Come to your Senses

I have now come to expect ubiquitous tears as I depart from each country I visit, and not entirely due to the pain of separation. For me, cleansing tears are always linked with deep gratitude and the experience of receiving utter goodness, from the people, from the culture, from stepping into non-ordinary reality.

I was able to indulge my senses in Bali, perhaps more fully than is possible in the west, though I do give my full effort as a foodie and a practitioner of healing arts!

I savored exquisite Balinese rice and spiced fish roasted within a banana leaf, while gazing upon a emerald rice paddy alive with ducks. Following a luxurious spa massage, I soaked in a pool among floating frangipani and felt the steady, slow release of a former life.

Just the day before, I had gazed up at the Balinese penjors festooning the sky during the festival of Galugan. During our month of March, each family makes this bamboo & palm leaf flag to honor the gods.

Stitched together with tiny bamboo pins, a 3-dimensional palm-leaf “chandelier” hangs from the graceful arch of newly harvested bamboo. These line the roadways, one after another, as living archways, resplendent with the blessings of the gods that protect the Indonesian people from unhappy spirits. They join the community together: a physical task becomes a shared ritual imbued with collective consciousness and healing. On this day, I felt so completely full.

Now, 3 years later, I find solace in rewriting this tale, but also bringing to light another story of wholeness and healing vis a vis our senses. A friend recently purchased a singing bowl, for use at the clinic where she works. A singing bowl is a spiritual tool, with roots in Tibetan Buddhism, where they are used as auditory markers. At the toning of the bowl, attention is easily brought to the present moment. The toning can be a kind of *call to attention*: Leave behind your “monkey mind”, pause, and take a deeper breath. The staff is being introduced to the concept of “mindfulness” through the daily toning of this bowl, but also to the power of shared ritual.

Recently, a staff member at this clinic experienced a death in her family. Her immediate coworkers gathered and toned the singing bowl while holding hands for a moment of silence. They honored not only the mother who had passed, but also the grief process of their co-worker. Again, the power of shared ritual is felt. In Bali, the penjors, created mindfully and collectively; here, the toning of the singing bowl: “sound medicine”, simple and powerful.


This is India!

I sit amidst my fairly traded goods and recall stories of connecting with artisans…close at hand are the journals and fabric lanterns from the artisan named Dev.

I do not know Dev’s last name.  There was no name on his shop.   This is but one of the curious facts of working in India—formalities exist, but according to their own plan.   I purchased his embossed leather-bound journals, but also embroidered fabric journals and camel leather bracelets.  Additionally, a passer-by with fabric lanterns was hailed and 20 pieces were purchased from him.  While I am sure some part of this transaction aided Dev, I have no idea their arrangement!

Dev and his Dyed Embossed Leather Journal Covers..on the rooftop!
This is India, after all.

Up close and personal....

But , alas,the story!   Situated in the south of the Rajasthan, the City of Lakes belies its name.  Though there are several lakes within its boundaries, Udaipur’s temperature averages well over 80 degrees during the winter months.   Rajasthan is primarily desert, and thus has a population
of camels that rivals that of the human inhabitants.  Hence, there are as many camel leather shops as there are catholic churches in Milwaukee…everywhere, on every block, so it is easy to overlook them.

Somehow Dev caught our attention, though I am quite surprised.  His shop, if you can call it that, is a sliver of space, up 4 steep steps, and barely wide enough for this big-boned gal to slide in.  There is nothing that labels this a “legitimate retail store”:   no hours of operation, no means to weigh packages and, again since this is India, a fraction of the goods possible are visible.

Dev is a mostly savvy , but slightly anxious 19-year old, with a younger brother who is less than eager to obey his elder.  After looking at the meager shop, he trotted us off to his “factory workshop”, which was only slightly larger and cleaner than a cow stanchion, and there he demonstrated
the art of dyeing and stamping leather.   A simple process, yet performed sitting cross-legged on a cement floor hunched over a block of wood, the task would be unbearable for most stiff-hipped Americans.


This is India: On concrete floors, cross-legged, creating...

The leather pieces are dampened with a cloth saturated with dye, and then pounded with a wooden mallet against a metal stamp, in order to impress the image into the leather.  Dev has created stunning leather-bound journals embedded with a fine polished semi-precious stone.  These journal covers are left to dry in the dry desert sun on the fourth-story rooftop, accessible by uneven concrete steps, and with a rickety single rebar hand rail.

Dev & his Guruji - Udaipur, Rajasthan

Someone truly afraid of heights would have declined the invitation to trek up, but would have missed the view over Udaipur, arguably among the most romantic cities in India.

So, we haggled a bit over prices, and we chose a few of the leather journals, as I was not convinced of their salability.   I was unsure whether he could procure what I requested, whether he could or would create my journals, and whether the package would arrive on my doorstep in the United States.  I now know this was more about me than Dev and his journals.

After all,this is India.  And anything is possible:  no problem!  Another color you wish, Madame?   No problem!  50 pieces:  no problem!  Shipping to the United States?  For 2 rupees, a neighboring shop will weigh the package and Fed Ex is everywhere!

So indeed, without Dev’s last name or shop name, the package arrived exactly as requested.  I was quite surprised to get the package at all, but here it was!

So look for more camel leather goods during a SUTRA home sale this winter, as I will contact Dev by email, and it will be me needing the encouragement to enter the 21st century:  this will be my first attempt to wire transfer money anywhere!  And this young entrepreneur in a nameless shop will be giving me instructions.

Mother Earth Energy

The rain is coming down in sheets, we always say, and so much so, that the lone man living kitty-corner to my barn is standing in his open garage watching this unusual opening of the heavens.  On this day, he is not
alone, but another dude stands near him in the open space, staring wordlessly.

In  Bali, in February, the rain comes down almost daily like this, in torrents enough to fill the streets despite the government’s feeble attempt at rain ditches or channels along many roadways.  Ubud, the village made even more famous by the Love chapters of the book Eat Pray Love, experienced such a rainfall on one of my last days there.  I recall I had found a stone statue-type of shop I wanted to investigate.  Not typically found here in Ubud, but in the neighboring village of Batubalan, I was both delighted and intrigued.

It was here I found 2 basalt stone sinks, one smaller for a bathroom perhaps, and the other larger, both of which sold this year to not-yet-retired highly creative women with a vision for their new bathrooms.  One would go
into a “zenovated” home overlooking the Mississippi River, a small but becoming even more “open concept” home owned by a just-married couple in their late fifties. The other sink was purchased as “seed” for a hoped-for sale of an existing home, which then would beget the design and construction of a downsized home for the owners of an interior design firm in the area.  The sinks would be given good homes, appreciated
for their earthy yet modern lines.

The Find, however was a stone turtle, heavier than I can lift myself, even without this broken wrist.  It is a sea turtle, with a slight turn to the right, as if it has chosen a new course, south and east.  Carved of greenstone, the feet are clearly meant for swimming in the deep sea.  On its back is an unexpected element, a carved lotus flower enclosed in a diamond—an artistic addition elevating the creature to spiritual status, at least in my mind.

The turtleis the oldest symbol for Mother Earth, and the personification of goddess energy, according to Jamie Sams’ MedicineCards, a book I have owned well over 20 years.  Earth and water energies exist within this ancient creature, and she supports the creative path.  In my mind, she represents the most beautiful aspect of women’s bodies in middle age, the fullness of the waist, the drooping of the breasts, the slowing, yet steady groundedness of this age.

This stone turtle now awaits her good home.  I release her to the one woma nwho will place her with care into a flower garden, hopefully one with water features.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the earth is being deeply nourished by the powerful water element, and I find myself entranced by the loveliness of this stone turtle today.