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A Love Letter to Bali

A Love Letter to Bali

Tomorrow I leave Bali for Thailand. Shortly thereafter, I leave Thailand for Myanmar. I’m on a travel writing assignment for The Avid Cruiser and Viking River Cruises. I’m sailing the Irrawaddy River, exploring a region whose beauty is nothing short of mythical. 

As I pack and prepare to leave Bali, I find myself thinking about Alaska. Alaska swept me off my feet at a time when my career in academia was suffocating my gypsy soul. I desperately craved wildness and the last frontier delivered.

Author Miranda Weiss said of the people in love with Alaska: “I think we all wanted to know what we would look like in front of a backdrop of wilderness, who we would become once the fancy clothes and high ambitions were stripped away.”

I wrote a love letter to Alaska 18 months ago that seems almost prophetic. I’ve now quit my job in the name of what I love, sold my stuff, rented my condo, and do not have a return ticket home. Because when I love, I love all in. My love letter to Alaska began...

“Every time I travel I fall in love. Movement seduces me. My wanderlust is palpable, an insatiable ache. This is true for every vagabond soul I’ve met. I’ve been wandering long enough to not confuse this love with a naive crush on travel. My love is seasoned and unconditional. I love the bad days, the tired days, the beautiful days, the productive days, the rainy days.”

Both metaphorically and literally, I came to Bali to be stripped. Intentionally, delicately, fiercely stripped.

I came to Bali to challenge every drop of ego and pretense I held dear. I came to Bali to heal.

 No mud, no lotus. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

No mud, no lotus. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

My time on The Island of the Gods has been a firestorm of transformation. Just over five weeks later, I don’t recognize myself. My love letter to Bali is one of gratitude for the lessons she taught me, or reinforced, or drilled into my stubborn brain. Either way, the lessons are the thing. 

Bali taught me that we truly do live in an abundant universe. 

Tides come and go. Offerings are made and swept away. Flowers fall and a thousand new blossoms appear the next morning. You're having an adrenal meltdown and two Balinese strangers rush to fan your face and bring you cold water. The Universe is constantly cycling and replenishing herself. I now trust my ability to flow with these cycles. I now trust my skills and moxie to succeed as an entrepreneur. I now trust that everything I need I can carry in 46L on my back. I now trust that life isn’t passing me by back home, but that life is simultaneously in every moment and rushing toward me around the next bend. I trust all of it. I trust myself, The Universe, and every stranger who gives me directions or a ride to Point B.

Bali taught me you are enough. As you are. Right now. 

Bali gave me permission to throw away my comb and I haven’t worn a stitch of makeup in two months. Bali also taught me that with three pants, two dresses, four shirts, and seven underwear...I own too many clothes. I eat when I’m hungry. I sleep as the sun goes down. I wake rested as the sun rises. I exercise when I need it. I write when I’m inspired. This wild, restorative, animal rhythm of Bali has been a lesson in radical self-care. It was a lesson 34 years in the making. Download complete. 

Bali taught me that shame only has power in silence.

The moment you say the thing you're terrified to say out loud... The moment you admit what it is you told yourself you'd never admit to another person... The moment you allow yourself to be human and ugly and powerful and open... That's the moment, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, you crack open and allow the light in. Shame cannot live in the light of day and your bravery in sharing what you're most afraid to share will liberate you completely. Know this. 

Bali taught me the importance of ritual.

Offer something every day to a power greater than you and watch how radically your life changes. Even if that power greater than you is just the wind, the ocean, your concept of a goddess, capital G.O.D. if that's your thing. Offer your ego, offer your desires, offer beliefs that no longer serve you, offer your fears, offer your gratitude, just offer. Then offer again. Then keep offering. Let it flow.

Bali taught me that my body is strong (even badass).

Bali taught me that my legs can support me on a steep hike up a rice terraced mountain and through a bike ride down the side of a volcano. She taught me that my arms can swim countless laps when barely 10 laps were possible when I first arrived. She taught me to love my bruised shins, the new scars on my thighs, the uneven tan lines sneaking up all over my body, the muscles beginning to take shape on my arms, the freckles on my nose and cheeks that become darker with each kiss of sun. I never let my Hashimoto’s disease define me, but I admittedly left the states with lingering doubt about my ability to manage the physical rigors of travel. I no longer have any doubt that my body is strong and I know I'm healing deeply every day. Your passion will heal you. Keep going. 

Bali taught me to let go.

Let go of beliefs that don’t serve me. Let go of the illusion of perfection. Let go of ego and pride and shame and guilt and stress and the stories I spun to keep myself busy. Bali taught me that when you do finally let go, you’re lighter and brighter than you ever imagined. Our core is nothing but joy. The work it takes to get to that core is worth every drop of sweat. 

Bali taught me how to love deeply and intensely in the present.

Bali taught me that love can live in a single moment, even intense life-changing love. This love can exist in and of itself, a snapshot, past tense but still infinite. The fact that the moment ends doesn’t make the love any less real. It also doesn’t make the love go away, but I no longer believe it has to. I worked so hard for so many years to exorcise A****. Then, in one simple intimate moment on Jimbaran Beach, Putu taught me that love can exist purely for the sake of the love having existed at all. Putu didn’t realize he was teaching me that night, and of course he couldn't realize that A**** was going to email me a week later. And because miracles are defined as a shift in perception, in one miraculous email we healed eight years of pain with a few tender, raw, gorgeous paragraphs. Love like that can’t be bothered with definitions of time and space. It should just be. Bali's purifying energy finally got through to me the moment I read the email. She whispered... "Don't let it go. Just let it be. Let it fill you up. Let it hurt. Let it be your muse. Let yourself love him for the sake of the love having existed at all."

Love for the pure sake of it,

 I realize I look like Evita in this photo, but whatever. This is my goodbye to Bali. Open. Wide open. Letting it flow. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

I realize I look like Evita in this photo, but whatever. This is my goodbye to Bali. Open. Wide open. Letting it flow. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Gratitude: An Ode To The Weirdest Thanksgiving Ever.

Gratitude: An Ode To The Weirdest Thanksgiving Ever.

A trek into Bali's iconic rice paddies

A trek into Bali's iconic rice paddies