Healing journey to the Hindu island of Bali
I went to Bali looking for relaxation, beach fun and good Indonesian food. A predominantly Hindu island in a vast Muslim country, Bali is known as a tropical paradise, but it is also a mystical place with rich traditions. The beaches in Bali are gorgeous but as much as I was enjoying them I felt compelled to visit Ubud, the cultural center of Balinese culture set in the interior of the island. Traveling in Asia I had always heard of Ubud as a place of meditation and quiet contemplation. In my mind, I visualized Ubud to be like a scene from a Chinese silk painting but found it to remind me more of Scarsdale, NY, set in the jungle. While my little villa was in a spectacular jungle setting, my landmark to find the pathway leading to it was a Ralph Lauren shop.I have had problems with my right knee from skiing for so many years, eventually requiring surgery. While walking to my little villa in the pouring rain one night, I twisted my knee badly. I was disturbed to find in the morning that I could barely walk. I hobbled up to an internet cafe on the main drag, Monkey Forest Road. Checking my e-mail, my friend Cheryl sent me a rather prescient message, that if I had any problems with my knee, I should visit a spiritual healer in Ubud named Wayan. Cheryl even provided the general location where Wayan might be found in Ubud. My friend had recently read a book called, “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert that features quite a bit about the author’s encounters with Wayan, a Balinese spiritual healer. I had never heard of the book and imagined that it must have been written by the actress from “Little House On the Prairie.”
I set off to find Wayan, hobbling along the streets of Ubud sweating like a pig. Eventually, after much hobbling, I found Wayan’s small center not far from the post office.Wayan greeted me in her studio surrounded by herbs in jars and various exotic apothecary.Wayan calmly took in the spectacle of a sweating tattooed hippie hobbling into her sanctuary and I got the impression that she was not accustomed to too many visits from Western men. Wayan is pretty, around my age with extremely long black hair and a look of beatific calm. I told her about my knee.Wayan had me write my name and address on a piece of paper and then passed an incense stick over it while saying my name and then chanting some prayer before her “spirit house.” Spirit houses are a sort of altar found in nearly all southeast Asian homes and businesses. She then had me stand up and with her hands placed around my head, she proceeded to wave them around my arms and stomach – presumably to read my aura or something. She held my wrists and looked at the palms of my hand and my fingernails. Not to go into what sort of physical maladies I had, but she nailed every little thing. She laid out a bunch of herbs and ayurvedic medicines for me to take and said that I could come back in an hour or so and she would heal my knee. The session would cost the equivalent of $45 and would take about four hours.
First she had me take my clothes off and put on a sarong. While seated in a chair, four people – one a young girl who spoke with the authority of a person twice her age – rubbed my body down with various strong smelling herbs and salves. Some of the salves in particular seemed to burn my skin. This went on for an hour or so. Then, they had me lie on a massage table and vigorously massaged me all over and at times applied more herbs to my skin and scalp. Every now and then Wayan would pray and pour hot water or something on my knee. She then proceeded to rub these very hot bottles of water on my stomach. Having four people massage you for four hours for $45 was worth the price alone.I would open my eyes every now and then and Wayan would look down at me peacefully, her eyes were like dark pools, there was no hint of charlatanism or charismatic performance going on. Wayan seemed to exude a tranquil energy. While the massaging went on and on, the incessant crows and clucks of roosters and hens filled the air. The voodoo charged atmosphere was only disturbed by the occasional sound of an American accent when a woman who had presumably read, “Eat, Pray, Love” ducked her head in inquiring about Wayan. At one point, Wayan applied a hot compress made of various herbs to my knee and it hurt a great deal. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain but this was almost too much. It seemed to go on forever. More rubbing, more prayers and I was then instructed to go into the shower where one of her male assistants washed me down with fragrant herbs that smelled wonderful.
When I was all cleaned up I realized that my knee was completely better; it was quite amazing. My knee used to click and pop as I walked around and to this day, several months later, my knee has remained restored to normalcy. At the end of the session, Wayan prepared me a macrobiotic meal of various Balinese delicacies: tofu sate, sprouts, seaweed, red rice and a number of mysterious leaves. A copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” was proudly displayed beside an attractive picture of the author. We sat and talked for a while and were joined by her charming 11-year-old daughter, Tutti, holding a large albino rabbit. Tutti had an amazing personality and seemed to have no barriers or issues speaking with adults. The whole experience of spending time with Wayan and Tutti seemed to be healing in itself.Wayan gave me a two-week regimen of herbs and herbal pills to help cleanse my blood and lose weight, free of charge. I have never been what you would call a conventionally religious person but I was very impressed by Wayan’s healing abilities. I visited her again about three weeks later while passing back through Ubud. When I got back to Breckenridge, I purchased a copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” and enjoyed the book. Contained within, there is a lot about Wayan’s interesting and sometimes tragic life.Brian McQuade is a freelance writer, avid and intrepid traveler, and owner of Space Cowboy in Breckenridge.
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