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In my blog, What I Learned From a Balinese Healer, I told the story about meeting Cokorda Rai, a well-known healer in Ubud, and Ketut, a young man introduced to us by a friend. While both experiences were insightful the main realization I had was that pain can help us become more aware of our bodies and better able to heal ourselves.
I also learned that it hurts when someone digs their fingernail into the tender underside of my toes.
During that month I spent in Bali, I met two more healers, both through friends. You could say I was on a bit of a healing high, trying to find out as much as I could about my funky hip and the elevated spirit that accompanied me to Bali.
The island hinted at something this year. It whispered tiny breaths of possibility, glimpses of the unknown, an invitation to follow the aroma of curiosity. It was faint, but it was there. A kind of knowing. It was a bit like being just outside the right frequency of a radio station. You hear something, but it’s muffled by static so you manipulate the dial ever so slightly until you find that perfect position and the music becomes clear––well, that’s the idea.
It starts with curiosity and diving into it is how we discover the world.
This heightened sense of knowing as I’ll call it started with a dream in which I saw my ex-husband remarry, through the screen of my laptop. When I woke up the next day to a message from his mom stating she had news to share, I already knew what it was.
I spent that day in a web of conflicting emotion. All my claims about having accepted our decision to divorce and move on came back to me with mocking faces, sneering and ridiculing me, revealing themselves as the tricksters in my illusion of letting-go-and-moving-on. Not because I regret the decision we made but because old, wrinkled worries tend to hang around longer than a bad houseguest. And then I got over it. I let the swell of remorse approach as a few laps on shore instead of a neck-breaking wave. As it passed, I was left with the most significant part of the news–the realization that I already knew before I actually knew. It was like my bones had been holding out on my brain.
Intuition is a funny thing. We all have it. Most of us ignore it because we don’t like what it has to say. Or, we don’t trust it because it lacks conscious reasoning, though it likely functions more purely without intellect. And then days, weeks, or mere moments later, a ray of understanding warms our bones following an event or after receiving news, and we feel a pang of I knew that.
But sometimes intuition is more subtle. A slipper of thought whisks by and we don’t realize its significance until something happens and we see the footprint it left behind. It’s kind of like reading road directions in a different language. You have a sense of how to get somewhere, but you don’t understand the details (right or left, north or south, the route type) so you can’t trust them.
A few significant moments in Bali revealed to me that what can be sensed often doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t resonate with one of our five faculties and make its way to the conscious mind, but instead hides out somewhere in the subtle body–or in dreams.
One of those moments occurred one afternoon as I sat down to meditate and invited my partner (we’ll call him Steve) to join me. We sat facing each other and I briefly explained how to do a body scan, starting with his head and ending with his feet, observing and noting sensations in different areas. This practice supports body awareness and observation. We sat for 15 minutes, during which time I concentrated on his presence in an effort to feel his experience. At the end, I asked Steve how he felt. He reported having felt no sensation in two areas of his body, the same two areas I experienced discomfort in my own body.
Before I get to the significance of this experience, I want to make a connection.
When we are unable to feel a certain part of the body, we describe it as being numb. Physiologically, numbness is owed to a lack of circulation of the blood, which prevents the transport of vital nutrients to different areas of the body. Blockages within the body’s subtle meridians or energy pathways do kind of the same thing, like cars in a traffic jam. They restrict the flow of energy and prevent us from feeling vibrant. They form kind of like clogged arteries do––through devitalized food, stress, pollution, etc., and are the storage lockers for unresolved emotions, past events, anxieties––any of the crap with which we don’t know what to do.
They’re the proverbial junk drawer of our emotional lives.
This is where massage, what many people consider an indulgent activity associated with luxurious spa treatments, actually has an emotionally therapeutic effect. Massage can affect the energy pathways, relieving some of those areas of tightness and releasing stagnant emotions, in addition to the obvious physical benefits. Yoga has the same effect. It’s why some people cry during massage. So next time you “indulge” in a massage, know that you’re also giving yourself an emotional cleanse.
My friends recommended a masseuse/healer, a woman they said could “move energy around the body”. I’m all for disruptions and oh so curious about the unseen so I decided to give her a try. As she moved around my body, pressing and stretching out tissues, she occasionally let out a forceful burp or grunt. I was confused so I asked if she was okay.
“It’s to remove the bad wind. If I take it from you, I have to get rid of it.”
A notion exists among Indonesians that if someone is sick or has some sort of ailment it is because of masuk angin or “bad wind”. Convenience stores even sell little packets of a potent ginger syrup called Tolak Angin, literally “reject the wind”. On many occasions when I lived in Surabaya, I sucked Tolak Angin right from the packet at the onset of a cold. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help assuage the passing of the other kind of bad wind––I tried it on Steve).
The burps were her purging, something I never experienced during any one of the massages I’ve received (only a forceful exhale at the most). But it made sense; she transferred the bad energy from my body, which corresponded to the places that hurt, and then expelled it to prevent the wind from settling in her body and making her sick.
But I have to wonder––is that wind bad energy or displaced energy? The ceasing of wind altogether?
That massage, coupled with the little insight I had into Steve’s experience during our joint meditation, drew me into this idea that we can feel each other’s condition by way of something we could consider a kind of physiological empathy. Except it’s unlike empathy because our ability to experience it doesn’t rely on anything that can be seen, heard, or touched. It’s not dependent on prior knowledge. It requires something else––an awareness of the energy around us and a willingness to absorb it.
So back to the present day.
We’d planned to do a sunrise hike up Mount Batur, an active volcano in northeast Bali, and decided to combine it with a day trip up to the north coast to visit our friends in a place called Tejakula. On our way out, the beginnings of a migraine gripped Steve so we pulled over to the side of the road to sit in the shade for a while. I wondered if we shouldn’t make the trip, not because of his headache but for some other more subtle reason.
We went anyways because while that inner voice is spot on, it also occasionally speaks nonsense and often mimics the bullshitty voice of reason so it’s not always easy to know the difference.
When we arrived, our friends introduced us to a beautiful Austrian woman with an Indian name. Both she and her husband are healers, using various methods of energy redistribution, like massage and Reiki. The five of us sat and talked at length over dinner that night, and Steve’s migraine episode came up during the conversation.
The woman with the Indian name offered Steve a short healing session that she believed would help his headaches.
She asked me to sit across from Steve with my hands extended, palms up, toward him.
“Close your eyes and concentrate on sending him positive energy.” She instructed.
I followed her instructions. I closed my eyes and focused on Steve’s presence just as I had when we sat in meditation together, concentrating on sending him good, clean vibes.
Toward the end, I felt a pang of discomfort in my abdomen, strong enough to note as uncomfortable and unusual. When we returned to our room, I asked Steve about his experience during the healing session. He described a pain in his lower abdomen so I told him about the sensation I had felt. We had both experienced a similar sensation in the same area of our bodies at roughly the same time.
That night I dreamt about the healing session. As I watched the woman massage Steve’s head and neck in my dream, my belly and lower back began to feel hot and sour, like bile bubbling up inside me.
I woke up and vomited.
It was just a few minutes before we were supposed to leave for the hike so we canceled. My first thought was that it was food poisoning––except I knew it wasn’t. I’ve had food poisoning a handful of times and each time felt the same to a stronger or lesser degree. This purging wasn’t the result of eating bad food; I sensed it was an effect of the healing session.
When I woke up the next morning after just four hours of sleep I felt relieved and revitalized, like I’d purged not just Steve’s headache but everything else that has plagued me over the last few months.
According to the Austrian woman with the Indian name, such an event is not unusual. It’s a phenomenon that happens when we are particularly sensitive to the people around us. We’ve all experienced the emotions of someone else at one time or another. It’s the reason sad movies can make us cry or watching someone suffer can feel like our own physical pain. It’s straight-up empathy. But while this situation was similar, it extended beyond empathy. It was more dramatic than anything I’ve experienced before.
On a different level, a part of me wondered if there was a greater force keeping us from hiking the volcano. We’d already received what I believed was an initial warning the previous day with the onset of Steve’s migraine. Maybe the mountain had sent another–we were in the land of bad wind and black magic after all.
Whatever the reason was for my mysterious middle-of-the-night illness––bad food, bad wind, or a warning from the mountain, it was an opening for me. A reminder that something greater than us exists, something we may never understand but appears in strange ways, like a totem animal, to guide us a certain direction, or to plant a certain seed of thought to inspire the imagination, and to remind us that anything is possible. Tuning into this power and allowing it to guide us is how we follow intuition.
Intuition suggests that every occurrence is significant, even the ones that seem meaningless or coincidental because everything that happens affects our perspective and inner experience. Regardless of what we choose to do or believe, what catalog of thought or worldview to subscribe to, or what notions about life to reject, how we interpret events affects our experience in the world.
If we allow it, every moment, every experience, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can teach us something.
My ex-husband used to say to me, “sometimes it is what it is and there’s nothing to be learned.” Perhaps he’s right that whatever ‘it’ is doesn’t teach us anything. But the learning happens by what we do with it, even if that discovery stays hidden between radio stations and we don’t tune into it until years later. An empty cup is an insignificant piece of matter that sits on your shelf until it becomes a vessel for water.
We can heal ourselves by being aware. Not in the sense that we’re focused on ourselves all the time, aware in the sense that energy is moving all the time––through us and around us and between us. And this awareness––primarily how we see the world––becomes our truth and the guide that leads us toward our higher self. Awareness is how we feel and keep the winds moving through and around us all the time, and to listen to them hint that this way might be a good way to go.
The whispers and warnings and flecks of music amid radio static are our intuitive power,
God working in small ways.