“It feels like we’ve been kidnapped,” I said to Monkey on the first morning of our meditation retreat with Light Watkins in the mountains of Bali, above Ubud. We had arrived at Bagus Jati in the early dusk, the distinctive smoky air and jungley sounds failing to keep us alert after our mammoth 30+ hour journey from home.
“That’s because we fell asleep for half of the journey from the airport,” replied Monkey, ever the logical one. And he was right, of course. It is, nevertheless, disorienting to find yourself in a location—albeit paradise—with no bearings or sense of the surrounding geography.
Even now, I couldn’t really tell you where Bagus Jati is exactly located, but I can tell you that it is: 1) Stunningly beautiful, nestled in the bosom of a tropical ravine and carved out of a steep hillside; 2) A perfect location to retreat to, far away from the madding rest of the world (a fact heightened by the slow wifi); 3) A carefully constructed environment designed to nurture and take care of your every need; 4) Remote enough: we never left its boundaries until it was time to head home.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me explain what we were doing on a meditation retreat in the first place. I realize it’s not the typical family vacation one might plan with a teen in tow.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I underwent emergency surgery last year and had to have a part of my gut removed. Four months later in January, I found myself physically healed, yet no further along in understanding why it had happened. I had been subjected to every (expensive) scan and probe known to womankind and nothing conclusive had been revealed.
In fact, the only possible explanation for why my body turned on me is the blight of 21st century life: yep, you guessed it, stress.
For a few months after my surgery I felt tip-top inside and out. Amazing. Back to my old self of five years ago. And perhaps not surprisingly, this period of feeling great coincided with taking a break from work. But slowly, as I threw myself into running my new company, I noticed that some of my “ailments” were starting to return. Unexplained skin rashes. An occasional twitchy eye. Inexplicable bloating that wasn’t related to a particular food.
I had to face it. Stress just doesn’t sit well with my system. Perhaps it’s the compounded years of the darn stuff that have taken their toll. Maybe it’s that the last two years have been particularly more stressful than ever. But as I examined my life, and having tried every diet, naturopathic and Western medicine approach to make these complaints go away, I realized that I needed a better way to manage things.
At the beginning of the year, I set a series of intentions and one of them was beginning a meditation practice. So when the universe decided to deliver me an email from Light Watkins—a wonderful meditation teacher I met last year—inviting me to join him on retreat in Bali, my brain started ticking over.
I knew immediately I wanted to go, but I also knew that pulling it off was going to be near impossible for many reasons, not least that leaving Monkey for an extended period of time is never easy.
He, too, has had his ups and downs of late, and we’ve dabbled together in short meditations when time and crises have conspired. It didn’t occur to me to bring him all the way to Bali for a 6-day retreat, and so I decided I couldn’t go, and sadly RSVP’d “no” citing the need to stay home with my son.
But again, the Universe was at work, and the retreat organizer, Soelae Riley, immediately wrote me back urging me to bring him with me. Now my brain was really motoring. What if? Would he sit through it all? Could I afford it?
My first move was to discuss it with Monkey. I explained to him that if he came, he had to fully participate, this wasn’t a chance to sit on a sun lounger with his iPad, there was real work to be done. Without a moment’s hesitation, and seduced by the promise of the daily massages, he said he was in.
So three months later, there we were, sitting on a gorgeous terrace, outside our little villa, looking out over lush, green vegetation and listening to wild animal noises, discussing how it felt like we’d been kidnapped.
If you’re not a meditator, it’s almost impossible to describe what it is like to meditate, but by now, you’ve surely heard about all its benefits. If, like us, you’re a beginner, it’s great to start your journey on a retreat so you can go deep and have the support of a teacher, virtually around the clock.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. And I certainly didn’t expect that going as deep as we did during our time in Bali—which acted as a big kick-start to de-stressing–would result in experiencing all my typical symptoms of stress. Apparently, these are very normal side-effects as you start to purge your system.
If I’d known I was flying all the way to Bali to have crazy skin rashes, a twitchy eye and feel exhausted, I may not have signed up(!). But every journey has to start somewhere and the long-term benefits are tantalizing and I want them in my life.
Light was a phenomenal teacher giving us detailed explanations of the process and practice of meditation, peppered with often-funny personal anecdotes. The group of over 20 was an amazing collection of people from the U.S., U.K. and Australia. We feel so lucky to have a band of new friends around the world.
Bagus Jati is just divine. Heaven on earth. If you are going to sequester yourself away and deal with oft-painful, heavy s**t, you may as well do it in paradise with a daily spa treatment. The staff were, without exception, charming, caring and downright lovely. Oh, and the food was great. Pescatarian, gluten-free and dairy-free. Every meal was prepared for us, and I’m sure I gained a few pounds.
But what really blew me away, was Monkey’s 1000% commitment to the whole experience. He not only sat through every ‘knowledge talk’, he was often the first to ask questions, and astute ones at that. He did every single meditation and assures me he is fully committed to our ongoing practice of two, twenty minute sessions per day.
And best of all, Monkey and I had a great time together—it was mellow and easy. And if you’ve ever lived with a 14 year old, you know that isn’t something you get to say very often.