On my last evening at the retreat, I finally tore my eyes away from the huge black butterfly who was trying mightily to fly away – despite the wall of glass he continued to bat his beautiful wings against. I was torn … do I help him or let him figure out that he just needs to fall back an inch and tumble down to the open window a foot below. Having decided that he would be ok without a light nudge with my chopsticks – I turned my attention to my meal. And then I glanced up and saw another magical creature. This time a lime green preying mantis the size of my fingernail. And then … just to his right – barely hidden around the corner of the old wooden window frame – two eyes bulging. A gecko … preying on the mantis. All the while, loud, cooling rain fell in sheets outside, drenching the dry rice paddies and making the flock of fat ducks rustle their feathers with apparent glee. God I love Bali.
I wasn’t convinced at first. Upon my arrival here at the Bali Silent Retreat, I glanced at a sign warning that chainsaws are being used to cut down local trees for cremation ceremonies. “Chainsaws” and “cremation.” Two words one doesn’t expect to be displayed at the entrance to a meditation center. Even though they were followed by “sorry sorry so sorry” (which I imagined being whispered in a lilting Balinese accent) – a bit unsettling.
Regardless, I was so happy to be here – having planned this stopover months ago with the assumption I’d need a bit of unwinding after five months on the road. And thankfully, my friend Amy had just the day before emailed me this little nugget from her meditation teacher Loch Kelly to ponder: “What is here if there is no problem to solve?” A virtually unconscionable concept for me … this inquiry would become my quest for the next three days.
So I began to lose myself, intermittently I’ll admit, in yoga and meditation. And I ate the most delicious food (most gathered from the organic garden springing with bright greens and vivid purple leaves and lined with tropical flowers in every shade of red and orange and yellow and pink imaginable). I ate from coconut shells and heavy, beautifully carved wooden bowls. And used chopsticks so I could slow down and savor all the tastes and textures and smells (a trick I’ll be practicing upon my return).
I was feeling pretty good about my progress away from problem solving and, perhaps, got a little too secure in my new found freedom. Because as I walked back from an early dinner of silky coconut corn soup and robust vegetable curry followed by lime cream covered banana cake – I spotted the labyrinth and figured it was time… My heart rate had slowed down thanks to an hour of pre-dinner meditation in an open-air arena while crickets and birds chirped all around us (almost, but not quite, masking the sounds of the distant chainsaws). And I had wanted to stroll through the ancient labyrinth since I spotted it the previous day.
I set my intention as instructed and soundlessly stepped in… following the slender paths of grass lined with small stones painted white to show me the way. I took about 10 steps before starting to question the layout and wonder if I had, in the mere 20 seconds I had been putting one foot in front of the other, gotten lost. You see… the trail started winding AWAY from the center. How could that be right? For a moment, as I stood still in the damp grass, I failed to accept the fact that labyrinths have dotted nearly every corner of our world for over 4000 years. That whoever built this one likely knew what they were doing.
And then I took a deep breath. And reflected on one of the biggest gifts I’ve received during this journey… Trust. Trust in my guides, my drivers, the animals, the people, even my own intuition. And I started breathing again and slowly, I stepped forward. Onward.
I made it through that labyrinth. And back to my open air room where the sounds of the jungle lulled me to sleep. And this morning, following 6am meditation and a long session of relaxing yoga, I returned to my seat by the window in the dining area. And I looked to the right and noticed that the huge black butterfly was exactly where I left him last night. Occasionally slapping his wings wildly against the glass. And I slowly leaned over and stretched out my hand and he finally climbed onto my finger. I gently brought my hand toward my body and then stretched it out into the open window in front of me. And off he sailed. Free.
Ending Note: I hesitate to write this because it’s almost unbelievable … But when I returned to my room after my breakfast and finished my shower, I looked down at the slate ground and saw a firefly. Exactly like the one who had landed on my mat just that morning. Her body vivid green, her wings black lace. And she was struggling in the deep puddle… finally stopping and becoming still. So I tried to pick her up and she fought mightily – throwing herself continually on her stomach. I finally coaxed her onto a comb and gingerly walked her toward the window. Finally in the bright sunshine, she sat on my finger for what seemed like minutes. Then flitted to the bamboo wall for a brief moment. I’d like to think she was letting her wings dry from the damp. And then I moved just an inch and off she flew.