Bali: My Heart Opening Retreat Back "Home"

In May of 2018, I went on the trip of a lifetime. A true soul journey to a place that had been calling to my heart for a long time. It started out as a whisper and then grew louder over time; the pulse of Bali, the land of the goddess was speaking to me. I had been dreaming about it for years, but it wasn’t until 2017, when I booked a spontaneous trip to Asheville, NC where I met my dear soul sister Amber, that it all came together. We were attending a wonderful workshop with Alena Hennessy, when we discovered that she was hosting a retreat in Bali. Both of our eyes lit up and we just knew that it was the right time to go, all the stars were lining up.

Almost a year to the date later we were on our way to Bali, at least I thought we would be traveling together. At the last minute she wasn’t able to make the flight and I was suddenly flying solo to Shanghai, where we had a 10 hour layover and tour booked. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous to be on my own, but I tried to relax and lean into the experience, trusting that it would all be ok. And as it turned out, I spent a beautiful, sunny day roaming the koi fish ponds with lotus flowers blossoming at Yuyuan Garden, having afternoon tea at the Shanghai Art Museum, and visiting the sacred rooms of the Jade Buddha Temple. I sat in a small, local restaurant eating dumplings and giving an elderly couple a good laugh at my clumsy chopstick skills.

About 14 hours later I landed in Bali at 2am where I was greeted with the most radiant smile by my driver, instantly putting me at ease. Everything that I imagined about this magical island in Indonesia was even better, more beautiful in person. There is a soul to that place that is almost indescribable. There is a lush abundance to the land and a deep gratitude and love, a sense of oneness in the culture. The way they drive along the roads, entire families on one small motorbike, weaving in and out of traffic in unison with the others. The Balinese people are some of the most incredibly friendly and compassionate that I’ve ever met. They have a special connection the their land, to Mother Earth, and daily rituals that honor this ancient bond. When they smile, they are radiating from a place of purity and bliss.

I woke up that first morning in Bali, ready to venture out into the city of Ubud and explore. As I walked through an outdoor market full of colorful textiles, local foods, and all sorts of beautiful goods, a bright blue and purple scarf caught my eye. As I went to reach for it, another woman had the same idea. We both laughed and offered it to the other. She was a British woman named Julia and it was her last day in Bali. We helped each other figure out the price (we over payed by at least 10 dollars as it turns out) and then decided to get some lunch together. We spent the day going on long hikes and exploring the parts that she hadn’t seen. At the end of the very long, but invigorating day she invited me to join her for a restorative yoga class. I couldn’t believe it when she mentioned the Yoga Barn as I had been dreaming of visiting that place all year. As I sat on my cushion, waiting for the class to begin, I looked around the open air studio with the lush greenery in the background and listened to sounds of the wild. I felt so much joy in that moment, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself in the dark.

If New York is considered a masculine energy (with its tall buildings, linear elements, grays and blues, action-oriented, pushing, hustling, moving fast) then Bali is the feminine goddess waiting to receive you in her loving arms, a warm breeze with the sounds of the jungle soothing you off into the deepest and most restorative sleep of your life. Daily massages, swimming in the salty, cleansing waters of the ocean, eating beautifully, lovingly prepared foods, juices that taste like the elixir of life, mangoes, watermelon, coconut. Oh, the fresh coconut! Drinking the coconut water straight from the source. It really is paradise on earth. Being in the flow, basking in the sunshine, looking out at the endless blue ocean, watching the sky come alive in the morning, changing colors that reflect and sparkle off of the ocean ripples and waves. Listening to the tide, you feel like you are breathing right along with Mother Gaia, in synch with her pace, slowing down to meet her in the natural rhythm.

Meeting at 7am in the open air temple to meditate, sitting in silence together, and then flowing into a yoga practice that promotes moving organically, opening you up in ways you didn’t even know needed so much love and attention. Your whole body slowly waking up, loosening up, releasing tension and toxins that have built up over time. Moving through such a deeply mind, body, and soul nourishing practice is such a self-loving, devotional way to begin the day. Feeling so full before you’ve even had breakfast.

Every morning the lovely hosts of the retreat center would place a scattered trail of bright, orange magnolia flowers on the ground, inviting us to follow the path to places unknown. There’s something surprisingly magical about it, it’s as if there’s a group of fairies that’s sprinkling small tokens of love and beauty in your path, letting you know you’re following your heart.

One afternoon, we did a very powerful cacao ceremony with Ashley and I experienced a deep a release, a vulnerability that took me far outside of my comfort zone. Allowing myself to be truly open and exposed, sharing a difficult moment in my life and feeling so held and supported and seen by the circle of women from around the world. The sacred space that was created allowed for us all to heal some very old wounds, to let them come to the surface and be released. Each day, opening more and more, like a flowers petals slowly, gently peeling away to reveal its center and receive the sun, to allow the bee to taste its nectar and share its honey, making the whole world a sweeter place.

It was both a retreat within myself and at the same time a bonding with other soul sisters, creatives, nature, and new experiences. Feeling connected to who I am, my own sense of self, and getting to know others in the process. Sharing our stories, our dreams, our lifetimes of wisdom. Under the stars, in the middle of the jungle, this little slice of heaven that was ours for this one week in time. Walking barefoot on the ground, feeling the smooth stones, the grassy patches, the rough sand, really sensing myself grounding into the textures of the earth. Using all of my senses, heightened by the vibrant colors, tastes, smells, and scenes.

One morning we woke up before dawn to see the dolphins out on the open ocean. We boraded the small, simple canoe-like boats, 2 of us sitting as a young man paddled us out to sea. It was still dark out, the glow of morning just barely visible at the horizon. We kept going out further and further, the whole open ocean out in front of us. It felt like were were so far from the rest of the world. After a while the guy told us that the dolphins weren’t going to show up and so we had to head back to shore. I was a bit disappointed, but as we sailed back to land the sun began to rise, growing into shades of red, orange, yellow, pink all at once, lighting up the details of the landscape off in the distance. It was so meditative and peaceful watching the world wake up right in front of our eyes.

Some of the days blur together, but there are moments that will stay with me forever, like our last day watching the sunset at the majestic Uluwatu temple overlooking the Indian Ocean. Seeing a heart shape form on my phone’s screen as I photographed the sun making its way back down below the sea. In that moment I felt so complete, so completely in tune with myself and where I was going, knowing that I had listened to my heart and followed the inspiration that led me back home in every way possible. I could my whole body, mind, and spirit fully aligned, at peace, and full of love, A love for myself and all the people around me, love for nature, and all the beauty in the world. A true awakening of the senses, of my soul’s purpose and of allowing myself to just be. The true journey back to myself, my deep inner knowing, that intuition, that feeling of grace and ease and flow. It all came flooding back . in at that moment, standing at the top of the world, seeing the path that led me there, and being grateful for everything that brought me to this point in my life. All the things that made me stronger, wiser, more discerning, more compassionate of myself and others, more open to love and understanding.

As I flew back to New York, I knew that something had shifted deep inside of me and I felt so much lighter. As I flew over the ocean I did something that a wise friend of mine shared with me before I left; I imagined all of my worries, fears, blocks, and limitations dissolving into the sea, allowing the waters below to cleanse me of these self-imposed burdens.

My theme for 2018 was “Rise and Shine”… this trip helped me to rise above much of my own small self, rising early every morning to stretch my body, begin anew, and step into the day with ease, grace, and a peaceful feeling within. When we recognize our own truth and let go of all the things that no longer serve us we can truly shine in the world, radiating from a place within. To be the light in our own lives and to serve others by radiating this love and light from your own heart. Like the sun that rises in the sky everyday, we have the choice to begin anew and lead with heart. To be at peace even as the world around us changes and to love ourselves through the process.

Take a deep breath, return to the rhythm of the tide, no matter where you are in the world. To ground your feet into Mother Earth and walk your path, the one that only you can create for yourself. Your heart is the compass your soul is your guide. Open to the possibilities, ride the waves, and enjoy the process of unfolding, blossoming, becoming… you.


Blossoming Gardens at the Met

From Monet, who once confessed that he "owed having become a painter to flowers," to Van Gogh, who turned to "painting flowers... to render intense color," this beautiful, botanical bliss is a must see show at the Met this spring!  (March 12 - July 29) Being that I absolutely love spending time in the parks of NYC, I can really appreciate a show about the parks and gardens of an era that influenced some of my favorite artists.  

Public Parks, Private Gardens - Paris to Provence