Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nyepi: A Retrospective on Balinese New Year!

With a saturated final week of gift sharing (practice teaching), business plan coaching, anatomy nights in the dark by candlelight, I opted to soak up and relish every moment possible over battling with the fritzy internet on sight. Before delving into the juicy details of this last rich week of life, let me first clarify a few basics for you, my dear readership: Yes, I am alive and well! Yes, I have officially graduated from my 500-Hour Professional Yoga Teacher Training! Woo! Shakti Initation came to a sweet culmination yesterday morning, a momentous event that merits its own blog post, coming later today or tomorrow. For now, I want to go back to last Friday, March 21, the day of Balinese New Year celebration.

Here is a short bit of background on the New Year's multi-day celebration, sources from Bali.com. 

"Contrary to several other cultures all around the world who celebrate the New Year with dynamic and sparkling festivities, the crowning point of the Balinese New Year 6 day celebration is a day dedicated to complete silence.
On the 3rd day the entire Island comes to a standstill, with no scheduled incoming or outgoing flights from Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar (DPS). 
This day is called Nyepi, meaning “to keep silent” and falls on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox when the day and night are of approximately equal duration. 
Hotels are asked to cover their windows, all shops are closed, all! No light or candle will be lit in any Balinese home, no cars on the road, no motorbikes, no people. It's indeed a special experience, not only for the Balinese but also for all the visitors and tourists that are on Bali during Nyepi Day."

As I've grown to love, relish and revere over the past month, the Balinese know, understand and respect the power of ritual. Whether it is the holy water during a Puja (blessing) ceremony, the Kabaya dress and sarong before temple, the small offerings of banana leaves, bouganvilia, rice kernels, incense placed at bridges, driveways, anywhere there is a threshold or opening. The culture is so deeply imbued in a sense of cycles, seasons, and gratitude. I feel a little Elizabeth Gilberty in my awe and admiration for this culture, its masterful integration of depth and buoyancy. There is a beauty in the slow, deliberate joy and generosity that beams from the hearts of every single person I've met and talked with, the same effortless, natural flow. From Maday, the owner of the "coffee shop", a tiny little hut just half a minute up the dirt road from our training, whom we'd visit during our lunch break for fresh coconuts, to Wayan, the dear BMR employee who drove some of the gnarliest back country roads with a grin and blasting Rhianna, people exude joy.

I've digressed, haven't I? Nyepi. Ritual. Bali. 

So, as I was saying, the day before Nyepi this year was Thursday the 20th. This is the day that the entire village parades down the street with the Ogoh Ogoh, a giant float of red eyed gods, that covers the whole town to capture any evil spirits left lingering before returning to the center of town and being set on fire.

We Shakti sisters ended our gift sharing on Thursday afternoon. Richard, dear soul, told us to have sarongs ready, as participation in the parade required sarong. As we began to head back to our rooms to gather cameras and sarongs, the distant sound of the Gamelon marching band started to sound, and the rain came. It rained and rained and rained! We gathered umbrellas and huddled together, watching the Ogoh ogoh make its way down the hill, the music growing louder and more wild with each step.

The float finally made its way right outside our driveway and stopped-- must have been soaking up all the energetic gunk we had spent a month skillfully clearing in our training. That, and taking a break from the pouring rain!

After frolicking in the rain, snapping pictures with the blended crowd carrying the Ogoh ogoh: teenage boys rocking aviators and batik sarongs, dads in the hecklers black and white sarongs, doing safety check on the side of the road to make sure spectators didn't take a bamboo rod to the nose, women carrying babies, adorning the peace with their presence just behind. The whole thing, plus the rain, then breaking sun, was quite surreal. After a while, the float crew climbed back into the bamboo grid keeping the Ogoh Ofoh afloat, hoisted upward and were on their way!
Now, to the fire!

We spent the following day, Nyepi itself, in keeping with the silence the island observes. Simpler meals, no lights or electricity. Brushing my teeth by headlamp that night I almost high-fived a hornet the size of a goldfinch, who had perched on itself on the bathroom doorknob. No pictures of that one :)

Being a bunch of goddesses, medicine women and healers, it was incredibly auspicious that Nyepi fell exactly in synchronicity with the equinox and one of the most powerful new moons of the year. We took the time among us to celebrate the chance to begin again-- and I could help but smile and actually laugh outloud to myself, with the image of a giant ghoul-bearing Ogoh ogoh demon with giant floppy breasts symbolically hauling away my old junk, being the torch bearer for my new beginnings. Only in Bali! 

Happy New Year, everyone!

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