I came to Ubud for the first time on November 7, 2013 to celebrate my birthday and escape the bustle of Tokyo. At the sight of Indigo Tree, surrounded by rice paddies, boys flying owl kites by the side of the road, red and yellow hibiscuses in full bloom, coconut trees, and a multitude of orange butterflies, I fell in love.
Each passing day in Ubud deepened my love. My thoughts were: Did the sun always set this pink across the sky? Were kittens always so affectionate? Did others always smile this widely when smiled at? Were birds always this chatty? Did roosters always crow this loudly, and this long? Were women always so devoted to God, preparing offerings and lighting incense this way? Did children always scream in such delight when at play? Did humans and earth always come together in such harmony? I was in love; I was love.
I joined the yoga studio, Radiantly Alive. where I met many people who wanted to get not only their bodies in shape, but their minds and hearts as well. The name Ubud means medicine, and most people I met were in Ubud to be healed on some level. Yoga practice was about more than just body movements, but quieting the mind, and bringing oneself the full spectrum of well-being. It was my first time in a studio practicing with others, and the energy, community, and rhythm, even as individuals on separate maroon mats, inspired a sense of joy. After yoga, which at times was a rigorous undertaking, my new friends and I would buy a fresh coconut for US$1, drink the clear water, and revel in the beginning of our awakenings. The roosters, even at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, would still be crowing.
At the end of two weeks (16 days to be exact), I wasn’t ready to leave. Though Ubud may have tired of me, pounding her uneven sidewalks; frequenting her cozy cafes, casual boutiques, eateries with live music, and local health food market, I was in no way finished with her. Upon my return to Tokyo, I put up and sold all of my belongings on Craigslist (everything, but my clothes, shoes and laptop), released myself from my apartment contract in the expensive neighborhood of Kabutocho, moved into a shared house, and vowed to save enough money, so that I could spend more time in a sacred space– mentally and physically.When I sent my brother, David, an email telling how much I adored Ubud and what it meant to me, he replied, “Uh oh. I see another move in your future.” As an adult woman, I’ve lived in the U.S, Jamaica, Brazil, and Japan, and I felt that Indonesia would very likely be my fifth home.
In April, I returned to Ubud for eleven days, and the experience wasn’t the same, it was better. Coming back to Ubud felt like returning home: the greetings were warm and enthusiastic, arms were opened wide, incense continued to burn, and streets shifted with the beat of a hundred soles. Ubud wasn’t the same, it was better. My body was more flexible, it had retained the memory of the yoga poses. My mind was more receptive to new teachings and philosophies. My heart even more ready to love. The teachings of the yogis, Rusty and Noga, in particular, resonated and I cradled their words throughout the day: Let go; Center yourself; Be grateful ; Hug yourself; give to yourself; Don’t judge yourself on the mat; take these feelings of self-acceptance into the world.
Twice, I took ninety-minute trips to Candidasa Beach, with friends and alone; enjoyed an Indonesian concert; watched a traditional Kecak dance performance; visited a local nightclub with my friend Danielle, and the hotel’s cool driver, Kordro; played games with two precious girls and four rambunctious kittens; swam in the pool; and, observed the natural world ungathering above, around and beyond me. I was in love; I was love.
Upon returning to Tokyo, and working for one week, I realized that I couldn’t stay. I had to get back to Ubud. Amazingly enough, approval was granted for a leave of absence, and on June 1, I arrived for the third time in seven months in Ubud.
I currently live in a cozy flat on Bisma Street, where I sit on my terrace everyday and watch the birds play on the slanting roof opposite. They never seem to tire of fluttering around each other, calling out to each other, flying away and coming back. (When I was a child, my mother always wanted a bird bath, and was always buying birdseed. I never understood then, but I do now.) My landlady buys me fresh fruit from the local market every morning, for which I pay US$3 for a bunch of bananas, a bag of oranges, a papaya, and a local Balinese fruit called snakeskin fruit. Every morning, I wake up at 6:30 for yoga practice at 7:30, and walk to the studio, which is fifteen minutes from my place. In yoga, each day, I salute the sun, my feet, this blessed life. In the afternoons, I dine with others, talk about next steps, plays card games, eat fresh, organic food, rest and listen to the birds.
When you come to Ubud, you will find me waiting and sitting with my knees up, shoes off, a bottle of water in one hand, a snakeskin seed in my mouth, listening to the children in the distance, and the sounds of birds ringing above them.
Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied, with the life you’re living?— Bob Marley (Exodus)