I am so free here in Bali, it's almost ridiculous. The only thing I have to do every day is visit Ketut Liyer for a few hours in the afternoon, which is far short of a chore. The rest of the day gets taken care of in various nonchalant manners. I meditate for an hour every morning using the Yogic techniques my Guru taught me, and then I meditate for an hour every evening with the practices Ketut has taught me ("sit still and smile"). In between, I walk around and ride my bike and sometimes talk to people and eat lunch. I found a quiet little lending library in this town, got myself a library card, and now great, luscious portions of my life are spent reading in the garden. After the intensity of life in the Ashram, and even after the decadent business of zooming all over Italy and eating everything in sight, this is such a new and radically peaceful episode of my life. I have so much free time, you could measure it in metric tons.
Whenever I leave the hotel, Mario and the other staff members at the front desk ask me where I'm going, and every time I return, they ask me where I have been. I can almost imagine that they keep tiny maps in the desk drawer of all their loved ones, with markings indicating where everyone is at every given moment, just to make sure the entire beehive is accounted for at all times.
In the evenings I spin my bicycle high up into the hills and across the acres of rice terraces north of Ubud, with views so splendid and green. I can see the pink clouds reflected in the standing water of the rice paddies, like there are two skies--one up in heaven for the gods, and one down here in the muddy wet, just for us mortals. The other day, I rode up to the heron sanctuary, with its grudging welcome sign ("OK, you can see herons here"), but there were no herons that day, just ducks, so I watched the ducks for a while, then rode on into the next village. Along the way I passed men and women and children and chickens and dogs who all, in their own way, were busy working, but none so busy that they couldn't stop to greet me.
A few nights ago, on the top of one lovely rise of forest I saw a sign: "Artist's House for Rent, with Kitchen." Because the universe is generous, three days later I am living there. Mario helped me move in, and all his friends at the hotel gave me a tearful farewell.
My new house is on a quiet road, surrounded in all directions by rice fields. It's a little cottagelike place inside ivy-covered walls. It's owned by an Englishwoman, but she is in London for the summer, so I slide into her home, replacing her in this miraculous space. There is a bright red kitchen here, a pond full of goldfish, a marble terrace, an outdoor shower tiled in shiny mosaics; while I shampoo I can watch the herons nesting in the palm trees. Little secret paths lead through a truly enchanting garden. The place comes with a gardener, so all I have to do is look at the flowers. I don't know what any of these extraordinary equatorial flowers are called, so I make up names for them. And why not? It's my Eden, is it not? Soon I've given all the plants around here new monikers--daffodil tree, cabbage-palm, prom-dress weed, spiral show-off, tip-toe blossom, melancholy-vine and a spectacular pink orchid I have christened "Baby's First Handshake." The unnecessary and superfluous volume of pure beauty around here is not to be believed. I can pick papayas and bananas right off the trees outside my bedroom window. There's a cat who lives here who is enormously affectionate to me for the half hour every day before I feed him, then moans crazily the rest of the time like he's having Vietnam War flashbacks. Oddly, I don't mind this. I don't mind anything these days. I can't imagine or remember discontent.
The sound universe is also spectacular around here. In the evenings there's a cricket orchestra with frogs providing the bass line. In the dead of night the dogs howl about how misunderstood they are. Before dawn the roosters for miles around announce how freaking cool it is to be roosters.("We are ROOSTERS!" they holler. "We are the only ones who get to be ROOSTERS!") Every morning around sunrise there is a tropical birdsong competition, and it's always a ten-way tie for the championship. When the sun comes out the place quiets down and the butterflies get to work. The whole house is covered with vines; I feel like any day it will disappear into the foliage completely and I will disappear with it and become a jungle flower myself. The rent is less than what I used to pay in
New York City for taxi fare every month.
The word paradise, by the way, which comes to us from the Persian, means literally "a walled garden."