Tomorrow at six arrived. It was the day I would visit Ketut Arsana at the ashram. But I met the white witch from Canada first.
Cat was my reiki teacher. I had read about her online and I liked her face. It was the same way that I chose my therapist in Boston. By the look in her eyes that escaped the confines of the screen and spoke directly to my intuition. This is why I always advise people who promote their work to look into the camera lens so that people could see their soul.
Cat’s soul was certainly prevalent in her garden as soon as I entered. Her house had a turquoise door, hidden in a narrow alleyway next to the school. You open it and, like many a Narnian thing, the magic can be felt thick like velvet, thick as the sprawling greens and overgrowth. I walked through the garden in a state of purring pleasure. I knew I had come to the right place.
The house was built for the humid open, like many Balinese houses. The kitchen, the living room and the dining room were all one with the garden, topped with a slanted thatched roof.
She gave me the coolest glass of water in existence. We would soon learn that practicing reiki would be dehydrating.
Cat herself was a woman who had matured into age but had kept a light floral freshness about her. She spoke barely above a whisper, like she was stroking your cheek every time she opened her mouth.
She had lived in the tropics for over twenty years and had built this house herself, she said. It was a lovely house that flaunted a sense of completion, a direct manifestation of a woman who knew she loved the tropics and believed she belonged here. She had carefully collected furniture without over doing it. The house would have made it into Architectural Digest…but not quite. That’s what I loved about it. The "not quite" that made it truly hers.
“How did you do it?” I asked, fascinated.
“You draw a picture and you give it to someone to make it.” she said matter-of-factly.
Could life really be that simple?
Cat listened with intent and nodded with intent. The fibers of me melted here and I became highly attuned guitar strings. It was clear that the garden was cultivated over a course of years with love because things rambled and grew, played and tumbled. There was a lily pond above which two threads of crystal hung to reflect the shards of light from the water like a peddler calling to his goods. Dragonflies came to her, butterflies - I counted about five different kinds - frogs, lizards, and, certainly, mosquitoes. She gave me and my reiki partner two bottles of mosquito repellent and began the lesson.
I knew a little about reiki, having been on the receiving end of it. My first session happened one snowy evening in Boston when I dragged my cousin, Ream, to see a reiki healer. I remember writhing on the healer's table as her hands hovered over my forehead. My third eye might even have burst open.
Cat told us about the origins of reiki. Japanese Dr. Usui had discovered the inspiration for it in the early 20th century during a 21 day meditation on Mount Kurama. He may have also incorporated his knowledge of different Eastern healing techniques such as Qi Gong from China and the Japanese equivalent, kiko. But Dr. Usui's school of thought gained much more fame when an earthquake hit Japan in 1923, measuring 7.9 at the Richter scale. He and his students healed the victims of the earthquake using reiki and the demand for the work climbed high.
The Usui method is very simple and because it is simple, it is often over-complicated by eager fanatics. It looked like I would have to learn spells and potions from someone else!
As we moved steadily into the class, something in me listened closer and closer. Yes? Yes? Yes! Awash with knowing, I confessed to Cat that I had always fantasized about being a witch, helping and healing people. Simple as it was, what if this was the modern day path to that?
Cat spoke about channeling the healing powers of the Divine. She spoke about the science behind it. She spoke about setting an intention and letting go of the outcome. We don’t know how the Divine works, she said. Our job is simply to set the intention, to invoke the Divine and to channel. I was enraptured but I realized I already knew all this. It was exquisitely familiar to me.
I later told Cat about rokya. In Islamic tradition, we were taught at a very young age to put our hands over an ouchie or an illness, to set an intention for God to heal it, and to “read on it”, that is to say to repeat mantras from the Koran.
“That’s very beautiful,” she said. “Then this might really be the healing method for you because you already know it.”
She taught us how to sense our own and the other person’s halo of energy or aura. I had idly experimented with my hands before, making that energy expand, larger and larger, like a magnet strengthening. Energy! I had always sensed it but I never knew what to do with it. Often I could feel people, or places, or things like plants and trees. Green energy I called that moist humming I felt in a garden or a deeply saturated forest. In a way, I always knew about it, but I never claimed it or believed that I could be given permission to work with it.
It is ritual in teaching reiki to bring students into attunement. Cat put us both into a trance, putting love and life energy into us. She then, lifted our arms, palms together, over our heads when we were ready to receive "permission" to channel from here on. In that moment, my mind went completely blank and I drifted into a peaceful white place, slippery and silvery like salmon darting in and out of blissful water.
Later, as I practiced on my partner, I found my heart opening for her, even though I did not know her very well. I asked God to heal whatever needed to be healed and I channeled love to her. As I drifted into a soft trance-like state, I began to see floral things again floating into my consciousness. I channeled those to her.
When asked how she felt afterwards, she said, “It felt very nurturing. I felt safe.”
I could feel in my body that it wanted to do this, to offer this to people. It needed practice of course, as Cat repeated to us. Like any craft or practice, discipline is always the tag-along.
“They would have burned us at the stake in the past. Some places in the world, they still would.” Cat said, “They’re afraid of us. Of the feminine.”
It made me think about the conservative or fundamentalist stream of thought in Saudi - and elsewhere. What would my rigid religion teachers from school think of my learning reiki? Well let me point out one thing about reiki: it sounds very much like rokya. Coincidence? Maybe. But I like it.
I left Cat’s class feeling like I had finally found something, or the beginning of something, or the answer to a question that had hovered over me for a long time: What can my heart offer?
I carried this quiet discovery with me back to the guesthouse. Something that was searching for a long time settled down quietly in the buzz of my blood. I needed to process, to linger some place and let it sink in.
But Ketut was waiting. Or was he? Would he remember the woman who almost got run over by a car because she wanted to speak to him? I had to go and find out it.
It grew dark soon. I had no idea what I was going to say to him. I only had an inclination to see him, or a curiosity to see how the story would play out.
I walked down Jalan Raya, the main street in Ubud, looking for a teeny tiny road that was supposed to clamber up to the ashram. According to the map, I only had to walk uphill and would find it soon around a corner to my left. I stopped to ask for directions a multitude of times and I soon began to learn that the Balinese were probably not the best with directions.
As I got close to the street I was looking for, a girl stopped me. She was wearing a white sundress and had a lost look on her face.
“Excuse me?” she asked, “Where are you going?”
She had seen me looking at the map.
“I’m looking for this street.” I told her. Maybe she could tell me where it was.
“Yes, but where are you going?” She asked again.
“Why, do you know the streets here?”
“I’m going to an ashram.”
She asked me what it was called. It turned out she was trying to go there too. So we decided to walk to it together.
Nadire was from Turkey, a twenty four year old who was traveling around the world to escape being tied down by the concrete corporate world just yet. It’s funny how, as humans, we have arrived at an age when we’re all looking for the same thing, salvation from the demands of a world that no longer knew itself. I’m older than Nadire but I too was escaping the corporate world, my possessions, my everyday mental dialogue to find the essence of something. And I can’t seem to stop.
So we walked up the hill. Nothing to it. It was just a five minute walk. But in truth, we kept walking until the street got darker and more foreign and there was the promise of rain in the sky.
Nadire and I stopped for directions about six times. No one seemed to know where the ashram was until finally, a guy sitting in a warung - Balinese word for cafe - gave us a wry smile; we were silly little chickies who thought we could get to the ashram on foot in this dark night.
“Ooooh!” he explained, “Dat is tree kilometer from here!”
Three kilometers from here. We needed a motorbike. We had no cash. And the land around us seemed to disappeared off into a shapeless grid, like the edge of the screen on your computer game.
It started to rain. There was no way to the ashram now. I had missed my appointment with Ketut. The disappointment of a quest failed crept up on me. But I decided to let go of Ketut, like I did laboriously with so many other expectations. If I was meant to see him, I would, I told myself and turned to the friend newly made.
“Are you up for chicken Satay?”
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