I just visited Bali, for the first time, and it showed me a side of myself and a world that I could have only imagined. The entire trip was one of light, love, and grace. Without exaggeration I tell you that it is a paradise. (I’m sure there are others, but I haven’t discovered them yet.) I read somewhere that paradise literally meant walled garden, and the lush island of Bali is a garden covered in hibiscus, jasmine, coconut trees, almond trees, terraced rice paddies, all kinds of flora and fauna, chickens and hens and roosters, crickets and frogs and lizards and croaking things. If you’ve ever heard or read about the first days of the creation in the Bible, that’s exactly what Bali is: light, water, vegetation, living creatures, and (beautiful) man. A paradise.

Some Tuesday nights ago, I taught a student who had visited about fifty-five countries for his job at the Japan Tourist Board. I asked him to tell me his top picks, and Indonesia, Bali in particular, was in his top three. He especially recommended the village of Ubud in Bali, which is in the mountains, and is known for it’s artistic and creative energy. Since I’d never been to Bali, but to a few of his other favorites, I decided to use the vacation time that I’d never used in my two years in Japan. Can you believe that since I moved to Japan over two years ago, I’d never left it? I always joke that Japan is a trap, because it’s so comfortable and convenient. Once you’re in, even if you know all’s not exactly as it should be, you never leave it. Thankfully, something, most likely ennui, shook me out of my comfort zone and I booked a ticket and hotel the very next day. When I told some friends that I was going to Ubud, Bali for sixteen days, I got a variety of responses that mostly were of the feeling that sixteen days was way too long to stay in one place. Taking the comments into consideration, I changed my plans to ten days in Ubud and the remainder in Amed, but once Ubud got into my skin, I changed back to the original plan. Turns out, sixteen days in Ubud wasn’t enough.

What did I do there? It seems, on paper, that I’m the worst tourist in the world. There are so many of the traditional things to do in Bali that I didn’t do that it’s hardly worth writing. There was so much undone, because either sixteen days aren’t enough or maybe because I fell into the routine of resident rather than tourist. What did I do? I befriended the most charming, little girl (and her sister and their mother) and played cards everyday (mainly gin rummy and crazy eights); I practiced yoga at Radiantly Alive and learned how to breathe deeply, clear my mind and worry about nothing and think about nothing for ninety minutes a day; I met people from Canada, the U.S, the U.K, France, the Philippines, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia and had lunch and dinner with many of them and realized that we were all on the same journey; I ate vegetarian and vegan food daily and ribs twice, all with coconut water, of course, and my body thanked me for all of it; I visited the holy spring and prayed that I would be love and give love in my daily life (a huge challenge, I know); I met some local children and went to their school twice, and had quite a good time with Daffy, Yoga, Dewa, Kierana, Awuk, and all the others; I meditated and prayed and sat on the floors of a medicine woman and a devoted man, and learned a daily mantra that brings inner peace (Om namah siwa); I was massaged and scrubbed; as much as I love the beach, I went to Padangbai only once (it’s an hour away); I stopped by the roadside and sang “No Woman No Cry,” with a local Balinese young man, while tapping a drum; I let go of my fear of scooters and rode on many; I slept a lot, read much and lounged on every cushion available to me.

Ubud has led me to create a new things to do list for myself, most of which include ways to get back there quickly; i.e, save money, continue a yoga practice/meditation, practice kindness. It’s always said that you are who you are and that you take yourself wherever you go. They say it’s not the place, but who you are that makes the difference. Yet, now, I disagree. I was a different person in Bali, and it’s not just the vacation high I always get, but a real feeling of contentment. That’s something that’s impossible to walk away from, and thus, #1 on my Things to Do List is: Do everything possible to get back to Ubud!