i have been more out of bali than in bali in the last 2 months. i love travelling but – being part of green school community – it has become increasingly more difficult to ignore the consequences of my actions. some of my amazing fellow co-parents (apparently those who have more understanding of number science than i do..) took time to calculate their carbon footprint and inspired me to do so too. the results are very depressing. an average green school family’s carbon footprint is roughly the same as 32 balinese people. so yes, they do not have any waste management to speak of and some of them might be throwing their rubbish on the floor or down the river but we are much worse for the environment, air travel being the biggest culprit of all. the answer is a complete change of lifestyle and i must admit i’m not ready for it as yet. my account balance might push me in the right direction sooner than later but luckily – and again big thanks to more enlightened and diligent friends – there are some little ways to help the planet. i’ll share more at the end of the post, now back to my travels – with guilty conscience!
the first trip took me to a vipassana centre in malaysia. skip this part if meditation is of no interest to you! for those of you who have never heard of it – vipassana is a form of meditation and literally means ‘seeing things as they are’. if you decide to go for vipassana, you’ll commit yourself to staying for full 10 days following a few fairly radical restrictions (no phone, no books, no writing either, no talking, eye contact or touch, no intoxicants.. ) and meditate for about 10-11 hours a day. i had wanted to go for vipassana ever since i first heard of it from one of my lovely teachers 7 years ago. she was literally raving – calling it the best thing ever. as she has tried pretty much everything you can think of and plenty of things you surely can’t think of (she is in her 70-ties now and has led the most interesting life) it was clear to me that vipassana must be something special.
so here i was, 7 years later, finally embarking on a journey – direction within. i chose malaysia as being one of the closest to bali and also because i have heard good reports on the centre. as i am of a rather advanced age and rather spoiled too.. i was looking for a single room & bathroom. i know i know.. finally one sunny february day i arrived. quick look around and i saw majority of people were chinese – both from malaysia and mainland china. in the couple of hours of the first day, while we were still allowed to talk, surprisingly quick friendships formed – to be of a great solace later. soon i had to hand in my phone, pen, wallet.. everything personal. it was a strangely liberating feeling – not to have to check my whatsapp.. ((-; i entered the room – it was tiny, with a small bed & thin mattress, meditation cushion and bathroom. i got my first panic attack when i realised there was no toilet paper. they should have told me!!!! i would have brought it!!! (like i always bring it to my annual yoga retreat in czech, where they give you sandpaper instead 😉 luckily the panic was unfounded as i could get some rolls later (-; while examining the room (and while picking up hair from the pillow) i had to laugh and think of my glamorous friend from bali who used to enter hotel rooms with ultraviolet light checking the cleanliness – including the space under the bed (-; after i checked my room we got some food – there was another panic attack as the food was chinese and i did not like it at all. my crazy attachment to good food became crystal clear as the days progressed and i found myself again and again obsessing about it.. but realising that i would be fed at 6:30 am and 11 am – and THAT’S IT – really helped me to come to terms with the food and (with a bit of stretch of imagination) even enjoy it.
we had our first meditation and off to bed. on day 1 – and every other day that followed – i was woken up by a gong at exactly 4 am. 4:30 till 6:30 first meditation and the day rolled on. nobody is used to sitting on the floor for 10 hours a day – ideally without moving much – and the pain was excruciating to start with. from my previous meditation attempts i knew the mind will go wild when i still my body – and i was prepared for the endless movies of alternative realities played behind closed eyes. what i didn’t expect was the phone screen there – and the mind eye clicking on various icons. it showed me how much the phone became part of myself – and forced me to rethink a thing or two about my lifestyle. in the evening, when i finally stretched my body on the bed i was sometimes crying from pain.. and couple of times i was woken up in the middle of the night by strange loud noises – just to realise it were my bones/joints cracking as i was turning around (-; on the 5th day the pain suddenly stopped and i could sit and sit.. and missed the pain as there was really nothing to hold on to when the pain was gone and i was left facing myself only!
i had some entertainment though – when i signed up for the course i hadn’t realised it will be led in english and mandarin. so all instructions, for meditation or other things, were read in both languages. i feel like i listened for hours and hours to something totally incomprehensible. any european language (ok maybe apart from finnish and hungarian) would make a little bit of sense… but mandarin? in 10 days i was only able to remember one word – ibufen – and just because it reminded me of brufen (-; mandarin was present in my days and in my dreams too!!! some days were harder than the other ones but it was amazing to feel the gradual stilling of my mind. sometimes i heard my co-meditators crying their hearts out and felt their pain like my own, sometimes i felt i was alone in the entire universe. there were funny moments too – like listening to my next door neighbour who from day 1 was obsessed with cleaning – she spent every free moment (and sometimes parts of her meditation time) on scrubbing the floors, toilet, sweeping the floor, washing her hair.. first i thought she really wanted to have her room clean but it became apparent that was her way of dealing with reality. i can’t complain – when you can’t do anything there is nothing better than an eccentric neighbour to keep you entertained! i really can’t comment on my internal experiences as i think everybody has to go through it on their own but as difficult as it sometimes was i really liked the whole stay. nature, stunning stars at 4 a.m., the peaceful atmosphere of the centre, the endless hours of meditation, shy dog and even shier monitor lizard, the dharma talks.. and the incredible women i met! finally last day we were able to hug each other and share our tears and laughter.
my dear friend steph was parting with me with “you’ll be a new woman when you come back” and i felt uncomfortable.. i actually like the woman i am, i don’t want to become someone else i thought. i shouldn’t have worried. some layers of ignorance might have peeled off but there is so much to do.. i am still myself (-;
it felt weird to leave the sheltered world jumping straight back into family life – with holidays coming up. we decided to stay ‘local’ and explore one of the 17.000 indonesian islands – flores. it’s a rather big island and if we wanted to see the whole place we would pretty much spend our days in the car. we didn’t feel like it and chose instead to stay put – in a little place close to the town of maumere. flores, unlike hindu bali or muslim java, it is mostly christian but it wouldn’t be indonesia if it didn’t have its own twist on religion. first – to our western eyes – weird thing were the graves. they weren’t in a cemetery as we are used to seeing them but next to each house. florenese people bury their dead literally on their doorstep/front yard and create the most beautiful tombs for them. the grave is part of the inhabited space and you can see people drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes or just chatting while sitting on the crypt. worshiping ancestors is very important in indonesia and the fact that they have them ‘at home’ all the time makes the daily ceremonies easier. i felt like it wouldn’t be bad at all to be able to talk to my relatives each time i stepped out of the door! it limits your possibilities to move though (-;
we stayed in a little diving resort and at first were a bit taken aback by its – let’s say simplicity? lack of luxury? – or maybe even more taken aback by our own reaction to it. however very soon we found ourselves enjoying every bit! dan and kids (all 3) were diving and snorkelling, we explored a huge cave full of bats and the highlight of the trip was a visit to local village. boys didn’t really want to go (village and culture is so boring you know..) but when the first thing they got offered after arriving there was arak, followed by lontar cigarettes and betel to chew, they considerably cheered up. we enjoyed some local dance (i was so grateful for arak.. as otherwise i find these activities highly embarrassing 😉 and amazing ikat (local fabric) production.
back in the resort kids spent hours playing on the beach, collecting shells and seaglass, we all read books, played games (often with head torches as power cuts were a daily occurrence), watched amazing sunsets and ate great food. inspired by vipassana i decided this was going to be an electronic free holiday – and we have never made a better decision. boys were in a dire need of a digital detox and the whole week was unusually peaceful. dan and myself had our phones for taking pics but as there was neither signal nor wifi we were pretty much detoxing too. linda fell in love with two resident dogs and the resident mice fell in love with linda’s clothes – as we found out when leaving. we fell in love with the amazingly kind owners who made us feel at home. if you go to flores visit Ankermi.
my third trip led me to india. i spent an amazing week practicing yoga and chatting incessantly with old and new girlfriends and my extraordinary teachers. i savoured the tranquility of an out of this world yoga place full of peacocks and monkeys in tiruvannamalai, stuffed myself with delicious food and most of all enjoyed the nourishing presence of supportive women. i loved every moment of it! we walked up arunachala – one of india’s holly mountains – and visited sri ramana maharshi ashram. listening to the morning chants of devotees was a strong experience and not one that goes easily into my (kind of) rational western mind. if i still have any left (-;
after the retreat i visited pondicherry and auroville and was surprised (as i am surprised again and again) how many totally fascinating places exist on this earth – and i have never even heard of them! luckily my ignorance is of no consequence (-; pondicherry with its promenade, french white town, french restaurants and french speaking staff was something i really didn’t expect. this french flair combined with indian vivacity, mess, colours, smells & scents was indeed something that kept me on my toes. some great shopping too (-; auroville was another world altogether. an experimental township founded by mirra alfassa known as ‘the mother’ aims to be a place of progressive harmony and realisation of human unity. in the very centre of auroville you can find the matrimandir – a place of meditation. the place has a rather eerie atmosphere (if i ever did such a thing that’s how i would imagine the scientology headquarters 😉 ) but definitely worth visiting. and contemplating.
after all the travel i was more than happy to enjoy delights of ubud ((-;
here i am back to where i started – how to mitigate all of my travels. if you want to calculate how much carbon you produce, you can use the following page: Carbon Footprint and you can also offset your carbon directly on that page. as i said previously – offsetting your carbon footprint is not a solution to global warming and devastation of our planet – but i feel that every little act helps. here is another page where you can support tree planting across africa and india – as i have done to offset 33 tons of carbon dioxide that our family produced in 2018 )-: How to Offset
congratulations if you made it all the way down.. promise to make it shorter next time!
stay well (-;