Atonement in Sobriety/ How I Woke Up In Bali (after 42 years)
There was someone I needed to make amends to that I had hurt ,and hurt badly. I had been abusive, intolerant, judgmental, condescending, manipulative and insensitive. I pretty much tried to kill this person for years. I hadn’t really even given her much thought when I was making amends; I committed these abuses against this person without giving it that much thought, either. That person is me.
Two weeks ago when I went to Bali, I only partly understood that it was an amends to myself. I understood it abstractly, intellectually, but it wasn’t until I got there that I truly could grasp the importance of this particular amends. I also couldn’t comprehend Bali itself; it lived for me only in pictures on the internet, and it wasn’t until my third day there that Bali began to be a real and living thing, like a mysterious beating heart dropped in the ocean on the outskirts of the world. It was on the third morning, when I had woken up at 4:30am (which I did every morning, like clockwork), before the roosters, sitting on the balcony watching the day wake up. In the pitch black, I could barely see the bats winging through the sky, making little ‘nit nit’ sounds. Geckos were making their strange call, “Ge-ckoooo, Ge-ckooo’. The river was flowing right below, cascading down a waterfall and into the jungle. As the sun slowly crept into the world, the roosters woke up- layers of them, some of them near, some far, some in between, and the monkeys in the jungle started woo-hooing, singing birds replaced the bats, and the constant hum of crickets and cicadas was like a Hammond organ in the background of it all- a gorgeous, impressive, cacophony. The rice workers in the paddies right across the river got busy with their rice crops, boys came out to fish in the river, and monkeys starting climbing on rooftops. The air was thick with oxygen from the abundant vegetation; I almost felt a buzz just breathing it in, and it was fragrant with frangipani from the trees, and the constant incense of the devoted. Bali came alive for me, and so did I.
I developed almost instantly a profound gratitude for all of this, and for the very fact that I was THERE, nearly an entire world away from home, observing it all. It was gratitude on a cellular level, so deep I was humbled by it, and brought to tears many times as a result. I began to feel myself wake up on levels I hadn’t been aware of.
Nearly a week later, as I floated in the Indian Ocean (warm as a bath) after many days of walking in this world with my heart wide open, and my eyes wide open, and smiling bigger than I can remember smiling, feeling the miracle of every little thing, I felt a new thing happen. I felt my amends to myself happen.
I almost didn’t go on this trip. Why? Well, we humans are sabateurs, and alcoholics and addicts especially so. I had created a life that felt like I was double parked at all times. Everything was urgent, bordering on code red. I was taking things personally when I knew better. Mind you, I was happy before I left, but I was happy in spite of the conditions of the world I’d created for myself. I had a story going about the hardships of being a single mom of two teenagers who works full time and gets no child support. I had really identified with that story, with the idea that if I slipped up, it would all fall apart. Thats a lot of pressure. Without calling it suffering, I embraced suffering and called that happiness. I just thought “thats life. Embrace it.” So I thought I shouldn’t go, I shouldn’t spend money I don’t have, I can’t leave my kids with friends and moreover can’t impose on said friends, if I leave work for two weeks, they will see they can live without me and let me go, or my house might burn down. Its not the right time. I can go later. Who do I think I am to take two weeks and go? And mostly, who am I to deserve this?
Its worth saying here that I haven’t had a vacation in 16 years. And I’ve never left the country. I had painted myself into a corner and then decorated that corner with globes and maps. We do this. We shrink to fit. So it was a compelling conversation that I was running in my head about not going.
I asked for signs, indisputable ones. And I got them. My ticket cost $1600. I was concerned about the money but I kept reminding myself that God always, ALWAYS, takes care of me. And he did- I got a request to write an article for $1000, and my storage discovered a deposit they owed me for $600. Then my landlady gave me $500 off my rent- for no real reason, just because i have been here a long time. And to top it off, when I was told to get a rolling backpack for the trip, I found one in a box of free stuff from a neighbor who had moved. It was all covered, and I couldn’t really argue with that.
So, I am floating in the ocean, realizing the spiritual work it took just to get myself here, the stories and things I had to let go of, the negative voice in my head I had to ignore, and the fears that nearly crippled and immobilized me. I was floating in the Indian Ocean, In Indonesia, as the sun was setting behind holy Mt Agung, with the Muslim prayer being sung over the loudspeaker in town and Hindu incense being carried in the silky ocean breeze- little ol’ me who didn’t think she deserved this. Suddenly I felt all the little fragments and pieces of me that splintered off during the course of my life come back together, like the film of a glass shattering on the floor in reverse. For the first time I felt entirely complete- ONE. Another word for this is Atonement. At-one-ment. I also felt united with all things, with everything, and I experienced the full force of my amends to myself. This moment, now, is for all the abuse, the neglect, the harm I caused. For isolating you and lying to you and for not taking care of you. Atonement. Amends. I never have to live like that again.
When people ask me how my trip to Bali was, I smile, and say, “It was awesome.” There really isn’t any way to convey the spiritual shift that happened there, that the spirit of the land and the people with their smiles and devotion and gratitude broke the remaining guard down and opened my heart entirely to the light of living. I tell them I snorkeled and played with monkeys and went to ancient temples and got massages everyday. But as I say it, I am smiling deeper than I used to, and having more meaningful eye contact than previously, and feeling like I have tentacles in my heart, reaching out to them, trying to give them some of warmth and love that Bali gave to me.