June 2015 Myri and I took a group of pilgrims to Bali, land of beauty and mystery. Mekare Fiske had been commissioned to engage a mask maker to create 22 Masks of Tara in preparation for Tara Dhatu’s Festival of Prayer. We were to learn how to dance in them and then offer the dance as a gift to the Balinese people. Here is the story of some of our adventures….
There is a feeling in the air in Bali, a sparkle, an aliveness that is unique to the island. One is constantly surrounded by an exuberance of beauty; statues, flowers, people. And everywhere you look there are offerings, simple things for the most part … a tiny tray made out of woven coconut palm containing a bit of incense, a few flowers, chunks of food, sacred herbs …. Found in front of shops, at street corners, at the entrance to homes.
To the Balinese our world is filled with countless unseen beings. We are in constant communication with them, and making offerings insures that they are happy and all goes well.
Myri and I arrived in Ubud, the Balinese city known as a center of the arts, a few days before the pilgrimage was to start, meeting with Solomon, our our adventurous and creative guide.
Our retreat center, the Melati Hotel, was lovely. It had been years since my residence in Bali, studying sacred dance. I wanted our pilgrims to have the opportunity to experience the way the Balinese live, in beautiful, garden filled compounds, with separate buildings for kitchen, etc. The Melati lived up to my hopes and dreams.
Our first order of business was to get a lavish massage, ending in a flower infused bath. Ahhhhhh. We then sat down to map out what our guide had planned for us.
Second order of business was to meet with Mekare, who had been working diligently to get masks and costumes made for our pilgrims. We met on our balcony, overlooking the gardens. The process of getting the masks made had been quite intense for Mekare. Intensely wonderful and intensely frustrating. Click here for her incredible mask making story……
Mekare tearfully explained that our mask maker, Oka, had not returned from teaching in New Zealand as planned. She had no idea when he would be back in Bali, or what had detained him. Our pilgrims would not even get to meet him! Weeks later when Oka returned, he explained to Mekare that while in New Zealand the Indonesian government had requested that he travel on to Australia as one of the master artisans in a mission of goodwill following the execution of two young Australian drug dealers. Therefore his trip was suddenly unexpectedly extended.
So the first big shock of the pilgrimage was to realize that we were not going to have ANY masks for the pilgrims to work with, and no contact with the mask maker. While I was digesting that, Mekare shared another shocking piece of information…..a western woman teacher had been picked up by the Immigration police for not having a “work” permit, was held in jail, and fined thousands of dollars.
My head was spinning. We had 21 magnificent friends joining us on this grand adventure and they were set to arrive shortly. We had been planning to plaster Ubud with posters inviting the Balinese to come and dance with us. We took a big step back and decided to be as discreet as possible.
Everyone was thrilled to be in beautiful Bali, the massages and flower petal bath soothed the long distance travelers. We prepared everyone for our first adventure together by supplying them with the pieces of Balinese temple garb we would need, so we could be blessed in the sacred waters of Tampak Siring.
The next morning we went fully clothed into the sacred waters, standing under the carved spouts, praying for our personal cleansing and asking for blessings on our journey.
Our pilgrims were wonderfully supportive about the situation without the masks…especially since Mekare told the story of the creation of the crowns that we would be wearing. The blessing of the crowns was to be one of the highlights of our time in Bali for it truly put us directly in touch with the unseen blessings available to the open heart.
Every day unfolded in wonder. We started at 7 AM with chi-lel and meditation. After a simple breakfast we entered the dancing mandala of Tara. Our dance meeting room was exquisite. Open to the gardens and rice paddies surrounding us, with a sprung wooden floor and high thatched ceiling, the sweet breezes kept us comfortable as we dove deeply into the practice of Dancing Tara.
Every day we had adventures prepared for us…..it could be a meal in some exotic location, a private dance, a visit to a sacred spot, an exploration of the wondrous arts and crafts of the country. And then of course there was shopping. What a cornucopia of beautiful things to buy.
Our drivers were the essence of patience as we jostled our way in and out of their vehicles. We grew quite close with them as we shared the glories and the challenges of travel.
Mekare presented the costumes and we had the delightful experience of meeting Shade who assured us that everyone would be comfortably fitted. We swirled together in silky, shining, sparkling delight.
Then there were the wigs. Mekare had found an online source for inexpensive wigs …. after all, if we were wearing masks, wigs would be necessary. We had them shipped to Aimee and Don in New York and they most graciously carried them to Bali for us.
We danced wherever we went. One of our peak experiences was at the Great Mother Temple of Besaki. We drove high into the mountains to this most sacred temple compound, the place from which the blessings of all the deities in the Balinese pantheon flow.
The temple is built on six levels, representing deepening levels of practice, and as we traveled up the ancient stone steps we felt like we were being called deeper into the heart of the Great Mother. Facing the powerful Agung Mountain we made formal, traditional offerings.
And then we Danced Tara. Tara was truly with us when we were ready to offer our dance. We magnetized the local Balinese people who were curious to see and watch, and feel our level of devotion.
One of the most profound experiences we shared was the blessing of the crowns. Mekare had arranged for a priest, Putra, a dear friend of hers, to bless the crowns with us. We assembled in our beautiful shrine room, kissed by a light breeze. The crowns were laid out before us in all their magnificence. Copper, dipped in silver, dipped in gold, adorned with sparkling “jewels”….
The priest and his lovely wife placed an array of offerings around the crowns. He explained that after the blessing the crowns should be considered sacred objects. The Balinese believe that objects that are infused with mantra and meditation can mediate between the visible and invisible worlds. The artist has the possibility of invoking invisible forces for protection and empowerment.
The priest then introduced us to Taksu. It is a difficult word to translate as it implies the indescribable essence of spirit. Some call it charisma, others call it spiritual power. Dancers with Taksu capture the eyes of the audience, speakers with Taksu are fascinating and inspirational. Taksu is the divine unity of the performer and the performance. Taksu comes from the wish for others to be happy and peaceful.
Through our prayers and offerings we were inviting the crowns to be infused with Taksu and thereby whenever they are worn they will inspire the dancer with this ineffable blessing.
Our last night in Ubud we presented the mandala in full costume. Several young Balinese dancers set up in one of our hotel rooms to put make-up Balinese style on all of our dancers. They organized the wigs so that we had our Buddha top knots in place, and helped to adjust the crowns.
Solomon had put out the word to all of his extensive network and we had a lovely audience. The priest opened our ceremonial dance offering, blessing each dancer as we entered the dance space. It was a powerful and blessed experience to dance Tara for the Balinese.
The next day we headed up over the mountains to the other side of the island for three days at a lovely beach resort.
We cavorted in sacred waters, prayed in a lavish Buddhist temple, and danced Tara on the last evening as a prayer of gratitude for this amazing set of experiences.
We will return when the masks are done, to ceremonially invest them with spiritual power, inviting the Taksu to take residence within them.
I offer my great gratitude to Mekare, Solomon and Myri for all of their heroic efforts to make this pilgrimage possible, and to the brave pilgrims who joined us. I especially offer my gratitude to Mother Tara who inspired this adventure with Bali and the masks, and to the wonderful Balinese who served us and prayed with us throughout this magical journey. I look forward to return with another group of brave souls to learn how to dance with the masks. May we all be infused with inspiring and uplifting Taksu.