Today I’m introspective about my trip to central Bali in 1996. I’m remembering the day I bade farewell to the wonderfully adventurous group who accompanied me to Tabanan and Ubud. Rather than return to the US with them, I had arranged to stay another week in Bali moving from our group quarters up Jalan Hanuman down to Oka Homestay in Pengosekan village. That is where I would stay to further explore authentic Balinese culture on my own and share living space with the adventurous redheaded Czechoslovakian woman, Dunya. Oka Homestay was one of the most peaceful places on earth–if you discount the ever-present sounds in Bali—the cocks who crow at daylight and sentinel dogs who bark if strangers wander into family courtyards. But otherwise Oka’s compound was serenely sitting at what seemed to be the edge of civilization, overlooking vast green vistas of lush vegetation that overlooked coconut palms, rice terraces, gently sloping away to the sounds of nature, gamelans in the distance, and an occasional hollow sound of the kul-kul reverberating over the community from a long distance away. It felt like paradise. And I knew it was paradise when Oka’s wife, Dewi Gusti, brought breakfasts of fresh fruit and sticky, sweet black rice with a steaming pot of tea every morning.
Down the street I also danced with Dewa Gusti Raka every day ( a different Gusti). Gusti’s mastery of legong was phenomenal and her love of it was contagious. Being a high school teacher by profession, she was also quite patient as a dance teacher, lifting my elbows that drooped as I was focused on another part of the body or concentrating on sequence and timing. Her dedicated approach to repetition and instruction that moved her students forward was effective, yet she knew I was trying harder to learn than was evidenced by my actual mastery of Legong. Having studied with Gusti in the weeks before, I would now be able to savor the opportunity to study dance with her for another week for as long a class as I wanted. The intricate dance moves overlapped in various parts of the body which challenged me—eyes, fingers, shoulders, neck, feet, hips, toes, and knees. The overlapping sounds of the gamelan were an audible rendering of the visual surroundings and the intricacy of movement.
Classes were at her family compound in her husband’s art studio. It was full of paintings in the lush Pengosekan style, and my time there addicted me to the overlapping rhythms and striking colors that this painting style offers the eye. Her husband was an established artist and also sought-after as a teacher in that sweet community.
One of his students— Hiatt Mika, Oka’s son—was quite talented as a painter, and I brought home a painting by him to remind me of that time, the people, and the lush hibiscus that grows wild there. So, surrounded by rich paintings, the sounds of the gamelan gong rang through the studio as Dunya and I not only learned the stance and the sequence of Legong Keraton, but also how to hold the fan at the right angles and how to emphasize exacting facial gestures at the right time.
To stay at Oka Homestay had the added benefit of being so close to a powerful and respected healer. While at Oka’s, which was next door to balien Ketut Liyer’s family compound with a shared wall between them, I would now make my opportunity to meet with this healer for the purpose of intercession into my artistic and personal life. The faint sound of his ringing the brass bell while praying for healing for sick villagers under the pagoda spires was barely audible but ever present on the breeze that floated through my living quarters. Earlier, I had been in Liyer’s compound to watch him attend to various villagers whose needs he addressed with utmost care, consulting lontar leaf papers for the best protocol for each healing, and making all the right rituals with incense, rice, holy water, and the hypnotic brass bell. As medicine man, he possessed widely known and irrefutable powers for healing. The stories of his success were legion and the lines were often long to get into see him at his family temple with its meru spires reaching upward to the spirit world. I took this week as the opportunity to seek his intercession for two areas of my life. And he was quite willing to do both and comfortable with each one. He explained to me that not only would he go to the seventh level of prayer and meditation on my behalf, he would also grace me with two original pen and ink drawings which he would create for each intercession so I could keep them with me to add power to the healing over time.
So I set up a time with Ketut Liyer. The first intercession was to go to the Hindu goddess Dewi Saraswati on my behalf to seek my artistic muse to oversee the writing of my textbook. Because my field is dance, and my writing was to emphasize the art of dance in education, I wanted her blessing as well as her oversight for inspiration, guidance, and support for what soon lay ahead. The second intercession was a request to be led to the love of my life. Once I arrived and began to talk over the reasons for my visit, Liyer asked that I clarify my intent. It was clear he needed more specifics in order to actuate the meditation to the level I needed. In order to go to into the deep prayer and reach into the seventh level for me, he must know whether I wanted to meet the love of my life or to marry the love of my life. I recall being startled by the question, and faltering for a definite answer. It seemed as though I held my breath for a very long time, unsure of the answer, and being well aware of the purity of intent behind his question. This was a no-nonsense kind of person before me who was preparing to take my requests up through the levels of the spirit world which watch over us. I realized in that moment that he was a priest of great depth and compassion and that he was going to intercede in a matter that could affect me for the rest of my life. If he had the powers that so many said he had, I had to make the split second decision on whether I wanted to meet this man or live with him for the rest of my life. What a sobering moment. I was interring with destiny. He was kind and patient while I caught my breath to respond: I want to meet the love of my life. I somehow rationalized that if I met this man of heart we would just go from there without getting the spirit world involved. In retrospect that may not have been a valid assumption. The ceremony was long and mesmerizing. And I came away with a deep respect for the man who gave his life to healing and felt warmed by his spirit.
After this intercessory session I did receive the creative muse for writing that surpassed my wildest expectations, and at the very time I was almost finished writing the textbook, the love of my life suddenly appeared. Almost like clockwork. We were soul mates and together for eight years, but we never married. We never even considered it. Even though that relationship later dissolved because of other matters of the heart, I wonder….. What if I had asked Liyer to intercede differently and asked for marriage—who knows? So, I realize anew that “You’d better know what you want before you ask for it.” I do know that in retrospect, what Liyer provided was exactly what I needed and that I have been blessed immeasurably by the outcome of his intercession.
So today I’m introspective about my upcoming trip to Bali, as my eyes fix on the two Ketut Liyer pen and ink drawings which are now framed on my wall. I will be in Pengosekan soon with the opportunity to ask him to intercede on my behalf again. My hesitation centers around the fact that I am not sure what I really want to ask for. There is an element of freedom about not knowing the future and a stubbornness about not wanting to meddle with it. Maybe I want to gamble and just embrace what chance brings. I respect the strength of Mr, Liyer, so the two intercessions may have been enough. As I gaze at his two drawings I realize I have had the artistic muse beside me as well as the love of my life with me. Other than good health, for what else could one possibly ask?
Brenda Pugh McCutchen, M.F.A.
Dance Curriculum Designs LLC
Columbia, SC USA 29223-7400