Soulmates? Yep. I most definitely believe in soulmates. And not always in a romantic way. There are just some people who enter your world and you instantly connect with them more than others. At times, they understand you better than you understand yourself and somehow can see exactly what you are looking for when you’ve spent years fumbling around in the dark.
It was more than nine months ago, at my yoga teacher training program in Nepal, that I had the pleasure of meeting Brady. I’ll never forget the afternoon he fearlessly sauntered into our classroom (two whole days late from the start of the course) and graced us all with an outpouring of his infectiously good vibes. I spent the next two months discovering that this guy is just all the colors; a rainbow of love and light. And, like everyone else who’s ever met him, I wanted to be as close as possible in hopes that some of his brightness would transfer onto me.
It was over a masala tea by the lake one evening that Brady first mentioned the Bali Spirit Festival. He spoke of his experience with such a sparkle in his ever-illuminated eyes that I couldn’t help but take notice. He had told me that the island of Bali held a spot very close to his heart and described his time as a volunteer at the festival to be nothing short of “magical“. I was intrigued; if this incredible being found the event so transformative than I must see what it’s all about for myself. And so I made a mental note to look into it closer to the March 2016 festival date.
Days, weeks, months passed as I wandered country after country in Southeast Asia. In December 2015 I reconnected with Brenda, another soulmate who entered my life months earlier while trekking in Nepal. She had woken up early one morning and, when I walked out to the sunshine-filled garden at the hostel to say good morning, I saw that she had Brady on FaceTime. My heart was filled with overwhelming pangs of nostalgia as the three of us caught up in the way only soulmates can; as if there had been no time or physical distance between us. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t believe life is a product of chance, so I’m sure it was not coincidence that the Bali Spirit Festival came up during this conversation and I was reminded all over again why I desperately wanted to be an attendee of the event. That evening I went online to the festival website to purchase my ticket.
Eek! Pre-sale tickets were selling for close to $1000USD for the five-day event (way out of my budget). I debated just attending for one single day, considered ways to come up with a bunch of extra cash, and then I remembered Brady’s mention of volunteering his time in exchange for an admission ticket. I immediately directed myself to the webpage to apply for any position that was available, and with the festival being more than four months away, I figured I was in the clear. Not the case. A tiny little disclaimer appeared at the bottom of my application indicating all volunteer spaces were full and that my application would be kept on file. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be.
Days later, in all-too-perfect timing, Brady sent me a message connecting me with Gaelyn; a volunteer coordinator at the festival. Within hours I received a message back from her indicating, “any friend of Brady’s is a friend of mine” and was gifted the opportunity to be a member of her design and setup team for the days prior to the event. In return, a five-day admission ticket to the festival itself!
Fast forward a few months and I now find myself in Cambodia, living and working as a yoga teaching intern at Hariharalaya Retreat Center. The magic continues as my boss, Joel, elects to take a week off in March to spend time with his family (perfectly coinciding with the dates I’m to be in Bali). And only a month before I’m scheduled to leave for Indonesia, I receive one more gracious gift from the universe …. Sacha. Like me, Sacha is made in Canada, born on November 15th, and has been working as a yoga instructor on an island in the south of Cambodia. She spent three months last year interning at Hariharalaya (living in the very room I now reside) and decided to return here as a retreat guest during her time off. Instantly I love her, and we become fast friends. One afternoon sipping coconuts by the pool, we discover we are both going to Bali to volunteer at the same festival in the coming weeks and decide to room together; Sacha knew of a fabulous guesthouse that had been recommended by a friend.
I arrived in Ubud to Binar Cahaya Guesthouse late in the evening and was pleasantly greeted by Madeh, the lovely Balinese owner. Madeh, I would later learn means ‘second born’, or brother to Wayan (first born). Literally every child is named based on their birth number in the family, so you can imagine how important it is to have nicknames as it all gets very confusing! ‘Just call me Wayan‘ shirts line street stalls in Bali the same way ‘Same Same but Different‘ tanks do in Thailand. The guesthouse is without question the nicest, most peaceful place I have slept since before I left Canada and Madeh has to be one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.
Each morning Sacha and I would open our room’s sliding glass door to the lush world around us, practice yoga on our private veranda beside a beautiful fish pond, and then enjoy a home-cooked breakfast with fresh fruit from the property’s bountiful garden. I happily enjoyed a different exotic fruit every single day in Ubud; rambutans, guava, mangosteen, palmello, and snake fruit.
We watched in awe every morning for our two week stay as Madeh graciously made offerings all over his property; in front of statues, doors and on the balcony. He must have spent hours hand-making tiny offering baskets with beautiful bright flowers and food and then devoted the majority of his morning to perform rituals. Until I recently discovered yoga, I could have never imagined being so passionate about any one thing to practice it so diligently… this guy is an inspiration!
Ubud itself is one of the best places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The town is the perfect size, most things within walking distance (although Madeh would happily drop everything to drive us on his bike wherever we needed to go!).
The cobblestone sidewalks are lined with hundreds of amazing vegan restaurants, yoga studios, and some of the most gorgeous clothing stores I have seen all throughout Asia. Needless to say, I was in heaven. I ate. I ate. And then I had dessert (raw cacao dipped Golgi berries, fresh coconut milk sorbet, raw cacao brownie bars with local cashews, fresh carrot cake with turmeric cream cheese icing, spirulina and mint chocolate power balls … I could go on). This place is a food lovers paradise, and literally everything that enters one’s mouth is made with love from organic, local, healthy ingredients. Guilt-free indulgence after indulgence. . . freakin’ fantastic! Foodie tips for anyone visiting Ubud: Seeds of Life training restaurant as often as you possibly can (but specifically the raw Mexican lasagne special on Saturday made with fresh mangos, zucchini and avocado), Kismet for the Asian satay salad bowl, Taksu for a fabulous buffet salad bar lunch, Balinese coffee and Ubud Raw brownie from just about any coffee shop you sit down at, and Bali Buda for the most amazing chrysanthemum Kampuchea that will ever touch your lips. My best memories of Ubud involve Sacha and I with a bottle of that very Kampuchea our patio each evening as we chatted to the sound of warm, tropical rain hitting the awning overhead.
The Bali Spirit Festival was like the plump, organic cherry atop the gluten-free coconut cheesecake. Five full days of yoga led by world recognized teachers; acro, yin, nidra, vinyasa, kundalini and ashtanga. My most memorable group practice was led by Florida-based instructor Tymi Howard. She sure woke us all up that bright sunshiney morning with her “shake your asana” bootcamp style class; complete with DJ Taz to spin his beats and a mid-class “shimmy-and-shake break”. Haha. It was a yoga practice I have never seen before, but I left sweaty and happy.
I learned and practiced new meditation techniques, took energy healing workshops and attended empowerment presentations that left me feeling like I could truly take on the world.
I laughed for 90 minutes straight at the best dance party of my life one afternoon in the central pavilion; hundreds of people gathered to get down to DJ Taz, who spun the perfect set of soul-funk-dance party tunes. I couldn’t help but think he was one of the luckiest humans on earth; looking out onto a crowd of shining, happy, sober people just loving life … laughing and dancing all their cares away.
I spent one afternoon participating in a vocal workshop hosted by Suzanne Sterling; a woman I can only describe as a inspirational goddess. With the voice of an angel and a message of pure love, this girl gave me a reason to sing! Together as a group of fifty or more, we found our voices and vowed to use them for the good of ourselves and others. To not just say we will create harmony, but to truly harmonize. May we never forget the gift of song, mantra, and freedom of speech in a time when so many people on this planet suffer in a silent torture.
I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my lips as I spent hours learning Ecstatic, Embodied, and African dance practices (complete with the bongo drums and super-speed choreography). It was sweaty, it was raw, it was real, it was completely blissful. Day after day I was reminded how great it feels to dance! And in the moments of aliveness that followed these workshops, I vowed to dance for at least ten minutes every day for the rest of my life so I don’t ever forget again.
Perhaps the most influential portion of the festival for me was the Alchemy of Breath workshops; sessions of conscious breathing exercises combined with guided Nidra-esque imagery and live music. Simply put, the practice consisted of two hours of breathing in and out; inhaling like it’s your first breath of life, and exhaling like it’s your last. I would find it an impossible task to try and use language to describe the power of my experience with these breathing techniques; release, lightness, presence only begin to explain.
Every night of the festival brought a fun-filled evening of live music, dancing, and celebratory gatherings. I witnessed in my first (but definitely not my last) cacao ceremony. I honestly thought someone laced the chocolate but later learned that raw, ceremonial-grade cacao has been used for centuries to unlock euphoric states and release negative emotions. This high-quality raw cacao bean is said to be mood enhancing and encourages increased blood flow to the brain, the skin, and the heart. This allows the body as a whole to be nourished; cultivating awareness, heightened focus and intensified sensations. Quite literally high on chocolate.
From the “Chill Out Lounge”, the Arabian-themed tent I helped to decorate as my volunteer contribution to the festival, I could sip a coconut and watch a stellar line-up of talented artists shine their light (Nahko and Fantuzzi were definitely stand-outs for me).
Neon hula hoops, fire dancers, and flower mandalas lined the crowd of glowing yogis mouthing beautiful song lyrics well into the night.
For me, just being in the presence of such inspiring souls was the best part; I really felt like I was in the middle of something special. And even on this relatively small scale I could feel the power; with a love like this we could truly change the world.
The days after the festival were sunshiney and bright as I rode the high of such an amazing experience in such an amazing place. I went with a group of friends to visit Tegalalang; beautiful rice terraces just outside of Ubud. Literally every moment was a postcard-worthy photo opportunity and I still can’t get over the spectrum of lush green that surrounded me.
We walked, talked, and sat for a coconut at one of the viewpoints overlooking the maze of paddies below us before heading back to town and sampling some of the infamous Kopi luwak coffee (made from partially-digested coffee cherries eaten and defecated by a feline-type animal called a civet). Apparently it’s the most expensive ($700USD/kg) and the most delicious coffee in the world, although I found it somewhat hard to enjoy as these coffee-eating furry angels watched me sip from tiny cages beside the bar.
My Bali adventure ended with a 2am wake-up to join dozens of other tourists on a hike atop an active volcano. For almost five hours we trekked switchback uphill in the dark to reach the summit in enough time to witness the break of sunrise. Sacha and I sat on the side of that powerful volcano watching the clouds part as the sun hit the valley below and ate what, at the time, tasted like the best breakfast ever; one hard-boiled egg, a mangosteen, and two pieces of dry white bread.
Mount Batur brought my heart back to where I had left it in the mountains of Nepal. I’m realizing that this is all my heart really wants after all; to be living in the present and completely aligned with my soul. I take notice of this connection more and more nowadays as I get out of my head and let my heart guide the path ahead.
And it must be leading me in the right direction because time after time this intuitive feeling deep in my gut will whisper, “you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be“. I’m discovering (and really believing) that I am the creator and master of my own life. And this journey of creation is not about becoming any one thing. It’s about unbecoming every little thing that wasn’t really me so that I can just effortlessly be the person I was in the first place.