CATEGORY: WINDING DOWN
PHOTO: BLACK BULL
In 1998, I and a small group of friends from Port Townsend, went to Ubud in Bali to go to Balinese “healers” (therapists). Our leader was David Beck. He and his wife, Laura had been there several times before. It was the only place Laura could get relief from her rheumatoid arthritis. The healers they knew were Jakarta Rai, an older man, and Jero Tapakan, a middle aged woman. They both used a system of acute acupressure. Jakarta Rai used a sharpened but blunted stick; Jero used her fingers; both methods were very painful. All of us had some malady we hoped to have cured or improved. Our star patient was Julie Duke who had MS and was in a wheel chair. She and I stayed for two months: six weeks longer than the others. Bali is unique in Indonesia in that, on this tiny little island, the inhabitants have a different religion than any other in the world. It is an offshoot of Hinduism, but not the same as that practiced in India. It is the mellowest religion I have ever encountered, and the people are the mellowest and most devout without being in any way pushy or judgmental or self righteous. They welcome everybody, including the Muslims who are infiltrating the south of the Island.
The following is a letter I wrote home to several people. My dear friend, Shirley Bagley, saved her copy and recently sent it back to me so I could include it in my “My Life From Z to A.”
THOUGHTS ABOUT WAYAN
Every fourth person in Bali is named Wayan. It means “first born,” and it is given to both boys and girls. But giving the first-borns that name isn’t enough for the Balinese. They love it so much that after the name for second-born: Maday, third-born: Nyoman, and fourth-born: Ketut, if there is a fifth-born they start all over again with Wayan #2. Perhaps the first Balinese could only count to four. But early on I noticed that they have five fingers on each hand just like we do, and five toes too (since many of then go barefoot) so I don’t understand this at all. Maybe there is something magical about number 4.
At any rate, considering that most Balinese families are not large, there are always more Wayans than any others. I think they are on to something. There could never be enough Wayans. They do it to be generous, hoping there might be enough to go around: one for everybody. But no matter how hard they try to stretch them out, there are only enough for less than half the population.
Julie and I are lucky. We don’t even live here and we have our own private Wayan whom we share. It’s the next best thing to having one of our own and maybe better, because it is part of learning not to be greedy. We take a proprietary interest in him and he in us. He spends a lot of time with his new friends–the little old ladies from America. Well, how about the big old ladies, since almost any American is taller than any Indonesian. I should say “big old lady” instead of “ladies” since Julie is in a wheel chair and does not count for this vertical comparison.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Wayan is our massage therapist. But he is more than a massage therapist. He knows and uses foot reflexology and polarity therapy. I know that my skull has been moved up and my hip down. I believe that only a Chiropractor, or equivalent thereof, is allowed to do that in America. I am now without pain, something that has never been accomplished by a massage therapist or a Chiropractor at home.
Wayan has had no formal training; he says that he learned from his grandfather. He seems dedicated to helping people who are having physical problems and spends a lot of time working on us sufferers. Laura has rheumatoid arthritis. He worked on her for over two hours until she was free of pain, and all this for his standard fee of about $7.00 in our money. It is because of this price that I have a massage every day. I am more mobile than I have been for a long time.
Wayan is an athlete. He teaches physical education at the local high school, and he is a runner. He was in the Indonesian Olympics and, even at 34, is the top runner in Bali and the fifth in Indonesia. He is in the prime of his life. He has a lovely, intelligent wife and two equally lovely children (Wayan and Maday). It is plain to see that he adores them. This is a country where children are never physically disciplined, and his children seem as relaxed as their parents.
He is also an artist. He invited Julie and me to his home, served us a cold drink (non-alcoholic) and when we noticed some canvases and wood carvings stacked against a far wall, were told that he was the artist but that the paintings were not finished– none of them were colored yet, he said, and some drawings were only half inked in. Both Julie and I got one just as they were and I got a parrot carved from a root.
Wayan is in the Monkey Chorus of the Kecak (pronounced “kejak”) with about eighty others. This is an enactment of one of the stories from the Upanishads in which the many members of the chorus sit around the outside of the performance circle, supposedly as monkeys, and make chattering noises–like, “Chack chack chack–chack chack–chack.”
He also does the Kris dance, which is part of the “Barong.” This is the one where the participants are put into a trance and lunge at each other with long wavy, double edged, pointed, very sharp knives. Such a knife is called a “Kris.” The lungees throw themselves on the knives even with their heads. The knives bend rather than penetrate the skin. Afterwards they pass the knives around to members of the audience and not even the strongest men can un-bend them. I mean, the blades are not soft. Julie says, “I think it’s a guy thing.”
Wayan asked us to come and see the Monkey Chorus and afterwards watch them try to stab each other. Later I carefully lifted the edge of his vest to see if he was dented. Nothing. Not even a scratch. We asked who puts them in a trance; does he do it himself or does the priest do it? The priest does it, but he allows it. And to think that they let children watch these things! I wonder how many of them go home afterwards and play at throwing themselves on knives. These men also dance barefoot through hot glowing coals from burning coconut shells, but Wayan wasn’t one of those dancers.
Wyan really likes Julie. When we went to the Kecak, he came early because he knew we would be there and sat and talked to us. And he came to us afterwards to help wheel Julie home. That was Saturday. When I told him Sunday night that a woman healer, Jero Tapakan, had invited Julie to stay at her compound for two weeks and that Julie had gone, he was thoughtful. Then he said, “She will be too hot there. No fan. And she can’t sit on the toilet.” He does not know Jero Tapakan and has never been to her compound but he knew there would be no electricity and that there would be rural toilets. These were my concerns also, especially about the toilet because Balinese toilets–not the ones in rental accommodations such as we were living in, but in ordinary homes—are only holes in the ground that one has to squat over. But can you imagine an American man saying something like that? When I told him that I wanted to come back to his place and photograph his remaining paintings, he beamed with pleasure and said, “When Julie gets back, you will both come again.”
His charm is not lost on Julie either. When he arrived at the Saturday night performance he was wearing his chorus costume: a sarong of black and white checked material from the waist down tied up between the legs, and a sleeveless, open fronted black vest edged with red. Oh yes, and a flower behind each ear–red on the right and white on the left so when the “monkeys” turn their heads in unison they flash red and white. It reminded me of that old song, “She wore a smile and a string of beads……..” but of course it is He, not She. I think their bodies are oiled. Julie whispered to me as we watched his performance, “He is just drop dead gorgeous”!
But he is so much more than just gorgeous. He has an energy. When he has me sit up with my back to him at the beginning of each massage so he can start on my neck, he puts his hands on my head and does a little prayer ritual. It is like a benediction. I tangibly feel that I am being blessed.
While Julie was gone, I was lucky enough to witness a funeral procession. This is a big thing in Bali. It is a long parade. The main feature is a huge black bull, probably 8 ft high, with the deceased inside it.
There is also a magnificent gold “coffin” at the front of the parade, but the body is put in the bull in order to fool the evil spirits. The bull is made of a light wood framework, covered with papier mache or perhaps felt. It has great gold horns, flaring nostrils and red around its eyes. It has gold hoofs and lavish gold trimmings around its neck. It is mounted on a platform which in turn is on an egg-crate type frame made of bamboo poles that cross each other making two-foot square sections. Each square around the edge holds a man who grasps the bamboo, lifts the frame and carries the bull. The procession went through the town and into the Monkey Park at the far end of Ubud where both the bull and the deceased were burned. There must have been at least twenty carriers and Wayan was one of them. When he saw me in the crowd, he gave me a huge smile. I felt so very honored!
Wayan! Wayan! Wayan! He is an all-of-one-piece, whole cloth, magical person! He is a new invention! He is the total man! He is so THERE–no pretense, no persona, just real and at ease. In a more ordinary American idiom I could say he is sincere, open, humorous, happy, knowledgeable, kind, loving, affectionate, talented. He has confidence, intelligence, grace. He has Grace! His eyes are magnetic. They look right into mine with candor and honesty. I feel like I’ve found a new glorious part of myself.
And tonight he told me quite matter-of-factly that he uses “dark energy.”
WHAT!? How? Why? Where? When? With whom? On me? Should I be in shock?
This revelation began during tonight’s massage when I asked him if he meditates. He said yes. Every day? Every day sometimes, like during the full moon and during the dark of the moon. Then he told me about dark energy. He has a teacher–not in Udud, but at the temple of the Bat Cave, Goa (cave) Lawah (bat), an hour’s drive from here. He goes there from time to time to learn from his teacher. The bat cave has thousands of bats. AND, it has snakes. AND, it has cockroaches. He did not know the English word for cockroaches so he drew a picture. AND, it is very dark. Wayan, our wonderful Wayan, goes there and sits in the dark among the bats and the cockroaches and the snakes, with all of them crawling over him, and meditates. Gulp. Why, I ask. To receive black energy. Why, I ask. So that he can be stronger, know more, be better at massage, at everything he does. Why is black energy better than “white” energy? It is not better, only different. He says all this, smiling into my eyes like a beautiful child and speaking the words carefully, patiently, so that I might understand his imperfect English.
David says their prime objective in life here is balance–balance between good and evil, black and white–balance in all things.
I think there is a lot we don’t know about the completeness of life.
Carl Jung would love it here.