Bali Silent Retreat is located in Penebel Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia, about a two-hour drive from the Denpasar airport and a little over an hour drive from Ubud. The retreat has been open for four years (today is actually its fourth birthday celebration) but it took almost three years to construct and build. I had the privilege of sitting down with the founder, Patricia, a lovely woman from America (I have found that most other cultures don’t refer to the U.S. as the U.S. or United States, they call it America so I am working on changing my vocabulary) and she told me a bit about the history of the retreat. Patricia is gifted with the ability to see and speak to angels and spirits. She was in Bali over six years ago and had a vision to create this retreat. At the time she was happily retired and had no intention or even desire to begin constructing a retreat in Bali, but the forces that called her to build the retreat led her to Sangtu, a Balinese local (and now part owner) who, with other Balinese workers did most of the work of constructing the retreat while Patricia was the visionary. She spoke about the spirit of a woman with long hair that lives in one of the trees in the retreat who gave Patricia guidance about where to build everything; the well, the yoga bale, walking labyrinth, guest rooms, etc. The land that the retreat resides on has a rich history of once housing an ashram and temples of a royal family, and there were even ceremonies that took place to bless the land and prepare it for guests to sleep here.
One of the most amazing things about the retreat is that Patricia takes no profit, all of the money goes back to the Balinese. Aside from Patricia, the chef and the director of the volunteer program, most of the staff are Balinese; the front desk “angels,” the kitchen angels, the laundry and housekeepers, the gardeners and the rice field workers. The Balinese remind me a lot of the people of India, they are always warm and welcoming with huge beautiful smiles on their faces. They also seem to move a lot slower than we do in America. I love to watch the housekeepers walking together as a group to clean rooms; they leisurely stroll with no rush to get to their destination, seemingly enjoying each step. That’s not to say that they don’t work hard, the Balinese work seven days a week and long hours. They are primarily Hindu in Bali; their own variation of Hinduism which is a bit different than the Hinduism that is practiced in India, and each village has their own temples with different celebrations and ceremonies. The only days they have off work are on their temples’ holidays which they are required to attend. Some of the ceremonies last for several days at a time.
It really puts things into perspective and helps me to appreciate my upbringing and all of the privileges of being an American. We have so much freedom to do what we want with our lives while there are still so many parts of the world where people are required to live their life a certain way based on their culture. It is, however, very refreshing that the Balinese people still seem to be so happy and content with their lives and manage to put a big smile on their face every single day. One of the things that was really becoming apparent to me during my last couple months in America was how deeply unhappy Americans seem to be, despite all of their freedom and privilege. It’s rare that a stranger will initiate or return a smile or even make eye contact. I’m so used to strangers staring me down with scowls and dirty looks that it’s been a bit of a culture shock to receive such warmth from the Balinese people. I’ve walked around in the villages near the retreat and for the most part I am always greeted with a giant warm smile, much like I was in India which was one of the reasons I loved it there so much.
The grounds of the retreat are beautiful and are passionately cared for by the workers each and every day. The food is incredible (so incredible that it is going to get its own blog) and much of the food is grown right on the land of the retreat and in the gardens. There is a beautiful outdoor octagon yoga “bale” with a lovely view of the retreat lodge and grounds where I have the privilege of teaching everyday. There is a labyrinth for walking meditation, hammocks for lounging, and a small jungle path that leads down to a river. Our meals are served and eaten in the lodge where there is also a nice lounging area with a small library containing an array of different types of books, mostly spiritual books and novels. The “Corner House” where the volunteers live is a short walk outside the reception area of the retreat just outside of a tiny village that is located behind the retreat. Our accommodations are basic and a bit rustic compared to my western standards but we have our own rooms and bathrooms with a shared open air common area and kitchen. With everything I’ve been going through emotionally, it’s been such a blessing to have my own space, especially considering that I am here for six weeks. The village behind the Corner House is quite noisy – roosters crowing, dogs barking, instrumental music being played outdoors, so I have been spending a good portion of my free time in the lodge reading, something I haven’t had much time for in my adult life. I also find that when I’m feeling lonely it’s comforting to be around other people’s energy even though we’re all in silence. There is a beautiful 40-minute loop through the village and out into miles of rice fields that I have been walking as often as my free time and the weather will allow – it feels good to get off the retreat grounds for a bit and it is some of the most gorgeous scenery I have ever seen in my life.
After being here for a month, I am beginning to get a little burnt out on teaching every single day and of the daily routine which tends to be a lot of time spent alone doing the same things day after day. I guide meditation and yoga asana classes every other day at 6am and every other day at 2pm. Getting up at 4:30am to teach is rough regardless of how early I go to bed; I’ve never really been a morning person and getting up in the darkness and cool humid air doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve been getting up around that time even on the days I teach in the afternoon to keep my body clock consistent and it’s hard to sleep much past that anyway through the noise of the village, even with earplugs. We also do quite a bit of “karma yoga” keeping the Corner House and Yoga Bale clean as well as other small projects, and not having a day off is getting a bit tiring; I don’t understand how the Balinese do it! I will be moving on to Ubud in two weeks for 16 days which is sort of famous as a yoga mecca. I am starting to get really excited to get out and start meeting other travelers and I cannot wait to sleep in! I’m also looking forward to enjoying a nice cold beer (or three).
For now, though, I am doing my best to really stay present and appreciate the pace of life here which is a much needed change from my hectic life as a yoga teacher in Denver. The past couple of years have been incredibly stressful and busy, rarely leaving me with any time to rest or energy to take care of myself. While I miss my beloved yoga students dearly, I don’t really miss the yoga scene in Denver at all. It is incredibly competitive and I grew tired very quickly of always having to sell myself and compete with other teachers. Colorado has the most yoga studios per capita in the U.S. after Alaska, and with that many yoga studios doing yoga teacher trainings comes tons of yoga teachers. And with that many yoga teachers comes a competitive market and low wages, making it very difficult or impossible to be financially successful as a full-time yoga teacher. I am quite proud of how successful I was with my yoga career in the past couple years, I filled many workshops, two retreats and had a growing community of regular students, but even so I don’t think there was one month that I made enough money to just cover my living expenses. I was teaching for three different yoga studios that all had multiple locations so I was running around between seven different locations on a weekly basis just to teach my regular classes. And considering how much Denver has grown in the past couple of years following the legalization of marijuana (over 100,000 people moved to Colorado in 2015), I certainly don’t miss the traffic and congestion of the city. So whenever I start feeling anxious for the next thing to come, I keep reminding myself of what a blessing it is to just be here, with the time to read, blog and give my body and mind a much needed rest from the stress and fast pace of our typical western lives.
More Photos of Bali Silent Retreat: