Where you’re thinking of Eat, Pray, Love and instead end up attending exorcisms at night in the compound of a spiritual healer

“I was thinking of going to a spiritual healer,” I said to the hostess of my homestay. I was thinking of Cokorda Rai, a famous healer I’ve read about online. I knew he lived not too far from where I was staying and was hoping to direct the conversation in that direction.

“Yes, the famous one in my village. He died many years ago, ” she said.

She was referring to Ketut Lyer, the healer made famous in the book Eat, Pray, Love, whose house was located not five minutes from where we were.

“Oh…I heard his son gives blessings now.”

“I don’t know about that. Yes, you can go see him. It’s ok.”

I was confused for a minute, thinking she was referring to the son.

“He lives less than 100 meters from here. Kadek can show you.”

We walk down the small village road, Kadek and I. It is about mid-morning. I asked him if he ever went to this healer.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” he said, waving his hands back and forth for added emphasis. Taking a step back, for even more.

I laughed then asked, “should I be afraid?”

“Maybe,” he said. “You will see.”

Right. In my head, I’m seeing the old and spunky opportunistic man from the movie, Eat, Pray, Love, but feeling maybe, something is not exactly right. Yet, I’m in Bali, in Ubud, and why not? This man lives 100 meters away.

I am number fifteen in line to see the famous healer, who draws people from all over Bali, but none from his own village, apparently. I am to come back at 7pm.

At night, I arrive wearing my sarong, using a scarf as a belt. It is how women in Bali dress traditionally, and it is a sign of respect to the house you’re visiting to be properly attired. Though, I definitely look like the foreigner wearing her beach sarong and tying it with a two dollar scarf.

The place looks different. Feels different.

Walking there, I passed two giant wooden goats being carved for the cremation ceremony that was about to take place in one month’s time. The Balinese take elaborate care in creating these edifices – animal sculptures and temples two to three stories high, decorated with hundreds of flowers and coconut offerings. In the yellow light, these carvings looked primitive and eerie.

I walk inside and there are roughly a dozen men wearing identical black tees and the customary black and white checkered sarongs. They are tense, attentive, but not solicitous. People are handing to them their offerings for the healer. Straw baskets filled with little trays of flowers made from palm leaves, crackers, candy and in mine, which I had to purchase there, a pack of cigarettes. Yes, I am the tourist.

I note a sense of derision in the people in black here, but not out of mean-spiritedness or superiority. I think it is because they operate in the dark. In people’s darkness, and it is a defensive attitude.

I notice that the other visitors speak in a hushed tone. Some are scared. Some angry. There is a nervousness there. I quickly lose my sense of excited anticipation and start to wonder really, what I was doing there.

The first group of visitors line up and sit on a raised platform that is used for prayers. The healer comes out and performs a series of prayers, sprinkling holy water on them. I find out later that they are calling the spirit, and it’s then I realize that I got myself into something deep.

A non-stop demonstration of previous work done by the priest plays from a TV. It is an endless cycle of screaming.

“So much screaming,” I said, and the man sitting next to me laughs. They scream as if possessed. They scream as if in pain. They scream with frustration. It is almost all women, on this best-of reel.

I was thinking that when just then, a man starts sobbing from inside the consultation room. His entire family is in there with him and he is crying. With grief, with fatigue, without reserve.

It happens over and over again. A little girl is twirling around one minute, next she’s crying out, in that way that sounds like she doesn’t know why she’s crying. A woman, a mother and wife, gives in and starts speaking in tongues. She wears a white sarong with a light blue pattern of flowers on it, and a white top. Her son is quick to take the priest’s blessing. A lone man stamps into the little visiting room defiant and angry, and shuffles out with a glazed look in his eyes, hands shaking slightly as he picks up a small plastic bag containing his belongings.

They keep asking me – what is your problem. What do you need to ask the healer about?

I couldn’t really answer them. With each passing minute, I become more and more alarmed. I am safe, but I am in the wrong place and I know it. I am looking for something, true, but not here. I tell them about my runner’s knee and that I am looking for guidance. Help with next steps. They ask again, this time with lowered lids and voice, eyes sidling – do you have a problem you’d like to ask.

It’s funny how things like this puts your life in perspective. Yes, I have problems in my life. And maybe one of them is I don’t know how to talk about them. But sitting there, with all these people, I realized that I don’t actually have a problem. None that would cause me to speak in tongues, scream in agony, writhe against the hold of men in black and white checkered sarongs.

Whatever emotional pain I had – is gone. I could not feel it sitting there. I cannot feel it now writing this. I saw real wretchedness in that place, real demons and know I did not belong.

I am in the next group of visitors, having been bumped up apparently. The healer said, through an interpreter, that my vibration is very hot. That he could feel I get upset easily. That it was like I had the sun inside of me. He said I needed to cool down. Meditate. Meditate in nature. Do more spiritual practices. Go to him for three blessing with coconut water.

Huh, what? Immediately, my tourist trap alarm goes off. So I ask if I could just get one blessing. He says no, three is the minimum. The tour guide helping with the interpretation says sometimes, eleven is needed.

I tell him I’ll start with one. He then prescribes me two bottles of sacred water that cost 50,000 rupiahs. Which, is about 40,000 rupiahs more than un-sacred water.

I am blessed, or balanced, by a cool stream of coconut water that is poured over the back of my head. The tour guide instructs me to drink the water (as it’s being poured), and in a moment of confusion, as I keep drinking the water, to also splash the water on my face, but only in an upwards movement. And only seven times. By then, the coconut had run out of water and I am furiously wiping my face in an upwards movement and I hear the priest sigh with frustration.

“I think that’s at least fourteen times,” I say.

I walked out of there in a daze. I feel as if I’ve been to another world and saw part of the misery hidden in people, there in the dark night. I saw how difficult it is to turn down spiritual advice when you ask for spiritual advice. And I contrast the light I felt earlier in the day shopping for batik, and the illness concentrated in that one place.

And I think of the people there, offering succor. Relief. Instructions. A way out, for their misery. The healer will collect one million rupiahs that night, and twenty gift baskets. Sell some holy water and medicine.

I find out later from my driver that no one visits the healer in their village, for fear of gossip. I asked him if he had gone to see one before and he said yes, when his family’s pets died and they suspected a neighbor of poisoning them, out of jealousy. Black magic was needed. It was then that I realized that healers are the antithesis of priests, in Bali. Light and dark, and the balance of, after all, is their philosophy.

I laughed then, really laughed, because we’d just driven past Cokorda Rai’s house and my driver could have taken me there if I’d only ask him. Cokorda starts his appointments at 7am and can reportedly diagnose physical ailments by poking your toes with a wooden stick. Sounds fantastic, but this is the land of magic and in that sense, Elizabeth Gilbert got Bali right. But man, did she miss this part of what healers are all about.


Island relaxed

I’m so relaxed I’m in a state I call island relaxed. Not every island, only ones like Hawaii and Bali. That kind of relaxed where putting things into bags seems difficult and the hardest decision I need to make is whether to get six dollar budget massages every day, or fifteen dollar luxury massages every two-and-a-half days. I mean, no wonder Elizabeth Gilbert found herself here. Though, apparently not that part of herself that was into women.

I really came to Bali to come to Bali, whatever that means. I had been here twenty years prior and it has always stuck with me, whatever it is. And so, I came hoping to find something, not knowing, what that something is.
I’m in Ubud now and was at the post office yesterday, mailing out my souvenirs purchased in Laos, already regretting what I had passed..

I grabbed a number and waited in line. Sitting in front of me was a white woman, with feathers braided in her hair. It says a lot, weaving your dreams into your hair and wearing it on top of your head. She counted along with the electronic display and got excited when it seemed to start moving quickly.

“This never happens,” she said, “I thought I’d be here for an hour.”

I asked where she was from and “Ashland, Oregon,” she replied. In the short space between numbers 202 and 214, she told me she moved out here ten years ago with her now ex-husband because the rent got too expensive. She was there to pay her bills and worried about making ends meet, struggling to work as a photographer. But, she felt hopeful because her outreach recently on Facebook had yielded a few inquiries.

“I’m divorced now,” she said, “and should’ve done so twenty-six years ago.”

As she was readying to go up to the window, I told her of how me and a ex-co-worker discussed how certain places seem to represent certain experiences. Paris, love (or heart-ache in my case), and Bali, self-discovery. 

I don’t think it’s all Eat, Pray, Love. It may have been Bowie. I told her I’ve been thinking about this and asking why, Bali? What is it about this place that causes that?

After she paid her electric bill, and just before my number was called (214, she was quick), she came over. Stuffing her bills into her purse, she said, “I can tell you why. I can tell you why that happens. There are two major energy fields, crossing each other here.”

And perhaps because she saw my skepticism, she quickly continued and explained “these two energy fields create a confluence, a field, of purification. Here, all your stuff comes up. There is nowhere else for it go.”

I thanked her, not wanting to believe or disbelieve her, focused on seeing whether it was my turn yet. We said goodbye and then of course, the electricity went out. 

My number was next.

I wonder, what came up twenty years ago, for me? What rose to the surface and maybe didn’t have a chance to fully materialize?

I’ve had dreams here, dreams of things I need to know, that I tell myself, oh, I’m on a boat and this person’s here. Dreams of dragging my baggage to the next location (easily explained by having to switch guest houses) and them having no vacancy (which oddly, turned out to be true). Dreams of turmoil and turbulence, but also, of knowing. Recognition.

And in waking and walking, I wonder, what is down there, deep inside of me?

I Finally Feel Like I’m on Vacation

Today, I finally feel like I’m on vacation. It’s been a whirlwind of packing, tying up loose ends, visiting family in Taiwan and now, finally, today, I feel like I’ve made it to that point where I feel


I’m sitting on a second floor veranda overlooking a pool. It is about 85 degrees. Tropical plants are swaying, dogs are barking, insects are buzzing and I am in Laos. I almost can’t believe I made it.

When I first landed, the plane pulled up right in front of the airport, like a taxi. You know you’re in an undeveloped country when that happens. The view on landing is probably my second-most favorite ever:


Being undeveloped, with little infrastructure, Laos is pure green with ribbons of silver running through. It is pristine, but we all know that’s because the jungle is impenetrable, littered with millions of bombs dropped by Americans during the Vietnam war.

I’ve watched Tony Bourdain’s shows on Laos and it is that silence from the people, that look, that I find so heart-breaking. I cannot imagine how these people must feel about what has been done to them, to their country. I get the sense they don’t talk about it much, just as my grandparents don’t talk about the Vietnam war. I must admit, it makes me glad my family is on the right side of history, being here.

My second day, I hiked up into the hills with a group of backpackers and two guides to see some of the jungle and to stay with some villagers. It was a shock to the system, to say the least. Between the heat and being somewhat out of shape, I struggled to keep up with the rest of the group and to keep from fainting. It was a struggle and when we got to the village, having to cope with the living conditions, was absolute misery.

I have never done this before, as traveled as I have been. Sure, I’ve been camping. But, you can drive to a cute little general store and pick up whatever you need. Up in the hills, it takes a day’s worth of hiking to get to any kind of modern convenience and people live with this, every day.

It is the irony of American life that makes me view junk food costing more than organically cooked food as being weird. Yet, junk food is scarce in these villages. As is privacy. The walls of huts are made of thin strips of bamboo – hardly adequate for keeping out your neighbor’s business. There is one pipe running clean water from the spring which everyone uses to wash – and men and women bathe simultaneously. It is almost comedic, upholding a standard of false modesty where women and men are forced to shower in their clothes, but are basically naked.

I have not even discussed the practice of slaughtering a cow if someone becomes ill, with the belief that their soul will carry away your illness.

The group of backpackers I joined discussed whether we could live in these conditions and I thought no, I don’t think I could adjust. I mean, I probably could, but  it would be miserable the whole way. Growing up in it though, would be different, I think. The children looked happy and, short of getting ill, safe. But, they are poor and that cannot be ignored. I would not want my children growing up like this, idyllic as it looks in Instagram pictures.


Today’s bliss is in part hard-earned relief from the strenuous hike, but also a feeling of privilege and gratitude for what I have. I don’t think I’m alone in romanticizing rural life, but the reality of it, having to live it day after day is, really hard.


Packing it all up

I’m in packing mode now, getting everything ready for three months of back-packing and storage. Nostalgia is hitting me left and right and I am reminded of my young self when I first came out to NY, fourteen years ago. Who knew student loan statements could carry so much emotional weight?

I ended up going to Coney Island after all, and stopped at Di Fara’s on my way back. Stroke of good luck in hitting the place right before the evening crush, with the octagenarian DeMarco himself working behind the counter. He was just as I remembered him from years ago when I first went, except maybe stooped a little lower and needing to prop himself against his workbench as he moved. Unfortunately, he did not make my pie, which came out from the kitchen somewhere, but it was still good.

Things change, even this, and I’ve changed as well.

On the train going over the Manhattan bridge, looking at the skyline of downtown, I simultaneously felt what I first felt when I moved to New York City – a sense of wonder and awe at its grandness, a curiosity about what each street held; and, my own sense of familiarity with it all, now. I worked in those buildings, know people who live in them. I have seen the views from those windows and spent my days and nights discovering its surrounding. I have my favorite bars and cafes, little mid-range sushi joints tourists hardly frequent, and an urban park offering pockets of shade. It’s a marker of how far I’ve come, but it is an odd sensation, feeling as if you are standing in the same place at two different times of your life.

I remember walking through Greenwich Village all those years ago and above a cafe, a young woman not older than myself, leaned out into the sun with her man wrapping his arms around her. It was like, every Meg Ryan and Nora Ephron movie, right there. And I, too, imagined leaning out of a NYC apartment window with the arms of my love around me. I wonder at my youth, the optimism I felt in what laid ahead for me.

While I have had my share of romance here, it’s not the same as I imagined it, then.  People’s complications, past hurts, theirs and mine, gave me such sorrow and lead to so many dead-ends – I could not have envisioned that for myself. 

I think, if I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell her it’s never as important as I think it was, and that I cannot love if I am in pain. I wish I could tell myself I’d find people who would make me hurt in the way I already feel hurt because my pain wants to be seen. Wants to be heard. Needs to be felt.

I am such a different person now. It makes me feel a little sad, but it also makes me feel proud. Here, I grew up, in the gauntlet of NYC. 

I took this picture out on Coney Island.

Shifting Down

I’ve spent the past few weeks unwinding, letting go of the life I knew – finance, New York, city living, my 30s. I keep making plans in my head, to do, see, eat at places that I will no longer be there just a subway ride away, in short time.

30 days and counting now.

So, it is goodbye to my job and to this place I’ve called home for the better part of the past fourteen years. So, I find myself conflicted between wanting to follow the plans in my head, and doing what I want to do. Which is, not follow the plans in my head. Which is, sit with myself and dream. Wonder. Wander.

That’s another good name for a blog: Wonder and Wander. Credit me if you take this idea 😉 Though, someone probably thought of it already.

Slight aside. The number of alpha-numeric combinations assuming there are 15 symbols (I’m too lazy to look this up) and an 8 character password is ~45T. The world population is ~7.5B, so that’s only around six unique passwords possible per capita in this world.

I like to put things in perspective. We are growing at such a rate that the space one can find that is uncharted and free, is rapidly diminishing. But even the thought that there are no new original ideas anymore, is not original, is it?

I digress.

Some part of me knows I will regret it deeply if I don’t do some of the things on my bucket list: go see Coney Island, go to Di Fara one more time, hire a mini sailboat at that pond in Central Park.

I think maybe, one reason why I don’t want to do those things is because I’ll be doing it by myself. On my own. And, those memories always have that weight of self-disappointment in them, don’t they? The sadness of knowing that I would enjoy whatever it is I’m doing more, if I were doing it with someone I cared for.

I won’t try and defend me feeling forlorn. I am not one of those I’m going to say what makes me appear strong or winning. I know it to be how I feel and it is therefore, my truth.

So, I sit here, another day ticking down, without doing the things I have on my list. If I am alone, then I will be alone.

It’s Complicated

Why am I doing this?

Hmmmm. Posting my first blog entry here and am wondering, how much do I say?

I suppose I can start off with what happened. What lead me to blog.

I quit my job.

I’m 40, single, a woman and one day, I just thought, fuck it.

No, that’s a lie. I’d been thinking about it for a while. See, I knew I was being passed over for promotion. I had known for a few months and

My thinking finally caught up with my feelings, I guess. So, this past March after all the promotions were announced and I wasn’t on that list, which I knew I wouldn’t be, I left.

I didn’t even bother to go in. I had stayed home the day before because there was an impending snow storm and the company had figured out from previous snow storms, that it was much more productive to keep everyone at home. At least, the senior managers wouldn’t have to hear from the more junior managers about how onerous their trek in was, how heroic an effort they made merely by getting into their car and onto a train. And, the junior managers won’t have to figure out how to get work done when half of their workforce was pretending to be stuck at home.

I know, I know. The cynicism is unhealthy. Which is why I quit. Which is why I’m taking the summer off and traveling to Laos and Bali. I will find myself there! Or at least, slough off seven years of corporatitis and un-cynical myself.

Don’t know if that’s possible, but let’s see. And hey, I’m done with my first post.