Sunday, February 25, 2007

Blog is complete!

My Reborn at 50 blog is complete!

I continue blogging in Dao and Wine ...

I made an insightful journey of 83 days to prepare for my rebirth, as reflected in 83 blog posts. The last week was spent in Ubud, Bali, where I celebrated my 50th birthday yesterday. It was an unforgettable visit.

From now onwards, I will
revitalize my Dao and Wine blog that has been set aside while I was writing Reborn at 50.

Photographs: Saxman reborn (top); a change of shoes - the old pair completed its service, and the new pair bought in Ubud (bottom).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Ending the countdown...

Reborn at 50
on 23 February 2007
His name is Wouter, he is in good health and doing fine, and he smiles a lot!

The day came at last...
I passed months of reflection and enjoyed my birthday tremendously. After my journey of 83 days I feel wiser and better equipped to enter this new phase of life.

Depending on one’s choice, turning 50 can mean a lot or a little. I decided months ago to make it a big event for me. Seeing my turning 50 as an opportunity for “rebirth”, I took time to review who I am, and everything I do. During my journey, I found many answers and also opportunities for change to live forward.

I feel an immense gratitude to my parents and to all who have supported, advised, and loved me in my first 50 years. Without their kindness and support, I would not be where I am now.

Today, the principal image I had of my journey was a door. I found that the door to a new and richer life at 50 has opened for me, and I am walking through it.

My birthday was relaxed and calm, that is, until I had a chance to jam with a band this evening. Before that, I visited a museum of archeology of Bali and Eastern Indonesia, saw the Moon of Pejeng, the largest bronze kettle drum of Southeast Asia, dating back to 400 years BC, and enjoyed a birthday dinner organized by the hotel, complete with birthday cake and candles, and rosé wine produced in Bali.

Music shifted my gears in the evening when I listened to guitarist virtuoso Balawan playing with his band at the Opera Café, and he invited me to jam with them. He asked what I wanted to play on my sax, and in what key, and we agreed to improvise on his favorite Balinese ethnic jazz fusion style. I felt super alive when playing with him.

Afterwards we chatted about being a musician, and how his life as a musical artist changed after signing a contract with Sony last year. While many more people came to know and love his music, and the sales of his CD albums increased dramatically, much of his work is now also pirated and available on MP3 in sidewalk stalls, which doesn’t bring him any income.

And as he spoke, I was reminded of Poleng, the pattern of the Balinese checkered cloth of black and white squares, signifying right and wrong. While these two qualities seem to coexist interwoven side by side, the Balinese people have demonstrated through countless ages that harmony between people, the environment, and the spiritual world can be attained through daily practice in an ever changing world.

I received several phone calls and many text messages during the day and evening, and I thank all my well-wishers for having me in their thoughts. I am now happily 50 and ready to share more of the magic of life with my ever-expanding community of family and friends.

The new angles for growth I discovered on my journey to rebirth at 50 will help me Live Forward, and I will continue daily reflections on that even as the countdown in this blog has come to an end.

Photographs: Cutting the birthday cake (top), my Balinese door to rebirth at 50 (middle), and jamming to Balinese ethnic jazz fusion (bottom).

Friday, February 23, 2007

1 day to go...

On the last day of my 49th year, I had a full program, making a tour of real estate around Ubud during daytime, and visiting a temple in the evening.

The tour was interesting. I explored six pieces of land that the real estate agent thought would interest me, out of the 200 plus in his portfolio. All sites we visited were in a radius of 20-30 min travel time from Ubud. Most were rice field plots for conversion to residential land. One plot stood out from the others, being an unused sloping patch of land overlooking a picturesque river valley at 20 minutes drive from Ubud.

Ramon, the agent, is a 60-year old Australian German who decided long ago that there is more to the world than Germany. After sojourns in the Caribbean, central America, and 20 years in Australia, he landed in Bali at age 56. Turning 50 is nothing, he emphasized, explaining that life has so much more to offer after that age, as he was experiencing every day.

I visited Samuan Tiga Pura this evening. The largest temple in this part of Bali is unique in its devotion to a single supreme being, a fusion of all gods. Yesterday, Kusia Gallery owner Marjaya had asked Agung, one of his friends, to accompany me and make the preparations (appointment with the priest, bringing flowers and incense). In Bali these things are done with a community spirit and Agung had taken his cousin along to help.

Gusti Mangku Ageng, the priest, chanted rites and gave blessings to the mini congregation. He explained that 50 is regarded in Bali as a golden age, and suggested that I could expect more luck and wealth in the years to come. He then humored me that he was my senior by only 7 years, yet that he looked much older.

The clock has now passed midnight, and my birthday has begun! I will take a good rest now and rise up early to enjoy a great day.

Photographs: Land overlooking a forested valley with rice terraces in the background (top); with Gusti Mangku Ageng the priest, center, and Agung, right, in Samuan Tiga Pura temple (bottom).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

2 days to go...

Discovering "I Am"

I started the day calmly alive. After several days in Ubud, I found that I am slowing to the pace of life in this place. Actually, though, people do things here at many speeds. Among the fast movers are the motorcycles, gamelan players, and dancers. Many other activities move at a leisurely pace.

When given a smile, Balinese people readily return a bigger one. They live in a cosmos where everyone is connected to the others, and that includes the foreigners who come to explore and enjoy Bali. No wonder it is such a popular place for visitors.

After breakfast, I met Kusia Gallery’s owner Marjaya, whom I had first met one and a half year ago during my previous visit. After I told him of my interest to explore real estate, he showed me his steeply sloping land where he is building a house.

We had lunch together in Ubud’s famous Dirty Duck Restaurant, and Marjaya kindly helped to arrange a visit to a temple tomorrow, on the eve of my birthday. After lunch he helped me buy clothes for that occasion, a combination of colored and white sarongs and a Balinese headdress.

More talk about real estate followed as I visited the local real estate agency and had a long discussion about the pros and cons of buying and leasing land and houses around Ubud. I made an appointment to visit some properties tomorrow for a better look.

On return, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam on Ubud’s narrow streets, and decided to park the car and have a cappuccino at a roadside coffeeshop. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed the shop that sells artisanal wrapping paper, a perfect fit for the presents I had bought yesterday.

The past 81 days of my journey to rebirth at 50 have not been about searching for life’s truths. Rather, it has been a non-search. I have focused on opening up and peeling off identity labels collected over the past five decades. Some of these labels I had stuck on myself, and others were put there by other people.

My spiritual roadmap tells me that when I become aware of these labels, my self-identification with them will fade, and space is created for the real me to manifest itself more. Not “I am this or that”, but simply “I am”. After my morning stretches by the plunge pool of my villa, I found that my openness is growing, and with it the space for the real Me. I know now that nobody can give me what I already have.

I look forward to enjoying myself in the next days as well. I will attune myself to Ubud’s rhythms. When things move fast, I will go fast too, but avoid rushing. And when things are moving slow, I will be leisurely, without succumbing to lethargy. In each rhythm, I intend to be deliberate in my actions and choices, in each moment.

Photograph: Serenity in Komaneka Tanggayuda Resort (top), and Building New Villas in Paradise (bottom).

3 days to go...

I woke up early enough today to see the sunrise!

For most of the day, I relaxed in the resort, exercised, swam, played sax, and read. Later in the day I took the car and toured around Ubud. I looked for a real estate office, which was closed by the time I found it. The idea was to get some information about the market for land and houses. Hopefully I can find out tomorrow.

Along the way I enjoyed a delicious cappucino, visited a bookshop and silver shop, and finished the day with a light meal of carpaccio in one of Ubud’s fusion restaurants. I am interested to get in touch with some local people and foreigners who live and work here in Ubud. Hopefully I could get some contacts tomorrow.

I am happy with the day. I reflected on Eckart Tolle’s advice in The New Earth not to link my identity with anything I own, do, or think. I remembered that I wrote about this in the first post of this countdown, when I started to peel off the layers around my true identity, the true Me.

The fresh air and sun have done me good, and I feel sleepy. Time to catch a good rest.

Photograph: Dawn (top), and carpaccio in Ubud (below).

Monday, February 19, 2007

4 days to go...

Duality is okay

I wondered this morning about experiencing happiness and sadness at the same time. Is that a good thing? Or does it mean there’s something in me waiting to be dealt with, to be resolved?

I got up quite early and had a workout on my secluded terrace, followed by meditation on the daybed in the gazebo, and a dip in the plunge pool. I unpacked my sax, and wondered if any Balinese tunes could come out. I can stretch myself to make it happen.

Surya, the hotel manager, came to see me at breakfast and lent me his favorite book by Gede Prama, Dari Keindahan Untuk Kesuksesan (The Art of Success Mastery). Another stretch, to improve my bahasa Indonesia!

Gede writes about moving onward from a life controlled by the mind, symbolized by the yin-yang circle, to wisdom in everyday life, symbolized by the yin-yang circle without its dual colors, and finally coming to surrender, shown as a simple circle without contents. Duality seems to fade as this metamorphosis progresses.

From Surya’s earlier description of Gede Prama as a writer on spirituality, my mind had created an association of a serious older man. My mind had tricked me again. He actually looks like a laughing happy man in the picture, age below 50 I would say. Surya said he also leads a herbal medicine company. That’s interesting to me, to lead a company and be a spiritual leader at the same time. A duality?

David Niven writes in The Best Half of Life that transitions can be both happy and sad, particularly during major life changes. I can see that. There is simultaneous “leaving” and “entering.” I am experiencing that, for sure.

Mysteries of duality have puzzled people the world over. Quranic verse 51:49 describes the nature of all created things, and the English translation reads "And all things have We created in pairs in order that you may reflect on it." No life flow without duality, it seems to suggest.

The yin-yang principle points out a similar wisdom, that there is no energy flow without polarity, like between day and night, male and female, good and bad, hot and cold, strong and soft, etc. While the mind seeks resolution, like in “you are right, or I am right, but we can’t both be right”, life actually doesn’t work that way.

A google search brings up further interpretations of duality:
> The condition of one thing having two sides, parts, or faces.

> The perspective that the universe is essentially an arrangement of binary oppositions, such as spirit and body, good and evil, male and female, creator and created, etc. Ultimately it implies the very presupposition behind subject-object consciousness, ie, that the objective world is experienced through the subjective perception of it as things, objects and ideas that are separate, "out there" and thus distinguished from the perceiver.

> The mistaken perception separating the perceiver and the world, self and other, this and that.

> The separation of two opposites and places those characteristics into two God forms. For example, good and evil, as characterized by the Christian God and Devil.

> Pairs of interconnected opposites, neither of which can exist without the other (ie, beauty-ugliness, positive-negative, male-female, etc.); one of the mechanisms by which the totality of manifestation operates; when the ego becomes involved, duality becomes dualism.

What I learn from my reflection is that duality is part of the Universe as I see it around me. Observing duality brings more understanding, it stretches my limited awareness. It also challenges my mind which always works to produce simplistic and linear versions of reality. Experiencing duality seems healthy from that perspective.

However, I don’t like to be dualistic in my actions. I would like to be clear and focused in everything I do, and also in what I do not do. Not wishy-washy, neither being here or there.

I will learn more about duality in the days to come. For today, I conclude that each moment allows me to be in that moment totally with whatever emotion I am experiencing at that time, without duality. The next moment can be different, and that’s okay. Do, dedicate, and let go…

Photograph: Duality of fruits on the palm in the compound of my villa (top), and morning light (bottom).

5 days to go...

The Power of Bali ...

I started the day refreshed, and with a fabulous view on lush vegetation and rice fields on the other side of the narrow valley of the Oos river. Nature and art are never far away when I’m in Bali, and especially here in Ubud.

I arrived late last night in the dark, and this morning I felt that I needed to move. So I shifted to the cottage (here called villa) next to mine, which felt more “fit” to me. It was so luminous, as if a generous spirit was there to welcome me.

The room boy asked me what I did, and I told him I am becoming a writer. This seemed entirely normal to him, and he referred to his brother who’s work as a painter is sold in galleries in Singapore.

It was the first time that a stranger acknowledged my statement to be a writer. And if he wondered why a writer would stay in his resort, he made no mention of it. Being an artist in Ubud is considered normal.

I wrote in longhand in my journal while waiting for breakfast to be served in the open-air restaurant, and it felt so good! I even felt the beautiful wooden table to be alive.

My villa is full of frangipani and bougainvillea flowers put there by the staff. Their fragrance is present. Each villa has its own little altar affixed to its outside wall where staff makes offerings every day with a flower and incense.

I rented a car for the week, and my expedition started with the search for super glue to fix my fave sandals. Each sandle decided to come loose at the same point this morning.

Then torture started. I joined the fun run to raise money for saving Orang Utans in Sumatera. A small crowd gathered on Ubud’s football field, and off we went on a 5 km run through Ubud and then up and down through the verdant ricefields surrounding the town.

I quickly realized the true status of my physical condition, and I panted myself along, through the exquisite scenery, occasionally meeting Balinese farmers carrying their produce or rice stalks on bicycles on the narrow path. Now I can attest that my body is “open” for whatever further experiences this week.

The fun run was followed by chats with equally satisfied runners over bottles of water and a glass of beer offered on my forthcoming birthday. I decided this morning to be open and observant today, and I met several people with an interesting story.

Kees, a lean truck driver from Holland who spends six months on the roads of Europe and the other six with his family in Ubud. He looked very fit and came in second in the run.

Peggy and Dick, a couple from Canada who turned 50 last year, and who buy handicraft from Ubud and other locations in Asia to sell it during a world bazar in Canada lasting just a few weeks each year. She does the buying, and he manages the finances. Interestingly, as he was about to turn 50, he left a career as financial manager of high-tech electronics companies in Canada. He’s now looking for new business opportunities, and is happy to work as a husband and wife team importing handicrafts in the meantime.

Rucina, a dancer from the US living in Bali for a long time, who was kind enough to put me in touch with the organizers of the fun run by email on where to buy the tickets. She emceed a performance after the run to raise money for the orang utans in Sumatera.

I also met lots of Balinese dogs while running, and to my surprise not a single one barked or yapped, as would be the standard in the other places in Asia I ran, including in Thailand and the Philippines. They appeared calm.

My outing ended, or so I thought, with listening to live music in Ubud’s Jazz Café, featuring Madama and his Planet Bamboo band. He told me during the break that although he hails from Yogyakarta in central Java, he has lived in Bali for the past 20 years. His music was an example of the fusion of cultures going on here. Although there were some classical motives, it was evolutionary in form and delivery.

Since I had no dinner, I stopped at Casa Luna for cappuccino and apple crumble on the way back to my hotel in Payangan, 15 minutes driving from central Ubud. When I returned to the hotel, the manager Surya greeted me warmly. Standing next to a yoni-lingam statue in the hotel garden lit by torches, we talked about spiritual development, the world beyond form and how that world expresses itself in Bali, and what it meant to each of us personally to be spiritually alive.

Sipping a delicious Grand Cru Saint Emilion which I brought from Manila to treat myself, I reflect on Surya’s words tonight that the power of Bali lies in its harmony between the gods, people and nature. From personal experiences, he knew about the powers in the unseen world, and it had convinced him about the need to live in harmony. I knew deep inside that he was right.

The final word of the day was the wishing card laid out on the bed. It quoted Robert Louis Stevenson in saying: “A Friend is a present you give yourself.” By being open today, I made new friends.

Photographs: Bath tub in my villa (top), the start of the Fun Run to save Sumatran Orang Utans (second, before I started panting), a child Orang Utan on stage in the show (third), and Ganesha in Casa Luna (bottom).