I’m in Ubud. The temperature is high but up here in the hills there’s also a gentle relief when a light breeze blows through. Our room is in a solid stone building with marble floors and big teak doors that close with a wooden bar. In this town everything is changing and everything has been the same for centuries.
It doesn’t take long, coming from the city, to gain from being here. It seems to be a place for learning deep lessons about living.
Starting with gratitude.
Strewn around the footpaths, on statues and outside shops are small bamboo trays filled with flowers & slices of fruit and often with a stick of incense laid across. That incense contributes to the scent of the town. Each morning you’ll see people laying out these little offerings, young girls opening the shops and spas, hotel managers, people getting into their cars.
The Balinese have understood for generations the power of starting the day with gratitude to their many gods. You don’t need a god or a tradition, though. Gratitude for living, for the previous day, for health, for the chance to relish the world, is a great ritual for starting any day, and to end it.
Every ordinary act is an act of love.
I had the gift of taking a cooking course with a wonderful local woman who explained the properties of all the ingredients (including the five kinds of ginger, the three kinds of pepper and the many local plants). She also explained how every morning she goes to the market to collect the ingredients and makes the family’s meals before starting work. That is, all the meals for the day, for everyone. Cooking is an offering of love, not in some abstract way, but in daily practical acts.
You can see this everywhere, though. The gentleness with which you are served in any restaurant or cafe; the hibiscus flower you suddenly notice on a statue; the way any object is held.
You don’t need to work hard to act with love. Love and caring are at the heart of craft and art, but also in the performance of any professional role. Somehow, it comes through and people notice. Yet in the western urban world, love and care can lose out to speed and quantity.
Everything looks like a temple!
I’m still getting used to Balinese architecture. Because the place is either in the wet season or the wetter season, and the humidity is in the 90s, an amazing proportion of the buildings are made of stone with tiled floors to keep things cool. And of course being Bali, a lot of the stone is carefully and intricately carved. So it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at a temple, a palace, a hotel or someone’s home. At least that’s the impression this place makes on me. The narrow streets and alleyways all seem to have secret, sacred entrances.
What this adds up to is a place that holds its history close, with pride and without cynicism. Sure there are plenty of mopeds and cars clogging the main roads, and plenty of trendy boutiques and bars crowding up against the old shops and meeting places. But they haven’t dented the foundations, cultural and social, that make this place so special.
It seems to me there are some good lessons to learn from Ubud, about time, community, serenity, art and resilience. And I think those lessons are relevant wherever you live and whatever you’re doing.