Boat on Gili Trawanagan

They’re Coming To America-Why This Neil Diamond Song No Longer Holds True

“Coming To America”.  I remember dancing to this Neil Diamond song in my childhood over and over. My sisters and I would put on what we considered our most patriotic dress up clothes which consisted of some tube tops covered in sequins, or crazy hats, and dance and sing our hearts out to this record over and over again.

Until one day, (I can’t say that I blame my parents), that record mysteriously disappeared. But, actually it didn’t just disappear. It was deliberately burned. I remember seeing it on top of the burn pile, my heart aching as my favorite music went up in flames. But my heart aches even bigger now, as I watch the country I came from go up in flames, too.

People are worried about an immigration problem in America, but if truth be known, most people entering America today aren’t planning to live there forever. They arrive because they are enticed. Enticed by the promise of higher wages, better pay, they enter to make more money and then send it back to their families in the countries that they came from so that it can go farther.

Those who do choose to bring their families in hope of a better life, are soon dismayed to learn that even the higher wages are not enough to give them and their families with basic healthcare or affordable housing.

May Peace Prevail

But, there are other ways in which America has lost its favor with me besides it’s economic system.  I am going to use examples from my favorite place on this earth, Bali, to give you the reasons why America, and more specifically the United States, is a place that I can no longer stay.

First of all, in October 2002, Bali was the victim of its own severe bombing. The touristy area of Kuta was shook violently by a bomb that left Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club in ruins, and killed many local Balinese and even more tourists. What was the reaction of the Balinese to this incident? Did they build even bigger bombs to go after the terrorists with? Did they pass legislation to take away the privacy of its citizens, giving themselves the right to read every email and to listen in on every phone call. No, they did not.

You see, this bombing incident left the Balinese people completely heartbroken because they consider it their duty to protect the tourists, those who come to see their beautiful country. The Balinese people were heartbroken because they felt like they had failed. They looked at this incident as a wake-up call. Where had they gone wrong?, they wondered with heavy hearts and broken spirits. They thought they were being punished and made offerings and held ceremonies to give their apologies to God.

In Bali, the relationship between humans and nature are held as one of the highest issues and they looked for ways in which they could have upset this balance. After the bombing, you didn’t hear others being blamed. You heard prayers for Bali and for the entire world, as what happens on one small island only reflects what is going on in the entire world.

This terrible event caused people to go inward, to examine themselves and their own lives and to look at things from a more spiritual point of view and not from a vengeful, blaming mentality. People fought terrorism with ceremony, love, peace, and prayer. They sought to restore the balance between their three most important relationships, their relationship with God, with each other, and with the outside world around them.

How different I think our lives would be if our government sought to look at the mass shootings that have happened most recently in America from a spiritual point of view, and not an us vs. them point of view. We are them. They are us. Until we understand this point, nothing will be changed.

Happy Family In Ubud, Bali

I have also noticed that in Bali, a good part of people’s days are spent visiting with one another. The island is made up of community and everyone helps in preparing for the ceremonies, in getting the work done, and in preparing the offerings.

Togetherness is very important to the Balinese, and many times, friends spend their time together just sitting together in silence. They feel like more can be said between two people sitting in silence than with the many words we usually use which often takes away from the essence of knowing the other person.

The Crumbling of Commercialism

 The most beautiful thing to me is the lack of materialism here. Here people are satisfied with the simplest of material goods. It is not a society that is always working to accumulate more. Their joy comes from each other, from knowing their true purpose and from a deep gratefulness of the beauty that surrounds them.

They show this gratefulness by taking care of what they have been given. One of the sounds that I have come to know as Bali is the sound of sweeping. People here take pride in the ground and always want to make sure that it is taken care of. They sweep constantly to keep things in order.

In fact, as I write these words at 6 AM as the sun rises over the ocean, I am surrounded by the sounds of lapping waves, roosters crowing, and a sweeping broom. Already, the groundskeeper of my hotel is sweeping. Also, everywhere you go here there are lush, fragrant flowers, beautiful dark green foliage, and climbing tropical vines. This is because the Balinese take pride in their yard work. They work with the plants everyday and their gardens are one of their greatest prides.

Bali flowers

Here, the men wear flowers in their hair and sarongs around their waist. They have a feminine outlook as well as a masculine one upon the world. They are allowed to appreciate the perfumes of the flowers, the feel of a fabric, and the making of the food for the ceremony. I think these things put them more in touch with the surrounding world and make them more balanced people. Traveling as a single woman it is a relief, there is no cat-calling from the men, I am not inviting anything by choosing to have a conversation with one of them.

Here, a deep reverence for the surrounding world takes the place of mindless hours spent in front of a television set. In America, we have let TV take over our culture and our relationships with each other and with the surrounding world suffer because of it. Here, people do things slowly, putting their whole attention to the moment to the way a sarong must be tied, to the preparation of the offerings, the food for the day, the smoking of a clove cigarette, the choice of which jewelry to wear to the temple for a particular ceremony.

One of the favorite activities of the Balinese is to sit on the curb of the street and watch the world go by. There is no hurry. There is no place to be. Here you must do everything consciously. With the crazy traffic, you see no one talking on their cell phones. If full attention is not given to the driving, you won’t survive.

Even walking down the sidewalks must be done with full attention. The uneven stones must be navigated with care and full attention. I think of America and how much I hurry. How being stuck in traffic or in a long post office line can take some of my joy away. How I often feel like I must multitask to get anything done. And I wonder, “What have we all been hurrying to?” I have the thought that we are all hurrying away from ourselves.

Ubud Offering

People here show their gratefulness by preparing many offerings as a sign of thankfulness for what they have.  Here I have savored the slowness, by using the times of waiting to think of all the abundance in my life and offer my own silent prayers of gratitude.  I begin each morning by lighting incense and let the smoke take my gratitude outwards through the Universe.

And finally, perhaps on of the most beautiful things about Bali is the health of its individuals. Here you don’t see the elderly cooped up in a living room in front of a TV. Here, they are healthy, walking around town, making art, still carrying things on their heads. The Balinese mothers start massaging their children as babies and being stiff is considered one of the worst things that can happen to you. Usually if you are unwell or even if you have broken a bone, you go to see a balian, or traditional Balinese healer. They usually work by donation which for the Balinese can be a chicken or a few eggs.

I had the experience of going to two balian while I was in Bali, and they changed my health and my life. The first one, Tjorkorda Rai, used a pointed stick to press points on my body, especially on my feet. He also used his fingers to press on my jaw and ears. It was actually quite painful, but he said he could tell that my salivary glands were blocked. He said that I had eaten more food because I was trying to get the taste. He unblocked them and tasting now has felt like the volume has been turned up. He also said that I had some problems with my pancreas and that he would fix that. I have always experienced blood sugar problems, but ever since going, I haven’t had the insatiable hunger that I used to have, or the light-headedness and dizziness.

The second healer, Pak Man, was one that I had read about before coming to Bali, and someone I knew that I must go to. This fact was further amplified when I met a man in a café in Ubud, who I asked if he knew of him. He replied that he had just had coffee with him and reached into his wallet to pull out Pak Man’s card. Astounded, I knew this was a message. I booked an appointment and went the next day for a life changing experience.

First, he told me that the main issue that I was prone to was having a stroke. He said I really needed to watch my stress levels. I thought of how true this was. I thought of how changing requirements at my job had filled me with stress, and how a job that I used to enjoy had now been turned into a numbers game, and how becoming just another wheel of the corporate America machine was not just stealing my soul, but my body as well. Tears welled up in my eyes, as all the stress that I had stored in my body’s cells, started to dissolve in the healing presence of this man. It was like, in one single second, the message of my body was revealed to me. I was led to a small cottage, consisting of one small dark room and was instructed to lie on a mat. The two hours that followed were some of the most painful hours of my life.

Pak Man did a massage, but a very intense one that made me understand the meaning of the words writhing in pain. He started with my knees. At first the knee caps wouldn’t even move,but by the end, he had them smoothly moving in circles. He massaged my internal organs, every muscle, separated tendons in my arms. Worked on my psoas muscle and determined that was the cause of my lower back pain. I sometimes screamed in agony and could sometimes feel palpable old energy leaving my body. It felt like bad past traumas and memories were finally leaving my body tissues to be gone forever.

Most of my back pain is now gone, the same back pain that I have spent hundreds of dollars in the States trying to have chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists treat. Since the treatment, I have been more aware of how my thoughts are absorbed by my body and more conscious of my movement and breath. My eyes have become clearer and are almost green now instead of blue. I have felt more balanced and whole, and really would like to never go to a traditional doctor again.

They say to understand one culture, you must first become immersed in another. Seeing the world from Bali’s point of view, once again brings hope to my weary heart. I hope that their way of looking at things from a spiritual point of view will one day make it’s way across the ocean to the country that I came from.

I hope that more people will realize that acquiring things, making more and more money, and hurrying through life will only cause us to miss the life that we have all come here to live. Meanwhile, I will continue to be here listening to the rooster’s crow, smelling the delicate flowers, the incense, feeling the butterflies that come to dance on my skin, tasting the chilies, the coconuts, and the fish sauce, and looking deeply into a stranger’s eyes who are looking back deeply into mine.

Are you an American who feels the same way? Are you thinking about leaving the United States? Please share your thoughts in the comment section of my website.

Val at temple in Bali