Where ever you go – there you are. And wherever you go in Ubud – there is a new healing modality just quivering with possibility – waiting to be discovered.
Ubud is a hub of healers and shamans. Offering methods of every variety – from massage… to energy field clearings… to water blessings… to deep tissue rolfing… to cupping… to women who can touch your skin lightly and send electrical shocks through your body (clearing out EMFs? Blockages in the meridian systems? Who knows!)
I moved into a new house, after a month spent in a room at my first homestay. I had grown comfortable with the routine of returning back to the same space every night, and had prepaid for a month … but as the weeks had worn on, a funky sewage situation had slowly crept up on the place, and it had begun to make me nauseous. I was ready to explore other options.
I had been paying $20 a night for the first homestay, which I thought was a ridiculous deal. When I dragged my luggage up the steps of my new guesthouse, sweating profusely in the midday sun, I thought I would be downgrading to a more humble space.
The new guesthouse was just up the street, and was $19 a night. It was still in the same neighborhood, in central Ubud, where i could walk to nearly everything easily.
My daily habit had become sitting in the corner at Sayuri Healing Food restaurant, (“my office”), sipping on tea and coconut kefir, lost in my writing bubble for 14 hours a day. The servers would greet me enthusiastically by name. I knew their names. They knew what I liked to order. It was all very adorable and homey. It was my little work nest.
Earplugs in. In the midst of the hubbub of the busy cafe, I would tune out the noise, harvest the energy around me, and channel it into words.
The new guesthouse was located only a block from Sayuri, at the back of a Balinese family compound. I was excited to be so close to the office!
As I walked through the arch that marked the entrance to the new homestay, I paused to pet a wildly barking Pomeranian furball who greeted my arrival. I followed the signs and arrows to the back of the property, past a bare-breasted grandma who was sitting on the ground, glowing at me with smiling eyes, welcoming me.
I rang the doorbell at the guesthouse, and a young man came running to meet me. He opened a pair of tall sliding doors and led me into a large kitchen space. He wrote down my passport information as I handed over several million Indonesian Rupiah (you always feel like a millionaire when paying in Indonesian currency). He then brought me up an outdoor staircase, and unlocked the door to a spacious, elegant, high ceilinged bedroom.
I wiped the sweat from my brow and put my bags down on the wooden chairs.
“How many people are staying in this house?”
“No one, miss. It is all for you.”
I must have given him a blank stare, trying to process the information. “Wait, this whole house, is just for me?”
“Yes miss! You text me if you need anything. I am of service. I hope you have very nice stay in my guesthouse.”
My jaw was on the floor. After a month in a room that smelled like sewage, with an air conditioner that spit water onto me, I was suddenly paying even less for a glorious two story full house upgrade? What??
I had sort of just accepted that septic systems in Bali were sub par, and that for $20 a night, I was going to have to deal with a few minor inconveniences. Never before have i so fully appreciated the lack of septic fragrance in a space!
The sheer loveliness of the house had me in disbelief. I am always deeply appreciative of beauty, architecture, and elegance, but I am also capable of being low maintenance, and just accepting what is available. This unexpected upgrade was not taken for granted for a moment.
I unpacked and walked back down to the kitchen to put my teas and powders on the counter. There was so much room to spread out! It was just so exciting!!
The kitchen was lovely, with high ceilings and tasteful artistic nuances sprinkled throughout … Tiny yogic statues on every stair step … six meditating buddhas on the shelf above the front doors.
The predominant striking feature of the kitchen was an elegant kitchen table made from a massive slab of gnarled wood. On the ceiling was a matching slab of hardwood, with long lights dangling from it. Did I mention high ceilings? (High ceilings bring me a ridiculous amount of joy).
Never in my life have I felt so grateful for the simple presence of a kitchen. I could boil water! I could make tea! I could buy fresh fruits from the market and store them in the fridge without them rotting! Yes!
I ran up and down the stairs giggling ecstatically and talking to myself, cooing and purring … unpacking my bags, luxuriating in a shower in the lovely bathroom.
As I unpacked my clothing, I felt a small stab of loss. Many of my nicest clothes had been stolen by the laundromat my previous landlord had taken my clothing to. I hadn’t noticed the missing pieces for days, and at that point it was too late to recover them.
Apparently it is a rather common tourist red flag phenomenon in Bali – for laundromats to take nice clothing out of their clients’ bags, and then sell them at the market the next day. Landlords are supposed to warn you to count your clothes before you send them off, and count them again after they are returned to you.
No one had warned me about this, so I obliviously sent my clothes off to be laundered. It wasn’t until days later that I noticed the missing items, and asked my landlord for their whereabouts. She seemed distressed, and speed walked with me down narrow alleyways, through mossy archways, towards the laundromat where she had sent my things.
When we got there, I asked them about my clothing, and my landlord translated. The employees at the laundromat all looked at the ground, and had a very guilty energy about them. She spoke to them in a tirade of Balinese … and then she told me my clothes were gone. We turned around and walked home. I still wasn’t aware of the scam at the time, so I just surrendered to the loss, with a bit of disappointment, and plenty of acceptance.
I have been an extreme minimalist for over a decade, so I have very few possessions, and the ones I have are all carefully selected treasures that I feel deep love for. Still, whenever I lose something I try to take it as an opportunity to practice non-attachment.
One brand new dress in particular left a knife of disappointment in my heart when I found it was gone. I had bought it at a street fair in December in Thailand, and it was the most comfortable, elegant, simple, classy dress I’d ever worn. I wore it constantly, I slept in it, it was heaven.
I had planned to take it the following week to a seamstress here in Bali, and ask them to replicate the pattern for me. But alas! The laundromat gods had claimed it as their own.
It’s always a practice of deeper and deeper surrender whenever we find ourselves attached to things that disappear. I’m usually really quick about releasing things, but there is always that jolting moment of discovery and loss within the field of attachment.
And we say to ourselves, sighing, “I release, I surrender. … the more gracefully I let go, the more gracefully new things can come into my field. Clearly they needed it more than I did…”
Things come and things go. Still, most of my nicest, newest dresses, shirts and skirts were missing.
Sigh. You live, you learn, you surrender attachment. And life marches on.
So I stood in my new guest house, folded all of my remaining clothes, and placed them on the shelves.
I wanted to be fully moved in before the arrival of a healer I had hired that afternoon to come work on my aching body. I was specifically having trouble walking down stairs without severe stabbing pain in my knees. I was in full gimp mode. The need for support was becoming urgent.
In high school I was a hurdler on the track team, (notoriously hard on the knees) and had played many sports without proper awareness of body mechanics during training. Over the years my knees had grown increasingly sensitive to walking down stairs. At this point, it had gotten so bad that I was having to take each stair slowly, stepping sideways.
I’ve been told that the issue is ultimately due to fascial adhesions in my legs, which creates tightness in my leg muscles, and pulls my kneecaps off to the side.
I had been asking around to find the right healer to help me, but wasn’t sure exactly what would fix me. Wouldn’t you know it, within the span of 2 weeks, 3 totally unrelated people told me about their personal experiences with a healer named Rochim, who specialized in cupping, alongside myofascial release bodywork.
Bali has a particular quality of magnetic magic that is reminiscent of the experiences people have at Burning man.
You just think about someone, and they appear in front of you. You make a wish for something, and sometime in the near future when you least expect it, it comes true with effortless grace. That which you are seeking is quite literally, also seeking you. In a palpable way.
Everyone who told me about Rochim, proclaimed “he is the best kept secret in Bali! He works miracles! He’s intense!”
When I first heard about him, I started following him on Instagram, and was fascinated by the intense pictures of him cupping people’s entire bodies with dozens of cups.
One man shared a particularly compelling experience. Apparently, he had had limited mobility in his shoulder for 15 years, and after one session with Rochim, the problem was fixed. Rochim had done a rather gory-looking technique called “Wet cupping,” where he makes a tiny incision in your skin and then places the suction cups on top of it – to pull out blood clots.
I was skeptical when I saw this pictures of this on Instagram, but the man in front of me said that, indeed, after this wet cupping session, he was able to see the blood clot that had gotten pulled out, AND he had full mobility in his arm again for the first time in decades.
Wowsers. I was sold.
Shortly after I finished moving into my new house, Rochim arrived. He instructed me to take off everything except my underwear, and lay down on the bed with a sheet over me. For a brief moment I hesitated at the somewhat unprofessional nature of the circumstance, but I felt utterly safe and protected.
My friends all knew his name and information. There was a whole Balinese family 10 feet away, right outside. He came highly recommended, and was supposedly a miracle worker. I surrendered to the experience.
In the states, healings take place in more sterile environments, or at least, covered, with some kind of professional decorum, on at least a massage table. But within minutes, I was laying on the bed, and the sheet was off me, and this middle aged Balinese man was digging deep into my flesh with intensive myofascial work.
Strangely, I never felt an ounce of creepy energy. I felt totally safe, and in the hands of a true masterful healer.
He held his energy with total purity. I couldn’t even focus on the strangely vulnerable circumstance, because the pain of the bodywork was so intense. Despite being powerful, it was also entirely bearable. I could tell it was helping.
After each section of my body had been worked deeply with his fingers, he would cover every inch of the area with cups that had suction mechanisms on them.
Traditional cups take time to apply, but he had some newfangled cupping tools that allowed him to press the top with a few quick pumps, and immediately suction all the flesh up into the cup. He was able to rapidly cover a large skin surface with multiple cups using this technique.
It brings blood flow to the area, it clears blockages, it does all sorts of nuanced things to the electrical system as well as the physical body. It was an utterly strange yet wonderful feeling.
When he dug into the area around my knees, it was sheer torture. “sorry miss” he kept saying. “Has been like this for long time.” He was right. I knew I needed to fix the tight fascia and muscles sooner rather than later. Everywhere he touched around my knees, it felt like knives stabbing me with the same pain I felt whenever I walked down stairs. He had found the offending zones.
He went area by area, pointing out all the tight areas of muscle and fascia that were knotted, pulling my kneecap off to one side. I didn’t even have to tell him what was going on in my body, he could just look at me and isolate all my painful areas. It was like being putty in the hands of a master sculptor.
After systematically doing this to my entire body, front and back, flipping me around the bed like a rag doll, we were done. He politely requested to go wash his hands and feet in the shower, and to have a moment to pray outside.
He rolled out his prayer mat, did a 5 minute ceremony outside my balcony, burned incense, and then came in, bowed politely, and left. I paid him roughly $35 for the hour long session, which was an epic deal. I knew that for him, this was 3x what the average Balinese person might make in a day.
It’s amazing how in Bali, healing is affordable for the recipient, and yet it still pays the practitioner well, by the standards of their societal structure.
Once he had left, I looked in the mirror in strange delight, at the large bruises that covered my body. In some areas there were no cupping marks left behind on my skin at all. But in areas where my energy had been stuck and my skin was receiving very little blood flow, there were dark red welts.
I looked at each bruise as a huge blessing, a sign of where he had pulled my blood to the surface of the skin, to bring nutrients and oxygen to the surface.
I found the bruises strangely beautiful, like leopard spots. They were markings, reminders that I had done something good for myself. They were signposts, pointing to the stagnant areas in my body, which now had had support in the influx of vitality.
The best thing of all was the effect it had on my knees. He had cupped my legs up and down, but the only red welts left behind were just above my knees, where the tension had been. Lo and behold – immediately following the session, I was able to walk down stairs again with something resembling graceful mobility.
I texted the other ladies who had scheduled sessions with him later in the afternoon, with a picture of my leopard shoulder blades, with the words “Epic Shit coming your way!”
Then I walked out of my house and down the stairs (without pain!), and headed towards my office.
As I walked up the street, I saw a homeless beggar woman who regularly sat on the corner with her child. I watched a man get out of a van, take her child and swap a different child with her. It seemed strangely bizarre. When I arrived at the cafe, I asked about it.
I was told that there is a well known scam, where a street boss has women working for him. They rotate these women out on the streets, begging for money from tourists, holding small orphan children. They say that some of the children are even drugged so they will just lay there unmoving, illiciting sympathy from tourists.
This was even more horrifying to me than the idea of people just being homeless. I started researching and found some articles about it. According to a researcher who had written about the phenomenon, the women could sometimes make several million Rupiah per day, which is far more than the average job could offer.
They would bring it back to their villages, which was then perpetuating an issue where begging could be seen as a better lifestyle than learning a trade or getting a normal job.
I was baffled, and saddened. I’m sure there are also legitimately homeless people who are simply begging for support as well.
It put a whole other layer of culture shock onto the peeling onion of Bali’s multifaceted dynamics. Layer after layer, as with any version of reality, there are daily dimensions, melting into each other, slowly revealing themselves.
As I walked back down the street, I paused to buy a bag of fruit – rambutans and snakefruits. I walked up to a group of mamas with babies who were sitting on the street. They asked me for money, and I reached into my bag and held out handfuls of fruit to each of them.
The smiles that burst across their faces just lit me up inside. It doesn’t matter whether they were working for someone, or whether they were truly in need. It just made my heart soar to feel the comeraderie of sharing food with them.
One woman motioned to a whole durian I had in the bottom of the bag, and seemed to be eyeing it. I walked back up the street excitedly, moved by the burning passionate joy of noticing something that someone loves, and creating a little miracle moment for them. For me, it was a few dollars, for them it meant that someone cared.
I bought a package of durian fruit that had already been extracted from its spiky skin, as well as a package of jackfruit that had been cut into pieces. I wanted to spoil them.
I walked up and handed them the unopened packages. Their happy faces practically exploded into smiles as they gratefully received the gift.
There is something so pure and connective about the act of sharing food, or feeding someone who may be hungry. It is life-force, transmitted from person to person. I vowed to carry fruit with me whenever possible, so I could at least create mini moments like this as often as possible.
I woke up the next morning at 7 AM to the sound of hammers banging, children screaming, saws buzzing and roosters crowing. Ahhh the noise! My inner night owl was laughing. Even the greatest blessings sometimes have their hilarious polarities. My standard bedtime is 3 AM, but there was no way i was getting back to sleep in the midst of the cacophony.
I knew I was just going to have to deal with sleep deprivation, after an hour of groggily jamming earplugs into my ears and stuffing pillows over my head. This new beautiful house might just be an invitation from the universe to start shifting my body clock into a more circadian-rhythm-friendly schedule.
I had planned to meet with a writer’s circle at 10 AM, so eventually i gave up and started my day. The writer’s circle was made up of a group of us who had converged around the same table at Sayuri’s one day.
Bali has a funny way of opening up our walls, and showing us the places we didn’t even know we had developed shrouds separating us from the world.
My mission here in Indonesia has been to write 12 hours a day, stay focused, and be productive. I had been diving deeply, with commitment, into my daily creativity bubble, not socializing much, inhabiting a very introverted space.
I was still hibernating in my bubble when Matthew sat down. Then his friend Cat walked up. We all started chatting, and I discovered that they were also both writers, here in Bali, with the intention of working on their books.
They were starting up a writer’s circle, where they would get together and write around a table, then read their writings to each other, in half hour cycles. Not since college had I been in a group of other writers. I was excited!
Writing can be such a joyfully lonely occupation. You look forward to every moment of immersing yourself deeply inside of your internal world, diving deeper with every moment of focus and clarity … striving to channel with more and more clarity .. to get out of the way.
Weaving words, connecting dots, building jigsaw puzzles out of stardust …. but sometimes you go so deep down the wormhole that you forget how to interact with the outside world.
It’s easy to forget about the power of community and people coming together, when you are so comfortable and happy in solitude, with your friend, the written word. But human convergence can never be underestimated.
I stumbled my way groggily to the restaurant that morning, and felt the electricity of intention enveloping me and my fellow writers. I promptly drank 2 large cups of matcha green tea. Annnnd we were off! The writer’s circle created a portal of focused energy that was like rocket fuel to my writing process.
It was amazing to write, surrounded by other people writing … with the focused knowledge that you were about to read those words out loud.
It really affects that voice with which you write. It impacts your storytelling, your languaging, your lensing. And most of all, it keeps you deeply focused and undistractible.
After our first half hour writing session, we went around the table, reading to each other, giving commentary and feedback, then diving into another writing portal. By the end of the 3 hours, I felt a focus and clarity in my mind that felt like a whole new world had opened up inside of my storytelling brain.
I noticed that just the act of writing my stories, writing my feelings, writing my human experience, and giving it a voice, was somehow the very healing tool that I needed more than anything.
It creates catharsis when we write. It creates movement in our souls when we express ourselves. It allows us to look at life through a retrospective compassionate lens, and make sense of the circumstances that were too emotionally charged in the moment for us to see with clarity.
It allows the stagnant compost of past experiences to release from our cells, and make room for the new stories, for the new adventures, for the new pain, for the new joy, for the new direction to unfold forth.
And as we write our past into the past, so too do we write ourselves into our own futures. Sculpting them and narrating them into existence with every intention, every word, every breath.
Of all the healing modalities that Bali is showering me with, this reminder of the power of writing, and the impact that it has on my soul, is the healing gift that is perhaps most nourishing and cathartic.
The more we seek to know ourselves, who we have been, and who we are becoming…., the more we seek to understand the collective human experience and our place in it …. the more we heal the content of our journeys, backwards and forwards through time and space.
And that is something no deep tissue massage can ever touch. That is the magic of our minds.