Rice paddies, soft smiling faces, art galleries and organic shops galore… I arrived in Ubud, Bali. I bought a large canvas and paints and set up a studio in a beautiful apartment looking out to rice paddies and palm trees. There were hundreds of little birds making varying degrees of beautifully strange sounds.
I dive enthusiastically into the world-renowned mecca for yogis called the Yoga Barn, which hosts a multitude of classes ranging from run-of-the-mill yoga, to the most wacked-out pseudo-spiritual indulgences the town’s magic mushrooms can inspire.
First was “sound medicine”. Imagine a space full of musicians, singing and playing their tribal instruments as they bathe you in healing vibrations. We chanted for our ancestors, our future generations, our communities and for peace and love. My initial cynicism quickly melted into happiness, as it spread contagiously around the room. I was left with a smile for days.
Next I tried to have a fleeting 90 minute affair with Thai chi, but fell in love instead. The Thai chi master introduced us to the principles of energy flow through our body, and showed us how to harness the energy of an opponent. It was eye opening to see how strong and unassailable you can become through the simple act of centering yourself to the earth.
Next on the taster menu was “acro yoga”, where we indulged in a series of yogic menage-de-trois. The class opened with us going around the circle responding to the question “what inspires you”. Mostly lovely answers, with the notable exception of one slightly disoriented Korean woman, who responded verbatim with: “what, me? I’ve just had lunch so I’ve got the runs” (big toothy smile, wildly confused audience). Then we formed groups of three, and worked intimately with our partners to create beautiful stretches and triangular shapes. We helped (groped) each other into hitherto impossible contortions, such as “flying” one of the trio above our legs so that they felt light as a feather, and then drumming on their bum(?!?), as well as a three-legged symmetric stretch in a tripod shape. I partnered with a doctor, who was also a model, (I know, I know, the whole thing seems made-up), who was writing her thesis while she travelled all around the world.
I also tried a Tibetian bowl meditation – large copper bowls that make a sound so mellow it would probably tranquilise a horse, and floods your mind with calm in a strangely forceful stasis. I watched the birds play in the green and pink jungle plants as the sun went down.
All the community here really like to touch each other. They hug for long periods of time and they hold each other’s gaze lovingly. I originally thought it was some kind of creepy occult or orgiastic connection, but shortly realised that it is just that these people are so emotionally open and comfortable with themselves that rather than seeing the socially constructed physical boundaries the rest of us do, they unashamedly hug everyone, with a sincerely heartfelt love for their shared humanity that some of us would struggle to find for our nearest and dearest.
The food. Oh wow. Loads of mad healthy green veggie stuff. I was even drinking shots of wheatgrass. My life-long battle with the insect kingdom continued. I think the latest score was about 28,000-0 (insects-Sherin). I may have scored an own-goal by leaving a half-eaten bag of chocolate raisins in my handbag. Lesson to self; if you leave food out even for a second, your food will automatically turn into an ant’s nest. One night I found a cockroach on my arm and instead of flicking it off, I accidentally splatted it into my own arm. Yup, need to skill-up, I know. I have also found tiny invisible bugs sucking my blood (you can spot them because the suddenly turn bright red with your own blood) and have had to pull them out of my leg (I then sulked about this for approximately half a day in bittersweet revenge).
Last day in Ubud, so I decided to go to “Sunday dance” which I thought was a dance lesson. No. It was a free-for-all treetop dance floor in the jungle. It was 11am. It’s extremely hot and humid. A smiley plump and colourful Indian lady bobs around painting people’s faces and bodies. The music was loud and crisp – like dub-step but mixed with some spiritual-Indian beats. It was bass-heavy, which vibrated through the treetop floor. Everyone was bare foot. The centre point was the middle of the circle and everyone moved animalistically around it, like a whirlpool. The whole space was full of extremely good-looking Tarzan and Jane types. Not having long hair, being gorgeously tanned and having a tattoo of some sacred geometric shape made you weird. It was a magical assault on all senses.
The rules were: 1. No talking (you can share dances with people through eye contact and touch, but you cannot talk); 2. Move around the space (do not stay in one place or with the person you may have come with, lest your energy become stale); 3. Just do whatever feels right to you in the moment and let your inhibitions free. Freaking brilliant rules of life if you ask me.
The dancing became more and more tribal. There were people with drums that were sending people into an untamed frenzy. Some vibrated with their hands in prayer at their heart. Some threw their heads back and roared at the top of their lungs, literally. Some shook their bodies violently to the drum beat. Some prowled around the floor on their hands and knees like hunting cats.
My hair was bone dry when I arrived but within 15 minutes, it was wet right through and dripping. I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life. Everyone was dripping wet and the paint began to run, or stream, off people’s bodies. I felt self-conscious to begin with, of course, but gradually I started to let go. I shared some beautiful moments with a few zealous strangers, dancing into each other’s space and moving invisible energy around each other’s bodies. I danced with my eyes closed, I danced slowly, quickly, low on the floor, high on my tip toes. I explored the edge of the circle and the middle of the circle – I moved clockwise and anticlockwise. I felt like a snake exploring, meandering and negotiating a new environment. After a few hours of jungle dancing, the music slowed and everyone naturally moved closer to the ground. People started randomly free styling; singing, om-ing, stomping, you name it and there it was. Completely spontaneously harmonious.
I could hardly speak afterwards. It was beautiful how no one tried to hit on anyone else, no one slammed into anyone else (because no one was drunk or high – well, they may have ODed on the wheatgrass shots but that was as far as it went) and no one was self-conscious or showing off. And just to put the icing on an already awesome cake, when we finished, we were confronted by an epic vegetarian buffet and were handed a woven banana leaf basket to fill up as we saw fit.
I left my heart in Ubud and promised myself that I would return…