A Balinese Holiday Lesson
The Balinese are famous for their smiles and kindness. No matter whether you’re a stranger or a close friend, you will find yourself invited into their warmth the moment you meet them. To a new visitor, Balinese might seem borderline nosy at first– the first thing they ask you is often an inquisitive “Where are you going?” This isn’t meant to be invasive. They just want to make sure you know how to get there. They ask it as naturally as we ask “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” The difference is that we ask this unconsciously, and usually answer automatically and dismissively (“Good, you?”), whereas for Balinese, it’s very important to them that you’re situated.
I notice how many articles are written about Balinese “happiness”, and even give suggestions about how to become as happy as they are. Saying Balinese are happier than other people is too simplistic in my opinion, and suggestions like “live somewhere beautiful”, “don’t get road rage”, and “practice patience” are all surface-level solutions. Balinese, like everyone else, struggle and suffer hardship. Their happiness is not two dimensional. From what I’ve seen, when times gets tough, the thing that sets the Balinese apart is… community.
In Bali, everyone is welcome, and everyone is also expected to contribute. There is a standing open invitation to important ceremonies, and the community comes together to help the hosting family organize and prepare food. Everyone gets food to take home, and everyone helps clean up.
This also happens on a personal level. I’ve been told by my Balinese friends that in Bali, if a friend comes and asks you for money, even if its the last dollar you have, you give it to them without hesitation. You know that you’ll receive this back because of karma. Balinese believe in the best of people and in the reciprocity of the universe.
No one is ever alone in Bali. My Balinese friend has a two-month old baby and was going to be away from home for just one night. In Canada, this would be pretty normal situation. Most likely the other partner would simply stay at home with the baby. But since this was in Bali, his wife stayed with her family for a couple of days so she wouldn’t be alone. Balinese rarely spend a night alone in their homes.
Another example of this is when someone ends up in hospital. In Canada, a hospitalized loved one will have visitors coming and going throughout the day until visiting hours are over. In Bali, someone in the hospital is rarely alone, and never at night. This is largely because people are concerned that bad spirits may take the human spirit away from the sick person. When my friend was in the hospital, his nephew would bring his own children to the hospital to sleep in the room with their uncle while he went back home so his wife would not be alone.
Perhaps this is why Bali feels like home to me. As a single mother, I spent most nights alone and dealt with heavy Canadian expectations of having to do it all– have a job to support both myself and my child, feed him the right things, ignore judgement, and work hard to give off the impression that everything was ok all the time. Being a single mother is often a lonely and anxiety-filled experience. In Canada, the individual is more important than the collective. We will help someone if we feel it’s within our resources and time to do so, and we often do it grudgingly and sparingly. On the flip side, I think we find it difficult to ask for help as well, preferring to battle through it by ourselves, to prove we don’t need assistance.
This is inconceivable in Bali, where the collective is the beating heart and safety net of society. When I’m in Bali, I love the chance to be surrounded by a community of people who provide and openly ask for support. It’s a new and blissful experience.
This year, perhaps we should focus less on shopping malls and purchasing acceptable items for one another, and instead have people over for dinner and give them a job to do. In true Balinese style, invite a group to explore a local holiday lights display or bake cookies. Dig out your hockey skates and spend an evening together on the ice, and then warm up by a fire. Take a moment to tell people that you love and appreciate them in your life. Or really go for it– reach out to people you know who don’t have a big family or network, and invite them into yours.
On my part, I wish you the most joyful of holidays.