Bali: The Song of Silence

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Nyepi is Bali’s New Year’s Eve and national day of silence. Shops are closed, televisions and lights are turned off. No fires are lit, no work is done. Tourists aren’t allowed to leave their hotels and even the International airport shuts down — not a single flight in or out. It’s a day of self-reflection that captures the essence of an a legendary island that was perfect for a solo, soulful, escape.

I had moved out of New York and (back) across the country, accepted a new job and agreed to spend my life with a person… all at the same time. Although it was not Nyepi when I arrived in Bali, I hoped the waves and jungle rains would be just the trick to untangle my tightly wound thoughts and emotions. Everything I felt was wonderful; but wonderfully overwhelming. I needed solitude. The silence focus on everything ahead and leave the rest behind.

Bali is Indonesia’s only Hindu island. With a culture so intertwined with religion, it’s easy to understand why Bali stands apart from other Indonesian islands. Balinese Hinduism uniquely fuses the worlds of people, spirits, demons and gods into a highly philosophical approach to life. Nature is “power” and spirits and ancestors are treated with the highest respect, believed to impact all aspects of life. As gods are everywhere, so are Balinese rituals. They strive for harmony between the living and the dead, honoring this power balance with daily ceremonies. It’s the balance that seems to entrance visitors with the hope of discovering a similar, yet internal, understanding of purpose and control.

 

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I was trying VERY hard to not be all “Eat, Pray, Love” about the experience, but when a rainstorm woke me up that first morning, my brain jumped straight to, “METAPHORICAL CLEANSE!” I made a mental note to think this positively the next time it rained in Seattle and stepped out to the open air living space, watching the heavy drops dance across the surface of the pool. Slipping into the water, I floated there with my eyes closed, letting the rain drum on my face. The sun rose, and the jungle came alive. Monkeys hollered, birds chattered and I couldn’t deny that the warm rains welcomed a freshly cleansed day. A symbolic start to my trip.

Heading to yoga, I almost trampled a tiny basket of flowers and crackers sitting outside the guesthouse gate. The sun had barley risen, yet every storefront, shrine and intersection had a version of this offering. Most were lit with a stick of incense that perfumed the morning air. “Canang Sari,” are daily offerings to the spirits to bring good health and prosperity to family and friends. I contemplated the one outside the yoga studio and wondered, briefly, if there was anything I did consciously and purposefully every day. Then I got distracted by a gecko and walked into class.

Perched on a mat under a vaulted ceiling of woven reeds, high up in the trees, the NYC detox began. Out with honking cabs and transactional relationships, in with a slowed pace and the deepest commitment. Goodbye to the safety of tight community, and hello to the juggling of relationships, starting over (again) and being far away from the place I felt most alive.

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Four hours were spent practicing “the art of surrender” and deepening my yoga practice each day. The rest of the day found me sprawled on the beach, reading and writing. I flew through books and unraveled my thoughts while dipping in and out of swimming pools and sandy stretches, fueling up with açaí bowls, green juices and avo smashes (courtesy of the Aussie-expats).

 

I talked to as few people as possible throughout those ten days, caught up in my round-the-clock meditation.

I listened to the silence and found it had a lot to say… about New York, a new year, relationships, promises, goals and hopes and dreams and fears.

I started letting it all go.

 

The demands of the every day mean we are always reacting. Happy, sad, stressed, annoyed, overwhelmed, uncertain, insecure… hell, the only reason I was in Bali was because I was drowning in my own emotions. Too overwhelmed by the people, choices, changes, to even know how I felt about them. Finally, twisted in a ten-minute yoga pose, I found only on the vibrations of my heart and depth of my breath. I focused not on everything outside of me, but on everything within. The more I surrendered to the pressures and the desire to react to them, the more space I created for excitement, gratitude, and forward motion.

I thought about Nyepi, the day of silence, and the wisdom of the Balinese to spend the day before the New Year in a state of surrender both to the world and to themselves. While the idea of shutting down JFK on New Year’s Eve is extreme, the spirit of Canang Sari felt just right. Much like a prayer before bed, these offerings are simple meditations — daily acts of faith. Whether a morning sun salutation or a moment of focused breathing, pausing to surrender to the things you can’t control moves you closer to what you can: your body, your breath, and ultimately, whatever is at your core.

I’d traveled all the way around the world to learn how to close my eyes and breath. No more anxiety about a future I didn’t know yet, or a past I couldn’t change. By surrendering control, I actually gained it. ■

 

 iPhone snaps from my Bali beach days:

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I really did try to steer clear of the “Eat, Pray, Love effect” while in Bali (it’s a thing). I didn’t even visit Uluwatu or any of the famous destinations, as I wanted to make it my own adventure and not follow the typical tourist route.

That caveat aside, if you’d like to borrow from my DIY yoga retreat, here are a few tips:

 

Canggu, my sleepy surfer village, for a not-so-touristy Bali experience with all sorts of fun experiences.

The Practice Bali, for a thoughtful Yin yoga practice in the most beautiful of yoga settings

Cold Acai bowls for lunch after a hot afternoon in the sun from Nalu Bowls 

Brekkie with the cool kids at Crate Cafe 

Coconuts Guesthouse to stay with the kindest family and have their stunning pool all to yourself for a rainstorm

The Kirana, if you want your digs to be a bit more glam

Sipping tea and juice on the front porch of Cafe Organic, which feels like your best friend’s island home

Vegan salads in the garden under the twinkle lights at The Shady Shack

Surf board rentals from the friendly faces at Batu Bolong Beach

Sunset beers at Echo Beach Club 

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Tulum Unplugged

February 2015 was the 3rd coldest February in the history of New York City.
Coincidentally, it was also the first February I spent living in New York City.

So after a month of sleeping in my winter coat and wrestling with the quasi-dreadlocks caused by constant beanie wearing, I swore to myself: Never again. By fall, flights were booked for a February 2016 escape to the Riviera Maya. Nevermind that I headed to the airport in a light sweater, my frozen memories were still enough to justify a few days in the sun.

Four hours and a few beers later, I caught up with Hunter south of the boarder. In a tiny Fiat with Guanajuato plates, we bumped over topes and along the Eastern Coast of Mexico. With the windows down and a scratchy Meixcan radio station humming a modern ranchera, we sped past the endless mega-hotels that lined the coast. The sea teased us from the occasional break between the tall walls which was just enough to know we were nearing paradise.

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A pitstop for fresh juice… then another for a morning stroll through Playa del Carmen. (Which it turns out, was exactly the right time to eat ice cream for breakfast.) Back in the car, we wound down a mile of dirt road to a dead end beach. There was so much to see that we wondered if we’d ever actually reach Tulum itself. After an hour (…two perhaps? maybe three??) spent in beachside hammocks with lobsters and micheladas, we decided we weren’t really sure if it mattered.

The four months that filled the gap between purchasing flights and flying them had been filled with unabashed praise for the paradise of Tulum. Seemingly every New Yorker had a story of yoga and green juice, whole veggies at Hartwood and mezcal at Gitáno. For that reason, we were pleasantly surprised to find the town nearly deserted when we finally arrived, already sun-kissed and seafood stuffed.

Tulum was everything they said it would be.

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Our “hotel” consisted of solar-powered, oceanfront, coconut-palm-roofed bungalos nestled in the sand and opening to the ocean. The fish was fresh, the people were charming, and the sun and waves swallowed us whole. Hunter took charge of locating the ultimate diving adventures, then ensured that outside of the dive boat, we were never without a tropical beverage. I found the best food, curated a playlist and located most serene stretches of sand. The entire trip, Tulum stayed perfectly quiet. Sensuously calm. It was the ultimate remedy to trial dates and content calendars.
We actually relaxed.

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Remote beaches and rural villages are some of our favorite travel destinations — places that could be truly be called the edge of civilization. Tulum was not one of them. But in a strange, magical way, Tulum has a similar effect. Removed from the chaos, it surrounds you with everything necessary for a hard reset.

Most people know that I’m not usually big on beach vacations. But a few days in Tulum reminded me of the power of disconnection. Just a few hours from JFK, I transformed from “always on” to “be back later.” And those four days spent exploring cenotes and climbing ruins made me forget about my swelling inbox, instead filling me with creative energy that had me excited to get back to work. That’s rare, and important, and wonderful.

You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to rebalance your soul, I realized. When deadlines and busy seasons don’t allow for exotic escapes, something closer to home can be equally powerful. Just make sure you bring the right bungalo boy.

 

L+H’s guaranteed good times guide to Tulum:
Sunrise yoga at Maya Tulum
Taco toppings bar at Antojitos La Chiapaneca 
Catch (and eat) your own lobster at Chamico’s
Scubadive on the moon with Léo
Breakfast mezcal at Be Tulum
Mexico City’s best DJs live at the Coco Tulum beach bar

And if you needs some cruising tunes… 

 

All images shot on an iPhone 6 with Moment Lenses

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