For best outcome: this blog is best read in conjunction with images in flickr 2012 July Yoga Retreat Photos and in your leisure. For more info on the retreat click www.baliashramyoga.com and on the ashram www.ashramgandhi.com Enjoy!
Aspects of the retreat at a glance
♣ Our wish: An affordable yoga-filled week of retreat led by accomplished practitioners dedicated to this ancient art as a way to a healthier and better way of living; interspersed with spiritual and nostalgic tours or activities strived to capture some of the ‘morning of the world’ feel of olden Bali; yet to allow flexibility to best cater for each individual’s preferred mix of choices of non-core activities through smaller sized ‘sub-groupings’ and, finally; to complement all this with the enriching experience of community service, values and milieu that is unequivocally Gedong Gandhi Ashram at Candidasa.
♣ Our commitment: Affordability is relative, circumstances vary. We are acutely mindful that to some, especially those a long way from our Ashram, it’s very special and a privilege to attend the retreat. Hence our commitment that we’ll do our utmost to see that it stays special for you, and that all your needs and requirements are attended to to the best of our ability.
♣ We celebrate: ♦A first firsts for us – two repeat attendees hence congratulations to Michele and Rachel ♦Another first is the full attendance with shared occupancy of all the larger bungalows for maximised accommodation (and I believe some warm friendships were struck between the ‘roomies’) yet still having to commandeer two bungalows from the next door hotel. Timing the retreat with Australian July school holidays was obviously the enabler for many to come (we can’t claim all the credits as the call was partly influenced by position of the moon – no kidding as a purnama/full moon does help having a Purnama Puja program – and Rachel’s persuasive lobbying for school hols so she could come again finally swayed us to the final outcome, so thank you Rachel!). However, despite all that I think we still retain that distinct international flavour of past retreats with participants/teachers representing 6 countries – perhaps in keeping with the Ashram’s founder’s strong internationalist and inter-faith
stands. ♦Being able to do the core activities as a group (most morning yogas, purnama puja or agni-hotra/fire puja ceremony on a hilltop temple or opportunistic ‘harvesting’ of the Candidasa temple odalan/birthday ceremony right on our doorstep which enabled our group and ashram members to pray there, as well as to see the authentic dance performances by and for village people and for ‘ring-ins’ like our group! (for which we made a good contribution to the temple as a token of our appreciation) ♦Having the flexibility, as needed, to downsize the group into smaller sub-groups therefore allowing more varieties of mix-match-n-modify tours or activities to better suit the individuals (be it snorkeling, visit to Pasir Putih or the water palace on the tip of Bali’s
eastern coast, ‘customised’ trekking, acupuncture treatment or those endless massages!). Even with the yoga we have some additional flexibility thanks to having the very able Dutch volunteer/yoga teacher, Edme, to help prepare the Bale Yoga (yes I’ve been very spoiled as it allows me the luxury of thinking of strategy instead of operational about the program and the Ashram – euphemism for the rare moments of ‘not doing much’ while the retreat was on?) and also to augment the 3 times a week yoga of Pak Kawi, our resident yoga teacher. Edme’s yin-yoga was quite a hit with the group (and later the guests, casual local expats or guests from nearby hotels) and, as usual, Yvonne with her solid yoga sessions provide the bedrock that enables yoga from the other teachers to blossom and the group to experience and appreciate the variety. We definitely will be actively recruiting experienced yoga teaching as the highly sought after skill-set in the Ashram’s volunteers program! ♦Last but not least, it was so pleasing to see that the group gels so well with camaraderie of genuine care, respect and generosity towards each other. I can still picture the lively discussions and bantering around the ‘table’ during and after meals
and chatting in small groups around the water bottle/hot drinks next to Bale Yoga. It was so great to see and even better to partake – a credit and thanks to all of you! My only regret, that simply there was not enough time to talk more with many of you in the group.
♣ Highlights: ♦For me the Purnama Puja still rates highly especially after the puja, devouring the sumptuous food offerings as that night’s dinner served on banana leaves -camping style – and sharing them with Ashram members.
Huddled to try to keep warm in semi darkness under small flash-lights were simply magic moments evoking the experience of the many ordinary rural Balinese families after they perform their total bhakti/devotion through their puja followed by ravenous consumption of the now blessed food offerings as “leftovers from the gods” or lungsuran which brings good health and well-being (which stands to reason: healthy food with plenty of fruits, and the unwavering bhakti frame-of-mind like devotion, total surrender plus a dose of ‘attitude of gratitude‘ that Yvonne mentions in her every class – which is in fact being in some state of meditation! ie nourishing both the body and soul). I also recall hearing some happy discoveries of yummy local delicacies and sweets that were in the food offerings! (which sadly I missed out on as, by time I finished my second helping or so plus some nibbles at some dishes of the main meal, they were all gone. Yes I have to learn to let go of the childhood instincts of fiercely competing for the – scarce – food as one of unruly six boys – and our ‘saintly’ mother wasn’t a push-over either!).
♦The other highlight was the Farewell Night with full costume dance performances, the genjek capella from the members that got the good humored retreat participants to join the dance and, as per usual, polished guitar playing by Kawi and his band of merry Ashramites doing songs including kirtan, hymns etc. The retreat group ‘reply’ was no match but still vigorously led by Suzanne which kicked on into a jamming session till late at night, but sans members for they had to be up for the 5 am morning puja!
♣ Surprises – all good!: ♦’Music Box’ Suzanne with her melodica, and later with kindergarten’s keyboard, really made me wish I could play musical instrument/s or sing better! (no, not asking for much! and being very busy leading up to the retreat and, hence, rusty with the guitar was the lame excuse!). ♦Also worthy of a mention was young Zoe with her drawing classes for the members and for our group which I hear were big hits (and sorry that I was otherwise occupied with the other sub-group to join). ♦And Boyd with his IT networking skill was also drafted to troubleshoot our temperamental wifi and esp so with Apple devices. Thank you Boyd! ♦I can go on and on about all the others from the group which simply confirms that, in our own ways, we are all specials!
♣ Downsides:Susan’s bad runs starting with her back (I believe courtesy of Virgin’s cramped seating as I had similar problem myself with their seat with very limited recline adjustment, plus via Perth with its very disorganised bus transfer there from domestic to international terminals: whereas the seating on the return flight with JetStar was much better and even better with direct flight at night, hence, sleep), then with some stomach bug (and now if you will excuse me for a moment while I collect my ‘cash for comment’ from JetStar!). Fortunately Yvonne was able to minimise the adverse effect with some modified poses. I think Susan made up some ground in later sessions and her extended stay with some highlight trips to the Gili islands in Lombok proved to be a boon.
♣ The (fitness) fanatics: Suzanne started it all inquiring innocuously about running on the street in the morning. Mindful of the hazard of early morning traffic and the potentially xenophobic Bali village dogs I suggested instead of running around the lake. She was a little bit doubtful if the lake was big enough so suggested that perhaps Jackson and I will keep her company (and Jackson said yes so I was stuck! and fyi the lake circuit which we later measured with a motorbike’s odometer proved to be the not to be sniffed 600 meters in length, and felt even longer when you were as I was – well, the only way to describe it – stuffed!). It eventually grew to four with Wendy and Sherry also coming to the party therefore rendering yours truly to the perennial Aussies of the London Olympics – just keep missing out on the medals! Oops, sorry folks but it is still a big mystery to me about this image of the laid-back, easy going even egalitarian or non-elitist Aussies except when it comes to sports when the schizophrenic sides of elitism, super human efforts or demented passions to excel/win suddenly kick in and rule – so go figure! But the lake circuit is certainly a nice running track with some variety in its non geometrical shape, one short sandy stretch near the ‘estuary’ and a number of little steps to keep away the boredom of circuit running. To see the daylight coming over the hill and life comes to the village is also a nice experience .It also made for a rather hectic day for those who tried to ‘max’ the retreat (like yours truly) with 5 am morning puja to then just make it to the 5.45 or 6 am jog (yes starting with flashlights for some, and even a bigger surprise bumping into the sweaty but fit-looking Tracey who’d just finished her climbing up and down the steps alongside the CD temple) followed by a quick mandi (Indonesian style wash by repeated scooping and splashing oneself with a quantity of water using a large plastic ‘ladle’ from a trough ‘bath’ which, in the cold mornings of Bali in July is akin to diving to a cold pool.. brrrr – but very refreshing once you are in! It beats a cold shower any time and much better at washing oneself) to be ready for the 7 am yoga. Apart from an hour and half break for breakfast and to allow the food to go down, then yoga which at times only broken by the 12.30 pm gong for lunch (and I’ve been known to have paid the price during some of the rather relaxed nidra at the end of the sessions!).
♣ Action ‘person’: Would have to go to Tracey with her effervescent energy and “pushing one’s comfort zone” quote when we were discussing difficult trekking and physical challenges. Emboldened (funny how some people/phrases subliminally influence you) I canvassed the idea of tackling the over the yonder temple on the hill from the main road but instead of the normal return to base to proceed past the temple through the steep descent through largely unmade track toward Candidasa. Pak Sadra (the Ashram’s Vice Chair) told me once about his romantic journey with other Ashram members, but also warned me that it was hard trekking (and my grey matter conveniently overlooked the fact that it was many years ago in his youth!). I almost came to rue that as there we were ‘stranded’ and too far to return back via the temple as, apart from the steep gradient, the other killer was the loose stones that prevent any sort of grip. We were all knackered and hungry, yup another ambitious “..we can fit it in before Ashram’s 8.30 am breakfast!”. With the responsibility of the retreat that starts the very next day on my not so broad shoulder, I was really worried about injury to the overworked joints to any of my partners in crime – Tracey, Michele, Sherry and Ashram’s guest Lucy but mostly about my dodgy ACL. We could see the Ashram down below as if we could almost touch it, but it felt like hours after some more hard negotiation of the tracks (asked a farmer for direction and was told to keep going down those very ‘impossible’ tracks that we were hoping to avoid) before we finally got back into ‘civilisation’ and the ‘main’ road! Though initially unmade road but a road never the less with sure footing and hazard free, and sure beats the treacherous unmade tracks we’d just been through (and late breakfast never felt so good).
♣ Coincidences?: Longish story but bear with me and if you are in a hurry – simply skip this one. The Sunday morning after the retreat when most participants were preparing to check out but typically the three ‘balls of energy’ Tracey, Sherry and Suzanne were trying to squeeze ‘the last juice out of staying at the Ashram’ and fit in a trekking before the transport arrives (sounds familiar?) to take them to Ubud and Amed. An ambitious three hour full trekking to the ancient village Tenganan were abandoned for a makeshift drive to Tenganan then a trek to the back of the village toward the Tenganan hill, which they did right to the top. They came back with this strange news of being practically in the middle of nowhere and bumping into an Australian sitting in the sun – reading the Bhagavad Gita! Next day a young ‘tourist’ rocked up making Om Swastiastu greetings and started conversing with me in high Balinese! I was gobsmacked. Turned out he had been searching high and low from Candidasa to Amlapura looking for a good Indonesian – English dictionary for his (turned out later, anthropologist) mother who lives in Budakeling. I turned to Jackson who was on his netbook to search on the Ashram’s online catalog under ‘dictionary’ and the young ‘tourist’ was so delirious with happiness when he saw the ‘classic’ Echols – Shadily and proceeded to borrow it. He was so happy to have found the Ashram and the dictionary (“Not only a dictionary, but the best one around and Mum would be so happy!”). Curious I asked him on how he found out about us/the Ashram and his reply was he’d met three ladies the day before who’d been doing yoga retreat at the Ashram, and mentioned about library! He has been to Bali and rode past the Ashram many times but virtually without knowing of its existence until there was the need, and that chance meeting with the gals! Just confirmed Ibu, my mother’s life long belief about the Ashram that those who need, want and were meant to come to the Ashram, would find it all in its good time. Indeed and at the exquisitely right time! The other amazing thing, shortly afterwards Ibu Mas, Chair of the Ashram and a retired primary school principal arrived and squealed: “Made Gede, Made Gede!” and proceeded to give him a big hug and started telling me that she used to nurse and feed this ‘boy’ as an 8 – 9 year old in her school after hours. How coincidental was that? Best was it intrigued Jackson as they struck a rapport and eventually became friends and he has now inspired Jackson to learn Balinese (and proceeded to search the online catalog and came up with an excellent Balinese Grammar book that was left there by Ashram’s and Ibu’s long time friend Ms Robin Tatu during one of her many Bali visits for her Doctorate). It does make one wonder about these series of coincidences, and the mounting evidence of synchronicity?
♣ Coincidences? #2: A last minute registrant, Sarah, who booked the last available seat on her flight from Malaysia, when asked kindly shared her story about how she found out about the retreat or the Ashram. Originally she was planning to come to Bali just for a visit with a friend who pulled out at the last minutes but told her of a dream where a name was heard saying Ibu Gedong and suggested Sarah to Google it. She did and that’s how she found out about the Ashram, and the yoga retreat, and contacted me to extend the final payment date deadline and the rest is history! She was a great and fully participating member of the group, had a great time (I think) and I had a great time having a number of chats with her about the Ashram and its background that she was quite interested in. Rather spooky but again reminding me of Ibu’s tenet about when one is meant to, one will get to the Ashram (along with the Buddhist saying on the same vein ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”). Another also just came to mind when just a few days prior to the retreat and I received an sms from Panji, a son of a cousin whom I have a lot of time for and who’s a guide with g-adventure saying that he was in Lombok and that he had one of our retreat participants with him. Scanning through the guest list I guessed correctly that it was Sherry, and small world indeed. He was scheduled to drop in during the retreat to say hi to both Sherry and me but a last minute changes to work program thwarted that. However, that got us communicating about networking and now look forward to skype-call him this week when we both have a bit of time (something that we both had vaguely intended in the past but now we both have better ideas of where the other is coming from, such as he’s interested in our daily yoga at the Ashram for his guests). In the mean time I’ve introduced him with Lombok/Gili bound Tracey (actually via the unmentionable social network site else I’d be due for my ‘cash for comments’ again) and I believe that though unfortunately he was elsewhere on his Java – Bali – Lombok tour he did give Tracey valuable tips about Lombok. Good to know as Lombok has been my weak area (though I have been there a few times, our family even has an ancestral family temple there) therefore happy to have a person of knowledge and trust whom I can refer guests to. All because Sherry innocuously booked in both our programs! And there was something else.. nah though true but one of you may want to shoot me for rambling on this but suffice to say that on this trip I kept stumbling upon possibilities. The world is simply moving far too fast for me!
♣ We listen: This is where we will, dear retreat participant/guest/ friend/reader, leave ourselves totally at your ‘mercy’ for your valuable input which we will be very grateful for. We can only move forward with such honest appraisals. We dared to dream – and we should be brave enough to hear the criticisms and grounded enough (heavens!) with the praises! If you are inclined to (write – yup it’s best to get it off one’s chest!) please refer to the end paragraph of this blog.
♣ Vale Pak Tjebur: I Made Tjebur (no I wasn’t playing God and just created him!, it’s his full name, ee-mud-eh for second born child) , the mysterious long time member of the Ashram, barely seen or heard but always the first one to front up at the 5 am morning puja, wrapped to the neck in his cloth like sarong, passed away quietly in the early hours of July 23. He has been an ‘ornament’ and symbol of continuity at the Ashram whose connection with the founding family actually predates that of the Ashram by more than a decade. In his later life at the Ashram he was a picture of detached saduwho goes about his business with minimum of fuss to others or guests, only seen but rarely heard (so the picture of him
and Zoe taken by mum Louise was so great, as apparently there were attempts at communication. Thank you to Louise for taking what turned out to be the last picture of him). He seemed to have timed his departure with that minimum fuss in mind that he always was in life. Fuss free and quietly (one hopes also peacefully) – and a mysterious loner to the end (some guests would remember him as the person sitting behind us at the back, as always, eating quietly). We from the Ashram all made the visit to his village that very day and we made our contribution to the family as he was then to be buried for some time (his family called it doing his time or service to the village, normally about a year, until the village holds a mass cremation for all the requirements are completed). Kawi led a moving mantram recital in his honour and farewell to a fellow Ashram member, at his family’s home. Om Shantih Pak Tjebur!
Apologies for the late posting of the blog. Obviously with me a clear block of uninterrupted time was needed to upload pictures, gather thought and write – something that was just not possible in the hurly-burly of overseeing the retreat or the Ashram. Inevitably, an unavoidable task or person or guest appears that I have now resigned to the fact that for me Ashram time is information immersion and gathering time. As my extended stay there this time did affect the writing of the blog from the reasonable time criteria, I may have to change this by locking myself up in a room somewhere at the Ashram and do my lone ‘meditation’ (as Gandhi observed, immersing oneself doing one’s svadharma or task in life is a form of meditation). I shall try but as a caution, a long time friend of the Ashram and noted composer (who regularly spends his working holidays at the Ashram) confided to me a while ago over the phone, his most effective work was to be elsewhere in Bali, then come to the Ashram to savour and participate in the Ashram life! So you appreciate the reality of the challenge, hence, no promises – merely a statement of intent.
Having said that I’m pleased with the little things and the small advances that we have achieved for the Retreat and with the Ashram as we continue to strive to improve our operations with its many challenges. I am just in awe and very grateful for the high caliber team of senior members, friends and volunteers who collectively keep the day to day Ashram operations running, as well as help map out its future direction and navigate through the challenges ahead. Not to mention the hard working members who deliver the goods, day in day out, and without whom our retreat would not have run as successfully as it has.
As for the retreat, the above was just my take of the July one but as usual the opinion that really counts is that of the participants of the retreat and other Ashram’s friends and guests. Or the opinion of those considering the future retreat or visiting the Ashram. To that we encourage you to comment on the blog or, if you prefer, write to the mail box listed in http://www.baliashramyoga.com Alternatively for those of you already on FB, the platform is already ready made for you through our Gedong Gandhi Ashram page http://www.facebook.com/ashramcandidasa
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih Om
Melbourne, Australia, August 2012