Friends Who Pray Together…

A few weeks into my Unsettled experience, and straight after my final LDL session, I met up with another Dubai friend. Grace had been travelling around South East Asia, and had just arrived for a few days in Ubud. It was so good to see her, and Rhi joined us after lunch. Now, Rhi and Grace are two friends I definitely associate with drinking, partying, going a bit nuts. But that night, Rhi and I were getting up for a 2am start to go and hike a volcano with the Unsettled crew. Yowser. Grace, it seemed, had been partying her way pretty hard through Asia, and was in no hurry to get on it. So, to my utter astonishment, what we did together was… pray.

The three of us headed out on two scooters to Pura Tirta Empul, a famous Hindu water temple close to Ubud that’s a must on the tourist checklist. Several of my friends had already been, and I was intrigued – the thing to do at the temple was to enter the water and undertake a ritual that involved a number of fountains shooting out water from a holy spring. We arrived and it was busy, and I was apprehensive. It didn’t exactly feel sacred, with loads of tourists getting pictures of themselves donning a green sarong and ‘purifying’ themselves in the holy water. Which had fish in it. But the girls were up for it, I was here, so why not. We changed into the green sarong, and a guide at the temple talked us through the ritual as the heavens opened and it absolutely bucketed down. The bathing pools were suddenly cleared of people, and once the rain stopped we meditated on our offerings (little palm-leaf boxes with flowers, incense and something edible, that are EVERYWHERE in Bali), stepped into the slimy, fishy pool, and waded to the first fountain.

As instructed, I put my hands in prayer, and put my head under the fountain. I did three Oms, and then I sung the only Sanskrit chant I know: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (which we sing in my Jivamukti yoga class). It means ‘may all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all’. I also prayed to my favourite goddess, Kali, and to Ganesha as well, for the clarity, courage and conviction to follow my heart. This isn’t necessarily how you’re supposed to do the ritual, but it worked for me and I repeated it under each of the following 10 fountains in the first pool. It was meditative, and I suddenly understood the power of ritual. My mind felt clearer, my body felt lighter. Into the next pool for two fountains that cleanse the soul, and then the final pool to heal physical ailments. I loved it. All three of us felt cleansed and lightened by it. And it was a rather appropriate way to close the Life Design Lab for myself – galvanised as a seeker, unashamed to get deep with myself, in the presence of friends, without judgement or expectation. We did, of course, stop for a beer on the way back, and said goodbye to Grace having had quite a meaningful time together. Rhi and I headed back for an early night, ready for our sunrise hike.

We left Villa Kakul dark and early, and drove for an hour or so to the base of Mount Batur, a sleeping volcano that’s another must on the tourist checklist. Here, we could see millions of stars, and the blur of the Milky Way was incredibly bright. We began walking, at first along an easy, steady slope, which then became increasingly steep and more challenging. It was a cool night, but I started to sweat and wonder what on earth I’d signed up for. The ground was thick with dark volcanic dust, and the trail was narrow between dense brush, with an opening every now and then with enough room to step aside and let people past. Looking up, a trail of flashlights snaked skywards – hundreds of people were on the side of this mountain, aiming like us to get to the top in time for sunrise. The path turned into more of a climb – the rock was steep and it was a challenge to pick a path up the sharp edges and jutting rocks. My heart was racing, and I started to panic. I stopped and moved aside to let people past, and Rhi and Areti stopped with me. I told them to go ahead, that I’d need to take my time on this, but they weren’t leaving me behind. ‘It’s fine! We’ll take our time!’ We stood and marvelled at the stars, and looked down and realised how far we’d ascended. We chatted, laughed, sang, and carried on until I needed another pause. I was still apologetic, but the ever-cheerful Areti was dismissive ‘don’t worry, we’ll get there when we get there – and the sun will still be there!’ It was incredibly reassuring, and a previous Lily would have pushed too hard for fear of keeping people back, and out of shame for not being fit enough, and would have ended up in a full-on panic attack. But I was equipped with this new knowledge of myself – that I have to take things at my own pace and do things my own way. I’ll get there eventually if I listen to myself, and so guilt and shame about it really are not necessary. We carried on in this way, stopping often for me to catch my breath and slow my heart rate while we chatted and sang and gazed at the stars. And you know what? We made it to the top of the mountain in perfect time to join the rest of the group for the most incredible sunrise of our lives.

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