I ended up staying in Bali for two months, instead of my planned five weeks. The final few days of my Unsettled retreat had come around so unbelievably fast – a whole month of adventure, learning, quiet moments, laughs, hugs, discovery, strangers-turned-friends, one giant love-fest… Finding a tribe and connecting so quickly and comfortably with new people was a revelation for me – I’m only just realising how much anxiety has affected my social interactions throughout my life. A low dose of anti-depressants over the last 18 months has thankfully cleared a lot of that fog and helped me be a lot more present in situations – and thank Christ, as we shared a special experience on that beautiful Indonesian island. From our first adventure – which had felt so insanely cool, all riding pillion on a convoy of scooters out to the stunning rice paddies – life had settled into a sort of rhythm. We’d see each other at breakfast, or just hang out and chitchat after dinner. We felt like this little family. We’d make plans to pop to a yoga class, a vegan café or a sound healing session (because Ubud), and we had regular workshops that were really interesting and useful on things like finding our Ikigai – a Japanese concept of life purpose that’s the sweet spot between what you love, what you’re good at and what you care about.
But although it was time to move on, Bali and I weren’t finished with each other. During a class at the Yoga Barn I’d picked up a flyer for a 100-hour yoga immersion called ‘Body Image, Identity and Yoga’ with Bex Tyrer. It was a postcard with a beautiful illustration of the Hindu goddess Kali – who just happens to be my favourite goddess because she’s fierce and takes no bullshit. The immersion promised to be ‘as personal as it is political… a course that is about real liberation!’ As someone who’s spent far too much energy hating my body and carrying the heaviness of anxiety and insecurity, I wanted to be liberated. But could I handle 12 straight days of yoga, studying and who knows what else? And I’ve only been on my yoga journey for a year or so – since it all started clicking into place at Dina Ghandour’s blissful Jivamukti classes – would it be, like, fraudulent? And I’m certainly not some slim, fit, super bendy yogi so it could be rather embarrassing spending so much time in a studio. But this was literally about body image, and Jessamyn Stanley’s Instagram feed has shown me that any body is a yoga body – if it can breathe, it can yoge. I had come this far with my personal development, I had the luxury of time, and I had Kali on my side – I couldn’t manage to talk myself out of it.
But first, I was flying solo – alone and catching a flight to Kuala Lumpur, not because I wanted to leave Bali, but because (classic Lils) I’d failed to get my paperwork in order and had to do a visa run. It was kind of a shock to be in such a metropolis, but also rather exciting to be in a major Asian city again after quite a few years. There was that heady mix of modernity and oldness with shining skyscrapers and grotty back alleys, fancy restaurants and street food vendors. I find Asian cities bafflingly, beguilingly bonkers. The aim of the game was to eat, of course, and I stayed just behind Jalan Alor, a street of steaming dim sum, barbecuing meat, intimidating local cafes and exotic fruit vendors all hustling for business from the horde of tourists bustling through. I’m dribbling just thinking about the smells. I also jumped on the hop-on hop-off bus (more on than off – it was freaking BOILING in KL and the arrival of my period upped my body temperature to levels not conducive to happy sightseeing). I hit the spa for the longest massage of my life and had a blast in a pharmacy – Asian pharmacies are so fun and cheap!
After a few days of shiny, grubby, urban chaos and calm, I headed back to Bali with a sense of purpose. I had a website to create, a blog to start, a podcast to kick off and some exploring to do before my yoga immersion. And I had a new appreciation for Bali – I was picked up from the airport by my taxi driver friend Nano and we had such a great chat about language, food, culture and tourism as we crawled along in traffic. I delighted in the familiarity of the old mossy walls and the ornately decorated temples chiming out plinky plonky music. The ubiquitous offerings placed in doorways, on statues, car bonnets, shop counters. The kites in the sky giving thanks for the harvest, the rice paddies glittering in the sunset and the banana trees vividly waving hello. The smell of the frangipani and the incessant tooting of car horns that feels more respectful than rude, and the sense that you’ll get there when you get there. Returning to Villa Kakul was like coming home – even though my Unsettled friends were no longer there (which was unsettling), the staff are so typically Balinese in their welcoming warmth – especially chatty young Yuda, an absolute legend.
I spent a few days in Ubud checking out another awesome and inspiring co-working space called Hubud, and moved forward with the conception of The Cave Women before I headed off to the Gili Islands for my solo writing retreat. I was also able to check in with my new friend Fereshteh – a serenely kickass Unsettled participant and fellow Dubaian who was also staying longer in Bali to figure out some things. By the time I returned to Ubud for the yoga immersion, I was nervous but ready to take a deep dive into whatever yoga could offer me as a woman on a journey into rather uncharted territory.