Nyepi in Bali

So there went the winter. While the rest of the country spent this Monday just past outdoors and covered in colour, marking the official transition of the seasons, I stayed in. Gaurav was away, (our dog) Ella was sleepy and content to slope about the house with the odd stop on the balcony to sun herself, and I just…stayed in. I didn’t stay in to escape the colour, or the parties, but it just happened that way, and as I sat in our living room listening to the ‘schwick-thup’ of water balloons hitting passing cars and passers-by, I took a moment to just breathe deeply and give thanks for day that yawned up ahead of me, with not one task, chore, or item to be checked off the to-do list. And then I had to take another to stop myself from doing what I’d usually do: filling that time with things to do.

I have always been, my mum will attest, a person who needs time alone to recharge. I enjoy people very much, and I am always pleased to see the ones that I love, or even the ones I like, but if I don’t have enough time just by myself after protracted bouts of human interaction, I am not myself. Recently, after a week of parties and people at a family wedding there is nothing I needed more than to just be quiet. To not speak, and even more, to not be spoken to. In the silence between all that hustle and bustle is where I find my energy reserves.

Not everybody needs as much time in the silence as I do, but increasingly, with a life that is soundtracked by the constant ‘bzzzzz’ of a phone (I keep mine on silent, obvs, but it still vibrates like a pneumatic drill) or the knowledge that somewhere there is a relentless stream of messages, emails, pings, pokes, and other little jabs just waiting for your attention, silence is the ultimate escape. When I have the gift of that time, of a yawning gap in sound, my relationship with my life changes. My relationships with people are better, more deliberate, and my relationship with the words I am writing, or reviewing, is more enjoyable and playful. The way that I respond and regard people around me changes, and I’m less brittle in general. My relationships are the most important thing in my life, and yet being alone is the most powerful thing that I do.

Bali was pretty special, and had already earned itself a solid spot on my ‘favourite ever’ list, until, recently, I read about Nyepi. Now, frankly, it is number one.

Five years ago Gaurav gave me return flights to Bali for my birthday present. It was my first birthday with him, and it was, to date, the most fun present he’s ever given me (no pressure lover). We were away for ten days, and we split our time pretty evenly around the island’s southern coast. Three days in Candidasa nursing Gaurav’s stomach back to health after a run-in with some awful spicy chicken burger at Delhi airport before we’d even left, three days in Seminyak getting massages, eating sushi, and luxuriating in a room upgrade with the odd excursion to see rivers and craft villages and go diving in Tulamben (my first ever), and another three days in Jimbaran watching spectacular sunsets, eating our weight in seafood on the beach, and nursing skin that was, by now, as pink as the lobster they served every night. It was, in a word, spectacular, and kicked off a whole calendar year of incredible exploration, of places I’d never been, and of each other. Bali was pretty special, and had already earned itself a solid spot on my “favourite ever” list, until, recently, I read about Nyepi. Now, frankly, it is number one.

Nyepi is a Day of Silence that marks Bali's lunar new year. A public holiday, Nyepi is on March 28 this year, and officially lasts for 24 hours, kicking off at 6am on the day. It is the Balinese equivalent of Diwali, falling (as does Diwali) on a new moon, and like Diwali, is also intended to clear out evil spirits for the next year (the equivalent of the poverty-bringing “daridra devda” in the Laxmi myth), but that is where the similarities end. Where Diwali is light, and celebration, and fireworks, Nyepi is silence, fasting and meditation. In Denpasar the airport is shut (for all but transit flights). You’ll see cars on the roads only in case of emergencies, and hotel guests are confined to their hotel grounds. Everything is shut. The tradition says that any lingering evils are duped into believing that the island has been abandoned, silly ducks, and so they leave to go terrorise some other place. Everything, and everybody is quiet.

It sounds amazing.

Until another trip to Bali materializes (*cough, Gaurav, cough*) I’m letting go of some of the defensive guilt I’ve always felt about carving out quiet time for myself on a weekly basis. 24 hours is highly unlikely, and I don’t need that much anyway. Nope, my personal evils are appeased with a mere hour, or two. Sometimes it’s an hour of writing, or a couple of hours that involve meditation, a snooze with my dog, and some more time just schlepping around the house and pootling away at little bits until I’m in the mood to talk again. And even if you don’t think you need this time, you probably do. The key is to allow yourself a small window every couple of days without your phone, without your laptop, without the television… our whole lives are focused outwards, and this is a chance for you to turn in a little, and take a break from all of that. And if this sounds unrealistic to you, you actually need it most of all.