I had the huge privilege of witnessing the Balinese New Year celebration called Nyepi.
The energy of this place permeates my dreams and meditations. The culture is so deeply spiritual and open and friendly. For a place so invaded by tourists and western culture it feels like it maintains a purity of spirit that feels so rare.
We joined the small celebration in the local soccer field that had a carnival like feeling. There were street food vendors, balloons and ice cream. The locals were so inviting to us foreigners and the celebratory mood was contagious. Each neighborhood makes effigies out of paper mâché that are so intricate and detailed they could be in museums. They range from a few feet tall made out of light foam for the children to carry to 10-12 feet tall and highly detailed.
They call the effigies Oga-Oga and they represent the demons of Hindu religion.
Each are lashed to bamboo grids that the young men use to carry them through the streets. The parade begins as each of the Oga-Oga are carried in from the neighborhoods and placed around the field for all to admire. When dusk begins to fall the gamelan bands begin to play and the Oga-Oga are paraded out several at a time into the center of the field where they have mock battles. After the battles they are paraded back to their neighborhoods where they are gleefully torn apart and burned to signify the island overcoming the demons for another year. Every doorway has palm leaf altars and the family temples are full of offerings to the ancestors. The hot humid air is heavy with incense and anticipation.
The next day is a day of silence and fasting.
No music or talking. The Wifi signals are shut down, no appliances or electrical equipment is used. No lights or fires are allowed as the island has one night in complete darkness. Even the airports are closed and it is illegal to be in the streets. There should be no pleasure or work activities for the day. It is a day for meditation on the last year, cleansing yourself from what you do not want to take into the new year with you. It is seen as a day of rest for nature and any spirits that were excited the night before are said to pass over the island thinking it is uninhabited. The sky is so dark the stars become bright and the silence and calm are palpable.
The waterways of this tropical paradise are allowed to run free here and the town is built around their free flow. Time is different here. It is common to hear the local say meet at 5 or go with nature. That is to say you will arrive when the time is right. Everyone has words of wisdom to share on the nature of God and our souls, from the taxi driver to the massage therapist. In fact the massage I received here felt like a spiritual experience.
The spirit of this land is deep and wild but she is also playful.
Her calming energy surrounds me and seems to whisper you are safe, it is all fine, no need to worry. We Westerners take a toll on this land and it’s culture. We insist on flush toilets and air conditioning, bottles of water and so much food. We generate laundry and many messes to clean up.
Every morning offerings are made at our doorways and gate entrances, prayers are said on our behalf to calm the spirit of this land and repay her for our ignorant bumbling in this sacred land. I am so touched by these gestures.
I may be blind to my toll on the environment but the people who live here are not.
But instead of being indignant they joyfully (or so it looks to this Western eye) sooth the land spirits for our offenses and say prayers for our wellbeing. And it is done almost invisibly, without any fanfare or need for recognition.
And so with this great privilege I met the spirit of this land and felt completely humbled.
I was met with welcoming and overflowing love. It was such a feeling of being accepted, cherished and reminded of my belonging and connection to this planet and all of it’s inhabitants. This spirit welcomed me like the prodigal child whose parent is overjoyed to see their beloved offspring again.
And so I extend to you this unconditional love I was so graciously endowed with. There are almost no words to describe the depth of belonging you have on this earth. Your veins flow with the sacred waters, your lungs fill with the breath of the Divine, your flesh is conceived from the flesh of this planet and it is through this form the Divine gets to experience it’s own magnificent creation.