Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Space Between

Even the Rose,
Vibrant and full of blooms,
requires just enough manure
to flourish.
~Grounded, by TR Hughes

In the fall of 2005, I found myself standing on the precipice of major professional change, having gradually inched my way to the edge during the previous year. Caught between two worlds, I wasn’t sure of my place in either. All I knew was that I was on the edge, and it was time to jump or find a peaceful way to retreat into the world I felt so inclined to leave behind. I needed a fresh perspective.

So I took some time off and traveled around the island of Bali, studying its culture and cuisine, learning to paint with acrylics, soul searching and basically getting my body rubbed by every massage therapist between Ulu Watu and Ubud.

I went to the doctor,
I went to the mountain;
I looked to the children,
I drank from the fountain . . .
(Indigo Girls)

Somewhere along the way I learned of a traditional Balinese healer named I Nengah. They said he had the gift—he could lay his hands on your body and tell you exactly what was going on in your life—a real spiritual man, they said. I was fascinated to see if it was true and equally eager to be enlightened, so I had my Balinese-speaking friend arrange for him to come to the resort to meet with me; he would do his healing work in one of the private open-air bales nestled between the sea and Mt. Agung.

Ten dollars an hour was his charge—what a bargain!—so I booked two, thinking he might need the extra time to sort out everything that was going on with me. And, too, my tolerance for body work was on the rise so that one hour was never long enough; like a junkie, I needed more to get the same effect.

Now I’ve had lots of massages. I get them everywhere I go. While some people collect postcards and shot glasses, I love spa treatments—the more exotic the better. I’ve been massaged by two people at once in a “Twin Sleeping Tiger” therapy.  I’ve been covered in milk and honey and wrapped in plastic.  I’ve had crystals and healing turquoise rubbed all over my body and hot oil poured on my third-eye chakra.  I’ve had my spine reorganized by a woman named Helga following a most unfortunate snowboarding incident in France.  I’ve been dipped in wax and soaked in mud.  I’ve even had a watercolor painting done of my aura.  But nothing—and I mean nothing—prepared me for my session with this “traditional” Balinese healer.

I was meditating in the bale when he arrived. He knew only one word of English, so he greeted me with a courteous bow and said “good.” Wearing a traditional songket and some kind of fancy hat, he appeared to be authentic. But when he turned to prepare his work space I caught a glimpse of a cell phone on his hip. What kind of wizened-sage wears a cell phone, I wondered?

Within minutes he began his therapy. At first it was like a normal massage. I laid face down on the table, and he rubbed my back, adding some deep pressure at points on either side of my spine. After 30 minutes or so, his movements became hard and fast, to the point that my skin started burning, which was somewhat alarming given that suddenly I smelled smoke.

About that time his cell phone rang and its crazy-disco-Get Down On It-ring-tone startled me. Okay, so I like that song and if I was in a club I would probably be the first one on the dance floor shakin' it down, but if he was going to have a cell phone, I thought, shouldn’t he at least have a ring befitting a spiritual healer?  You know, like a harp or chimes or the sound of water dripping? And shouldn’t he at least turn that phone off while doing his healing work?

Imagine my surprise when he answered it. There he was, laughing and carrying on with his phone buddy, as I lay face down on the table growing more and more anxious by the second. And that smoke—where was that smoke coming from?

As I turned my head and looked back over my shoulder, I saw that not only was he talking on his cell phone, but he was smoking a cigarette, too, and rubbing my back with his free hand. In that moment, my expectations of connecting with him as a healer shattered to pieces. I had no idea what time it was; surely it would be over soon?  I just wanted to get out of there.

But he had other plans, insisting that I turn over onto my back as he began a rigorous stretching routine with my arms and legs, working them in wide circles around my body, pushing and pulling my legs back over my head, all of which would have been okay had I been wearing shorts or a bathing suit—anything—but I was naked under that sheet.  When I tried to alert him to my discomfort, holding the sheet tight against my body, he just smiled and said “good.”  It was the longest two hours of my life!

When the treatment was over he consulted with a translator to deliver my report. He said that I was in good mental and physical health, except that he wanted me to eat more protein during the day to regulate my blood sugar. He said that he could see the machine of my mind working, working, working—that I think too much. He suggested that I meditate more. And as he turned to leave, he congratulated me on the baby.

“What baby?”

The translator spoke in hushed tones to the healer, then turned to me and said, “He says that you are pregnant—”

“What? There’s no way I could be pregnant. Trust me. Ask him what he means. Ask him why he says that...” I panicked, with visions of an Immaculate Conception dancing through my head. Within seconds the translator returned with an apology, explaining that when I held the sheet against my most feminine parts, the healer thought I was telling him not to massage my stomach because I was pregnant. “Many apologies,” he said, bowing out of the room.

What a mess!  Though I can laugh about it now, the whole thing was terribly confusing: His appearance and “healing” treatment, my expectations of having a spiritual experience, his diagnosis—all of it. On the one hand I was keen to throw out the entire experience; chalk it up to a bad decision on my part. But the more I thought about it, the more I could appreciate its duality.

There's more than one answer
to these questions,
pointing me in a crooked line. . .
(Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine)

There is a tendency, I think, to view people and situations as being this way or that; one way or another; black or white. I say of the healer, “Oh, he’s a spiritual man,” and then in my mind, automatically I ascribe to him certain qualities and exclude others. When in fact he may be all of those things—a spiritual man who heals while smoking cigarettes and talking on his cell phone. It doesn’t negate his healing ability or his otherwise sincere intentions.

Or, for instance, I arrive in Bali believing that I have traveled to a sacred land, looking for enlightenment, only to find in places the same trappings of any big city—retail shops selling the latest designer fashions and a host of fast-food joints like McDonald’s, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts lining the streets to and from the airport. Yet I’m judging my experience, disappointed with what I find; when, in truth, a place can be both material and otherworldly. Likewise, I can be inspired by a place and the source of my own inspiration.

Duality [doo-al-i-tee]
The quality of being twofold; dichotomy.

How could it be any other way?  The nature of our human experience is twofold from the start—we are at once invisible spirit and a physical body. And within us lies a dualistic nature, a tendency to experience our thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions in extremes. Love and hate, strength and weakness, hope and despair, ambition and laziness, happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty; one moment we’re riding high on a wave of joy and inspiration and the next, feeling low of energy and lacking the will to get-up-and-go. The same is true of how we experience others.  These are all manifestations of the polarities within us.

The spiritual principle of non-duality suggests that these extremes are simply different expressions of the same energy—that there's no real separateness or distinction, only our perception of it. Ultimately, we wouldn't have an inner world without the opposing dynamic of an outer world. We can't have a front without a back; or a left without a right; or light without dark; and so on.

Just so, I think the challenge is in learning how to soften our hard lines—balance our extremes—and bring together opposing thoughts, emotions, and actions into perfect synergy in that space between, creating a beautiful life-energy rich in depth and meaning.  In this way, for instance, we relax our minds enough to see Life not as a case of either / or, but maybe both.  

And like the rose we learn to view the metaphorical manure in our lives as the smelly, messy yet beneficial catalyst of our growth.

~Photos taken on location in Bali, Indonesia during the ceremony known as the Kecak Dance or the Balinese Monkey Chant.  Taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana, the dance tells the story of Prince Rama and his rescue of Princess Sita, who has been kidnapped by the evil King of Lanka, in the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

If you're having trouble viewing this post by e-mail, click here to go to the blog home pageHeart Law. 

1 comment:

JJ said...

So funny, Melissa! I can just see the medicine man smoking and chatting and pulling and rotating your arms and legs... You are so funny! 2 hours! That's a nightmare!

I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love by Melissa Gilbert last night. Her last destination was Bali... I read for hours last night! Then wake up to this blog.
Excellent timing! ~Jenna