Escape the World Retreats

by

Robin Sparks

Escape the World - three words that like a siren song tugged at my weary soul. Nine years of life on the road and a recent move to a foreign country had taken their toll. In spite of a multitude of reasons Not To Go, I went anyway, escaping the winter of Istanbul. I’d been in Bali for one month, a virtual paradise in and of itself, when I graduated to heaven by attending an “Escape the World” retreat held at the Kumara resort in Ubud, Bali.

Located on the property of a Balinese prince, Kumara is tucked in and around the jungle on the side of a ravine. From my room with its windowed walls, I can neither hear nor see another human soul except for a tiny dot on the horizon, which upon further inspection, is a farmer leading his ducks through a rice paddy. Just outside my room a tree bends over from the weight of several bunches of bananas. Larger than life waxy leaves dance in the breeze, so brightly hued they appear to be fake. It’s easy to see where the inspiration for the batik textile on my bed came from – the patterns for Bali’s famous ikat sprout all over the island. I stretch out on the hand-carved Balinese bed enveloped by a white mosquito net on the balcony to try something I don’t do very often. Nap.

Hand carved stone paths and steps meander, climb and fall next to streams and tiny waterfalls and statues to the Gods and lead to the dining hall, the yoga pavilion, and further down to the second pool. The only sounds aside from rain pattering on leaves, a rooster crowing, birds tweeting, frogs croaking, and geckos geckoing, is the deep resonant gong, calling us to yoga twice daily, and the tinkling of a bell to wake us at 6:30AM each morning. That’s right -- just me and eight others in the jungle hailing from Holland, Jakarta, Australia, France, Sweden, Singapore, and America. The staff quietly attend to our every need and then some. When we return to our rooms each evening after dinner, there is a fresh hibiscus blossom on our turned down beds, candles on our balconies have been lit, and fresh incense placed on our tables. Although it’s a five minute drive to the center of Ubud, we may as well be a million miles away.

On our first evening we meet for tea and desert on the opulent terrace of the residence of the prince. Manager and owner of ONEWORLD retreats, Claude Chouinard and Iyan Yaspriyana, introduce themselves and give us a preview of the week ahead. Claude tells us about Balinese rituals and traditions so that we can incorporate them into the upcoming week.

Among a handful of upcoming activities that include not only yoga and spa treatments, but forays into “real” Bali, we learn that we will attend a purification ceremony at a Balinese temple tomorrow night and are shown how to wrap our sarongs and secure them with temple sashes. One sarong for the outside, and one to be worn inside for bathing in the purifying spring waters. Claude encourages each of us to come up with an intention for the week to think about at the ceremony.

The next evening we go together to the temple and kneel behind a Balinese priest. Waving his hands in the smoke of the incense and holding up flower after flower in prayer clasped hands, he chants in Balinese. Whatever he is asking for and whoever he is asking it for, thank you very much. I am sure that I can use it and I accept it gratefully. We then bathe in the holy waters of the temple pausing under each of eleven fountains to make a wish before letting the healing waters rush over us. There is a longer line than most behind the relationship fountain.

Walking through waist-deep water sheathed in white linen and dipping under its surface reminds me of my Christian upbringing - the significance that water plays in cleansing and renewal. I’d been thinking that 2009 would go down as the year that I began a new life. In the year 2000 I began living abroad for months at a time in various countries in order to write about those who leave home to find a new one, as well as the stories of my own inner journey in search of a new tribe. I’ve been telling friends that my book has gestated for nine years and that it is time for it to be born. Two weeks ago, I laid in the middle of a kundalini healing circle and saw an amphibious-like shell falling away, and something raw, tender, and innocent, emerging. Might the book be a metaphor for me?

The next morning at 6:45 am I am stepping gingerly on the beautiful inlaid stones beneath my feet, shimmering wet after all night rain. The smell of jasmine in the air, deep gong signaling the beginning of another day. In the open air yoga pavilion overlooking the jungle, Iyan guides us through meditation and yoga with his deeply resonant voice, both soothing and eerily reminiscent of the chanting of the priest last night. Ommmmmmmmm. Iiifff youuuuur miiiind (up and note or two on the word mind) has gone awayyyyyy (up again on last word) bring it baaaaaack (stretch out the word back and bring it down a half note). One of the attendees has never before done yoga. A couple are regular yoginis and the others, like me, are on and off practitioners. Our different levels are seemingly irrelevant. Iyan’s intuitive guidance offers precisely what each one of us needs when we need it.

After yoga, we eat breakfast in the open-air (of course) dining room. Black rice pudding with warm coconut cream. Fresh papaya, mango, pineapple, banana, yogurt, home made crunchy muesli, and a delightful bread that can best be described as crunchy, nutty, wholesome, slightly salty, and yummy. These are but a few of the selections on the menu. Master chef and raw organic cooking specialist, Cecilia Davidsson of Sweden, owner of Curlyfood (www.curlyfood.se) is training the kitchen staff this month. From the “Happy Salad” with its center of finely chopped green olives, lemon zest, olive oil, black pepper, naked cashews, and a side of tamari sauce, to the chocolate mousse which is so delicious that we raid the refrigerator and then scrape the remains from the mixing bowl (imagine our surprise when Cecilia reveals the mousse is actually mashed avocado!), each meal throughout the week is a mouth watering concoction of raw organic ingredients. Cecilia says that for food to be truly nutritious, it is essential that it not only be healthy, but that it be prepared with loving hands. Fete acompli!

Early one morning, we drive up the summit of Mt. Batur and as the sun’s first rays beam over the rim of the volcano, we do sun salutations. Amazing. We gradually descend on mountain bikes past gob-stoppingly gorgeous rice paddies and through villages where the Balinese are going about their ordinary (albeit extraordinary to us) daily lives.

When first informed about the day of silence, some of us are a bit dubious. What, no talking? No phone calls or instant messaging? For a whole 24 hours? Claude suggests we spend some of the time writing affirmations. (but reading is not allowed). As it turns out it is the day of silence that sets a transformative tone for the rest of the week and we love it. I, for one, resolve to make a day of silence a regular ritual in my life. One of the participants, Andra from Jakarta says later, “It was the day of silence that changed my outlook on life. On that day I found that I've been searching for happiness in all the wrong places. That I have all the answers within me. It was a real awakening.”

A bridge leads from the resort through the jungle into the rice fields and eventually to one of the most unique, awe-inspiring, delicious, healthy open air restaurants in Bali - Sari Organics – situated next to the farm where it grows its own produce. There surrounded by a palette of colors, smells and sounds that are pure bountiful Bali, we laugh and relax and eat together, and I slurp through a hollow tube of bamboo the best mango lassie I have ever tasted in my life.

The spa treatment rooms are open to views that simply have to be seen and experienced to be believed. It is in this setting where we are expertly and reverently kneaded and massaged. I have never and doubt I will ever again experience anything like the three-hour Ayurvedic massage that is the specialty of the trained masseuses at Kumara. The pedicure and manicure, the hair cream bath, the head and shoulder massage, the crown chakra anointing of oil, oh yes, those too are divine. But the Ayurvedic massage not only puts me in a deep state of relaxation, but brings up insights and melts away negativity. I have long dreamed of living in Bali, and now here I am sitting smack dab in the middle of my dream my feet being washed lovingly, my shoulders being massaged looking out at what must be the most beautiful place on the planet. The world is my mirror. What I see, both good and bad, I create. It’s an analogy I’ve heard before. But it is not until this day during this massage at this moment as I sat here looking out at these scalloped mirrored rice paddies that the words take root. The world is my mirror. OK…If that’s the case, and I created this, I am one drop dead gorgeous woman!

Instead of ruminating on all the things my boyfriend does that bug me, I begin picturing the perfect loving partner all the way down to his calf muscles. The person in our group who annoys me with her deluge of derogatory comments about Americans? She too is my mirror and all negative thoughts about her go the way of the knot in my back.

Wrapped in a sarong and holding a mug of hot ginger tea, I’m seated on the terrace in a full-on post-massage glow thinking I smell like a frangipani flower and I like it. I don’t ever want to shower again! Someone emerges from an adjoining treatment room and sits down next to me. Guess who? That’s right. Her face glowing like an angel, we smile at each other, Goddess to Goddess. Dutchess to American.

On the last morning we meet in the yoga pavilion to create from palm leaves Balinese offerings like the ones we have seen piled up on altars and stone Gods all over the island. Seated in a circle, we watch in silence as Iyan burns the pieces of paper we have given him which contain lists of things we want to eliminate from our lives. He covers the ashes with flower petals and takes the basket to the river. We watch from above as he first prays and then releases the petals and ashes, allowing them to flutter on the currents down to the river below to be carried out to sea. They back up behind a branch that has fallen across the river, but I turn and walk away peacefully, confident that it is but a temporary obstacle that will soon be washed away on the current.

The Escape the World retreat touches parts of your heart and soul that a boot camp-like yoga retreat simply can’t reach. It is more than a meditation workshop, where one spends 99% of their time in their heads. And it is much more than its delicious healthy inventive meals and mesmerizing massages. The Escape the World Retreat is a buffet for all the senses. And isn’t balance what the body and soul craves nearly as much as food and water?

Want to Escape the World yourself? Go to www.oneworldretreats.com