The sound of Gamelan** is a constant in Bali. I generally quite like it except when its being played very loudly near my dinner table whilst trying to enjoy good conversation alongside my meal! There are temples dotted all around Villa Arcadia (home!), and the sound of Gamelan drifting across the paddy fields is so atmospheric and indicative of living in this highly spiritual place that 95% of my associations with it are entirely positive.
**Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments. The most common instruments used are metallophones played by mallets and a set of hand-played drums called kendhang which register the beat.
Since Gamelan is such a ubiquitous part of Balinese culture, we decided to have a go ourselves, and booked into a Gamelan workshop within a local art gallery.
Without underestimating the skill required to play any percussion instrument at a high level, the metallophones we took a crack at were really quite tricky to have a bash at! You hit the metal bars with a wooden hammer (a bit like a xylophone, except the notes aren’t sequential), but the bars reverberate so much you have to hit with one hand, and grab with the other hand to stop the build up of echo. It takes a certain level of coordination to follow hammer with hand whilst playing an unfamiliar tune as demonstrated by our leader.
The other aspect to the workshop was that it wasn’t really a workshop. The blurb had indicated that we would begin by hearing some top level musicians perform a private concert for us, and then we would be taught to play a tune as a group. There was no concert, our leader didn’t speak english, he didn’t exactly teach us, just played himself and then paused expecting us to copy/follow. And he was REALLY grumpy**!
After a while we got fed up of being growled at and went a bit freestyle with the instruments and enjoyed making a blast of noise, with an underbelly of gong time-keeping from Bella and Emily.
** highly unusual as we have found the Balinese to be overwhelmingly amiable, kind, generous, welcoming, smily and accommodating. They believe in their own unique version of Karma which is somehow less about reciprocity and more about the general state of giving vs receiving.
Having spent a good 45 minutes extracting a full refund (it wasn’t a cheap ‘workshop’), we gave half of it back to the museum and then went to explore its galleries which genuinely housed some spectacular pieces, catering to many tastes.
The museum also had stunning gardens, so once we got perspective and could see the funny side of what was essentially a fiasco of a gamelan workshop, we were free to relax and enjoy our spectacular surroundings.
We filled the next few days relaxing in our glorious surroundings at home, and when we weren’t enjoying our own cooking and gorgeous lunch spot……
…… we took in some incredible local organic restaurants with breathtaking views to match.
One evening we went to the yoga barn to experience Sound Healing with Shervin. It had come so highly recommended we thought it would be tough for it to live up to its reputation, but it surpassed it. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance, give it a try it with an open mind and an open heart (Shervin is often in LA, London and is generally going global!).
The girls entertained us as ever with break time fun…….
….. and came up with a treasure hunt which sent us all around the house and garden searching for fiendish clues and hidden bounty.
Sarah and I took off together for 2 nights of spirituality and reflection to the Bali Silent Retreat.
The paddy landscapes we enjoyed our our way up to up to Penatahan (a couple of hours north of Ubud) were the best yet!
Harvest has begun so we saw teams of villagers cutting and threshing.
Arriving at the Bali Silent Retreat, we were given a quick tour……
……were shown to our huts….
…… and then I got to sit down and appreciate this spectacular view from the balcony of my temporary home for the first time:
The 360 views took our breath away:
So what was it all about? Well that was up to each of us to figure out for ourselves. It is an eco-sanctuary that offers meditation and yoga, but its restorative offering is way beyond the amalgamation of these 2 practices. Guidance was limited:
Things to DO
- Breathe, Meditate
- Read, Pray, Yoga asanas
- Connect with your Divine Source
- Eat, slowly and often
- Walk the rice terrace path
- Walk the labyrinth meditation
- Walk the gardens
- Walk the jungle path
- Walk to the hot springs
- Sleep without air con (it’s cool at night)
- Stare at the stars from our star beds
- Write (paper and pen)
We arrived in the late afternoon, so my first evening consisted of taking in my surroundings, enjoying some incredible vegan food (I’d totally convert if vegan food always tasted this good!), and a walk around the grounds with some star-gazing thrown in. Sarah and I spent very little time actually together during the few days, but we did lie head-to-toe on a stargazing bench together that first night which has become and enduring special memory.
The idea at Bali Silent Retreat is to rest and wake with the sun, so it was early to bed!
Morning wake up gong sounded at 5:30am, and I stumbled out of my hut to find a flask of the most wonderfully aromatic ginger tea waiting for me on my balcony.
First meditation began at 6am. It was a fully silent meditation in the Bale (tent) below, and we began in the dark focusing our attention on a candle in the centre of the room, and the day then slowly lifted around us. I’m not very good at meditating, but achieved my best efforts yet in this incredibly conducive place. Yoga began at 7am and the morning class was a fabulously vital and physical practice. It felt great to move and wake up my body after 45 minutes of cramping cross legged.
Yoga and meditation were repeated every afternoon, and I made the most of every opportunity.
Meals were served silently, and ashram style, so we all kept/cleaned our own cutlery and crockery.
Menus were incredibly varied. They were decided each morning by the cooks, dependent on which veggies in the organic garden were at their best that day.
We helped ourselves:
And then took our nourishment to one of these amazing spots to eat (silently and slowly!) and enjoy the views:
The lodge also offered communal seating, and a library. At times it felt good to be around other people even if we weren’t talking! Positive aura, warmth and good vibes abounded.
The ‘tea’ station was a personal highlight. So many herbs and plants to make a fresh brew with, available all day:
Hard to disagree with CS Lewis:
This is why the food was so good – it was all home grown on site:
Even the marrows were delicious!
I tried out most of what there was to do. I wasn’t expecting to have a cry on the cry bench, but actually I did!
I walked the labyrinth meditation heel-to-toe. It was a test of patience for me, but I valued the reminder that I find it very hard to slow down. Definitely something to take away with me as I get closer to returning to ‘normal’ life in London.
This year has given us so many opportunities to learn and reflect which allowed me to embrace the chance to share wishes (on post-its!) for the world, thoughts for ourselves and our loved ones (hung from twisted branches), and opportunities to try medicine herbal healing rather than reaching for the pharmaceuticals.
The beauty of the flowers and greenery encountered at the lotus ponds speaks for itself:
Everywhere there were personal reminders and thought provokers. These could have been annoying, but in fact I found them found them cute, sometimes humorous, and more than often very applicable to me in the moment, or as an aspirational intention.
Time passed in a blink, and soon I found myself saying a say goodbye to this beloved view. I hope beyond hope that I will return one day for another chance to experience the restorative bliss of BaliSilentRetreat.
There were more breathtaking view on the way back, but Sarah and I hardly noticed them because we were so busy chatting!
Apparently James and the girls had a lot of fun doing Saturday morning pottery, and at Bali Bom (the biggest water park in Asia!) while we were gone. No doubt making a LOT of noise. No photos from them, but I suspect we will be going back for a final fling before the trip is out, so watch this space.
I leave you with this provocation from BaliSilentRetreat.