Archive for the ‘WEIRD EXPERIENCES’ Category

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How To Purify Your Villa and Blow Up Your Light Fittings

May 9, 2010

My new villa is quiet and relaxing. In fact. it is so relaxing that I spend a vast amount of time here in a catatonic trance, gazing at the pool in between tweeting and blogging, reading, or just thinking. I can’t even be bothered answering the phone because the combination of my abysmal hearing and the appalling cell reception here means I can’t understand anything anyway. Even my stated life purpose – to achieve a state of maximum Bali-style entropy through terminal sloth and joyful gluttony – is not working. Oh, I have the sloth part nailed, but the gluttony requires actually leaving the villa, and that’s just too hard.

Once every eight months or so, I get an urge to improve my lot in life. And so it was that a month ago, the realisation dawned that I needed to take some positive action to make my life more dynamic. As I don’t believe in rushing things, my philosophy is that following such epiphanies, at least another month of pool-staring is required before actually doing something. Naturally, I spent the next month working out how I might achieve this with the minimum of effort.

Now, I know all the wonderful New Age theories. Most of them boil down to taking responsibility for one’s actions. You know the mantra: “Ah, grasshopper, if you want things to change, first you must change yourself”. The trouble is, this takes too much effort – it is always far easier to blame someone or something else for one’s tribulations. After nearly a year in Bali, I figured that everyone else does that here, so why not me? Clearly, I needed to look for external solutions rather than take responsibility for changing myself. The answer was blindingly obvious – my lack of drive had nothing to do with me at all. It must therefore be my villa, home to several spirits which, while not quite evil, weren’t all that positive either.

It didn’t take long to find a local Balinese shaman – a healer – who would perform a cleansing ceremony on my home. But the question was – do these rituals really work? Fortunately, I have a character flaw which dictates that before I try anything new or strange, I get someone else to try it out for me. This has served me well since my earliest days, when I would get my cousin to try out my cardboard wing designs for flights from the top of the garage roof before risking my own neck. Sorry Gabe – I never did apologise for that. So I talked a friend into having her villa purified first and because it seemed to work, I booked one for myself.

The shaman, Wayan, and his assistant Putu duly arrived and began the ceremony, the first hour of which consisted of meditating at various key points in the villa. The problem spots were quickly identified and the cleansing process commenced with us sitting on the floor upstairs while Wayan muttered incantations and prayers. I had intended to be an open-minded, albeit passive observer to this, but quickly became engrossed in the ritual. An hour passed as it it was five minutes, then Wayan turned to me and said: “The villa is fine – the problem is with you“. Oh no, I had been sprung!

For the next half-hour there followed a laying-on-of-hands ritual while bad influences were removed from my body, accompanied by startlingly loud invocations and choking sounds from Wayan. As the ceremony built to a climax, Wayan placed his clawed fingers on my back, grasping something that only he could sense and emitting blood-curdling moans. Suddenly, I felt an electrical jolt through my body, there was a enormous bang and all the lights went out. I jumped a metre into the air – not an easy feat for an mature-aged gent in a lotus position.

I staggered downstairs to find my terrified pembantu staring with eyes like dinner plates at the remains of an exploded light fitting, still raining smoking bits of red-hot metal and glass on the table at which she had been sitting. I looked at Wayan, who seemed inordinately pleased. “Good”, he said laconically. “Energy release!” As you can imagine, my natural scepticism had taken quite a battering by then, so I wasn’t inclined to argue. Whatever had happened, it was certainly impressive.

In the cold light of morning, I was ready to rationalise the events of the previous night away.  Except that my perceptions had subtly changed. I noticed that my villa wall, which I always thought was a charcoal colour, actually had chocolate overtones that I had never seen before. Other colours were different as well.  But the thing that was most noticeable was that the stiff, painful neck that had troubled me for the last four months was gone.

There are levels of alternate reality that keep unfolding for me in Bali. Just as I start becoming jaded from dealing with endless bureaucratic and  infrastructure problems, something happens here at the spiritual level that makes me re-think what is important here. It reminds me of why I came to Bali in the first place. Thank you Wayan; thank you Putu.

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Like a Candle in the Ear

January 10, 2010

I’m officially classified as deaf. Well in one ear anyway, which is about 90dB down from normal. That’s a lot. All I ‘hear’ from my left side is a high pitched hissing shriek that I have learned to ignore. Well, most of the time anyway. Two functioning ears are good, because they allow one to tell where sounds are coming from. I am an endless source of amusement for people who call to me from my left, because I hear their voice bouncing off walls to my right and I turn that way to look at … nothing. Warnings from homicidal motorcyclists blasting their horns are wasted on me, because the threat could be coming from any direction.    

Worse, the brain distinguishes important sounds from background noise by processing input from two ears and discarding the clutter. I get it all, unfiltered and confusing. It means I can hear, but not understand. To those of you with two working ears, think of an ink drawing, the patterns exquisitely detailed, the colours and textures vibrant and alive – that’s normal hearing. Now think of it being left in the rain, with the details smearing until only a muddy shadow of the original meaning remains. That’s what I hear. Once I could not only hear a sparrow fart at 500 metres, but I could have told you what it had for breakfast. Those days are over – I turn around at squeaky motorbike brakes thinking someone is calling my name. And ignore those who do call me because I think they are motorbikes.

Learning Bahasa is torture as I try to hear, then duplicate the subtle schwas and soft k’s of the spoken language. Even English is getting to be beyond me, and is now getting me into dangerous situations. I was inspecting a rental villa recently, one still full of holidaying guests.
Me: (To one of the guests) “Enjoying yourself in Bali?”
Her: “Oh yes, the group here is great. We’re old women here, you know”
Me: (Thinking that they look pretty young to me) “You’re old?”
Her: (Aggrieved) “Old? Old? Who are you calling old?!”
Me: “Er, you said …”
Her: “I said, we’re all women here”

Some smoothing of ruffled feathers was required. I’m such a diplomat, but you have to be when you’re deaf …

Hearing loss can drive one into self-imposed social isolation. Perhaps that’s why, in a misguided attempt to do something positive, I did something really silly instead. I tried Ear Candling. This is a procedure offered at salons everywhere, and it claims to clean the ears of wax residue by, wait for it – sticking a hollow, burning candle into one’s ear. Supposedly the candle creates a suction which somehow vacuums the crud out of one’s ear. If I did this, maybe my hearing would improve, even a little? Naturally, being a tad skeptical, I researched the procedure thoroughly by consulting with Dr. Google. Unfortunately, I did the research after having the procedure done, which in hindsight, was a tad stupid.

So there I was, lying on my side, with a burning candle stuck in my ear, looking like a birthday cake for a one-year-old who had asked mum to bake a full-scale replica of a walrus. It was quiet and peaceful, (but of course, it was my dead ear) and despite knowing that I looked ludicrous, I was relaxed. I could feel a few warm drops trickling in my ear. Aha! It’s the ear wax dissolving, I thought. In fact, I found out later that it was the candle wax dripping in. Medically, that is considered to be a Bad Thing.

Then I turned over, and the process was repeated on my ‘good’ ear. Ye gods! The noise of cracking flames nearly made me jump off the table. In retrospect, I should have. The only time that you normally hear flames that loud is when your hair is on fire. My nose worked overtime to detect the aroma of singed hair – but nothing. I lay there tensely waiting to burst into flames, but fortunately cranial combustion did not occur.

Afterwards, the helpful staff showed me the remnants of the candle stubs, filled with a hideous waxy detritus which they claimed were the contents of my ‘contaminated’ ears, now supposedly sparkling clean. I left bemused, but relatively calm – until I did the research I should have done before. Apparently a lit, hollow candle doesn’t develop any suction, and can’t remove ear wax.  Apparently the residue you are shown comes from the candle itself, not from your ears. Apparently, accidents where boiling wax runs down the candle into one’s ear canal are common, and there are even cases of eardrums being burnt completely through. The lessons here for me? I will research stuff before I commit to what could be a dangerous procedure. I will accept my disabilities and frailties and not look for whacko solutions, because there are no easy fixes – not for hearing loss anyway.

So watch out people, here I come. I’m the guy who will look the wrong way when called, and I will in all probability insult you because I didn’t really hear what you said. My conversations in crowded, noisy bars will be nonsensical. At least I’ll fit right in. And I will most likely run into you with my motorbike (yes, the girl’s bike) despite your loud and insistent beeping. You have been warned.

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A Super Natural Experience

November 8, 2009

I feel compelled to say at the outset that I am not a believer in paranormal phenomena. Sure, strange things happen – but in most cases there are perfectly rational explanations for these without invoking the supernatural. So naturally it came as a surprise to me to experience at first hand an event that still has me wondering.

It was the first day of Galungan, a deeply significant event in Balinese culture. In fact, it wasn’t even the first full day – it was 2 am on the morning of the first day. I had been asleep for over two hours when I was woken by a change in the quality of the light in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was that there were multiple shadows flitting across my window. My curtains, normally backlit by a street light, were a mass of dark, angular shapes, reminiscent of large bats, which milled restlessly, constantly changing their shapes.

Aha! I thought – a lucid dream – but no, the quality of this experience was very different to any of my prior lucid dream experiences. And no, before you ask – I hadn’t been drinking. Even while checking my surroundings – the bedside clock, the things in the room, my own sense of self (yes, I even pinched myself!) to confirm that I was really awake, the shadow play in the window continued. OK, I thought – so it’s real. Time to analyse, to look for rational explanations, understand the science behind the phenomenon.  I was intrigued and curious. Then I noticed that the dancing shapes were not confined to the window. The entire ceiling was covered with a dense, three-dimensional mass of shapes as well.

By this time, I was fully alert, still half-expecting to see the amazing display disappear and be replaced by the familiar banality of my bedroom. But it didn’t. It became even more surreal, because the shapes that I originally thought were bat-like were actually something different. But try as I might, I could not relate them to anything in my experience, or begin to describe them. It was as if what was visible to me was a projection from another world, one that contained many more dimensions than ours. There were hints of coalescing shapes, colours that did not exist in this world, movements that defied physics.  If you asked me to draw, paint or sculpt what I saw, I could not do it, simply because there are only three dimensions available to me, and I would need a lot more.

Not just the shapes, but the surface textures were unfamiliar, bearing no resemblance to anything I had ever seen before. Think of the retinal after-images you get when you close your eyes and apply pressure. Think of the coruscating light produced at the target of a laser – but invert it so that the patterns you see are those of light being absorbed instead of reflected. Think of looking into the depths of the ocean from a boat. What I saw was like all of these, but much more. Without any doubt, I knew my imperfect senses were observing entities – from another place – swirling in the room. 

I guess the human mind is hard-wired to look for explanations, and one was readily forthcoming. A thought surfaced that this was Galungan, a time when, according to Balinese lore, the spirits of the departed return to Earth for a few days. I felt no fear; instead, I was fascinated, knowing that I was experiencing something special. As I lay back on the bed, looking up at the roiling, shifting mass of dark shapes completely covering the ceiling, I smiled and thought the words: “Welcome … enjoy your stay!”

And then the most amazing thing of all happened. A long thin, angular shape reached down to my face and touched my right cheek. I expected to hear it rustle, because it gave the impression of being leathery, but it was completely silent. I expected its touch to be cold, and sharp, and somewhat alien, like its appearance. It wasn’t. It was unmistakeably the touch of human fingers, light, warm and caring. I fell asleep with the room still full of ‘presences’ – and had the best night’s sleep in months. In the morning, the memory of that night was sharp and clear.

Do I have an explanation for what happened that night? No. Do I now believe in the supernatural? Another no. But, despite retaining my innate skepticism, I have broadened the scope of what I define as natural. Bali can do that to a person.