Meditation Experiences

I ended up here because of a little conversation with my friend Tyo who visited in Manila a few months ago during our commute. Upon discovering my interest in yoga he told me that he had joined this program with his mum and I could only think about how insane it was! I never thought I’d last a week without speaking, without Internet access, without good-nights I-miss-yous and I-love-yous from my boyfriend, and I also did not think that I could afford to find the time or money for something so luxurious. Long story short, I planned a trip to Bali and I looked this up and it turned out to be much more affordable than I had imagined (price was inclusive of lodging and food).

Now, why all that fuss and who is this Merta Ada who I now call Guru? I honestly jumped in knowing just as much as Tyo had told me, and mere curiosity. To begin with Guru Merta does not look at all mysterious. When tourists come to Bali to meet non-conventional healers they’d probably expect to meet a primitive-looking uneducated brown man with supernatural powers. Guru Merta is none of that and although he is a healer he takes on a nobler task of teaching his practice with thousands of students from all around the world. I would have initially assumed that he was in his late 30’s or early 40’s only to discover during his verbal autobiography later on that he was in fact born in 1957 (you do the math) in this very house we stayed in. He’s a Balinese man with some Chinese ethnicity, is well learned, well spoken, educated, humble, and not without a great sense of humor. He even showed up to guide us at 5am in a sarong (checkered maxi-skirt that most Muslim Indonesian men wear for evening prayers), a plain white button-down visible underneath a slightly oversized white hoodie, and a well fitted white beanie that cupped his head in a pope-like or ustat-like manner, maybe even like a du-rag. I couldn’t decide whether he looked more like an ambiguous religious leader or straight up “hood”.

He founded the Bali Usada Meditation Center and started teaching over 20 years ago with the main mission of doing good in the world. His syllabus for the program I attended, Tapa Brata I, is essentially very simple and the most important components are “The Harmonious Mind” and positive energy. The former, “The Harmonious Mind” is the state of being truly and genuinely concentrated, patient, compassionate, and wise. We spent our first three days fathoming and practicing this. The idea is that our way of thinking and mental health does affect our physical health, which sort of explains why some people have caught unexplainable diseases.

In the Western school of thought we are accustomed to thinking that human existence consists of body and soul. Guru Merta familiarized us with the four bodies that we all have which do include body and soul but in addition to that we were taught about our Meridian body (the meridian channels of energy as taught in ancient Chinese medicine), and our Chakra body (teachings of ancient Indian medicine). He reminded us how lucky we are as Indonesians to have traditional healing methods from a variety of places strongly instilled in our culture. (Disclaimer: all this information was distributed to us orally and I haven’t double checked my facts but I’m quite certain of them).

The Tapa Brata I module consists of 3 parts: Day 1-3 Engaging the Harmonious Mind, Day 4-5 Operating on Our Bodies and Removing Negative Memories Using Our Mind, and the last two days were used to generate positive energy to the world. We finally got the privilege of meeting Guru Merta on the 4th day, the previous days were facilitated by his well-trained staff with lecture videos of Guru Merta (which is understandable as he has these trainings week after week). He told us that it is vital that he always shows up on the 4th night before we begin to heal ourselves. He admitted to being unusually late because his flight from Jakarta was cancelled and that as soon as he arrived in Bali that morning one of his nephews was pronounced dead on a motorcycle accident scene in Lombok. I could imagine how traumatizing that could have been for him as he lost his own brother at a young age in a similar incident, so it’s admirable to have seen how well he had mastered composure of his emotions and managed to keep his priorities aligned.

Despite all the trouble he was there with us that night for our first “healing session”. Okay, “healing session” sounds a bit creepy but I do insist that there was nothing mystic or dark about it. In fact, it was extremely enlightening. We were simply accessing our minds with extra focus and everyone is capable of that given the education and determination. Oh yeah, what exactly were we healing? I should explain that prior to rambling on… Most of Guru Merta’s students, whom most of them, have been cured were either terminally ill, miserable, barren, substance abusers, and every once in a while a curious cat like myself. It was weird for me at first to be amidst people suffering with cancer, coughs here and there, etc. But I discovered later on that this process of healing via meditation first targets trauma or negative memories and experiences from the past that may have caused such terrible ailments. Guru Merta said that only 30% of diseases we suffer from are caused by the body and that the rest we brought upon ourselves because of our lifestyle, mentality, and ignorance. What he defines as healing is not limited to only fixing the physical wrongs in the body but most importantly in the mind.

Also, if you’re wondering about what religion this practice is based I can actually vouch for its universality, and Guru Merta insists on that. He does not wish for religion to divide his goal of helping people. He himself is a devout Buddhist but despite that his curriculum remains to be non-bias and prior to each meditation he actually invites participants to pray according to their respective faiths. He even encouraged Muslim participants to continue their fasting (as it is the month of Ramadhan) and he had his staff prepare early breakfast and fast break meals for them out of our allocated meal schedules. I particularly enjoyed this because our module excludes a dinner and we are given our last bit of food at 5pm (snacks only). So during the evening fast breaks I’d wait until the Muslim participants were done getting food from the buffet and I’d steal nibbles here and there (woops).

So, back to the “healing session”… Guru Merta had us sit in standard meditation pose and to carry ourselves as if carrying an infant – gentle enough as not to hurt, but tightly enough as not to let slip. He began by telling us how to address your hurt-spots and that if you aren’t suffering from anything you can participate simply by scanning your own bodies for spots that hold trauma or negative memories. Our chakras and organs hold on to memories, feelings experienced in certain spots during certain occurrences in your life are remembered. So I scanned through and discovered a heat in my chest chakra and quickly related that to anger experienced in my life. He asked us to grip on to that negativity, to really grasp it, and then to feed it compassion and to “let it go”, to tell it “anicca/anitya” which is Sanskrit for change or impermanence. He was quite huge on the idea that everything in this world that exists with conditions are subject to change, subject to anitya (I’m paraphrasing). Easy as that, telling your pain (with a “Harmonious Mind”) that it is not lasting. I nurtured that anger and on my chest identified the memories that caused it, told it “anitya” and eventually felt it disappear. He explained that negative memories such as this can cause health complications in the future. With about 20 minutes left of that session I looked for other negative spots in my body and remembered that I did suffer from Bell’s Palsy Syndrome back in high school and although I recovered well enough but my smile is often slightly crooked and I can’t raise my left eyebrow. I adhered through with the same procedure and believe it or not when I woke up the next morning and looked at myself in the mirror my whole face was perfectly functional as it was prior to my palsy. Not all are so “instantly” successful though. The healing process for those with more severe illnesses can take up to weeks or even months with disciplined meditation – nonetheless effective.

Of course this whole experience didn’t come without struggle. I’m a highly undisciplined person so it would be an understatement to say that having to follow through a schedule planned to the 15th minute of each day that starts at 4.30 and ends at 9.30pm was tough. I also value my personal space so communal living was a challenge. I’ll say, though, that the silence made so much more bearable. The silence wasn’t so difficult, surprisingly. We were so occupied mentally with the intensive program that the last thing I wanted to do was to talk about it outside of the meditation room. The first night was odd. I would accidentally acknowledge co-meditators with polite nods (such wasn’t allowed). I also wanted so bad to ask my room-mate one night for some of her nice-smelling cajeput oil (kayu putih) to warm my belly but I  eventually built up the courage to mime the request for her, to which she gladly complied.

A fun fact about that roommate, whom I discovered later on to be about my father’s age, she snored mercilessly for the first few nights but starting on the night after the first healing session she slept quiet as a mouse.

Vegetarianism wasn’t bad at all because the food was awesome. I found it relieving to not have to wonder if there were any weird animal bits in the dishes I wasn’t familiar with. I was never fond of anything out-of-the-norm growing up and stuck strictly with lean meats up to this day. The rationale behind their not serving meat was because of their understanding of an animal’s fear and anxiety that develops before their slaughter. That anxiety sticks on to their meat and affects the consumer. I felt the change in my body, perhaps mostly from being in this relaxed meditation sanctuary, but surely also because of the dietary change. It was cool that they weren’t entirely all “ANIMAL CRUELTY” in our faces.

Unplugging from the net was so-so. It turned out that I took relief, too, in not having to update everyone, take photos of everything, and worry about charging batteries. I found it hard, though, not being able to look things up anytime I wanted and my break-times ended up being spent sun bathing on the balcony (which was nice).

My butt, thighs, legs, and feet, however, suffered tremendously during the first few days. The numbness from 45-60min sessions was horrific! It wasn’t fun for me either to feel like we were constantly being herded into the meditation room with a bell every hour or so for meditations and “Usada” and etheric exercises, line up for food, etc. I felt like an inmate to an extent, but I see now how humbling an experience it was. If there were one thing I’d sincerely complain about it would probably be the wet-floor bathrooms that are my absolute pet peeve. Like most Indonesian bathrooms there was no division between the shower and the loo, which meant that the floor was always wet. Even the toilet seat was consistently wet. Fortunately I’ve made a habit out of “hovering” when doing my business in public places which is a good thing to do if you want to urinate and work your quads at the same time.

Funny story, I was lining up to pee one time and when my other roommate came out of the bathroom she had an “oops! Forgot something” expression on her face, so she proceeded by turning around and I watched her pick up the butt-washer and sprayed water habitually all over the bathroom floor and toilet seat. I nearly chuckled. Is this a cultural norm? If so, somebody please enlighten me.

On the last day we were taken to their new facility, Forest Island, about 15min away from the Baturiti house. It’s located in the center of Bali on a piece of land that is separated from the mainland by a cliff. Extremely unique in formation, the on-land “island” is also deemed by the meditation clergy to be highly spiritual. There are also 3 spots on the facility wherein the energy is exceptionally strong and positive, speculated to have been used by monks for meditation in the past. It’s the perfect meditation sanctuary complete with a Bodhi tree surrounded by meditation stone stools. They are still planning to construct a colossal multi-level pyramid in addition to all that for some next-level meditation.

We had the opportunity to have our final meditation there followed by a sharing session. I was chosen as one of the 8 to give my impressions and comments on the whole week. Fortunately I was informed one night before so I was able to sacrifice half of my sleeping time to compose a decent monologue in Bahasa Indonesia in order to spare myself from public humiliation. Having poor colloquial Indonesian and the inability to pronounce the most commonly used letter in the Indonesian vocabulary (the rolling “r”) I was anxious about that. But being the comic genius that I am (I kid) I used that to my advantage by turning it into a joke that seemed to successfully invoke laughter in the audience (perfectly timed as full throttle love and kindness were on gear so no “boos” for me). The other 6 speakers shared heavier accounts based mostly on severe life trauma that had many of us wiping tears off our cheeks. The lucky last sharer on the contrary took full advantage and exceeded his allocated time to enthral by telling us everything he knows about Buddhist meditation and the unfortunate blockage he experienced in his sex chakra due to his uncontrollable kundalini rising – generous information.

In the end the whole challenge was equally challenging as it was rewarding. Meditation isn’t easy and perhaps not for everyone but I am unafraid to admit that it has turned out to be perhaps one of the most valuable and powerful thing I’ve discovered in this life so far. I’m not great at it and neither am I the most diligent. I’d often get over-excited about the benefits and start enumerating all the loved-ones I’d recommend it to and how I’d ease it into them. During one of the sessions I’d even imagine myself trying to teach some of my friends how to do it (seriously, though, who’s interested?) I’d really recommend this to the whole world. Because of the zero opportunity to talk, express, write, or draw I also found myself during the week to be totally bursting with ideas here and there. I thought about at least 25% of this article during meditations, actually (which is cool that I remembered most of it, but probably uncool that I wasn’t focusing). Anyway, it’s difficult to summarize everything I’ve learned over the week into one piece of writing, but Guru Merta has prepared an excellent program which he has taught in the flesh to over 64,000 people and the best thing I can do is tell you to try it out yourself. They have the same program in English and I don’t think it costs too much. It’s also a great excuse to come to Bali (which I have millions of things to say about after being here for almost 2 weeks). Bali Usada also has a cross-subsidy program that gives opportunities to the less fortunate, and those in need can come at no cost at all. Guru Merta has had poor and ill farmers join for free. A lot of their privileged alumni have also continued to support the program as it has changed so many lives.

To try to wrap this up I suppose I could say that here I have learned how to be truly good to myself and to others. I might make some dietary changes in my life but it’s possibly too early to say, but I will try making a habit out of meditating so that I can maintain a harmonious and healthy mind for myself and to share good vibes to those around me (good vibes/energy is a real and efficient thing, by the way).

So, in the words of my Guru, “anitya, and may all beings everywhere be happy”.

“Semoga semua hidup berbahagia.”


Diletta Legowo

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