Well here I am writing about the last retreat, almost a month later – again! and there goes the resolution about writing and uploading in real time on the go which for now will remain ‘aspirational’. Thanks to Luis and Marieke for contributing the photos – don’t know how to sort out if more contributed – but still not too late for the gallery!
First, messages. To the crew: Please after reading this all write your comments of the week at the Ashram and the Retreat, esp those who forgot to write on the Ashram book! Other readers: just enjoy and write your comments also as you see fit. To our teacher, Jennifer: it was great having you at the Ashram and leading our sessions, and comments from all your non-regular students have been very positive. It’s been awesome and hope you won’t tire crossing the equator just yet and more Nyepi Retreats in the future (and I am also very happy to report, without doubts, that now we have two awesome teachers leading all our coming retreats!). And to all the crew and participants, again: Thank you for being such good sports and simply living the yoga and the new experiences and adventures this retreat had to offer. Apologies if boundaries were pushed a bit further at times, rest assured some were due to the wrong info! But, on the other hand, a good quote from Jen that resonates very well with me was Yoga is about dealing with all situations, thank you Jen! and I think in the end we all agree that a little adversity will only make us that little bit stronger and more resilient.
For more photos/gallery kindly visit Ashram and our Yoga Retreats Photo Galleries
The days up to Nyepi – Bali’s New Year’s Day of Silence
9 – 12 March 2013. The first couple of days of the retreat was about ‘easing’ us into the yoga, certainly relatively speaking as I found Jen’s yoga was never anything but rigorous! Then the tours starting with the early Hindu settlement Tenganan visit, and we were very lucky to secure Pak Sadra, Ashram vice chair, regional MP, Tenganan native and ex village chief to show us around, such as with the intricacies of the very double ikat traditional weaving method. Even if we had to re-schedule yoga sessions, which we duly did. ‘Flexibility’ indeed is not a mere motto with our retreats, it’s a necessity to get maximum value as proven many times in past retreats. Also a reminder of the quote about Yoga earlier. Yoga in that afternoon was followed with observing preparation for Ogoh-Ogoh or the effigies of all that is evil in our lives, for later parade by the noisy and rowdy youth to scare off the forces of evils before its final burning to symbolise being rid off rid of or cleansing from all these evil things that are within us. And start the New Year afresh with better spiritual awareness to keep us within the right path.
Photos: Tenganan visit, Ogoh-Ogoh and Yoga
The following morning, Nyepi Day (Nyepi from Balinese and Indonesian word sepi meaning silence), is the antithesis of the previous night’s noisy and rowdy Ogoh-Ogoh. It’s about spending the first day of the new year to still one’s mind and reflect on one’s life through the process of refrain from any work/activities except for spiritual pursuits which began in earnest from sunrise 6 am to sunrise 6 am the following morning. No fire, lights, cars or pedestrians on the road except for emergency vehicles, airport closed as our options were reduced to yoga, meditation or reading materials from the extensive Gandhian library. But yoga is indeed the central theme of the retreat and it has been nothing but superb yoga from Jen with a welcome change of pace in the late afternoon with Kawi’s house yoga session. We had a number of ‘refreshers’ and it’s a credit to Jen and Kawi that they all left the retreat grateful for the sessions and some has written to me about ‘transformation’ and difference it made and who would now take up yoga regularly. It certainly makes it all worth it. Yes, phones and wifi were turned off or their use refrained. A rather eerie day (but forgot to take the photo of the totally deserted Candidasa main road and not a soul in sight – even the infamous Bali’s wandering stray dogs seemed to get the message and stayed indoor!). It was delightful to hear the more pronounced sound of the birds, especially at the 5 am puja time but also throughout the day, as if trying to coax and bring back the normal man made noise and disturbances they were more accustomed to.
Day 1 post Nyepi – a leap from little to hyper activities?
Wed 13 March 2013. This was a strange morning with the day known as Ngembak Geni or the re-lighting of the fire to mark the end of Nyepi and its restrictions. I had a number of activities planned for the group partly to make up for ‘lost’ time from the Nyepi’s imposed ‘house arrest’ and also to make the most of the good weather as it could turn nasty very quickly into its dark monsoon (and it is about planning and dealing with all situations, plus flexibility, perhaps key ingredients for a good approach to life). But after that it was a shade of military precision for the group (and I did hear a few light-hearted grumbles!). It was my normal 5 am Puja with the members and the eerie expectation waiting for the first hum of a distant vehicle to break our peace in the pauses between the morning puja mantra. The group activity kicked off with a 6 am (fantastic) Yoga with Jen, 7.45am we were on the boat (packed with fruit salad and yogurt for our breakfast in between the swims, a first for the retreat but was a great success which enabled us to stay on the sea much longer) to take us snorkeling at Candidasa’s own ‘Gili’ (or small islands, but not amenable to landing, which was just as well to preserve the place and its temples from curious snorkelers like us). We were lucky with the good weather to give us a good view of the ‘rising from the sea’ Mt. Agung behind the Candidasa hills and to our east a view of the even taller Mt. Rinjani in distant Lombok, even with some morning cloud cover (and humble gratitude to Luis who kindly acceded – as he has throughout the retreat and to just about everyone I know, a real gentleman! – to take the shots of both mountains for me with his real deal SLR as I was a bit too precious to bring my much more humble compact!). Lessons throughout the retreat and there were plenty more from so many teachers. Gratitude to all directions was another quote.
Photos: Early morning Yoga, snorkeling near Candidasa
We had a fantastic time snorkeling ‘almost’ to our hearts content, with breakfast break around 10 am or so, just in time before we jumped in the water again! The view, the weather, the underwater vista (no we had no luck with turtle or dolphin sightings but we saw zillions of fish! wish we had an underwater camera – Barb, any picture from yours?), the good company, made one appreciate more the blessings we’ve had. Can see why Bali ancient sages selected temple sites with amazing views, definitely very conducive to reflection and meditation (perhaps experiencing Nyepi in Bali for the first time in decades had stirred something dormant from my childhood upbringing). We finally managed to drag ourselves back at the Ashram shortly after midday and all had to get quickly ready for our 12.30 pm lunch – and dressed in appropriate and respectful Balinese outfit suitable for scaling a holy mountain – naturally with holy temples. Yup, a couple more things on the day’s agenda (for the unsuspecting crew) as the urgency and responsibility of organising for a group of people snapped me back a little from the dreamy reflections!
Photos: At Ashram, roadside shrine and start of climb
Well shortly after lunch we gathered the troops for photo-shoot in front of the Ashram with some members who would accompany us on the climb. This is a little known mountain which was unknown to me too so I had to rely on the info from a member whose village is nearby. “About half hour climb” (at the time I completely overlooked that he’s barely 20 and insanely fit and agile) was the reply therefore allowing for prayer and ‘replenishment’ time if we were to start at the base around 3 pm, there’d be ample time for the climb and an off-site yoga on the drive home. Someone asked me whether flip-flop would suffice and, looking back, regretted my then rather ‘flippant’ answer that the previous mountain we climbed the members wore just that (sorry Jacci, and possibly others!). Tight schedule but doable says ‘Raudacious’ (Jacci’s nick name for this audacious? tour organiser but only much later, after we returned to – sans yoga on the way home as per our script! – and reminisced over well deserved quiet drinks at Candidasa). Pics above with us stopping on roadside shrines is part of the Balinese way of asking for blessings as well as permissions from the spirits to share the path and the space during our journey (again not a bad practice about being respectful of other beings and places, and sharing as opposed to owning it) and the picture of the rather ‘innocuous’ looking steps at the start of the climb. How deceiving as we were to find out later about the steps! Or, to be precise, the quick end to such neat, paved steps.
Earlier the warning lights were flashing when we arrived at the base of the climb just before 3 pm and the temple priest wanted to know if we were intending to go all the way to the top temple. Absolutely. “Did you bring any torches?” Ah what for? “First time climbers normally take 2 hours up, 2 hours down, that is if no rain falling in the mean time.” Indeed dark cloud was circling the mountain and a quick consultation with some team members, to call off the climb for another time and to just pray at the base temple and do yoga on the way back but the message back was a resolute “..we are here already and we’ll climb like mountain goat and will do it in no time!” (this priceless quip will remain anonymous but you know who you are!). So off we went.
Past the base temple and it became apparent soon enough that there was no more paved steps but just chiseled out tree roots here and there remotely resembling ‘steps’and still wet apparently from two days of rain on the mountain. It gets much steeper to more than 60 degree incline rendering the climb to very difficult in my book, and even slower to descend as someone with unstable knee like yours truly would recognize instantly. Three of us with similar concerns were quickly weighing the risks of the descend, two wisely decided not to proceed and there’s no guessing who was the crazy one (must be the low oxygen mountain air impairing the rational decision making). As the pics above may or may not show, it was testing my (lack of) fitness to the limits as soon it relegated me to the distant tail end of the party (it looks much closer in the pic only because the gradient was so steep! and the smile was only for the camera).
Photos: The journey - and the ecstasy!
The next pic was the welcome relief from the others seeing me making one of the landmarks (are we there yet?). The other pics were the picture of reliefs and rejoicing at making it to the top. It wasn’t just the difficult climb but also the racing against the time which put the pressure and also the thought of not letting your team down, or stuck in nowhere land overnight! The very agile and fit young temple priest kept telling me that “..those girls from your group are very fit!” (I know, I know, they ought to be and I’m proud of them but I think it was his way of saying that I wasn’t doing too badly considering!). But the amazing thing was the young Ashramites in their flip-flops and carrying the offerings/food on their head (hands-free) gracefully and effortlessly negotiating the track without (seemingly) even a rise in their pulse rate. Youth and village non-sedentary clean living must have lots to do with it. But we made it yay! and momentarily forgetting the equally hard task, if not harder, to descend. We prayed at the temple at the top then recuperated a little by sharing those fruits and sweets in the offering. Then I made a very smart decision in grabbing a decent 1.5 meter something tree branch pole which I really think enabled me to do the descend relatively easily even with the dodgy ACL (just to provide balance and take pressure of the troublesome knee at the right time, a real pleasant surprise as I’ve never thought of using a walking stick/pole before). We descended in good time considering the conditions weren’t conducive to increase one’s speed but was acutely aware of the threat of darkness and rain to keep going. We were in the cars by 6.20pm and had to drive with headlights on, well ahead of the priest’s estimate but just in time (and very thankful for that as we had, apart from a few minor but perhaps ‘ego bruising’ falls, a fairly incident free journey).
Photos: OTW Home stopped for a fam temple ceremony/girls in trance
Driving home (after lovely coffee at our very hospitable temple priest’s friend, as his own house is some distance away on foot – the last thing we needed!) just by chance we saw one of the locals’ temple ceremony with some girls getting into deep trance and, despite our anxiety to get back and have some tucker (that’s Oz for food) we opted to stop and have a look. However, it then turned into the not so uncommon (in Bali) with some holy daggers (called keris) being produced,one at a time, from their temple storage and some of the girls in trance, in turns, and at the urging of the crowd, started the ngurek or attempting but unable to, skewer or pierce their chest with the dagger. I have seen it elsewhere in Bali but for girls, as far as I know, it is unheard of and must be peculiar to that village alone. Another flexibility with what a chance ceremony to see!
More Yoga – Anywhere!
14 – 16 March 2013.
Photos: More Yoga - Anywhere!
The Nyepi Retreat’s Formal Dinner
14 March 2013.
Photos: Awesome spread - and the salivating members & yogis!
This was a nice buffet style dinner with the hard working members who looked after us so well throughout the retreat. And my clumsy effort at taking 360 degree photos around the dining table in the main house.
The ‘entertainment’ was opened by the accomplished guitar playing Kawi with some group kirtan and, later with some popular and spiritual songs, and some singing and musical efforts from the guests with opening by Trish and touching support from Luis singing their rendition of Indonesian song ‘Halo, Halo Bandung’ which impressed the members. The good thing about these Ashram’s ‘cultural nights’ is that it’s all about doing it together regardless of how good you are or otherwise as the idea is to sing along and have a good time together. This was shown in the traditional dance (by the lovely and graceful Komang Yanti) who then picked different people to partner her to dance. As (bad)luck would have it, I got picked first and I did my best improvisation with my two left feet and stilted arms flaying around but Ashram member Mr Cool ‘Jiver’ Sudira soon made amend with his accomplished and entertaining performance (as you can see from the pic). Not to be outdone little Wayan was also displaying his talent with zest. A really great night which masked the sadness of the retreat approaching its finale with some participants leaving early. It was all too much for your intrepid blogger who was caught meditating momentarily by Marieke’s candid camera. Well, it’s been a tough gig!
Miscellaneous and Post Retreat’s Photos
The above pics were more or less randomly selected on whatever grabbed my fancy. Ashram’s mascot with very selective hearing ‘Chocky’ doing his impersonation of a front office staff, alert at (or should it be on) the desk! Sudira and Wayan practising with the traditional Rindik (bamboo xylophone). Giggling members at the Dinner. Doug, Pak Sadra and Jennifer at Tenganan. A pensive Kawi deep in FB conversations! Callie and Marieke mountain-biking post retreat exploring pockets of – no, not Ubud thank goodness! – Bali East. Captivating Full Moon at the Ashram, post retreat, which seems appropriate with the retreat starting around the new moon. The northern view of Mt. Agung for the Candidasa centric Ashramites.
More pictures will be added as we have so many good photos and reducing them to manageable viewing number was no easy task! Matur Suksma or thank you again to all who made the Nyepi Retreat as good and as meaningful as it was. Trust that we all have got a little something out of it. Now that you know where the Ashram is and what we are about, hope to see you return one day!
With fond regards – Namaste/Om Shantih!