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There are people here who pray as they eat. Palms upturned beatifically, and beaming orgasmically with every bite. These people aren’t Balinese but a different breed of Ubudian — the spiritual seekers, here to find themselves in what has become a magnet for the esoteric.
You see these people in the bounty of health food restaurants that scatter the town — Alchemy, Kafe, Clear — poised crossed legged before their superfood-laden plate. Perhaps there’s a crystal around their neck, a yoga mat beside them, and The Power of Now in hand.
I find it hard not to scoff.
And yet, in many ways, I am one of these people. I don’t pray before my food, but I practice yoga, I read the spiritual books, I go to myriad workshops and I adore the healthy cuisine. I even own a crystal, but mostly because I think it’s pretty.
So why the urge to scoff? Perhaps it comes back to my culture and an inherent British disdain for overt spirituality — something that is much more the domain of the USA. In England, we’re prone to embarrassment at displays of the inner path.
Culture can not be the sole culprit as there are plenty of British cultural norms I don’t adhere to. Ultimately, the ones that stick are the elements that have, for whatever reason, shaped and placed a puzzle piece in my worldview. If that puzzle piece jars, it’s up to me to work out why, and ultimately accept or try to fix it.
When it comes to this urge to scoff, I know in my heart that I see nothing wrong, embarrassing or laughable about giving thanks for food. In fact, I find far more problem with the opposite — not giving a second thought to where our meals come from and the journey they took to our plate. I try my best to eat responsibly and, when I remember, I take a moment before each meal to quietly thank the universe for that gift. It’s a practical, and I find helpful, exercise in gratitude.
And yet, when I see someone do that overtly, it causes sharp accusations of inauthenticity to rise within me. I somehow think they are doing it ‘for show’ or are lost in the New Age. It strikes a chord of discomfort that I haven’t yet understood. Rather than see the act of thanks in itself, I spin a story of who that person may be, laden with stereotypes and unfair extrapolations from my own experience. It’s little to do with the other person and much to do with how I see myself — or rather, how I don’t.
The lure to judge
I’m here in Ubud on a journey to better know myself and what I want to do in life. When I see someone do something that challenges me, my general reaction is to wonder why they are doing that, how they believe it, and to ultimately question whether or not that behaviour or activity would be right for me. Oftentimes that is complicated by my preconceived notions of the ‘why’, which leads to that ugly urge to scoff.
It both fascinates and repels me when people appear to have found their way. I feel both a longing for, and a deep scepticism for what they have. My heart and mind are open but neither is easily satisfied. I know that, just as different food choices suit different bodies, different ways of living suit different hearts and minds so I’m not looking for a definitive answer. But I am looking for my answer in the here and now.
Ubud is full of people and things that challenge me. The praying is simply a detail. In this town, ‘energy’ is the buzzword, and every notice board is filled with promises of secrets to a better life — from ecstatic dancing to crystal bed healing and craniosacral therapy. Look into any of these ideas on Google, and you’ll find people who swear by it and people who tear it to pieces. My mind swims with options and ideas, and there’s a temptation to err on the side of scepticism and simply eschew it all.
To scoff is the easy option — a reaction based on fear that keeps everything packaged neatly into right and wrong. Even if something isn’t right for me, there is rarely the need to belittle another’s path (unless it’s harmful). That judgement is made even worse when deriding something you’ve never tried yourself, or at least attempted to understand.
So rather than sit and scoff, or not scoff and say it’s not right for me, I’m going to try these things. I’ll go to workshops that have titles that make me grimace, I’ll dance, I’ll sing and I’ll try therapies that challenge me. ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’ will be my mantra, and I’ll report back on my experiences on the blog. Perhaps I’ll find things I love, perhaps I’ll hate it all, but by exploring, I will hopefully come out on the other side with a better idea of who I am. Either way, I will always resist the scoff.
What do you think? Is this something you struggle with? Are you one of the people who pray? I’d love to hear your thoughts.