A while ago, I was at the most beautiful island of Bali. A 16-hour trip, halfway around the world, with the sole purpose of escaping that same world. I chose a yoga retreat near the town of Ubud, to do just that. The name of the retreat – “Escape the world” – was enough to get me on a plane. Seventeen other people from all over the world had the same idea. And whether they came from Europe, Canada or Australia, their stories were exactly like mine. A stressful life, the feeling that we’d ended up in a rat race with no end, and a shared feeling that there has to be more to life than work. Our teacher just smiled and nodded understandingly as we all shared our reasons for being there that week. He knew, because every week his retreat is fully booked. The world happens to be full of people that are stressed. Somewhere along the road, we all kind of seem to have lost track.
So, what better place than Bali to start relaxing. The Balinese people surely must be the friendliest and kindest people on earth. They have made relaxation their lifestyle and teach the world by example how to do it. Especially around the town of Ubud, spirituality, yoga, healing, massages and wellness are big business. They are everywhere. All the more surprising, therefore, that upon arrival in Ubud, this is not what you see at all. The town of Ubud is crazy. Cars, motorbikes and scooters are all over the place and the small town with its narrow, one way streets is completely congested for the larger part of the day. Tourist numbers seem to have outgrown the infrastructure. Not a good place for relaxing, one might think.
But behind that first impression, the space and quietness is gigantic. The temples, hotels and retreats are incredibly calm and serene and lie in beautiful gardens and rice fields. After walking through the front door, this calmness is almost immediate. The busy life outside can easily be shut out. That was also true for my retreat. I found myself in the most beautiful surroundings (no need to compare, but Costa Rica definitely has a competitor!), met the kindest people, had the best massages ever and good company from like minded ‘escapers’. The weather was great. This surely was a good place to escape the world!
The Balinese start their day by offering to the Gods. They have little shrines at their doorsteps, where they offer small, handmade baskets with flowers, petals, rice or incense. This way, they start the day in contemplation and gratitude. The handful of potato chips I saw in one of the baskets was either a joke from a tourist, or put there by someone who had learned from experience that his God likes something salty every once in a while.
After the offerings, people go to work. Always friendly, always calm, so it seems. This is really something, if you know how little they sometimes have or how hard they need to work to make ends meet. As one taxi driver said it: “your biggest worry is how to spend your money, our biggest worry is how to get some”. And even though I don’t consider myself a rich person, I know I am compared to most people in the world.
The Bali retreat really got to me. Several hours of yoga a day, healthy food and drinks, time outside for walking and cycling in the rice fields, and many wonderful treatments did the job. I never felt more relaxed in my life. A difficult task awaited me back home: learning how to hold on to this feeling and live a more relaxed, calmer and happier life. Very easy to achieve on a tropical island, in a temple in Bali or on a mountain top in Tibet. The hard part is to keep this peaceful state of mind all the time. That takes mental resilience, to be able to deal with matters that show up along the way.
To start with, it is important to find a job that suits you and that brings out your qualities. For many of us, work is an important part of our life, so it better be good! It is not always possible to leave a difficult job, but it ís possible to focus on how you do your job. With respect for colleagues and clients, with care for the environment, with a helping hand for others, with mildness instead of competition. Also, we can make better use of our senses, to instinctively feel how someone is doing or if something is wrong.
Besides that, the trick is not to fight and compete all the time. To stop struggling and let things happen as you go along. To be in a state of being, instead of doing and striving. To breathe more deeply. To quiet down and pause every now and then and to stop needing action around you all the time. To exercise and to do nice things that feed you and invigorate you. To be more grateful for everything you have. To respect your boundaries. To be more assertive instead of aggressive or passive. For everyone, the ideal package will look different.
We sometimes feel like we have to take the world on our shoulders (that is why so many people have shoulder aches!). We feel that we have to solve problems all the time and that we have to compete constantly. In the yoga retreat, I noticed that this behavior exists everywhere in the Western world. They all have to go to Bali to figure this out.
As Iyan, the lovely and wise yoga teacher put it: “Bali is a special place on this planet. The nature, the people and the culture all can take you to a deeper level of spiritual experiences”. I now know this is true, but my new goal is to reach this in my own, day to day life as well. The trick is not to escape the world, but to learn how to create your world as you want it, everywhere you go. Surely, it was the beauty of Bali that helped me realise this. And although I really enjoyed the retreat, I like to think that it is better to travel halfway across the world out of sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment, instead of the need to escape that very same world.