By: Shitika Anand, Bali Alumni 2017
“We’re going for a traditional full moon ceremony on the beach tomorrow night. It’s a big deal around here. Please make sure your knees and elbows are covered. And try to dress in shades of white,” announced Alex Mandel, experience leader at Unsettled.
Arguably one of the most famous villages in the tropics (Thanks Julia Roberts a la Eat Pray Love), Ubud has been a spiritual guide for over one million expats in the last few years. In a town full of self-titled healers, modern-day hippies and medicine men, finding your spiritual self can get very confusing. Exhausting, even. Especially if you’re not the kind who has a turmeric shot at dawn and bodes a mala bead necklace during an Ashtanga yoga class.
So when this full moon ceremony chatter started among the May Unsettled group, my only hope for our group was, please don’t give us a software-engineer-turned-healer from California who will lecture us about the energy of full moon.
Clad in questionable shades of white, our group of 22 gathered around the villa right after sunset, only to have three men wrap us in makeshift skirts using a patterned sarong. Packed in four cars, as we headed off to the Purnama beach, east of Ubud, our car made a pitstop to pick up our spiritual healer for the evening.
A phony Californian healer, she was not. A cute, 5-foot-something, elderly Balinese woman sat in the front seat of our vehicle.
“Wait, she’s coming in our car?” said one seriously unsettled passenger.
“Oh this is exciting! Maybe she can read all our energies and tell us our secrets,” said another with a beam.
“Do you think we can still talk in the car if she’s with us,” I murmured.
Considering we were in Bali where you can’t order a cup of coffee without the woman behind you tapping in on your aura, you can only imagine how nervous it made the six of us to have the healer sit in our car for the next hour. Her crisp white outfit, perfect chignon and shiny wooden cane spelled authority. Her smile was sincere. Her aura? Ambiguous.
Five minutes into our car journey, she started telling us about the significance of a full moon in Balinese culture.
“Purnama is the the day of the full moon in Bali and it’s a very special day for the Balinese people. It’s the day local people plant fruits in the garden in the hope for an abundant harvest. It’s also believed that on a full moon night, many Gods descent to Earth and give us their blessings,” she explained.
As she told us more about the alleged energy of this celestial body, I looked out of my car window to have a peep at the full moon, but it was sneakily hidden behind the clouds. Was he not ready for his big reveal, yet? Stage fright? He probably needed a few moments of solitude before he could bless us with his energy. Take your time, buddy. Leaving the creamy white moon to gather its courage, we arrived at Purnama beach. The soft black sand glistened in the dark with the howling sea providing the background score. The beach looked like the aftermath of a five-year-old’s glitter-themed party. Sprinkled with specks of gold and silver, this black sand beach was posing some serious competition to the white beaches of other tropical islands.
Within minutes of setting foot on the beach, there was a lull among all Unsettlers. The roar of the eight-foot high waves took centre stage and hushed down all the noises. There was no chatter, no giggles, no questions. And just like that, the creamy white moon came out of its candy floss shutters to say hello, only to instantly light up the surroundings.
As I felt the salty breeze caress my cheeks, I saw the healer stand on the edge of the shore, looking peacefully at the ocean. Like she was having a conversation with the waves. The breeze. The moon. The Gods of the sea. What was she saying to them? What were they saying to her?
The fragrance from hundreds of burning incense sticks created an olfactory cloud around us, marking the start of this special ceremony. There was no chanting, no narration, no rules for this meditation session. All we were asked to do was sit cross-legged on the sand and breathe.
On any normal day, I would have despised the idea of not being lead into my meditation practice. But tonight, it felt different. The crashing of the waves, the moon-lit beach, the presence of the healer; I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t feel the need for someone to guide me through meditation. I felt an energy. I felt goosebumps with every breath (which could have been because of the chilly breeze, now that I think of it). I felt like someone was watching over me.
Our lives are so busy and visual these days that finding this moment of just being and sitting still without any direction was a blessing. I didn’t feel the need to Instagram the moment, or to Whatsapp my mum and tell her what I was doing. It felt OK to switch off and let the mind wander without any judgement or intrigue.
Thirty minutes into this deep meditation, I found myself dozing off and my back curling into a passive state. My skin felt moist, my tresses curled up from humidity and my pout… salty. As licked my lips, I felt two warm palms touch the top of my head. Awakened and alert, my mind came alive.
“Is this the healer? Am I being blessed? Can she hear me think? Maybe I need to not think? What shall I do?”
“Straighten your back, please,” whispered the authentic voice.
As her hand remained on my head, I felt a gush of energy hurry down my spine and come out of my palms. Maybe she pressed pause on my talkative mind with her healing powers. Or maybe she helped me go deeper into my meditation, but something changed and I sensed it. When I felt her withdraw her hands from my head and move on to the next person, I opened my eyes and wiped a tear down my left cheek.
“Why are you crying? This is ridiculous. The waves are so high. Wow, that was intense. Can she do that again? I think I’m hungry. I should have eaten that chicken satay before leaving Ubud. I wonder what the time is it?”
Maybe the power of this Balinese full moon ceremony lies in that intimate minute you share with your healer under the bright moonlight to the soundtrack of the angry ocean. Guess I’ll just have to come back next month to feel this all over again…
Until then, can my mind continue with its usual trivial talk?
Shitika is a freelance journalist, social media editor and digital content creator. Her words have been published in WWD, Grazia Middle East, Time Out Dubai, Stylist Arabia, Cosmopolitan, Instyle, Australian Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Forbes Travel, and CNN. Check out her work at: https://shitika-anand.com/