Meditating in Bali

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NOTE: A shorter version of this article was published in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, February 11, 2012.

As I sit cross-legged on the hard wood floor of Taksu’s luxury yoga studio in Ubud, Bali, I’m trying my best to decipher the rambling of our scraggly-bearded and long-winded Balinese meditation teacher. I dare not meet his gaze as he scans the group for a confirmation that we are following his long-derailed train of thought.

“Kundalini is God. Buddha is God. Jesus is God. The earth is God. The sky is God. […] You IS God…”, he finally says as his eyes widen, and he pauses for dramatic effect.

To my left, I notice Marina is fidgeting around; apparently the red ants have made their way to her as well.

After what seems like an eternity of non-sequiturs in broken English, punctuated only by rolling R’s, we are no closer to understanding anything about Kundalini mediation, the topic of our session.

This is certainly not what I had envisioned when I set out to learn to meditate in Indonesia’s most popular island, Bali. In “Eat, Pray, Love”, Julia Roberts’ character seemed to have no difficulty finding a Balinese healer and wise man.

So why were we having such difficulty?

Just last night, my taxi got lost in Ubud’s dark streets while trying to find a temple that offers a once a week free group meditation.

And now this nonsense?

Perhaps finally sensing our incomprehension, or more palatably our boredom, our Balinese ‘priest and healer’ announces: “Now we will begin Kundalini meditation.”

What follows is a confusing mixture of ill-timed breathing exercises, some talk of chakras, something to do with colours, and a lot of ant bites.

And to end off our session, our instructor yells “I love you bodiee!!!” as he enthusiastically hugs himself.

Feeling defeated in my mission to learn to meditate in one of the most magical places I’ve ever visited, Marina and I head out for a walk through Ubud’s rice terraces. The scenery is stunning, and yet I can’t stop thinking about our missed opportunity.

As we walk back into town on one of Ubud’s many cobbled stone streets, we pass a large temple on our right.

Suddenly, something forces me to stop in my tracks and turn around.

I can’t believe it.

“Marina! I found it! I found White Lotus!”

(4 days later)

White Lotus Meditation Studio

For the first time in my life, my mind is silent, free of thoughts.

Although it lasts for only a second, the experience is remarkable.

Slowly, the clear blue sky that was my mind during that moment again starts being invaded by clouds of thought.

However, like being in a movie theatre, where I watch various thoughts come into focus on the screen, I remain an observer. Rather than reacting to each passing thought, I can acknowledge it, briefly evaluate it, and if I choose to, gently push it away from consciousness.

It is just as Sandeh said it would be.

Just a few days ago, I had no idea how I would ever be able to silence the incessant thoughts constantly nagging for my attention.

As I slowly open my eyes, I become aware of our environment.

Marina is sitting to my left. Her legs are crossed, her hands rest on her thighs, and her eyes remain closed; she has yet to come out of her meditation.

Sitting across from us is Sandeh, our private meditation teacher and the owner of the White Lotus. She sits quietly, meditating as the rays of the setting sun pierce her long silver hair, giving her an otherworldly appearance.

The three of us are seated on cushions in the octagonal, open-air, roof-top, meditation studio, designed by Sandeh herself. Above the tall palm trees, the sky is painted with broad, overlapping strokes of orange, red and purple. To the northeast, the peak of a volcano is visible above the tree line. The smell of burning incense permeates the air, as distant sounds of traditional Balinese music come and go with the passing breeze.

This moment would make Elizabeth Gilbert jealous.

As I wait for Marina and Sandeh to come out of their meditation, I realized we found everything we wanted and so much more in Ubud.

In a way it’s almost comical: a Polish-Canadian and Russian-Canadian learning to meditate from an Italian-German in Bali.

And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Meditating at White Lotus in Ubud

Meditating at the White Lotus in Ubud

You see, before we flew to Bali, I searched online to find the perfect place to learn to meditate. After some digging, I found a few reviews on Tripadvisor of a place called White Lotus, which sounded ideal: a small, unique place that taught meditation without invoking too much voodoo and discussion of spirituality. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I looked, I could not locate any contact information for this place: no email, no phone number, and not even an address. All I knew was that it was near the path towards the rice terraces and was owned by a woman named Sandeh. After several passes to and from the rice terraces without a sight of the White Lotus, I had nearly forgotten about it.

But thanks to my random discovery of a nearly invisible “White Lotus” sign a few days ago, we finally found what we were after.

When I later inquired about Sandeh’s motivation for keeping the White Lotus so elusive, she replied with a smile, “The right people always manage to find me.”

Our time with Sandeh at the White Lotus was easily the highlight of 4 months of traveling through SE Asia. And don’t get me wrong, we had a phenomenal time and met many wonderful people everywhere we went.

But there was simply something magical about that place that I am unable to articulate.

Every morning, after being gently woken by the warm sun, we would slide open our glass doors and walk out onto our private veranda overlooking a garden and koi pond directly below, and rice terraces in the distance.

Private veranda at White Lotus White Lotus garden.

After a healthy and inexpensive breakfast of fresh fruit juice, and a bowl of granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, and honey at a nearby restaurant, Marina would head out on the town to snap some pictures, while I went back to the White Lotus to read about and practice meditating in the garden.

Around 6 in the evening, Marina and I would head up to the rooftop to meet Sandeh for our nightly meditation lesson. On each occasion, Sandeh would guide us through another form of meditation.

At night, we would climb into our comfy bed, and fall asleep to the sounds of the waterfall just beyond the edge of White Lotus’ garden.

On our last night, after completing our final meditation, the three of us remained seated talking on the rooftop long after the sun had set. That conversation we shared under the starry Balinese sky remains my fondest memory of Bali, and one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Late that night, the three of us exchanged hugs, as our eyes filled with tears.

Through some stroke of luck we made a connection with a kindred spirit who understood us completely. Possibly more so than anyone else ever has. And yet, Sandeh was a complete stranger just days ago.

“You’ll be back in Bali. I just have a feeling.”

Those were Sandeh’s last words to us, before we headed off to bed.

Somehow, I think she may have been right.

Peter


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19 Comments

  1. WOW! how can I thank you? this is the most heart-touching comment about my place and myself I’ve ever heard. You were the most disciplined and open couple, who really wanted to learn how to meditate, I ever encountered. It has been my real pleasure to meditate with you.
    Your Fotos, made my heart beating faster…what a beautiful and greatful time we had together!
    Thank you again,dear Peter and Marina, you gave me so much joy!
    All my love for you, Sandeh

    Reply
    • No need to thank us Sandeh! You gave us so much during those few days, and we will cherish our memories with you forever. I hope more “right people” find you and the White Lotus. I really hope we meet again in the near future.
      All the very best, Sandeh.
      Love, Peter and Marina

      Reply
    • Hi sandeh, I just arrived in Bali. Im going t. Ubud tomorrow and I hope I find white lotus garden. I know in my heart and soul I will :) I enjoy meditation and want to practice daily, commencing this moment. Hope to see you soon. I really enjoyed peters article.

      Reply
  2. thank you Peter, thank you Marina,

    this article makes me proud of my place White Lotus.
    I really hope I can contribute to some little consciousness expanding all over the globes!
    That is what I made this place for!
    Love and peace to you all
    Sandeh

    Reply
    • Hello Sandeh,my name is Angela.my partner & I are traveling to Bali feb21st for 2 weeks.our main reason is to do yoga.bet you have heard that many times.anyway I have researched places & yoga barn & yourself popped up.after reading reviews,yours is definately the better.do I need to make a booking to attend,what do I need to do.is there any problems that we are not staying there..we are staying at a villa in ubud..some info & costing would be much appreciated.yours kindly
      Angela

      Reply
  3. Hi Sandeh,

    After reading this blog I am completely drawn to you and your meditation. I have many health problems and I am traveling to Bali this year to heal inside. Can you please contact me so I can arrange to meet with you?

    Thank you so much…

    Reply
    • Hi Z! If you get the chance, I would highly recommend the trip. Bali really is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I rarely crave to return to a country I’ve already been to (so much more to see!), but I would readily return to Bali, and especially Ubud.

      Reply
  4. Loved reading your story Peter, it certainly sounds like you made a deep spiritual connection at White Lotus. I will hopefully stumble upon it myself when I am there in July as I travel to Ubud alone in search of getting my Zen back. A full 6 hr day spa at Botanical will get me started and hopefully a lesson or 2 in meditation will get me back on a better road :-) along with the beauty, friendliness and hospitality of the Balinese people. What better place to be.

    Reply
  5. I’m going to be in Ubud in December and thought learning how to meditate would be a great way to spend Christmas! I couldn’t find contact details for White Lotus, but I found their Facebook page and wrote to them this morning. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to book at least one day class!
    Your post is really beautiful by the way.

    Reply
  6. I simply weren’t able to keep your web blog prior to advising that I essentially cherished the standard data somebody supply with your targeted traffic? Is actually just going to be once more continuously to check high on new threads

    Reply
  7. I actually needed to present this particular blog, “Meditating in Bali | PhD Nomads” along with my pals on twitter.
    I reallybasically wished to disperse your remarkable posting!
    Many thanks, Zak

    Reply
  8. Hi ,
    I am coming to bali at the first week in April . I want to do meditation for 2 week .how much it will cost me to be part of a mediation center like this ?

    Reply
  9. Hi Sandeh,

    ihave heard many good things about the white lotus. This blog and photos are fantastic.

    for some reason i am unable to contact through airBnB i was wondering. as you guys are fully booked during the periods of 2-6th may my girlfriend and i were wondering if we sort accommodation elsewhere would you still do meditation courses if we visited for the day, for a couple of days?

    i think it’s what our minds need.

    kindest regards,

    mick

    Reply

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