After two months of traveling in Nepal and India, I finally reach my last destination: Bali. I can already feel the magic of the island setting in. Every part of this island is alive. The trees and vines are fat and green. The insects and birds call from the trees and air. The air is hot and melts into me. And the sidewalks and buildings–even the supermarket–are full of small thoughtful offerings left by invisble hands. The offered incense and flowers remind me to stop, to feel how sacred life also flows through me. And so I am inspired to write and reflect.
The island began its magic before I even got into the plane. In the airport on the way here, I picked up a book on past life regression written by Dr. Brian Weiss, who used to be head of psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Dr. Weiss left his mainstream career when a hypnosis session with a patient ended up with her recalling a past life in detail, and passing on private messages to him from his dead son. While he remains professional and wedded to the scientific method, Dr. Weiss now devotes himself to helping people heal by recalling past lives that are preventing them from living their current life fully. Dr. Weiss’ books turns reincarnation from an abstract concept into a something real.
Reading the book, and arriving in Bali has let me tune back into a more reflective and appreciative part of myself. The overarching message often repeated in the book–what we struggle to learn in each life–is that we are all here to learn how to be loving, kind, and caring. This lesson may take many different forms, or even require hardships and suffering, but the teaching remains the same. It is so important for me to hear this message again. It also opens me up to messages I have received during my travels that I have been too busy to fully absorb.
One lesson I know I am learning right now is how to be loving and caring when I am paying money for services. This is a lesson a lot of tourists could use. Far too often when we pay money for something, the normal human relations take a back seat to the money exchange. A sense of entilement creeps its way in. You expect certain services. If you do not get them, you feel justified in being angry and maybe even rude. This anger often comes out of a fear of being taken advantage of, which is even more aggravated when you think you have paid a lot. The person providing the good or service is also scared of being accused of being unfair, so they often react with defensiveness to any complaint. I saw this cycle of fear play out time and time again in money exchanges regarding food, travel services, hotels. And sometimes I was the one caught up in the negative exchange.
In India, I met someone who totally defused this whole cycle. My friend and I had decided to get out of the city of Udaipur and go to the country for a few days. We spent the afternoon checking out an amazing Jain temple, and then headed to our hotel in the late afternoon. We had been staying at a super-luxe hotel in the city, so I was excited for what I thought would be a charming rustic retreat. After all, I had paid a good price and done some research.
When we finally pulled off the road and wound down a bumpy dirt road, a deserted single building greeted us. The place was dead quiet and without any frills. We were clearly the only guests there. The whole scene had the feel of a haunted house, which was not helped by the fact that the place was called “Silent Valley Hotel.” And, we discovered after seeing our room, the inside of the place was bare and smelled like moth balls.
A feeling of entitlement rose up inside of me. How could they charge so much money for this place? I found the manager and complained. I fully expected to have a heated debate. Instead, the guy gave us a big discount, and went on to make our stay over the next two days a total joy. When we told him how grateful we were that he was so generous and cool about our fears, he said: it is not about the money, it is about you making sure you are happy. Money does not go with you when you die.
His generosity made me realize that I would be happier in life if I tried applying this philosophy to future money exchanges. Even if something turns out to not be worth the cash, whats done is done and life is short. How much better would I ultimately feel if I forgave the other person for the poor service or product instead of feeling entitled? How much more kind and warm would the world be if everyone made it a priority to treat other people with compassion, even if money was involved? This truth seems obvious when I watch other overheated tourists get out of sorts over some perceived wrong, but it is all too easy to forget when I am facing my own frustrations and fears.
Yesterday I had a chance to make a different choice. I ripped open my toes with some huge blisters playing capoeira. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got back to my hotel and saw the open wounds. So I hobbled to reception to ask for some band aids. The women checked the first aid box, which looked empty and barren, and then smiled and me and said: “No band aids!” I could immediately feel the frustration overwhelm me . . . this was a pretty nice place in a luxe town in Bali . . . I can’t believe they don’t keep a good first aid kit around . . . what if someone got seriously hurt . . . she doesn’t even seem to care . . . and now I was going to have to limp to town with some serious pain. I could feel all of these hot thoughts run through my head. I didn’t say anything to her, but I am sure I didn’t convey any nice feelings to her either. I am sure, even if it was subconscious, she could feel my disapproval.
When I finally got to the supermarket and bought myself some band aids, a little voice said: “Are you going to just buy those for yourself?” The angry part of me said yes: it would justify my own anger if others had the same issue . . . and it is not my job to stock their hotel. But another voice said: “Drop the anger and try a different path. See how it feels.” I bought the extra band aids and brought them to the hotel desk, where they were welcomed with a nice smile. It wasn’t the biggest deal, but I think this different response sent out a small ripple of love and forgiveness, instead of an eddy of fear and resentment. And I definitely felt more at peace. This time, although I told her that the hotel should try and keep bandaids around, I was able to say so from a place of genuine concern and helpfulness that didn’t make her feel bad.
So thank you to Dr. Weiss for reframing my perception and reminding me of the bigger picture. Spending money should not change the fundamentally human nature of the interaction. It is always worth it to be kind.