Bali’s magical effects depend upon the receptivity of the visitor. Most western tourists experience little beyond the western-style hotels, bars and restaurants located on the beaches at Kuta and Seminyak. Such individuals miss the real magic of the island because they don’t experience Bali herself—a wild, spirit driven tropical paradise—home to a highly ordered culture in which the divine is integrated into daily life. For the openhearted and adventurous, Bali is a gift of discovery: discovery of self, beauty, and eternity.
Following a lifetime devoted to the study of our common humanity across the globe, Joseph Campbell pointed out that eternity is not a long time:
“Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.”
Our fast-paced North American lives leave little space in which to integrate this concept. In fact, the financial services community does its best to scare us into living for the future, to enjoy life later, when we’ve saved up enough money to retire. The madness of this prescription for living becomes clear when in Bali.
In Ubud I hired Ketut, the driver who’d met me at the airport, to take me on a tour of the area. We negotiated a rate and agreed upon a pick-up time. The next morning I sat in the hotel lounge at the appointed hour expecting to see the same man. However, Wayan introduced himself to me as my driver for the day. Disappointed, but not wishing to be rude, I agreed to go with him. He was known by the hotel staff and appeared safe, however, my suspicious western brain felt like I’d been hit with a bait and switch scheme.
In conversation with Wayan I learned of Ketut’s whereabouts. He had a family event at temple to attend that day, but he didn’t wish to say no to my request, so he recruited his friend to be my tour guide for the day. Understand this: since the bombings in 2002, the Balinese are “small in their bank accounts.” Most of them are poor. The cost to hire a car and driver for four hours is around $20.00. For Ketut to turn down a day’s pay was foolish to anyone whose mindset focuses on pure economics, but for the Balinese it was the right choice. Rituals, family, the gods, and society are the priorities of Balinese life. The Balinese take care of each other. They do not fear competition, although they are crafty entrepreneurs and good capitalists. They live in the now.
Each day at my hotel, I watched a woman walk from statue to statue throughout the building and its grounds, leaving offering baskets of flowers, spices, rice, and incense. She was in the now when she did this, her face serene and happy. She smiled and bowed to me when she left an offering on my terrace in front of a Ganesha statue. I doubt she was concerned about how this time spent affected her future retirement. Her eternity lay in the moment.
Balinese women spend about forty percent of their time tending to the family temple, and the making and distribution of offering baskets for daily, weekly, and special rituals. Their religion is an amalgam of Buddhism and Hinduism. Integrated into daily life, it brings the sacred into the present. This is a revolutionary idea to a person raised in a culture obsessed with the future: when I get this deal signed, I’ll go on vacation; after I save enough money I’ll ask the one I love to marry me; once I’m married I’ll feel secure; golf at St. Andrew’s will have to wait until I retire; eternal happiness is found in the afterlife.
Bali is all about love. Love of family. Love of vocation. Love of God. Love of self. Love of life. Today. Whenever I slip into my old patterns of anxiety about the future, I think of Bali and ask, “What is the one thing I can do in support of my highest ideals right now?” Then I go do it