The Illusion of Life: Balinese Style


“We are energetic beings with consciousness.”

The first time I heard that sentence was at a women’s retreat in Bali. Eleven women on a spiritual journey to find their own truth. Eleven women who traveled great distances to share a brief space of time to learn, connect and evolve.

Our group was diverse in age (the youngest was 34; the oldest, including me, were in their late 50s). Each one of us carried the deep desire to shed old beliefs, dissolve our limiting stories and become more authentic.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but my shedding began when I sat in the car on the way to the hotel from the airport. Chaotic traffic, hundreds of scooters and cars vying for the same spot on the pavement, all at the speed of life.

My fear of crashing was triggered immediately. My body tightened, my breath became shallow and I became my fear.

Until I looked at our driver, Nengah, and noticed how calm he was in the middle of chaos. His hands were gently resting on the steering wheel, his shoulders were relaxed and his focus was complete. He never reacted as a scooter zoomed past us, between our car and oncoming traffic. He never became angry or upset at anything that was happening on the other side of the windshield.

He was present, mindful and aware.

It was my first lesson on the illusion of Bali. I brought my Western awareness to this place and judged it based on my perception. But I failed to see that I was looking at the illusion, not the underlying reality.

“We are energetic beings with consciousness.”

The Balinese know this as a fact and they live from this place. They may describe it differently, but their presence in the present becomes obvious as you spend more time with them.

During the retreat, I also learned that we are conscious creators of our reality. Our reality begins and ends with our internal eyesight. What we see in our mind’s eye is what we will see when light is refracted off our eyeballs.

As creators, we change our reality when we change our internal vision. Meditation, visualization and gratitude are ways to stay centered. As you emerge into the world from these practices, your energy goes before you, almost like a magic carpet. You invite the same energy into your reality that you radiate.

Life becomes a beautiful dance.

It’s so simple but many of us have forgotten our own power to create our reality. We see the physical and interpret its meaning, based on our perception in that moment. The illusion becomes our reality, because we are on the inside of it.

We have forgotten that we are energetic beings with consciousness.

The Balinese live this way. They wake in the morning and give thanks. They create offerings and place them in the doorways, at the base of the shrines, and at the foot of waterfalls. Anywhere they see God’s signature on the world, they celebrate with gratitude.

My intention is to see beyond the illusion of the physical, to the energetic life force that supports and connects everything. To first clean up my own energy before interacting with others. And to consciously allow the essence of life to flow through me as loving energy.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

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I Touched Bali’s Heart Today


As I was absorbing the vertical farming of the Balinese rice fields, I heard a small voice behind me.

“Will you buy some postcards? It is for my school.”

The tone of the question drew me in. Plaintive, victimized and small, her voice called out for all the compassion I held. But I knew that this child, still dressed in her school uniform, was not a victim. Or small. Or needy.

You could see it in her eyes. Balinese embody the knowledge that they are worthy and loved. They stay in touch with the wisdom to see the truth of life.

We are all expressions of the Divine.

I gently said no to her and shook my head. Her voice followed me down the steps, trying to connect to my tourist spirit. As soon as my head dropped out of sight, I heard her voice return to normal, strong and confident.

As we continued down the stairs and descended into the valley, the terraced rice fields rose above us. Green, vibrant and active, farmers walked along the top of each level tending to their fields. Calm, centered and focused, they moved with the same pace, creating a mindful dance.

The tourists stood out among the farmers. People made their way along the terraces, but their energy was totally different. Hurried, determined and already thinking about the next stop, they took their pictures and asked, “What’s next?”

The farmers kept going, unfazed by the attention they received from foreigners. They were present, aware and awake. Nothing from the outside would disturb their centeredness.

We stopped at a small landing to rest for a moment. Two young girls were waiting to sell their postcards. I listened to their pleading voice and said no gently. Something promoted me to say what was in my heart.

I leaned down to their level and spoke to each one individually. I waited a moment for them to settle, then looked into their lovely, dark brown eyes. We connected. I felt it in my body and my heart opened in appreciation.

“You are beautiful,” I said spontaneously. I kept repeating it. “You are beautiful.” We continued to stay connected and the words flowed out of my heart.

“You are beautiful.”

Suddenly, instead to saying it to these lovely girls, I was saying it to myself.

“You are beautiful.”

Tears came to my eyes as I drank in that message. These beautiful souls reflected that message back to me and I saw it in the depths of their eyes. Time stood still in acknowledgment and I felt whole, healed and complete.

I put my hands in prayer position and bowed to them. They graced me with their beautiful smiles and I felt as if I had touched the heart of Bali.

We finished the climb down and admired the fields. On the way back up, following a line of tourists, I turned the corner and saw them again. They were working the crowd, but when they saw me, the charade immediately dissolved and they became themselves.

“You are beautiful!” Their high voices rang out across the valley as I celebrated with them. “You are beautiful!” Smiling and laughing, we shared the secret of
Bali.

Every person is a beautiful expression of God. When that knowing becomes your anchor and foundation, your life transforms. You return to your center and your heart opens to the beauty and majesty of life.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

Bali Dreams


Bali is a land of contrasts. Chaos and calm. Frantic movement and serenity. Force and surrender.

These are Western observations and determinations. To the Balinese, everything flows and they allow the current of life to carry them forward.

Every morning, a young girl walks through the winding path of the place where we are staying, placing a small flower or fragrant petal on certain spots. The statutes are lovingly decorated. Color lines the walkways like a jeweled necklace. When I renter my room after breakfast, petals are on the bed, dresser and shelf above the sink.

This ritual is not because we are tourists. It is part of their religion to give thanks for the new day, in as beautiful way as possible.

I think that is why people are drawn to Bali. It is a reminder that we are spiritual beings first, then human. When the spiritual side of our nature is cultivated, recognized and thanked profusely, the human side shows up in the world fueled by compassion, love and gratitude.

Bali is a dream for many, but you can carry the beauty of Bali with you without ever having to breath the air. Spend daily time in meditation, mindfulness and intentionality and you will find your Bali.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

How to Embrace Uncertainty


Sitting in my comfortable, air conditioned hotel room after a hot, sweaty trek to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, I had a choice to make. I could stay and rest, or leave my cocoon to see more of Hong Kong.

Going half way around the world by myself only makes sense if seen from two perspectives: embracing uncertainty and giving myself permission to discover more about myself.

Someone once said that uncertainty is where life begins. Embracing the unknown forces you to be in the moment, reliant on your instincts and intuition, while having faith in the beautiful unfolding of life.

Taking a deep breath, I knew that I had to leave my cocoon, if only to prove to myself that I could actually venture into one of the busiest cities in the world. And return in one piece.

Uncertainty joined me in the elevator and became my shadow. What I learned in the next few hours turned it into my friend.

Victoria Peak was the destination. The question was how to get there. I took the easy way and called an Uber.

When the car arrived, the driver was a bit surprised that I wanted to go to Victoria Peak. I knew it was a good distance from my hotel, but I thought he would be pleased with the fare he would earn.

Turns out…he was worried about the traffic. It took over 45 minutes to make our way to the other side of Hong Kong. We passed over the cargo ship yards, where thousands of containers waited to be loaded onto ships. All probably headed to the USA, the insatiable consumer of all things made in China.

We also passed rows of apartment towers. Standing more than 50 stories high, they line every inch of empty land. When you look closely, the flotsam of living hangs out most of the windows, blanketing the bland architecture in color.

My driver took me up to Victoria Peak. I could have taken the tram, but the line was long and we were already on our way. The question was…how was I going to get back to my hotel?

My driver wasn’t willing to wait for me. Fortunately, I had a small map of the subway system and noticed that one line went straight back to my hotel.

This was the part of the adventure that could have gone either way. Was I a wimp or a travel warrior?

Turns out, I am both. I relied on the kindness of strangers and I had a great time.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is the highest point in Hong Kong. It is the top tourist attraction and a must see for any visitors.

The views are as spectacular as promised. But the crowds make an interesting juxtaposition. Jostling for position at the rail for the best view; group photos orchestrated from the most advantageous position; children running around while their parents point out different sites.

A British couple asked me to take their photo. When you travel by yourself, offering to take the photo for couples or groups is a great way to meet people. They reciprocated and I had my photo at Victoria Peak.

After enjoying the views for several minutes, I decided to buy a tram ticket for the ride down. As I was standing in line to board, still not sure how I would find the subway station, a tall gentleman behind me commented on the crowds.

Turns out, Shamish was from Galway, Ireland and had that beautiful lilting accent of all Irishmen. We had a lively conversation about Brexit, Trump and all things Hong Kong. He was on his way to the Philippines and had stayed for two days in Hong Kong to see the sights.

Shamish was taking the ferry back to his hotel. When I showed him my map of the subway stations, he graciously offered to show me the way. The station was at the waterfront, so we were going in the same direction.

As we walked through the busy downtown, I said a prayer of thanks to a kind stranger. The station was a short walk from the tram, but confusing to get there. I thanked him profusely and hope he left with a good feeling about American travelers.

The subway was similar to the ones we rode in London and navigating to the correct line was easy. Just follow the orange signs and “mind the gap.” I was back near my hotel in less than 20 minutes!

As I again entered my hotel room and set down my things, it hit me. I had plunged into the heart of Hong Kong and returned, a bit wiser and definitely more intimate with uncertainty. Trusting in abundance, knowing I was supported and safe, and being open to the kindness of strangers created the perfect set of circumstances to make uncertainty my friend.

And that is the end of my Hong Kong adventure. It’s an amazing city of contrasts, with visitors from all over the world mingling in a different culture. It truly is a blend of the East and West.

On to the next leg of my journey — Bali. The land of enchantment. Wonder what uncertainty has in store for me?

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

The Wisdom Path


The Heart Sutra is a treasured text revered by Confucius, Buddhists and Taoist. It forms the basis for the Wisdom Path that lies above the Po Lin Monastery.

During a trip to China in 1980, Professor Jso Tsing fell in love with the simplicity of the Heart Sutra. He was inspired to write it in calligraphy and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong in the same year. His work is now transcribed in large scale wooden beams that form the Wisdom Path.

Each log is positioned to reflect the topography. When seen from above, the overall design is a sideways figure 8, the Infiniti sign.

The plaque which describes the Heart Sutra is at the beginning of the path.

It is a ten minute walk to the start of the Wisdom Path. I followed a group of students who were going to the hostel located further up the hillside. Their youthful energy was contagious and I felt young and free.

Walking the path, a sense of peacefulness and serenity washed over me. After my experiences at the Monastery, I felt removed from my self. I cannot claim to understand the Heart Sutra; I just know that I felt the space between my small self and the connection to something much greater expand.

Another Path

If there is another trail that beckons, I can’t resist its calling. At the base of the Wisdom Path was the trail to the top of the peak. Guarded by a rooster, it was a trail I had to explore.

The path quickly became step, rough and long. The humidity of the day seemed to fall on me like a blanket. No one was going my way; the cautionary voice inside my head started singing out what could happen if…

I took a deep breath and kept going. And was rewarded by this view of the Wisdom Path.

You can almost make out the infinity sign, can’t you?

The path beckoned upward. I must have been an explorer in another life. It’s the only explanation that explains this desire to see around the next bend.

And then I discovered why I took this way. I was integrating my experience at the Monastery and on the Wisdom Path. Forced to pay attention to this moment, careful where I placed each foot, I was meditating in a waking state. No thoughts or judgments; no plans for the future or regrets about the past.

Just breathing (and sweating) in the here and now.

I paused on a flat part of the trail and took a sip of water. My emotions were calm and my thoughts silent. And then I turned and saw the confirmation of my experience.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

Hong Kong


Sitting in the back of a taxi, gripping the door handle as we plunge into the next curve, I wonder what am I trying to prove. A middle-age, white woman by herself in Hong Kong. Traveling to see the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha.

Then we round a corner and I see our path around the side of the mountain. The ocean spreads out beneath our feet and I know why I came.

To step out of my comfortable life and experience more…of Life.

This trip was a bit impulsive. Traveling to the other side of the world should not be taken lightly, but I have been bitten by the travel bug. It produces illogical impulses that prompt you to say “Yes!” to invitations to attend a Bali retreat.

And that’s how I find myself in Hong Kong, on a short stay before I fly to Bali.

The taxi driver is kind and speaks a bit of English, but he’s busy driving on the narrow, two land road attached by a sliver of land to the mountainside. I keep repeating my favorite mantra, “I am safe. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am love.” These words calm my anxious mind and I surrender to the moment.

We drive through several villages, colorful bits of clothes fluttering the wind from the apartments that line the road. Signs in Chinese and English, Coca-Cola logos on every storefront. The world has shrunk when the logo of an American company appears even in a remote village on Lantau Island.

When we reach our destination, the driver points the way to the Monastery and waves good bye. I realize that I am alone and a long way from home.

The Big Buddha

The wide walk up to the grounds of the Monastery are completely empty. As I turn a corner, the Buddha appears, shrouded in clouds and mist.

The gates do not open until 10:00 a.m., so I had two hours to enjoy the Monastery. Big Buddha would still be there.

As I continued to walk deeper into the grounds of the Monastery, several people passed me, hurrying toward a destination in front of us. They were soon followed by more men and women, all in a rush to be somewhere.

Curious, I followed them to an inner courtyard surrounded by small temples. A larger one dominated one end, and there were three bowls set at the base of the stone steps. Inside each bowl was a Buddha statute. As I stood back and watched, every person who was in such a rush, paused at each bowl, bowed and then ladled the Buddha three times in a ritualistic manner.

After the last person finished, I walked up to read the sign that explained this practice. The ritual of washing each statute was symbolic of being washed.

As I was deciding what to do next, a low, deep noise seemed to rise up behind this temple. Since more people were going around this building to something on the other side, I decided to follow.

The noise became chanting, punctuated by gongs and chimes. I soon learned it was the daily ceremony inside the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Out of respect for the Monastery, I did not take a picture of the hall. Words cannot describe the majesty of this space. I will try to give you a sense of what I experienced.

Golden light shone from the five Dhyani Buddhas, which were located along the back of the hall. People were seated in rows, chanting with the monks and repeating their words. The walls were carved in small squares, each containing a Buddha statute. Golden pillars supported the ceiling, which was elaborately painted in a rainbow of colors.

There were two trees with benches around them, just outside the Grand Hall. I sat down and let the chanting and energy wash over me. My eyes closed and I felt myself open to the moment.

And I had not even seen the Big Buddha yet!

Soon it was time to walk up the 200+ steps to the statute. At the top, a round plaza surrounds the statute and provides a great view of the harbor.

There is a museum inside with scenes depicting the Buddha’s life. What I found fascinating was the commemoration of the statute. This is part of the speech that was given at that time.

I also walked on the Wisdom Trail. By now, the humidity and heat made the day steamy, but I wanted to see this part of the grounds. It was worth the trip.

Each of these wooden poles contains a portion of the “Heart Sutra,” described below. There are 38 poles, arranged in the shape of the infinity sign.

It was time to leave the Monastery. Big Buddha was not changed by my visit, but I certainly was different. A new sense of freedom, purpose and gratitude became my mantle as I returned to my hotel.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!

The Wonder of Being Human


I am 30,000 feet above the earth, thinking about a movie that I just watched. It touched me in a way that hasn’t happened in a while.

I have always felt a strong affinity for the lonely ones, the outcasts, the overlooked. It’s probably because I was one myself.

So often, the need to belong is stronger than the will to be kind. But when a person looks inside and chooses kindness over belonging, everyone grows and evolves.

That’s why the movie called “Wonder” was so meaningful. A birth defect made Auggie look hideous. His features are misshapen, he is small for his age and a prime target for bullies. But the kids who learn to see behind the mask discover his goodness and light.

We all wear masks to protect our vulnerability. We learn from an early age that hiding our true self is the way to get along, be accepted and belong. We see what we believe and we act accordingly.

Until something breaks through our mask. Or someone sees us – really sees us. Then, the mask shatters and the light behind our eyes connect. Because we are all the same light. We just have different forms.

Imagine

Imagine if all humans could see themselves for the wonder that they are. Beings in human form, experiencing life in each moment. What might spring from that one simple shift in perspective?

o Judgment and criticism wouldn’t be necessary. How can you judge another for you are the same?

o Racism, discrimination and violence wouldn’t be necessary. For how can you harm another when you are the same?

o Competition would be replaced by collaboration; Jealousy and hatred would dissolve into love;

Imagine your own life if your closest loved ones knew who they are and saw you as you are. A unique expression of divine energy. Differences would be celebrated and passions elevated.

That is the wonder of being human. “Wonder” portrayed these concepts on the big screen.

My 30,000 foot view of the world has shifted. I am in love with myself, my life and every person on the planet. Because love is who we are.

It’s just another step in the Heart Dance!