It is difficult to express the thoughts I pursued this afternoon, both because of their abstraction, but also because they remained entirely unresolved. Nonetheless, there is a question and meaning there worth trying to record.
I was riding a taxi from Ubud to Sanur in Bali (an awful experience – once an interesting city, Ubud is now an overly commercialized trap, with some of the worst traffic I’ve seen). Driving the Balinese landscape, seeing all the icons of Hinduism spread across the cities and fields, my thoughts began with memories of studies in Bali years ago.
I think it all hit me in Batubulan (Moonstone – the town in Bali most well known for stone carving), when I began thinking back to my introductions to the different types of priests in Balinese Hinduism – pedanda, pemanku, balian, etc… – and how the Balinese work to balance the forces of good and evil in their daily and ritual lives.
Part of my initial attraction to Bali was precisely this kind of thinking. Back in the day, growing up in Denver, I got involved in an art scene that almost relished darkness, I might even say taunted evil. In going to Bali, I was engaged by and relieved to find a epistemology that acknowledged this darkness as an undeniable component of life, but refused to all it as a sole defining characteristic. Indeed, the Balinese could look at it, and still affirm life, and all the beauty within it.
My thoughts then continued on to a conversation I had yesterday with a friend in Bali – a former teacher from my early days in Indonesia, actually – about Islam in Indonesia, and the ongoing threat of political violence. She talked about her difficulties over the years in sustaining the program for American students in Indonesia after 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She talked about Muslim political groups, and difficulties she has experienced in taking students to Yogyakarta in Java, and the coming political elections in Indonesia.
And then I thought about my own experiences of Islam in Indonesia – being starred down by a Muslim man on a bus late at night just outside of Yogya; watching some students video a Muslim political protest about the west, only to have the students all turn their cameras on me; the first time I saw a woman in a full hijab or burka, submissively walking the streets of the city several feet behind her husband; pulling into a hotel in Jakarta, and having my cab searched for bombs; and being invited by a Javanese man in Jakarta, to join him for coffee and a cigarette while listening to a Muslim political speech held on the street just outside of my hotel.
I thought about fundamentalist movements in both America and Muslim world, and the confusion, chaos, and violence that ensues from such polarizing dogmas about virtue.
I thought about my own life, and hoped that embraced the right balance between good and evil, that I still speak for what is good in life.