The Bali Glow, The Bay Hustle, and The Feminine Mystique

I just landed back in California after spending two months in Bali, Indonesia. Before the Bali Glow fades back into the Bay Hustle… I want to share a collection of experiences, musings, and evolutions from my time in Bali…

Yet so much of what I would share is hard to put into words. Sometimes so subtle it’s not even speakable, still living inside the mystery, yet to emerge. As if we have to venture into the cave to even hear the music, and when we return, we only remember the resonance… in attempting to describe this mystery, there is a danger of sounding like a riddle, wrapped in a cliché, and whispered into a conch shell, echoing an ocean I’ve never swum in. The danger of bad poetry. The danger of North Dakota beatboxing. The danger of putting into words what would be better expressed in a throaty sigh or a caress or a laugh as I toss my head back, not knowing you’re there, but you just happen to catch a self-reflexive chortle as I find my way to the pool for a morning dip.

I should back up. I’m a comedian. (I was in Bali to lead a storytelling workshop and work on my TV pilot and do a little standup.) And I’m sort of a speed freak. As in, I’m habituated to going fast, staying up late, monkey mind multitasking. I leaned from the best. My country, my city, my family. We can do six things at a time; we can think, worry, strategize, solve, and plan with brilliant intellect. In many ways, it’s gotten me where I am today. But it just seems like it’s not going to take me too much further. I think it’s mostly cultural habit, but also, someone once told me I’ve been a man more often than I’ve been a woman in my past lives. If there is reincarnation, I think probably that’s true.

So I had been a number of times to India to do some deep spiritual dives. For the adventure of seeking out new peoples and meditating with them. To burn karma in the fires of Arunachala, to dissolve identity in the pyres on the ghats, to ride trains and buses and tuk tuks into the night and come out alive in the morning. There was always a moment in India where I got overwhelmed by the penetrating presence of, let’s say, Shiva, and I would just, well, find that there’s a lot more Kali in me than I knew. That’s another story all together.

So in the past few years, I’ve been exploring the feminine riddle. What is this thing so many of us women are pretending to be, with our hair extensions and our eyelash medication and our practiced high heel catwalk? What the watery f*** is it? What am I? I don’t know! I wonder if the feminine is about being the question of the mystery itself? The mystical watery womb, grounded in sensorial intuition. What better place to experience that than an island? This entire island is a celebration of the feminine, with its coconuts and its temples and even its weaving traffic.

In particular, Ubud is a magical place. On a planet focused daily on better faster stronger higher more, Ubud is an oasis of nourishment, swinging slower deeper earthier wider gentler lovelier than most other places I’ve been, honoring and welcoming all of my parts. As if it’s a vortex, rotated energetically just a few degrees from the rest of the world. From the 6 am raves at the new vegan joint, where you can order a drink called “cacao ceremony” to the liquid contact — a contact improv dance jam in a swimming pool (filled with water), to the myriad of massage possibilities from sunrise to sundown, Ubud is a like a viscous fluid that can enter through the membrane of your being to nourish your body and soul.

And this nourishment comes in the form of presence. Slooooowwwwwing doooooowwwwwnnnn is a radical act of rebellion in this era. Stretching out the moment. Stretching out the awareness. Stretching out our capacity for sensation. Slow food. Slow touch. Slow sex. Slow breath. Slow talk. Slow scooters even. Speeding DOWN to the pace of experience. Tapping in even more to wisdom of the body, waking up when the roosters crow at dawn. And in fact, slow is not unfunny. Some of the greatest pregnant pauses have yielded the biggest belly laughs I’ve seen.

Nourishment comes in many forms, and some of it comes in the wealth gap waltz we do as post-colonial digital nomads. Sociopolitically and economically it’s complicated, but I still find it valuable and beautiful that you can get an amazing massage, go to yoga, go to the spa, and drink fresh organic green juice all in one day (not that I did) for less than the price of a fancy meal in the US. In fact, things seem to be cheap enough here that I start to think, “I could totally afford to have a baby here. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.” But money is another story too.

I want to get back to the land, and its people. And what they make possible. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the history right here… When the Mughals invaded India, around a thousand years ago, the king of India and the royal court fled. They landed in Bali, and set up shop for several hundred years, spreading to this far-away land into a Hindu culture, which mixed with their local spirituality to create a heady mix of devotion and magic. It also set a precedent to pay artists to make art for a living, so they have a thousand years of professional musicians, dancers, fabric painters, basket weavers, wood carvers, kechak monkey chanters, and more. What’s not to love about that? And of course the yoga that’s so popular in Bali now wasn’t imported til recently, but I think it fits quite well with the Hindu influences from so long ago.

But so also the Balinese people spend a significant portion of their day — and their income — making temple offerings of flowers, incense, rice, candy… all with blessings, and too there’s singing, dancing, playing the gamelan in the temple. They have one holy day to bless the metal! The cars and motorbikes on that day are blessed with offerings too. There are festivals every week or two for their local temple or a god and of course there’s the day of silence on the new year — Nyepi — during which the entire island turns off the internet. All of this makes for a very alive, very intentional approach to life, that sets the stage for the harmony, simplicity, and joy, and *constant synchronicity* for awakening and growth, often intense, but almost always shepherded along with someone’s open arms to hold you through the pangs. A gentle path.

And as the stage is set, more players arrive. The yogis, the tantrikas, the nomads, the bliss bunnies, the empty nesters, and of course the tourists. But most importantly, the devas. Ubud’s feminine soul attracts a very particular kind of woman, who, once arrived, becomes even more so. She is deep, she is gorgeous, she is youthful, no matter what age she is. She radiates sensuality and joy. She feels everything, and she lets it move through her. She takes exquisite care of herself, inside and out. She is a mistress of self-care and self-love. She moves, she stretches, she breathes, she loves. And, on an off-day, she compares.

See, there are so many other brightly lit-from-within devas, and also so few dudes (they’re all surfing in Canggu) that it can sometimes feel a little top-heavy… a little… overflowing with one side of the polarity. It would be surprising if a gal didn’t once in a while start to wonder if there would be enough men to go around. But wait wait, back to that pleasure and abundance. It’s fine. It’s great. There’s so much to go around. I’m in my body. I’m enjoying. I’m overflowing. Wait, allow everything. Accept everything. Welcome everything. Let it wash over you. Don’t be an ad for a juicy woman, just enjoy your own juice. Come froth inside out, not the outside in. Hey, that’s a nice feather jacket. God she’s gorgeous. Is that Botox? Is she seriously that frigging happy and relaxed? I think I need one of those feather jackets. I mean, if it’s in flow. What’s your flow? God, I love that Aussie accent he’s got goin’ on there. Oh, hey, I’m on my way to Ecstatic, you want me to order you a wheatgrass? Ok, I digress…

The feminine. The full range of feminine, from the softness inside men, to the incisive power of Kali, the feminine — my feminine — unfurls most easily when I feel safe. And I can’t think of many places on earth I’ve felt safer as a woman. I know bad things can happen anywhere to anyone, but the visceral experience of not fearing the world and not fearing men and not being on guard, plus the heat which caused me to wear lighter, flowier clothes, dresses almost every day, gave me this sense of joy and freedom that is hard to put a price on. Priceless, but worth so much. And in some way, there was a shedding of the shame of having a body, having a female body, having a female body that experiences pleasure. That shame so pervasive in the US that we don’t even realize how deeply it’s embedded.

There’s another kind of freedom. Riding a scooter I have to pay full attention, because I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m doing it on the left side of the road. I’m praying constantly in my life anyway, but especially when I get on the scooter and while I ride, I make prayers, I chant, I surround myself with protection, light, grounding. Which handle is for the gas? Which handle is for the break? You have to turn your turn signal off after you turn, because it doesn’t go off automatically. There are almost no traffic lights new good so you pretty much decide when it seems good to stop, go, turn etc. And the bike is pretty heavy. You don’t want a scooter to fall over or veer off of some aqueduct 20 feet below into the rice fields. Just staying on the thing and balanced and managing to make a turn is a feat I celebrate. A feat of freedom. People are riding with you, riding up from behind you, turning in front of you. But no one gets pissed if you do something wrong, or you’re slow, but you could still die. All of that is to say it’s an experience of paying full attention, especially when learning. Also, scooters don’t have radios. So you’re not listening to music or NPR. You’re just there. With the other humans, and the dogs, and the scooters, and the cars. I only ride with my helmet off once. And it’s glorious. Like unprotected sex. So bad, but so gooooooooood. I digress again.

So many moments nourished my soul there, and I have so many dear people and pets and plants to thank (like flowers and vegetables, I mean) for the ways I was nourished. I’m growing in my understanding of the feminine mystery (ha, the irony!)

And it would be an error to not acknowledge in particular, the sacred sisterhood of my dear friend Robyn, whose priestess-ing is ministered through pleasure and care, whose skills and powers, seen and unseen, of caring, grounding, standing in and for the feminine, while deeply cherishing the masculine, in her (sometimes) quiet way witnesses and celebrates eros, from the inside out (not the outside in), without whom my experience of Bali (and your experience of this missive) would not have been as lovely or real.

There’s so much more I could share about… the writing time with Matthew, the stream of awakening men, the water temples of purification, the foot massages, the exquisite food, the amazing yoga clothes I bought, the temple parties, the smell of burning rice fields, the bathrooms with koi ponds, the mosquitos, the constant synchronicity, and also the shady underbelly of a paradise overrun with tourists and trash, and finally plenty of my own tsurus, which I won’t go into here…

And of course it was hard to come back to the states, but wherever you go, there you are, and it came time for there’s here to become here’s there again. And here I am, back in Oakland, landing, breathing, and feeling. And hopefully joking too, just to keep it interesting.