Yesterday began the start of the second portion of my Balinese adventure; involving a shift in focus, bringing a more explicit spiritual component to my experience here, and giving me the opportunity to learn mother earth through a Balinese perspective.
We took a trip to holy waters where we had the opportunity to honor the god/dess and be purified in the falls. We made our way to Sebatu village, around 10 miles north of Ubud, where people bathe in the sacred waters and perform ‘melukat,’ a traditional water purification ceremony intended to rid the mind and body of negative influences. ‘Lukat’ means ‘letting go' so the rite can free you from what ails you, be it stress or sin, from this life or past ones. They are all swept away by the waters... but it is necessary to ask.
Having chosen Elk as my card that morning, I was at least somewhat mentally prepared when I saw the approach; stamina was indeed required. Oh the steps. And the steps and steps and steps. And oh yes - more steps... I was thankful this was a morning excursion, I'm not at all sure I could have finished the journey - and all those freaking steps - during a hotter time of day...
But finish I did and what an amazing experience!
Before reaching the falls where the purification takes place, there are three waterspouts with a small shrine where we stopped to ask for permission to enter the site. We kneel, we wash in the incense smoke brought as an offering - bringing the smoke into our body, our heart and our head. We offer five prayers - once with empty hands, three times with "canang" (flower offerings - which once you have offered in prayer you tuck behind your ear or in your hair) and finally again with empty hands. Each prayer is initiated with a wash in the incense and followed with gratitude.
The actual purification site is located further down the gorge - yes more stairs! But we finally made it to the bottom, where the falls can be accessed. At this point we gathered our final offering: "kewangan" a cone shaped offering made out of palm leaves containing flowers and a coin. These offerings are made as you stand in waist-deep water to a tray affixed to the rock face. And then you face the falls.
Three is a magic number in Bali - and so its fitting that you submit yourself to the falls three times - face first and back first and back first again (although our guide said that its more important that you enter the water as you feel it will work best to wash it all away) - it is certainly intense, strong waters indeed. Once you recognize that the release is complete, you exit the falls and make a final prayer before heading back - newly free of what needed to be gone.
A couple of thoughts about the journey - beyond the purification ritual itself...
I never really thought about how important regularity is in terms of stairways - especially if you don't usually think about it. But when step heights are variable it's essential to pay attention. This intense attention to the stairway served to concentrate the mind on the experience of just walking the path. Each step. Each one. Each and every step. It wasn't about the scenery or the sound of the wind through the canopy leaves or even the bird song. Hardly even the sound of the waters could shift that needed concentration from the path. It was foot placement. Being sure you didn't miss a step or slip on the moist mosses, being careful that the next step down was solid - even if it was closer to 14" rather than 8" or 6" like the last few. And maybe the next one is 10" and there were hundreds...
At times, I was tentative, my legs tingling a bit following the stops where we knelt to pray and make our offerings... dreading a bit the thought of the climb back up... But that all washed away in the waters. I won't say I bounded back up - but I also didn't worry that I was slow.
I was steady.
I had stamina.