Before I left the States my best friend’s mom, Carmen, and I talked about balance. She told me the key to being happy is to lead a balanced life. You have to balance your family, friends, love interests, work, pleasure, and personal growth. Since then, balance has become a personal mantra and daily focus.
When I planned my trip to Bali I was unaware that Balinese culture thrives on the concept of balance. They believe in Tri Hita Karana, the philosophy that one achieves happiness through three harmonious relationships: human interaction with the divine, other humans, and the environment. Because of this, Bali is a haven for balance seekers. And, really, what better way to practice it than yoga? In Ubud, it’s hard to walk down the street without seeing a yoga studio. I signed up for classes at the Yoga Barn, and I’ve gone every day.
One morning I decided to venture from the traditional classes. I chose Jungle Yoga. I was a bit apprehensive at the name, but if not in Bali, then where? I, of course, am late to class. Already sweating, I grab a mat. I plop in the back of the room and scurry into meditation pose.
Now, in a typical yoga class the mats are situated so everyone has an equal amount of practice space. The room is balanced. And, ideally, you should be able to see the instructor from wherever you sit. In this class, I know the instructor is male because of his voice but I only see blond curls. A wall of middle-aged women (which I will call the Divorce Field of Desperation, DFD for short) blocks the rest of him.
I had read that single women were flocking to Ubud after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. Apparently, most are recently divorced and hoping to find a Brazilian love interest (Who can blame them when Javier Bardem is playing the part?).
These women fit the mold. As the rest of us sit on our mats, spaced evenly about the floor, the DFD clusters like a pack of hyenas at the front. Before class begins, the room is top-heavy and far from balanced.
The instructor stands up. All I can think is Yoga Eye Candy. He’s on par with an Armani underwear model, sporting a similar lack of clothing but with an infectious smile. The Jungle Yoga teacher would resemble Tarzan.
Anyway, he gradually moves along the DFD. As he fixes the women’s posture, they laugh nervously and lose balance. He wipes away their guilt and says, “Oh, the gravity must be a little off in this part of the room.” Then he smiles and winks as if they need more incentive to drool.
An hour and a half later everyone in class, including all the men and myself, is flirtatiously giggling at our teacher’s comments. He ends class and the non-DFD members stumble out the room feeling a little love-drunk and ashamed.
Eon used to work in a liquor store. Now, he writes poetry. He’s Australian, in his forties, and spending an undetermined amount of time in Bali with his partner. (There seem to quite a few people doing this…)
We meet at a communal breakfast table after Jungle Yoga. We were too distracted by the Tarzan Eye Candy to remember each other from class, but we start chatting and can’t stop.
Now, if you don’t know me well, let me just tell you…I love to talk. I can talk to anyone for hours. I could probably talk to myself for hours. So, when I meet talkers, especially while traveling, I don’t let them leave me until they run out of things to say.
Lucky for me, Eon is a talker. Our breakfast lasts 3 hours. We talk about books, music, politics, our trips, our love lives, and eventually get to the topic of balance. (Like I said, this has become a recurring theme during my travels.)
He asks, “So, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the last 3 months?”
I hesitate. It’s a loaded question with many suitable answers. I say what comes to mind. “I guess I’m learning how different choices can change your life. If I hadn’t taken this trip, my life would’ve turned out so differently.”
“Well, now I’m thinking about options I never considered at home. Like, law school. I completely rejected that as a possibility, and now that’s all I can think about doing when I get back.”
I glance at our empty breakfast plates, a little confused by the point he’s trying to make. Then, he stands up. In the middle of the cafe, he stands up and looks straight at me. I look around. I’m a little worried he’s about to break into song or poem. His stance has musical potential.
He asks, “Where are you right now?”
I answer with the obvious. “Uhh, in Ubud.” He waits. I say, “In a cafe having breakfast?”
“And who are you with?”
“A complete stranger!” Now several tables are staring at us. He ignores them. “Look at you! You’re sitting on a cushion, on the floor, outside, having breakfast with a complete stranger. There are ants crawling on you. You can see fields of green rice paddies across the street. You’re in the middle of nature! Now, tell me, do you have this in New Jersey?”
“You’re bloody right it’s not the same! Is New York City like this?”
I stare at him blankly. He says, “Right. You see, this environment allows you to tap into ideas that would never surface in that concrete, polluted city.”
“But that’s where I live. That’s where I’m going to be.”
“And that’s exactly my point! Your job when you get back there, and back to your day-to-day routine, is to balance the ideas you have in that environment with the ideas you had while traveling. ”
The conversation is getting a tad theatrical for my taste so I smile and ask, “So does that mean I should take the hot yoga instructor back to the States with me?”
He laughs, rolls his eyes, and finally sits down. “Oh, honey, see that’s where all you 20-somethings get it wrong. You latch on to someone else for balance. When, really, you should just focus on your own life harmony. If you do that, you’ll attract other balanced people along the way. The last thing you need, really anyone needs, is some bloke of a yoga instructor telling you your center of gravity is off because of external forces. Balance is internal. It takes constant effort. And it’s completely controlled by you.” He smiles and sighs, “You’ll see. It may take a few tumbles before you understand how to get there. But that, my dear, is life’s little standardized test. And those who pass are the ones who get back up.”
I nod, absorbing the advice that was poetically hurled at me.
Then he adds, “But if you really want to bring Tarzan back with you, I’m sure there’s a line of middle-aged cougars you could bypass pretty easily.” He winks, takes a slug of coffee, and says, “So, I wonder how many of those women will be scheduling “private” Jungle Yoga lessons?”
In the developing world the stereotypical image of a woman involves her carrying something on her head. A jug of water, a bag of rice, or in this case, a bucket of dirt. I’m amazed how gracefully they balance and carry something so heavy.
One woman notices my camera and turns my direction. I lower the lens. I’m afraid I offended her. After all, I’m a westerner, a tourist, and I’ve never carried a bucket of dirt on my head. There’s no way I can relate to her life.
But she smiles, a deep and sincere smile. It’s the kind of smile I can feel in my heart. There’s a momentary, mutual understanding between us. I smile back. She turns and follows the other women down the road. I feel more connected with another culture, my environment, and myself than I have after any yoga class. It’s one of those fleeting travel moments I will never forget.
I think about all the women in Ubud searching for happiness. Will they feel more balanced when they get home? It’s possible. But there might be a simpler solution than paying for yoga classes and searching for a Brazilian soulmate. I think, sometimes, our happiness scale balances in mysterious ways. Maybe, if they simply stopped for a second and smiled at a stranger, they would find happiness in an unexpected place? But, I guess I wouldn’t blame them for trying their luck with some Yoga Eye Candy first.