“Put your ass where your heart wants to be” – Steven Pressfield – The War of Art

Although it takes me forever to create these posts, this is where my heart wants to be. My ass doesn’t always follow orders. It’s a challenge but here I am. Writing, blogging, Instagram postings have big learning curves.  Consistency is not my strong suit. But loving what I do, thankfully is. I have immense gratitude to my loved ones, to my subjects and all the good-deed-doers out there that bring me along for the ride to share what I have to give. I recently came back from Bali.

Bali hosts a vast spiritual culture embraced by us western seekers. There are endless retreats, spas, and Arivedic centers. One can get massages, see spiritual healers, dance ecstatic, meditate in a pyramid and do all sorts of yoga. You can visit The Green School dedicated to educating our green leaders of the future. A K-12th-grade school in the jungle built of bamboo structures with no walls. There are camps for adults and families where you can learn all things environmental and how to build in bamboo. On the property is the Kul Kul Farm that teaches conscious farming and permaculture.  Although this is all very appealing to me, this is not what will probably bring me back to Bali. I’ll start with the endless ceremonies that bring out entire villages on a regular basis. There are birth and cremation ceremonies and any and other auspicious occasions are opportunities for prayer and celebration. Every morning, everywhere are offerings made of frangipani petals, incense, bamboo, and rice. This commitment to ritual is quite remarkable. I think this is why they maintain their culture and a deep sense of community even with the onslaught of western tourists, and as my husband reminded me, not unlike myself. This is probably why they so gracious and friendly. The beauty, the spirituality, the smiles and the simple kindness that I felt will be what brings me back.

And…did I mention how beautiful it is?  Check out this crazy surf that isn’t enough to stop this beach ceremony, although it was moved to higher ground after this surge from the ocean.

Needless to say, got soaked, and I wondered to myself, am I crazy to be doing this. Now I wish I had had a little more nerve to get some better angles. I’m a bit of a wuss.

So, when my 96-year-old dad reminisced with an impish smile about the topless Balinese women he ogled at in  National Geographic I don’t think he was referring to these images. But this IS what aging gracefully looks like to me. I had posted on Instagram sans nipples. I mentioned why and after a couple of comments I reconsidered. Haters beware, authenticity rules.  Having grown up a dancer there is not a day that goes by that I don’t look at myself and self-evaluate. I love the aged women statues that don’ hide what gravity and I’m assuming breastfeeding heap upon a body.  I’m 63 and I’m okay with that (thank god).  My friend Ellen Diaz started a blog Aging – Keeping it Real. She is 75 and we often share our personal growth, our challenges, and our resistance to change.  Acceptance and self-love…the ever elusive holy grail.

I met this woman in a small village. When I handed her pictures she said: “why so many”. These folks are not of the “selfie generation”.

Wherever I travel I seek out opportunities to do my dharma, my personal mission, my service work. In my quest, I came upon the Solemen Foundation started by Robert Epstone. Solemen’s Outreach Programs benefit the poor, the disadvantaged, the ‘diffabled’, the homeless and the marginalized. They seek those that slip through the cracks, with no means or the knowledge of how to get help. I was deeply moved by the work they do. They are the real deal. They are nothing short of amazing. They profoundly change the lives of those they help.

I had just three opportunities to see them in action. I was moved beyond words. Sarah Chapman who is the main out-reach volunteer nurse freaked me out with her fearless love. I accompanied the little team of 3 as we drove for hours to one of the poorest areas of Bali. Then up the mountain, we went. A motor scooter hauled the water while we walked a dirt path till we found the tucked away compound. This is where Ketut, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy had lived a pretty dismal life. After Solemen’s intervention, she was afforded some semblance of dignity and her family a bit more educated as to her care. Sarah told me she was one of her favorite clients, a bit of a mischievous character.  From the look of joy on Ketut’s face as she was bathed and cradled in Sarah’s loving arms, the feelings were mutual. It was really something to see. It moved me to the quick. The lyrics to the Journey song “I want to know what love is…I want you to show me” played in my head. I was being shown what love is. Kindness and compassion in action. This was one of the highlights of my trip for sure. Then there was this 4-year-old boy whose parents had both died of AIDS. He lived with his grandparents in what had been their kitchen hut before the house burnt down. Solemen will build them a house with $4000 raised by the kindness of strangers.

Sole House provides temporary housing for those coming from the country seeking treatment in Denpasar.  I met Hery who suffers from hydrocephalus.  He is 7 and had not seen a doctor since he was 4 months. Once again, with intervention and education, this little boy smiles, something he had done very little of before receiving help from Solemen. Ibu is finally pain-free after surgery for Ovarian cancer. She could not afford chemotherapy and they are helping figure out her next step.Fortunately for me, I was there when a foundation (based out of North Carolina) named Scholars for Sustenance showed up with food for the center. They round up surplus food from hotels and restaurants and distribute to those in need. They arranged for me to meet up with them at Pantai Asuhan Semara Putra Orphanage in Klungkang.  I was in my niche photographing the kids. Now kids with not much really enjoy getting their prints.

Okay, just one more story. They told me about Wayan who lived in Ubud where I was staying. He had fallen down steep steps when his wife was 6 months pregnant. He is now a quadriplegic. I loved them, I think if I lived there they would be my friends. With kindness, it’s crazy how quickly we can bond. I think it’s apparent from these images the reason why I felt as I did. I made sure that he had a bed that worked, one that he could have the simple please of being able to sit up just a little bit. Wayan and Ibu Made’s son Kedek is gratefully assisted by Bali Children’s Project in Ubud.  Fortuitously, on my way to the airport, we ran into yet another festival. I felt blessed to have another opportunity to see Bali through the faces and beauty of their rituals.  And then there are monkeys, kids and some other tidbits from my Bali experience.  Way too many to post! If you’ve it this far down the post…I THANK YOU!!!