an agricultural society (rice being the most important crop) the Balinese take special care to nurture their fields. They understand the importance of respecting the land, and the importance of being in balance with nature. For that reason they spend pain-staking amounts of time and energy to honor their Deities, the Gods of the sky, the Gods of the rice, etc, by making beautiful little baskets of offerings. Waking about Bali, you will see hundreds of these offerings everywhere. On cars, in front of stores, houses, restaurants, at Temple gates, and on local and city sidewalks.
Canang sari is the name of these daily offerings. They are made by the Balinese to thank Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (the supreme god of Indonesian Hinduism). The phrase canang sari is derived from the Balinese words sari (essence) and canang (refers to the small palm-leaf basket as the container/tray)
This simple, daily household offering is a way the Balinese people thank their God for the peace that has been given to the world. The offerings take time and effort to prepare, and the act of preparing the offering is just as important as the offering itself.
These beautiful offerings in Bali take so many different forms, and I absolutely fell in love with them while wandering the streets of Ubud. A combination of fragrant flowers and incense, lovingly arranged in a handwoven basket created a beautiful unforgettable aromatic blessing every where we went. Whether it was outside of the hotel we stayed or in the busy streets outside of restaurants and local shops. They were replenished several times a day. The first round were placed just as the sun was rising. There was another set of late afternoon/evening offerings as well. Everyone was involved in making and leaving them out. Everyone. In homes, and businesses alike.
I also noticed the cleanliness in Bali. Before most tourists are wandering the streets the Balinese are out sweeping up all of the previous day’s offerings from around their businesses and homes. Buckets of water are used to wet down the sidewalk and the perimeter around their doorways. I actually witnessed a Balinese man dusting his car with a feather duster. The cars in Bali are kept immaculate, despite the dusty streets. Once the streets of Bali are spotless, they are now ready for the daily gift of offerings.
They are much more than beautiful street decorations, they form a cornerstone of the daily practice of nearly every Balinese person that I met. We were very blessed to have a Balinese elder teach us how to create the offerings. It looks much easier than it is! Young palm leaves are used and part of the stalks are trimmed to create tiny pins to hold the leaves in place. After the basket is made then it is filled with flowers and greenery and incense, and is placed either on the ground(to feed the demons), or on altars higher up (as an offering to the gods), or brought to temple for ceremony. The ground offerings were to feed/apease the demons(bad spirits) as the belief was if the demons were fed they would not enter a building or cause any trouble.
Bali is an island that exudes healing and promotes peace and relaxation. There is a spa around every corner. And you get an amazing hour long massage for under $10! It may be paradise, but Bali has crazy amounts of traffic. It can take several hours to travel 100km. Roads are full of cars and a huge number of motorbikes that weave precariously in and around the cars. Driving in Bali is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully taxis can get you anywhere you want to go and are fairly priced. You can rent a motorbike inexpensively to get around the island, but to me it was simply not worth the risk especially after seeing how everyone drives and learning about the many accidents involving visitors.
We arrived in Denpassar and took a taxi to our hotel where we experienced the hustle and bustle of Ubud with the many colourful shops lining the streets. After 2 days of acclimitizing to the time change (12 hours difference!), we travelled up North into the region of Sudaji where we stayed as part of a secluded local community and lived among roosters, wild dogs, cats, lizards, geckos, and other nightlife. I am not longer a light sleeper! Early morning meditations before class, purification in the natural spring water pool, Puja fire ceremonies with local priests, and an outdoor shower under the stars and moon, were highlights of the trip. The place we stayed at was named OMunity. A blend of OM and community. They offer many cross cultural and spiritual programs for those who wish to connect to local Balinese culture. The organic vegetarian food was incredible, and the energy of the place perfect for our class.
On our days off we visited temples and one day we hiked to a stunning hidden waterfall in the jungle. I even pushed past my fear of heights and climbed up beside the waterfall with local boys to jump off the cliff into the cool refreshing pool of water. A picnic lunch on banana leaves by the river was simply glorious.
At the end of our class we spent a few days on Sanur beach. It was a beautiful way to end the trip and get ready for the long journey home.
Balinese society is very similar to other shamanic societies I have experienced around the world. They all have a deep devotion to the earth and have similar rituals and ways of living that honor the Spirits around them. They all share the beauty and wisdom of understanding the importance of respecting, honoring and integrating their lives with the land around them. The people simply Are the land and are not separate from it.
When I was in Peru years ago and asked the Q’ero shaman what I could do for Peru. She replied for me to bless, love, honour and create ceremony in my own homeland. The land is thirsty, she said. It needs to be loved and cared for and honoured and respected. She explained that by blessing and honouring my land I am helping the rest of the world.
After my time in Bali, witnessing yet another culture that is beautifully and deeply connected to the land, and loves and honours the earth ~ it has brought that lesson home to me yet again, to do more here. To create sacred space here. To honour our blessed land here. So if you see me leaving offerings and burning incense outside then you know what I am up to.