Dear All

In November the rice was planted and today, right in front of my doorstep, there’s the harvest. Fifteen women cut the rice, make thick bundles of it and hit a metal grid to remove the grains. At the end of the day all is carried away; fifty kilo on each ladies head. Hard work but a beautiful sight; it brings back the times in which always more, always faster and growth, growth, growth wasn’t the mantra yet.
The Belgian psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter describes our society as a speedboat that goes faster and faster and.., more and more people fall overboard. If they are lucky they’re picked up by the lifeboats of mental healthcare. To preserve our culture w’ll have to change it, he says. Like the Club of Rome many years ago, he speaks about limits to growth; in this case about limits within ourselves that cannot be stretched without end. ‘A few steps back’ is, specially in a time of economic worries, an unwelcome truth as.
For the time being boat Bali sails with a human-scale speed, for how much longer nobody knows – forces enough that are pushing to change it. Always longing for more and bigger puts the ability to be happy with small things, and with that the essence of happiness, under pressure.
De Wachter: “One can cycle up the Mont Ventous three times, along the most difficult side, one can raft on wild rivers… For me that is where happiness is not. I even think that, if w’re looking for happiness in that sort of thing, unhappiness is around the corner. Because, what are you going to do after your third climb up the Mont Ventoux, yes, you can do the Galibier, but then? In my eyes happiness is in the simple things. Do some cycling through the park, on a normal bike, or make a walk in Amsterdam, that is a beautiful city. But people don’t see it, they run and run, it’s the same speedboat-like idea.”
Here in Bali it is, just like in Africa, painful to see how valuable elements in society are eroded by a need to ‘have’. Cultures are complementary, first / second / third world is not a quality-rating. By choosing ‘have‘ instead of ‘be‘, the room for thinking ‘we‘, essential in a healthy society, is gone.

Early mornings, not far from here, goes a multi-voiced ‘Om‘ buzzing in the air. It lasts about ten minutes and it sounds peaceful. Here in Penestanan there are quite some, what in a cranky mood I call groups of floating people. Healing, rejuvenating, renewal by yoga and macrobiotic food, buddhism, hinduism… There is a lot and quite some westerners arrive to find (back) themselves. It looks like a self-centered thing. Busy healing but no eye for others. A simple hello, step aside for someone (on the narrow paths we have here often needed), simple civility is lacking. And why is it they smile so little? Not healed yet maybe? ‘Hey, supermarket…‘ A demanding voice shouts from the path in front of my house. I look up. ‘Where is the supermarket?‘ it comes with an irritated look. Getting lost is easy, being friendly not. For now I still do answer but I’m thinking about ‘measurements’. E., a friend of mine, asked a few ladies in front of the postoffice in Magaliesburg, South Africa, something and was totally ignored. Repeating the question didn’t help, she remained invisible. ‘Don’t you speak English?‘ E. asked finally. ‘Sure, but you didn’t greet us.‘ A lesson one won’t forget. I stopped one day at a gas-station and went in in a hurry. ‘A Marlboro light please.‘ The lady behind the counter looked at me with a friendly smile and replied ‘I’m fine, thank you, how are you today?‘ I can still feel it.

In the USA there is a trend towards ‘green’ funerals I read in a newspaper. This week I saw an example of how it also can be done. In Trunyan, a small village towards the north of the island, the villagers are, like most Balinese, hindu. For their deceased they developed an unusual ritual though. The dead, provided they were married and died of natural causes, are simply put to rest under a tree on a field nearby, with a few pieces of cloth over them. It’s a special tree that normally spreads wonderful aromas. The smell of the decaying bodies is neutralized by the smell of the tree, the result is that you don’t smell anything. No tree, no bodies. There is space for about eight bodies, if someone new dies the body that was there longest is removed. The skull goes in a line next to hundreds of others, the rest – bones, pieces of cloth, rests of offerings – is thrown on a huge pile on the side of the small field. Dead children and unmarried people are put in a cave and only those that died because of an accident are buried. It looked, to say the least, a bit disrespectful to me. The field where the bodies are laid to rest is one big mess. Carefully I try to talk about it with the guide. Respect for the dead you know… He looks at me with surprise. ‘After the ceremony the dead are not here, they are with God!’ ‘And within us of course’ he adds. In his eyes I see an accusation of foolishness.

To be at peace with the fact that dead is part of life is not always easy. Nightly visits of images that, frightening in their silent rigidity, leave no room for sleep. Africa, a country, a people and then, so much smaller and still so much more, a name, whispered every day. Or cursed, but always in the heart. An inspiration to live in love and sometimes an obstruction to do just that.

Go to Tampaksiring and take a right direction Gunung Kawi. Decent the few hundred steps into the valley and, for the moment, don’t remember that every step down will be a step up later. Go on till the end of the valley, down down down and be overwhelmed by the beauty of the temples there. Then go further, beyond the temples, over a mud-path, you’re alone now. Sit on a rock, listen to the birds, the insects and the little stream nearby. Just sit, don’t do anything, don’t think. For all things, don’t think. After a while you’ll see, in yourself, all the space needed to be – and a generous, royal feeling of we. For me it worked a few days ago. I’m sure that it can work in all sorts of places.

with love