Islands of Healing

Eat, Love, Pray (ELP) never gave Bali the justice it deserved. The Bali presented in ELP is a vapid new-agey paradise. Thankfully, the Bali I know is not the Western fantasy of shamanic healers, spa baths in luxury enclaves or woo-hoo new age retreats. Each year, I visit Indonesia. This year, I needed to push back my retreat into depression. Bali is only 2 1/2 hours from Darwin by air, so it was the logical place to go.

There are a few reasons why I keep going back to Indonesia, and to Bali, in particular. It’s close and the air fares are cheap (by Australian standards). I speak functional Indonesian  -meaning I can understand most things, such as popular TV shows, advertisements, signs, and communicate all the necessities of daily life (which includes endless discussions about family, children, comparisons of life in Bali vs life in Australia). I owe my language ability to a semester spent at university in Yogyakarta in 1996, and to my love of learning languages (Hindi is next!). I would love to be fluent in Indonesian which would involve me living there for a while (long term goals: I would love to be an ESL teacher in Indonesia or work on a development or conservation project as an anthropologist for a year. This won’t happen until son Ben finishes high school).

Language, accessible cultural immersion, and the freedom delivered by Mr Anthroyogini’s expert bersepeda motor (scooter riding) to explore the bumpy dirt tracks, bukit-bukit (hills) and desa-desa (villages) of Bali make the experience deep and rich. And healing.

I suspect there is a connection between water and healing for me. Bali is green and lush (despite this, there is a water shortage crisis looming in Bali). We always visit in Musim Hujan (the monsoon), to make sure we see lots of rain. Visiting Bali in the monsoon might sound crazy to many people, but I live in a place where the annual rainfall is only 250mm (10 inches) per year. Bali is also cooler than Alice Springs at the moment, with daily maximum temperatures of 29-33 degrees Celsius vs Alice Springs’s 38-42 degrees. Thus, the prevalence of water, I suspect, seeps into my skin, into my core and washes me clean.

Then, there are doing things that I don’t normally do: like diving and snorkelling, spending lots of time relaxing on the beach (in secret locations, away from drunken bogans), or riding about on the scooter.

All this is a prelude to the profound changes that took place during the time we were in Indonesia.

By the beginning of the second week, when we were on Gili Air, off the coast of Lombok, I found that I was happy again. The black shadow of depression, a heavy fug that had left me struggling and bereft of my usual bounding physical energy, had let go. I had returned to me. But there were other changes, too.

For a long time, I’d wanted to stop drinking alcohol everyday. In the Northern Territory (and in Australia), alcohol is a major facet of our culture. In moderation, I have no problem with this. However, in the NT alcohol is an obsession. Since moving to Alice Springs in 2001, I had shifted from a social drinker to longing for a glass of wine as soon as I came home of an evening. Worse, the nightcap of port that I’d been having for years (predating my move to the NT), had increased to two or more and in larger volume.

No matter what I did to kick them, I found alcohol cravings pervasive and hard to ignore. I don’t mind having a drink, but I don’t want to need to have a drink.

However, my Indonesian holiday has cured me of these cravings. I did drink in Indonesia, but it was confined to social events. The night time port cravings have gone. I intend to keep it this way, drinking only on weekends or socially.

Then, there was the week that Gary and I spent as vegetarians. Indeed, when we’re in Indonesia we never eat Western food. Ideally, I would like to eat mainly vegetarian meals, reserving meat for only two or three times per week. However, it’s hard when you’re in a family who don’t share that desire. I don’t really want to be cooking multiple main meals at night, either. Anyway, the vegetarian week has opened Gary up to the possibility of having a few vege main meals. I brought back some Bumbu Gado Gado (proper Gado Gado spices), so I envisage a few scrummy nights of Gado Gado on the horizon. Know I know there’s no hassle getting Indonesian spices into Australia, I’ll be stocking up next time we go over.

I’m keen to continue the vegetarian meals… I just have to find recipes that my two meat-lovin’ fellas will fall over themselves raving about.

Although relinquishing my need to drink alcohol and becoming mainly vegetarian were aspirations for me, I never consciously set out to explore them on my holiday. Yet they happened. Like the cleansing of water,  my depression and the subtle yet annoying cravings for alcohol were healed. As a bonus, I gave up meat without thinking about it.

I’m not going to do an Elizabeth Gilbert and attribute to Bali some semi-mystical properties it doesn’t really have. I think the combination of disengagement from everyday surrounds and routines and the availability of downtime were what healed me.

Now, I am ready to return to my usual exercise, yoga and gym regimes. I’m even looking forward to going back to work.


One thought on “Islands of Healing

  1. So glad you had such a wonderful trip to beautiful Bali. I’ve only been the once myself but have plans to go back for sure. 🙂

    It truly is a place of lushness and I think of love, too. I don’t think in saying that I’m attributing Bali with special mystical powers but most definitely it’s a place where you can find stillness, and in the stillness find what you need.

    Welcome home!

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