Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, October 2013

Posted by Robin Sparks on October 19th, 2013 | Email this to friend

At the recent Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, there was an Indonesian author who touched me deeply.

Augustinus Wibowo journeyed from Beijing to Pakistan over a 4-year period and has lived in the Middle East and Afghanistan. His most recent book “Titik Nol”, which will be translated into English next year, is a tale of visiting his dying mother and their exchange of stories – his of life on the road, hers of life at home.

Indonesian Author, Augustinus Wibowo with Tony Wheeler at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Indonesian Author, Augustinus Wibowo with Tony Wheeler at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Wibowo describes a scene where they are standing around the hospital bed where his mother lay dying. “Christians stood on one side of the bed, reading the Bible and trying to baptize her. On the other a Buddhist priest chanted. My mother opened her eyes, laughed, and said, ‘Bring them all in.’”

“We are human with so many colors,” Wibowo said.

There was more:

“The more I travel, the slower I go,” he said. Wibowo lives with locals when he travels and avoids social media. “ If I’m checking emails from back home, I’ve disengaged from where I am. I am there to connect to the sorrows, the joy and the lives of those I am visiting.”

Wibowo said that most readers of travel books read “to feel connection.”

“Travel is learning to see from a different point of view, and ultimately travel is about discovering yourself, about coming home. We don’t have to go far to travel. Our lives are the real journey.”

This guy was singing my tune.

More gems from the festival:

Don George, editor-at-large for National Geographic Travel Magazine said that good travel writing brings about wonder, dignity, respect, appreciation – that which makes the world a better place.” He added that some of the best travel writing comes from writers who allow themselves to be vulnerable, who take risks.

Don George speaking on Travel Panel at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Don George speaking on Travel Panel at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Mona Prince from Egypt, an outspoken Egyptian professor who has recently been charged with insulting Islam and suspended from her job said, “In 2011 Egyptian women were full of dreams and hopes.” “Aren’t you afraid?” the moderator asked Prince. “I’m willing to pay the price, my life if necessary for our freedom,” the Egyptian novelist said.

Mona Prince, Egyptian novelist, literary translator, and activist after "Inspiring Women" at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Mona Prince, Egyptian novelist, literary translator, and activist after “Inspiring Women” at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Haideh Moghissi, author of seven books, from Iran, encouraged the audience to hear all voices. “So much of the western world excuses the way that Middle Eastern countries treat women by saying that it is a cultural issue. “That,” she said, “is cultural relativism”.

Haideh Moghissi speaking on "Inspiring Women" panel  at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Haideh Moghissi speaking on “Inspiring Women” panel at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Amish Tripothi, from Mumbai, India, saw his first book, The Immortals of Meluha break into the top seller charts within a week of its launch.The Shiva Trilogy has become the fastest selling book series in the history of Indian publishing, with 1.7 million copies in print.

Amish said, “It took me 9 years to become an overnight success.”

Publishers did not believe there was an audience for his book. And so he and his agent published the book on their own and it sold 45,000 copies in the first 3 months. The publishers then began bidding on it. Amish refused to make the changes that the publishers requested. He said, “You can’t compromise on your book. That’s the voice of your soul.”

“The Greeks,” Amish added, “Say ‘The genius does not exist in you. Your task as a creator is to let the genius use you.’ My characters live in parallel universes and my task is to enter their worlds.”

Debra Yatim, Indonesian author after "Inspiring Women" panel Haideh Moghissi speaking on "Inspiring Women" panel  at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

Debra Yatim, Indonesian author after “Inspiring Women” panel Haideh Moghissi speaking on “Inspiring Women” panel at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali, Oct 2013

An Interview

Posted by Robin Sparks on September 18th, 2013 | Email this to friend
Mom and Me

Mom and Me

So much has taken place these past 4 months – in Istanbul an East Meets West wedding and a revolution, in Greece 2 glorious weeks of sailing with friends, and in California up and down the coast reunions with family and new and old friends, meetings with my book editor, and taking care of the myriad of logistics that make my nomad life a possibility.

Now what? I’m packing up to return to Bali to facilitate “Breathe Life Into Your Book” at the lovely Kumara Sakti Resort in Ubud, Bali on October 6-13, 2013. We have just a few spots left, so if you’d like to join us, please email ASAP.

The following is a recent interview with me by the staff of Oneworld Retreats.

Passing on inspiration via writing is not as easy as most think. Experiencing blocks with our creative process is something all writers experience. Robin Sparks describes how she revs up her writing process with connected breath work.

What inspired you to start a writing and breath work retreat?

Robin: While we can learn a lot “out there” about the craft of writing, I have come to believe that it is “in here” where we discover our most authentic voice. I had been writing professionally for 20 years and facilitating writing workshops around the world for 9, when I discovered breath meditation. I loved the way that connected breath for an extended period of time, created a space in which the outer world fell away, so that that which was truest for me, became crystal clear. I took a 4-level training course in breath work so that I could incorporate the two things I love most – writing and breath work, and share this process with others. In “Breathe Life Into Your Book” workshop we will approach writing from within and without.

As a teacher and trained breath facilitator, do you have any specific affirmations / empowering words when you begin a project?

Robin: I meditate with connected breath before sitting to write, and then from that space of knowing, I begin writing without thinking. If I get stuck later in the writing process, I ask, “If I could say only one thing in this story, what would it be?” I then return to writing with the answer to that question informing my story.

What are your hopes for future writers?

Robin: That each student might gain insight to the unique story that only he or she can tell. Once the student knows the story beneath the story, he can put to use the additional support we will provide in the workshop to breathe life into his book.

You have wide experience as a travel writer. What do you love most about your journey as a travel writer?

Robin: What I love most about travel writing is the opportunity to meet people from diverse environments, cultures, and ways of being. I meld into their way of being for a time, listen to them, and then share their stories with the world. What I have discovered, is that while we are a deliciously diverse bunch, all stories as it turns out, are our story. This is why I travel and why I write.

Why did you choose Bali for this retreat?

Robin: Bali literally hums with life. Everything grows abundantly and rapidly here, and nothing stays below the surface for long. The beauty and warmth of Bali along with its unique culture provides an inspiring and nourishing environment in which ideas flourish and projects are birthed. Bali is the perfect place to breath life into your book.

Robin Sparks, is a facilitator and teacher of writing workshops around the globe. Her stories and photographs have been published in hundreds of magazines and newspapers and her online blog has been going strong since 2003. Sparks is enjoying the process of writing her first book about her trans-global search for “home”. Sparks is a Level Four Clarity Breath Worker and a global citizen, who is based in Bali and lives part of each year in Turkey and California. Robin will be leading the “Breathe Life Into Your Book” writing retreat at Kumara Sakti Resort on Oct 6-11, 2013

- See more at: for more information about “Breathe Life Into Your Book” – a breath work and writing retreat”

Breathing Underwater

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 26th, 2013 | Email this to friend

Written on Nusa Ceningan, a small island off the coast of Bali, Indonesia on February 13, 2013.

snorkeling at Manta Cove

Breathing Underwater at Manta Cove

When I was walking along the beach last night, an Indonesian man told me they needed one more person for a snorkel trip in the morning. They were going to see mantas he said, and to stop at other beautiful underwater spots while circling the islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Time of departure, 9am.

“Ooh, that’s early,” I said.

I had arrived the day before on Nusa Ceningan for a solo 2-week writing retreat.

“I’ll see how I feel in the morning,” I said.

And so when I awoke this morning I thought, “Robin you are here to write your book, so write.” Another voice, “But it’s only 3 hours out of the day, and you want to exercise anyway and you can write all afternoon and evening.” A third voice, “Let’s see how it flows.”

A few minutes later, the electricity went off in my bungalow. It was 8:30 am. I’ve noticed that the electricity “goes out” for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the afternoon. My cabin, which sits in direct sunlight on the beach all day, was quickly turning into a sauna. Oh what the heck, I’m going. I climbed out of bed, dressed, packed my bag and met the boat at the harbor.

Our first stop was Manta Cove where there is a cave where the sea water is breathed in and exhaled out. Into the cool cerulean soup I went. And drifted towards the cave.

In less than 5 minutes a large dark shadow appeared like a space ship, coming to within inches of me, and then gliding out of site.

Oh my God, I have seen a manta ray, and up close!

Before long there was another and then another. Darth Vader-like, the manta rays arrived with mouths agape. I floated quietly gazing into their eyes saying silently, “You are such a beautiful creature”. Each one (there must have been 8-10 in all!) would appear, look me in the eye, then swoop away, bank like a plane, and return. Flashes of light sparkled through the water from divers wielding cameras on the ocean floor. I flapped my arms slowly, gracefully, mirroring (thank you NLP training!) their movements, and I did not follow or approach them, but waited for them to come to me, and come they did. Again and again.

It was as if they knew that I was loving and appreciating them, and they were digging it.

They had wing spans at least 5 times the length of my body, triangular bodies, heads rounded, mouths open to display gills and hollowness inside. Underneath they had large evenly placed gills on a white torso. And a long tail from which I noted no stinger or threatening barb. We curved around each other, beings of light and love.

I wondered briefly if they were dangerous (vaguely remembering a recent story about an Australian travel adventurer who was stung by a ray directly in the heart) and then was glad I hadn’t asked before we left. Again and again they came and we practically greeted each other with a kiss.


exploring the over and underwater world of Nusa Ceningan, Indonesia

Exploring the over and underwater world of Nusa Ceningan, Indonesia

In snorkeling, breath is the main event, loud, and present, like a metronome. I-Am-Here-Now-in-This-Moment breaths. What irony that I’d felt a tinge of disappointment this morning when I realized there would be no time for my breath practice – because here I am now breathing, deeply, rhythmically – underwater.

Hypnotic, soothing, effortless while all around is the beauty and wonder of the underwater world. What better way to go with the flow than snorkeling, where with the smallest effort you move like the fish with the fish?

I spent 3 weeks last month trying to push through a last minute visa to India so that I could attend a trauma release breath work class in Goa, India. One day while driving back from Danpasar after yet another failed attempt, the words “No more pushing the river” came, and I surrendered.

A few days ago, the trauma release breath work teacher I had hoped to train with emailed that he and his girlfriend, a tantra teacher and life coach, will be coming to Ubud in March and would like to trade a room in my home for personal training. Both tantra and trauma release are modalities I’ve wanted to incorporate into my breath work. Two teachers, coming to me, now that I am floating effortlessly.

I kept riding the current through February and ended up in Thailand where I met with old friends and new ones who re-invigorated me with their love. I interviewed Chiang Mai expatriates for the Thailand chapter in my book, and rode elephants bareback at an eco resort, which just happened to be perched over a flowing river. It was there where I met the owner Alexa, whose story will bring light to the chapter about Thailand’s expatriates – a chapter which had been leaning a bit too far to the dark side.

I will return to Alexa’s Chai Lai Orchid Eco Resort next year to offer trauma release breath work to the girls she donates her profits to – girls at risk for sex slavery. A greater purpose for my Clarity breathwork training last summer had appeared.

And as if that weren’t enough, 2 screenwriters and several writers have appeared in the past few weeks to support me with my book.

Life is coming to meet me where I am. Bringing me exactly what I need and much more now that I am still.

There is a popular meditation and way of being called “Following Life”. I like to think of what is happening to me now as “Life Following Me” when I stop pushing and directing it.

I love warm seawater

I love warm seawater

In the water I am transported to a primordial world where I once lived – Mother Earth’s underwater show of sacred geometry, repeated in shapes underwater as overwater and within and without in every living and non-living thing.

I’m sure I once lived in the sea as I am so at home and happy here. We all began, come to think of it, floating effortlessly, safely, in the wombs of our mothers complete with our own private snorkels, until our time to be born and breathe on our own arrived.

I think of my home of Ubud, Bali as a womb – warm, wet, and feminine – a bubble in which I have gestated, received nourishment, and grown. And I’ve been feeling vague contractions lately, a knowing that my time to emerge and to meet life in the light is nigh.

When I first attended a Transformational breath work session 3 years ago, I met the Divine within in such a cathartic way that the name “Transformational” was a an understatement. I was hooked. For God’s sake, it was here, inside all along. All I have to do is breathe deeply, evenly, for at least an hour to access it.

It’s occurred to me since I began breath meditation, that the things I have loved most throughout my entire life – riding a bicycle as a child, running through the woods with my dog, swimming, cross country skiing, ecstatic dancing, hiking in nature, connecting intimately with a lover, meditating, to name a few – all involve breathing deeply, evenly and consciously. Nourishing every cell in my body with oxygen, love, life force, the Divine. It was about the breath all along.

I have missed my Ubud community and our group breath sessions this past month – and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Breathing under water.

Taking a break from writing at Dream Beach, Nusa Lumbongan, Indonesia

Robin Sparks is a Level Four Clarity Breathwork Facilitator, available for private and group breathwork sessions. She’ll be leading a weeklong workshop at Kumara Sakti in October 2013 in Ubud, Bali called Breathe Life Into Your Book.
For details email Robin at

High Pea Allen Times Day

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 21st, 2013 | Email this to friend
Indonesian sunset

Indonesian sunset

I have come alone to an Indonesian island called Nusa Lumbongan for a writing retreat.

Why a solo writing retreat when I live on the bucolic island of Bali? Because in Ubud there is just so much life, friends and distraction, that I have to hide away at least once a year to focus on writing. I am most creative when still.

And so here I am on February 14, 2013 on an almost deserted island.

“High Pea Allen Times,” the waiter said placing a young coconut in front of me on my table just a few feet from the sea. “Excuse me, what did you say?” I asked. He said it again. “High Pea Allen Times.” What??? I thought. I didn’t want to ask him to repeat it a 3rd time. And then it came to me, “Ooooh, Happy Valentines?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with a sweet smile of connection.

The sand is ivory, the sea sapphire, and the air a heavy damp blanket.

All that is left to do is write.

Robin at Devil\’s Tear

Bangkok – So Bad It’s Good

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 4th, 2012 | Email this to friend

Ganesha and Central Shopping Center share real estate

I love gnarly shiny Bangkok with its jarring juxtapositions. Vendors selling anything and everything you didn’t know you needed (vibrator anyone?) for miles and miles along potholed smelly sidewalks, next to towering air conditioned shopping malls, the likes of Terminal 21 – a play on a 5 story airport, each floor representing a different country. The ease of speeding from one gristly or glittery part of the city to another on the Sky Train. Thais holding smoking incense sticks at their heads while bowing to temples with golden Buddhas in the shadows of mega skyscrapers.

Billboard in Bangkok as seen from a sky train station

I ate a hurried meal of naan and curry on the street of Bangkok’s little Arabia, and watching the people pass by in the streets was like being on the film set of Arabian Nights – not entirely surprising considering both the Pakistani and Dubai embassies are located nearby.

Bangkok reminds me of Bombay in “Shantaram”, the book I am currently reading. It is the biggest, most bustling, economically alive melting pot of a city I’ve seen in the world. It’s good, bad, beautiful and ugly all stirred together. And it works.

I am here to get my visa renewed. Easy enough to speed to the Indonesian Embassy across the steamy city on the highly efficient and cooled sky train. And it was no surprise when I arrived at 1PM – the hour advertised on the Indonesian Embassy website that they open – that someone had pasted a piece of paper with the number ’2′ over the ’1′. So to kill time, I thumbed through hundreds of pirated movies and music at the nearby Phuntip Plaza – a 4 story shopping mall entirely dedicated to all things digital.

I am also in Bangkok for my yearly physical exam at one of the world’s most medically advanced and inexpensive (by US standards) hospitals. Kings and queens and just about everyone else with even a little bit of money or means in Asia come to Bumrungrad for medical care. Today in the waiting room I met a pilot from Ethiopia, a woman from Bangladesh, and an American couple living in China. I saw women wearing black burkas with only eye slits sitting next to women in flirty, silk lace-edged veils, and men with table cloths on their heads and white pillboxes, some wearing white flowing gowns (and these weren’t hospital gowns), and I have no idea who and where all these people come from. But come they do.

See the story I wrote on this hospital in 2003. (Scroll a ways down on this blog roll).

I stood next to an older guy outside the elevator in the hospital who when I asked for directions to Building A, sounded like he was from Iowa, and then I noticed his name tag said Chief Executive Officer, Bumrungrad Hospital. Dennis Brown showed me the short cut to get to the next building over for my next appointment.

Next time I come to Bangkok I’m going to check out the Chulalongkorn Hospital where they have a snake farm out back.

With Love from Bangkok,

International Healthcare in Bangkok

Bumrungrad Hospital

Remember when nurses in the U.S. used to wear these cute hats?

multi-lingual elevator buttons

Photos of Istanbul – December 2011

Posted by Robin Sparks on December 18th, 2011 | Email this to friend

After I moved to Istanbul in 2006, a Turk named Mehmet told me that one day the European Union would beg Turkey to join. That day may be soon. Turkey is booming in the midst of Europe’s current economic crisis, and Istanbul was recently named by the Financial Times as the #1 liveable city in the world.

In 2009, I moved to Bali. Three years later, I still consider Istanbul one of my “homes”. Last week I returned from a whirlwind business trip to Old Constantinople. Here are a few visual memories from my 10 days there.

Photos were shot with an iPhone 4.

Sunrise on the Bosphorus

A Turkish lamp shop on Yuksek Kaldirim Caddesi near Galata Tower

Balat neighborhood

Turkish teapot in my apartment


the making of manti in Balat

fresh squeezed juice for sale on Istiklal Cadessi

durum and fresh juice for sale on Istiklal Cadessi

alley off of Istiklal Cadessi

Trolley on Istiklal Cadessi, a 2 mile long pedestrian (mostly ) walkway in modern Istanbul

Istiklal Cadessi, the dining and entertainment center of Istanbul

Turkish sweets

Islamic gravestone at Cihangir Mosque

Olives and tea, quintessential Turkey

Lunar eclipse over the Bosphorus Bridge

The view of Sultanahmet from Terrace Three

Clicked My Heels 3 Times

Posted by Robin Sparks on December 12th, 2011 | Email this to friend

Been home less than 24 hours after flying half way around the globe – Turkey to Northern California – in time to get my mother to the doctor for Round #3 chemotherapy treatment. …So grateful for the ability to get around the planet with such speed. And for the knowing that the all the world is home.

Nostalgia sets in

Posted by Robin Sparks on May 23rd, 2009 | Email this to friend

Haven’t even left yet and already I miss her.

A few photos from the Island of the Gods, 2008-2009.

My front yard

My front yard

My pool, make that OUR pool, River Ayung

My pool, make that OUR pool, River Ayung

Balian Beach Ecstatic Dance Retreat

Balian Beach Ecstatic Dance Retreat; Photo by

Yoga with Katy Appleton

Yoga with Katy Appleton

Balian Beach, Bali

Balian Beach, Bali

Robin at the beach

My foot at the beach

Balian Beach

more Balian Beach



Dead gecko in my refrigerator

Dead gecko in my refrigerator

More to come…
Yours truly, Robin

Photo by Marie B

Photo by Marie B

Reporting Live from the Bali Spirit Festival!

Posted by Robin Sparks on April 29th, 2009 | Email this to friend

Tri Hita Karana
3 Balinese words that symbolize the heart of the Bali Spirit Festival:
Harmony with God, Harmony in Community, Harmony with Nature

Masters of ceremony, Amsalan Doraisingam and Teresa Hererra, kick off the opening night ceremony

Masters of ceremony, Amsalan Doraisingam and Teresa Hererra, kick off the opening night ceremony

Ketut, owner of Tutmak Restaurant and Joe, local musician

Ketut, owner of Tutmak Restaurant and Joe, local musician

Charlie and Stacy from California

Charlie and Stacy from California

Food prepared "Balinese offering style" on biodegradeable platters
Today's Sun Salutations

Today's Sun Salutations

Renowned yogini, Katy Appleton, in this morning's kick off Yoga Mala

Renowned yogini, Katy Appleton, in this morning's kick off Yoga Mala

Yogi, Mark Whitwell gives hands on instruction to festival participant

Yogi, Mark Whitwell gives hands on instruction to festival participant

It’s official. The 2nd annual Bali Spirit Festival is under way!
A vibrant, uplifting and diverse festival of yoga, dance and music which awakens and nourishes each individual’s potential for positive change within our world.

Festival Vision
*We honour, respect and promote the power of the saccred arts of yoga, dance and music.
*We champion the collaborative power of the global creative community with Bali.
*We strive to strengthen the ecological health and harmonious vitality of Bali and the cultural vibrancy of Indonesia.

Opening night, Tuesday April 28, 2009 -

I park my Yamaha motorcycle with hundreds of others feeling like I’ve arrived at an outdoor rock concert in California. Except that this is different. This is Bali.

For one thing, most everyone I know on the island is here. Claude from France, Rama from Venezuela, Glenn from New York, Orly from Tel Aviv, Marie from Sweden, Charley and Stacey from California, Ketut from Ubud, Bill from Australia, Paula from Singapore, and more. Each of us arrived in Bali once upon a time on holiday – and stayed. Why? Because we are better here than we were at “home” – and a big thank you to the Balinese who so graciously share their island and spiritually-infused lifestyle with us.

Locals, young and old stand to one side, watching us curiously. The air is balmy, the dress, tropical casual: shorts, sleeveless shirts, tevas, and long flowing sexy Goddess.

Attendees meander among the stalls of the Dharma fair, checking out handcrafted jewelry, hand-tailored clothing, and organic food and drinks. Eventually we make our way to the main stage, where we spread out on the grass. (Over 1000 tickets have been sold). Stars sparkle overhead throwing palm trees into silouette, and bamboo mats are spread out on the lawn.

Local dignitaries welcome the crowd onstage. Ketut, a Balinese healer, reminds us that we are much more than our physical bodies – which he compares to wrappers discarded on the side of the road (which is by the way far less common here than it was even 1 year ago). I Made Gunarta, co-founder and producer of the concert along with wife Meghan Pappenheim, welcomes us first in English and then in Bahasa Indonesia.

Pooja Bhantangar shimmers and shakes to haunting Indian music.

Rocky Dawuni, his waist length dreads swaying in the tropical air, performs fusion Reggae, Afro Beat.

Nick Woolsey spins fire, flames tossed into the air, spun round, streaking the night.

Larisa Stow and The Shakti Tribe huddle in prayer on a darkened stage preparing for will be the last performance of opening night. Lights, action! Lusty goddesses chant in Sanskrit, whipping the crowd into a spiritual fervor. Sofia Thom, ecstatic dancer,undulates stage right like the tantrika she is.

We are here not only to enjoy the music and the dance and to catch up with friends, but as part of a collective effort to be better than we were – yesterday, 15 minutes ago. It is about spotlighting the divine in everyone and celebrating it. It is dedication to living a life that supports and nourishes ourselves, every living being, community, and the planet.

Party on!
Your humble blog Gloddess,
Robin Sparks

Day One at the Balispirit festival, April 29, 2009:

I cycle through an outdoor Bali Hai movie set of rice paddies as the sun rises. Uniformed Balinese children fill the streets walking to school. The warm sun licks my bare shoulders. I pull over to the side of the road next to a football field where boys and girls in bright yellow uniforms fill the field like happy bees. I hear the deep resonant chanting that I often hear wafting on night air usually near temples. Incredibly enough, the sound, I discover, is coming from the coach who stands peacefully at the side of the field, the children buzzing around him. He wears a white flower behind his ear.

Right there on the side of the road, I speak into my voice recorder: Bali is beautiful without trying. So beautiful it hurts! In a good way of course. (-:

I climb back onto my bike and arrive at the festival in time for 8AM sun salutations guided by globally renowned yogis, Mark Whitwell, Ravi Vempati, Katy Appleton, and Uma Inder.

Eckhardt Tolle says actual consciousness cannot be defined in words. That consciousness is the space beyond and around thought. Awareness. Presence. A way of being that is beneficial to one’s self, to others, and the planet – in every walking moment.

Consciousness surrounds us here: Organic whole food served on biodegradeable banana leaves. Toilets that compost. Recycling bins everywhere. Integration of the local culture with the foreign. Friends hugging. Love. Lots of it. And gratitude to spare.

I join journalists in the media tent to speak with yogis Katy Appleton, Eoin Flinn, and Mark Whitwell.

Eoin, surfer, author, yogi, and a self-proclaimed “blissoligist” from Vancouver, says his temple is the ocean and that his students are regular people, many of them formerly entrenched in a life of work, consumerism and television.

Katy Appleton, answers a Balinese journalist who asks why we need yoga, that yoga liberates us. Helps us to define what binds us so that we can let it go. “Yoga asanas help you turn the noise down so that you can settle into a full feeling of abundance”, she says.

Mark Whitwell proclaims that there is a yoga practice for every person, young or old, religious or not, regardless of physical location, environment, or politics. He points out that the Islamic world has more yogis than anywhere in the world. “After all,” he said, “Muslims perform full body prayers five times a day.”

Speaking of Muslims, Pujiastuti Sindhu, from Bandung (near Jakarta) represents Muslim yoga practioners this week on Bali, an island of hinduism in the world’s largest Islamic country. Puji has been in the forefront of recent yoga fatwa debates across Indonesia and Malaysia.

Yogini, Pujiastuti Sindhu

Yogini, Pujiastuti Sindhu

She discovered yoga in a second hand bookshop seven years ago whereupon she began to practice yoga and within 5 years was teaching it herself. “Yoga softens the heart, lets it open up – and only with an open heart can we receive the truth,” she says. In spite of recent government “laws” which discourage Muslims from meditation and chanting as part of their yoga practice, she says that there are many headscarf-wearing, Muslim yoga teachers in Indonesia. She believes that Indonesia is already loosening its anti-yoga rhetoric.


So all you yogis, yoginis, dancers, musicians, wanna-be-in-Balians and already-in-Balians…that’s it for today. I am headed back to the festival to dance with the Goddess Tribe.

Your Bali Spirit Blog Gloddess,
Robin Sparks

Philosophers’ Notes from Bali

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 6th, 2009 | Email this to friend

Everyday is an extraordinary day in Bali.

I began at 6AM this morning with a one hour holosync meditation, which is (in a nutshell) stereophonic sound designed to put take one quickly into an alpha state.

I then wrote on the terrace outside my room overlooking rice paddies, palm and mango trees, fountains, lotus flowers, a garden, and a pool. The staff brought me a breakfast of banana pancakes with palm sugar syrup and fresh watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe, and bananas. I put on a blouse I bought in Turkey, a skirt from India that I bought in Argentina, and flip flops from Brazil. Then I drove myself on a Yamaha scooter to see a house for rent in Nyuh Kuning, Bali by a guy from Oakland. I scootered through Monkey Forest past monkeys and temples and over bridges and up and around jungle ridges, past a man balancing a huge bag of who knows what on his head walking through a rice paddy and wound my way around tarp after tarp of rice laid out in the street to dry.

I ended the day at the open-air Yoga Barn in Bali participating a Osho-designed (India) Sufi (sect of Islam in Turkey) dance meditation, guided by Selina who is from the UK and has lived in Asia for 18 years.

Only one month left in Bali! Scary but a necessary part of the journey.

It is so easy to be here.

Philosophers’ Notes Discussion Group

The touchstone of my 3 months in Bali has been a discussion group I attend three times a week called Philosophers’ Notes. Brian Johnson from Los Angeles has been in Bali for six months writing Cliff Notes-ish summaries on 100 self-development books and in our group we discuss the big ideas he extracts from each one. He records our discussions and puts them on his website.

Participants at a Philosophers' Discussion Group in the Yoga Barn - Ubud, Bali

Participants at a Philosophers' Discussion Group in the Yoga Barn - Ubud, Bali

Our Philosophers' Notes discussion group leader, Brian Johnson

Our Philosophers' Notes discussion group leader, Brian Johnson

There was a new guy in our group today, a fan from London who discovered Brian’s Philosophers’ Notes online and came to Bali expressly to meet him. And not a minute too soon because Brian announced today that he’ll return to Los Angeles in two weeks. (Note: Since this blog was posted, Brian has postponed his return to Los Angeles until August. Yay!) He’s been swamped with requests by authors to add their books in his Philosophers Notes selections. And a big name self-help author is advising Brian to expand Philosophers Notes and has hooked him up with the world’s largest spiritual publisher. In partnership, their mission says Brian, “will be to unify the world around a common set of truths.”

It is Brian’s work he says to challenge people to become fully alive. After being in Bali for 10 months “upgrading” his consciousness, he will return home.

All part of the “Hero’s Journey,” a mythical construct that comes up frequently in our discussions. From the intro in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell explains the Hero’s Journey like this: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder (Bali in this case): fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” I’m not sure what “boons” are, but I’m sure Brian will do a great job bestowing them. (-; To retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into human life, and then share the wisdom with the world is the most challenging part of the Hero’s Journey.

Go Brian!

Today’s Big Ideas

Today’s featured book was “The Other 90%” by Robert Cooper.
First a caveat…I found myself editing the word “God” from the notes that follow and then I stopped and thought, What’s up with this? Why am I comfortable speaking one way here but feel it’s necessary to edit what I say elsewhere? It has occurred to me lately that almost all my friends in San Francisco and Istanbul are avowed atheists. In Turkey secular atheism is understandable as a reflex to the threat of fundamentalist Islam. In San Francisco, I suppose it is a backlash to fundamentalist America.

In Bali, the people I’ve been hanging with openly refer to God, Jesus consciousness, Buddha, Abraham…all the big names in religious history. People here exist on a level that I can’t quite put words to. It’s a polyglot belief system, beyond Christianity, while oddly similar. The words you hear Bali-ed about are energy, vibration, polarity, consciousness, prayer, Goddess…I’m a kindergartner in this language and “way of being”, but I like it. And actually I think I’ve been an accidental practitioner most of my life.

Two years ago I wrote on my Facebook profile that my religious beliefs are: “spiritual, not religious”. I dislike (I was going to write “I hate” but that sounds decidedly unspiritual) dogma and exclusivity, whether it is in the form of fundamentalist Christianity, New Ageism (I received a reprimand from a friend via text message when he heard I was eating at Naughty Nuri’s, a restaurant that specializes in barbequed ribs) or I’m-gonna-convince-you-or-else atheism. Yes, atheism is a belief too. When you believe that your beliefs are the only right ones, you are practicing dogma and fundamentalism. My opinion of course. (-;

Rice paddies south of Ubud, Bali

Rice paddies south of Ubud, Bali

Quickly a little about my beliefs, I have always known that there is more than I can see. Since I can remember I have been able to sense things outside the physical plane. I am highly intuitive. I know in some indefinable way that there is a supra-loving, all knowing power both out there and in here, and well, everywhere, because I have experienced it. Repeatedly. And I believe that this super consciousness has manifested on earth a number of times to different ethnic groups as Jesus Christ, Buddha, Abraham, Mohammad…. and all the other “Greats”…If I had to pick one religion that resonates with me most, it would be Sufiism. Followed closely by Tantra.

Anyway, the word God as used in the notes that follow, means something bigger than yourself, which is in you when you are in tune with it. A something more than we can conceive of at our present level of consciousness that exists in every molecule in the universe. A universal intelligence if you will.

There! That said, let’s go…

The “Notes”:

Syntropy – The innate drive to perfect oneself.

Gradualness kills. If you want to make a change, Do it!

A good question to ask yourself is, are you closer to who you want to be and where you want to go than you were 30 minutes ago?

Winners are superior not to other people but to their former selves.

Your dharma, your highest calling, your raison d’etre is the divine expression of your unique truth. Everyone has it. It is when we shrink from expressing it in our lives, work and play, that we become depressed and frustrated. Most people numb the pain of non-expression through television, alcohol, food, drugs, gratuitous sex… fill in the blank here with your favorite numbing substance or activity.

When you take on the challenge to be and give your highest self to the world, you’ll be enthused, inspired, and happy.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

What are you five signature strengths? Write them down and then make sure that what you do employs these strengths.

In every moment, we have the choice to step forward into growth or back into fear.

Pain is God’s gift – a challenge that helps us to grow as we reach towards becoming our higher selves, or as Brian puts it, “the unfolding of our awesomeness”.

When we get out of our minds and let the thing that is bigger than us, come through us authentically and truthfully, we are at our most powerful.He tells the story of a piano player who announced to his audience, “I am just a piano player, but tonight God is in the house”… Musicians know about channeling. Writers understand. Painters absolutely know. When you are “in the zone”, something bigger than yourself flows through you and the result is magnificence. By the way, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. And it is through letting that bigger thing flow through you that leads to excellence.

Go away for one week of complete silence, just you and your journal, and when you get back into the real world the ideas you wrote in your journal will seem insane. Do them anyway. Those ideas were divinely inspired.

Whenever you feel stressed, ask yourself, “How can I best let God flow through me?”

EGO = Edging God Out

Brian says that personal development guru Gay Hendricks’s affirmation is “I expand in success, abundance, and love as I inspire others to do the same.” Hmm, I wonder, is it ok to steal someone else’s affirmation?

Which leads to this one: If there is a path, know that it is not your path.

Are you a weathervane blown every which direction by circumstance? When everyone is freaking out about the economy are you stressed about it too? Or are you a lighthouse, rock solid beaming your light steadily no matter how hard or from which direction the wind blows?

Two of Brian’s top values he says are authenticity and full expression. Beautiful. I may have to borrow these too. (-;

You can gauge a person’s character by how easily annoyed they are by other people and events. Picture a “character meter” with a 10 at one end representing someone unaffected by anyone or anything, and the number 1 on the other, representing someone who is bothered by everyone and everything.

What is your highest ideal for yourself? In every moment how can you demonstrate this by integrating it into your actions?

Embrace your biggest expressions, surrender to the power that is bigger than you.

Aspire to be a 2,000 watt light bulb that can sustain more of God’s flow without blowing.

Adversity – when overwhelmed, ask yourself, what is one thing I can do to gain some control over this situation? Action kills fear. Postponement feeds fear.

That’s a taste of life in Bali and a nibble on the Big Ideas from one “Philosophy Notes” discussion. More soon!

Over and out, Robin Sparks – Ubud, Bali. March 6, 2009, where everyday is an extraordinary one.

Robin reporting from her cubicle in Ubud, Bali

Robin reporting from her cubicle in Ubud, Bali

A Fully Erect Appendix

Posted by Robin Sparks on March 6th, 2009 | Email this to friend

There are the plans you have for your journey, and the plans your journey has for you.
Things to do in San Rafael, Argentina:

1. Get an appendectomy.

We were on the neighbor’s ranch watching the annual gallop of the gauchos towards town when it was decided that I should see a doctor. I’d felt queasy all day, but, when it began to hurt to breathe, I knew that it was more than the bottle of Malbec wine we’d had the night before.

During the 30 mile drive over dirt roads to the hospital, I had time to think. I’d entered that travel place where you go from being captain of your itinerary, to giving up all control. It’s this very possibility that keeps many would-be travelers at home. And it’s the place that travel writers secretly love to go.

The on-call doctor at the private clinic looked like he’d stepped off the set of General Hospital. He poked around and called the surgeon to come in, late Saturday night or no. As an interesting aside, each doctor from that point on, from the lab doctor, to Dr. Castro, the surgeon to Dr. Gonzales the emergency room doc, each was more Calvin Klein model-esque than the next. What are the odds? The only way to explain it is that in Argentina you get into medical school based on your looks.

The nurses have an entirely different set of requirements.

A handful of expatriates and a couple of Argentines, some of them strangers an hour earlier, had gathered in the examining room to help. Johnny from South Africa, who had survived 14 heart attacks at the age of 35, introduced himself and told he’d be there no matter what. There were Annette and John, Brits who traveled the world on motorbikes before ending up in San Rafael to try their hands at gentleman farming, and there were Angel and Rosie, he Argentine, she Mexican, along with their daughter Candy. They’d recently moved to San Rafael, Argentina from Las Vegas. Did you get that?

Fifteen-year old Candy was unflappable as my interpreter until the doctors started speaking very fast and she said, “Ah, they’re just talking about a bunch of medical stuff”. Great. Argentines speak Castillano. I speak a rusty version of Spanish. It was a Three Stooges comedy of mis-translation.

The surgeon checked me in for overnight observation.

I ponied up the extra $30 per day for the one patient room with a rattly air conditioner in the window. I couldn’t see how anyone could heal in 100 degree heat, most especially me. Through the partially open doors of rooms up and down the hall, I’d seen visitors standing over the beds of their loved ones fanning them with magazines. Patients are required to have a friend or a family member stay in their rooms to provide basic nursing…an ingenious solution to health care costs, but a tricky one when you are a stranger in town.

As it turns out, my new friends fought over which one of them would remain with me throughout the night.

Next morning the pain had mostly subsided, so I figured I’d soon be headed home and was embarrassed that I’d caused such a ruckus. The docs came in to make rounds, said a few words to each other in rapid Castillano, and suddenly I was being lifted onto a gurney and wheeled down a hall to surgery. I told Dr. Castro, that no offense, but I would like very much to be flown to Buenos Aires for the operation. He assured me that I’d never make it.

Keeping pace with the moving gurney, Annette scribbled down the telephone numbers of my two children and my best friend and said she’d call them in the States. I wondered what they’d think when they heard this woman with a thick Northern England brogue calling to say their mother/friend had gone into surgery in rural Argentina.

A nurse strapped me to a table, tied both my arms straight out at my sides, stuck IV needles into my arms and I lay there like Jesus Christ looking up into the operating light dangling from the ceiling.

My last thoughts as the gas mask came down? A Readers Digest article I’d read years before about a surgical patient who was effectively paralyzed by the anesthesia but remained awake throughout the operation, able to feel every excruciating slice and stitch, but unable to let anyone know.

I ran a quick inventory as the doctor leaned in. I could hear. My eyes still worked.  I started to say, “Now wait a minute,” but my mouth wouldn’t work. I began to wag my head violently back and forth looking at the masked surgeon with eyes that I hoped screamed,  No! I’m not asleep yet! Your anesthesia isn’t working!…

The upside down face of the anesthesiologist came into focus. “Ms. Sparks”?

”Fineeshed?” I couldn’t think of the Spanish word for ”Over?”
Ow. I’d been kicked in the gut hard. How much time had passed, I asked.  Thirteen minutes. Had it been my appendix? Yes. Had it burst? No.

”12 centimeters long!” the surgeon announced as if I’d given birth to something wondrous. Which in a way, I suppose I had. My appendix, an organ normally around 2 inches in length, had been found poking up into my chest cavity, a fully erect seven inches. Oddly, I felt proud.

The next morning, Dr. Novak, I mean Dr. Gonzales, stopped by my room, and after checking my stitches, said, ”You can put on your makeup now.” I chose to believe that he meant that my prognosis was good. Dr. Castro came by too, and announced that he’d made the scar small enough that I could still wear a bikini.

A few hours later, a nurse summoned my new friend Annette out into the hall. She returned carrying a a packet neatly bound in butcher paper. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Your appendix.”

We left it sitting there on my night stand until the next day when I summoned a nurse to take it away.

”La postal?” she asked. ”No, no. Don’t mail it, throw it away!” I said.

It may be a global world, but it is still a Babel world in lots of ways.

Two days later I was ”home” on the ranch surrounded by the warm people of San Rafael, Argentina feeling very grateful indeed.


P.S. – The cost of the surgery, hospital room, doctors and medication was  $1800. Less than two months health insurance premiums back home.

I’ve been on a news sabbatical ( presidential inauguration excepted) for three months. No newspapers, no television, no internet news.

It’s amazing how little I don’t miss when I go without a media fix. The world goes on and the sad fact that people get murdered and bombs go off, is not affected in the least by whether or not I know about it. So the purpose in filling my head with group hysteria and negativity is… what?

Obama takes the oath of office

Obama takes the oath of office

In fact, for the past two years I haven’t had a television and very rarely read newspapers and online news. “Important” news gets filtered to me via email from my American friends. Sometimes even the “good” news comes late. Last year, for instance, I’d heard about this young black dude in the running for the Democratic party nomination, but as far as I could tell, he was inexperienced and an upstart and I figured Hilary was a shoe-in. Imagine my surprise when excited emails began arriving from friends who said they were going to vote for this guy who not only had a Middle Eastern name but who had lived part of his life in the Muslim country of Indonesia . My how the quickly the world is flattening. I am an American based in the Middle East and I currently live in Indonesia. Bring it on. I love this. OneWorld at last!

To get current with the presidential nomination and upcoming election, I delved into the “news” around the election and sure enough, I learned that this man named Obama was indeed a contender. And I began to follow the momentum as he won over the hearts of Americans and created hope throughout the rest of the world.

All right then, so I learn about the most “important” world events later than most. The 99% which isn’t important but creates fear, paranoia and fingernail biting? Gone. Poof. No longer part of my consciousness. Not knowing frees up not only my emotional space but tons of time.

The latest hand wringing news which has begun to filter through is about the crashing economy in America. My sister and at least two friends have lost their jobs. That is not good, but they have savings and they will make it through this. Companies are tightening their belts, individuals are hunkering down and stopping the flow of their money. Like a set of falling dominoes, mass consumerism has come to a grinding halt as massive contraction sets in. The amount of real wealth in the world has not changed one iota. Just the perception of it and its distribution. It’s a natural correction. I am also hearing that the government is trying to save us from ourselves by infusing errant companies with borrowed money. Mistake. But does my knowing about it change it? No.

In Bali, the economic crisis if brought up at all, is discussed as an abstract event that is occurring far away.

Foreigners in Bali
The foreigners living here are happy they got themselves and their money out of Dodge. Each day more people arrive to wait out the storm. (Usually women hoping to find love like Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, but that’s another subject.). A Wallstreet “head hunter” arrived two weeks ago after losing her job and lots of her savings. Shaken and wondering if she could make it here, I assured her that her income from her Central Park apartment alone, not to mention her Hampshires home would more than support her here. She can hardly believe it. But it is true. As long as the rupiah stays low relative to the dollar, foreigners are living like millionaires on less than $15,000 a year in Bali.

Earth nourished, Bali is as of now unaffected by the economic crisis

Earth nourished, Bali is as of now unaffected by the economic crisis

And the Balinese?
I doubt Bali will fall prey to this latest crisis. The Balinese certainly don’t seem worried about it so I’ll take my cue from them. Sure tourism will drop off, but they’re used to that, what with a 70% drop in tourism after the bomb in 2002 followed by another bomb in 2004 and the subsequent drop off in tourism after that. Neither of which the island has fully recovered from. Can’t get too much worse here on the tourist front.

But the main reason Bali won’t feel the recession is that the Balinese are a communal society and with the exception of tourism, they are self sufficient. They grow their own food, a lot of which doesn’t even require growing, because it sprouts of its own volition all over the island. Trees droop under the weight of bananas, coconuts, mangos, and papayas. Rice proliferates in the volcanic rich soil. Each Balinese plays a role in planting, maintaining, harvesting – all to assure a smooth cycle of life. There is more than enough water routed through the centuries old irrigation system, from family to family, rice paddy to rice paddy before completing its trip back to the sea. The Balinese make and repair the things they need like housing, clothing and tools. They take care of their own. There are no complicated financial instruments like mortgages and credit. People pay cash. If they don’t have enough cash, family and friends pitch in. And so in Bali, the basic survival needs are provided by Mother Earth and the need for friends, family and loved ones? It’s an integral part of their society. What more do they need?

Oh yeah, fuel. I’m not sure why, but gasoline is dirt cheap here. It costs 50 cents to fill up my Yamaha scooter. Cheap or not, luckily for them, the Balinese don’t need much of it. 95% of Balinese are not dependent on cars for transport. Homes and buildings are open to nature, designed to take advantage of sea breezes and temperatures that vary little year round, so there is no need for heat or air conditioning. Bali should weather the current economic storm just fine.

Balinese traditions still integral to life on the island

Balinese traditions still integral to life on the island

Last night my curiosity got the best of me and I broke my sorta news fast to read the local Bali Advertiser. So what is making the headlines in Bali?

Indonesia Bans Yoga for Muslims, Triggers Row
Indonesian yoga teachers disputed on Monday that the practice of yoga was damaging for Muslims after the country’s top Islamic body issued a fatwa banning followers from yoga that includes chanting, mantras or mediation (I’m sure they meant “meditation”)…because of a view it uses Hindu prayers that could erode Muslims faith. The meeting of Indonesia’s Ulema Council stopped short of a full ban and said Muslims could practice it as long as it was only for physical exercise…

Egads. I finally find my religion and someone’s threatening to outlaw it.

Bali Government Issues Guidelines for “Nyepi” – the Official Day of Silence
Nyepi, the absolute day of silence that will mark the dawn of a new year on the Bali Hindu calendar bgins at 6am on March 26….
No lights may be lit.
No work may be performed.
No amusements enjoyed.
Silence must be maintained.
People must not venture outside the sealed and silent quarters.
Hotel service staff must stay at work during the 24 hour period as travel between home and job will not be permitted.
All roads will be closed and emptied except for emergency vehicles.
Hotel guests must stay on their hotel grounds thourhgout the 24 hours…
Guest rooms will have their curtains drawn and outside lighting at hotels will be dimmed or extinguished.
Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport will be closed with no flight operations allowed. Technical and emergency landings only permitted. Any crew landing at the airport between 6am aon March 26 until 6am the following morning will not be allowed to leave the airport terminal.
All Bali sea ports will be closed.
The once monthly tsunami alarm testing that occurs on the 26th of each month, will not take place in March.

I’ll write more later about this holiday. But here’s the deal. It’s the day that the Balinese hide out from evil spirits who come looking for trouble on that day. The Balinese figure if they hide and the island is quiet and dark, the bad guys will think no one is home and they’ll skip over the island in search of someone else to pick on.

Human Head in a Box Mystifies Authorities
A human skull found in a parcel by authorities when they xrayed the packet at the Ngurah Rai Post Office on January 28th continues to mystify authorities. A spokesman from the Sanglah forensic department said that it appeared that the skull was not a fossil, or intended for medical science or study, but appeared to be part of some sort of ritual as the skull had some kind of markings etched into the bones…

Danpasar Police Crack Down on Shirtless Motorcyclists
…Denpasar’s traffic police will soon be taking action against drivers, presumably male, cruising Bali’s roads bare-chested. Declared “Operation Sympathetic”…a police official confirmed that special attention would be given to foreign male tourists…the police spokesman also said a failure to wear a shirt can result in greater injuries when cyclists fall and make contact with asphalt road surfaces.

The Balinese Haunting Hour
Midday in Balinese is called tengai tepet and is one time of the day to be aware of. Even today many Balinese will not sleep at midday or embark on a a journey for fear of misfortune or being possessed by a demon that may be ‘lurking in the mist’…The ‘haunting hour’… occurs at dusk..Demons are thought to be present in great numbers at this time and it is the best time to put out offerings to them…made up of flowers, and incense stick, rice parcels and liberal splashes of rice wine called arak brem (demons have a penchant for hard liquor, of course.) It is recommended that you not sleep during this time for fear of possession…some Balinese maintain that whistling can attract demons, particularly witches which have transformed themselves into leyak (menacing fireballs or other manifestations of evil.

That’s it! All the news that’s fit to print in Ubud, Bali. Now back to my bubble.

Robin Sparks reporting from Bali

Robin Sparks reporting from Bali

Robin Sparks
just after bathing in the holy springs of the Hindu temple, Tirta Empul in Bali.

Escape the World and Find Yourself

Posted by Robin Sparks on February 10th, 2009 | Email this to friend

p1050582 Escape the World – three words that like a siren song tugged at my weary soul. Nine years of life on the road and a recent move to a foreign country had taken their toll. In spite of a multitude of reasons Not To Go, I went anyway, escaping the winter of Istanbul. I’d been in Bali for one month, a virtual paradise in and of itself, when I graduated to heaven by attending an “Escape the World” retreat held at the Kumara Sakti Resort in Ubud, Bali.

Located on the property of a Balinese prince, Kumara Sakti Resort is tucked in and around the jungle on the side of a ravine. From my room with its windowed walls, I can neither hear nor see another human soul except for a tiny dot on the horizon, which upon further inspection, is a farmer leading his ducks through a rice paddy. Just outside my room a tree bends over from the weight of several bunches of bananas. Larger than life waxy leaves dance in the breeze, so brightly hued they appear to be fake. It’s easy to see where the inspiration for the batik textile on my bed came from – the patterns for Bali’s famous ikat sprout all over the island. I stretch out on the hand-carved Balinese bed enveloped by a white mosquito net on the balcony to try something I don’t do very often. Nap.

Hand carved stone paths and steps meander, climb and fall next to streams and tiny waterfalls and statues to the Gods and lead to the dining hall, the yoga pavilion, and further down to the second pool. The only sounds aside from rain pattering on leaves, a rooster crowing, birds tweeting, frogs croaking, and geckos geckoing, is the deep resonant gong, calling us to yoga twice daily, and the tinkling of a bell to wake us at 6:30AM each morning. That’s right — just me and eight others in the jungle hailing from Holland, Jakarta, Australia, France, Sweden, Singapore, and America. The staff quietly attends to our every need and then some. When we return to our rooms each evening after dinner, there is a fresh frangipani blossom on our turned down beds, the candles on our balconies have been lit, and fresh incense placed on our tables. Although it’s a five minute drive to the center of Ubud, we may as well be a million miles away.

On our first evening we meet for tea and desert on the opulent terrace of the residence of the prince. Partners of One World Retreats, Claude Chouinard and Iyan Yaspriyana, introduce themselves and give us a preview of the week ahead. Claude tells us about Balinese rituals and traditions so that we can incorporate them into the upcoming week.

Among a handful of upcoming activities that include not only yoga and spa treatments, but forays into “real” Bali, we learn that we will attend a purification ceremony at a Balinese temple tomorrow night and are shown how to wrap our sarongs and secure them with temple sashes. One sarong for the outside, and one to be worn inside for bathing in the purifying spring waters. Claude encourages each of us to come up with an intention for the week to think about at the ceremony.

The next evening we go together to the temple and kneel behind a Balinese priest. Waving his hands in the smoke of the incense and holding up flower after flower in prayer clasped hands, he chants in Balinese. Whatever he is asking for and whoever he is asking it from, thank you very much. I am sure that I can use it and I accept it gratefully. We then bathe in the holy waters of the temple pausing under each of eleven fountains to make a wish before letting the healing waters rush over us. There is a longer line than most behind the relationship fountain.

Walking through waist-deep water sheathed in white linen and dipping under its surface reminds me of my Christian upbringing – the significance that water plays in cleansing and renewal. I’d been thinking that 2009 would go down as the year that I began a new life. In the year 2000 I began living abroad for months at a time in various countries in order to write about those who leave home to find a new one, as well as the stories of my own inner journey in search of a new tribe. I’ve been telling friends that my book has gestated for nine years and that it is time for it to be born. Two weeks ago, I laid in the middle of a kundalini healing circle and saw an amphibious-like shell falling away, and something raw, tender, and innocent, emerging. Might the book be a metaphor for me?

The morning call to yoga

The morning call to yoga

The next morning at 6:45 am I am stepping gingerly on the beautiful inlaid stones beneath my feet, shimmering wet after all night rain. The smell of jasmine in the air, deep gong signaling the beginning of another day. In the open air yoga pavilion overlooking the jungle, Iyan guides us through meditation and yoga with his deeply resonant voice, both soothing and eerily reminiscent of the chanting of the priest last night. Ommmmmmmmm. Iiifff youuuuur miiiind (up and note or two on the word mind) has gone awayyyyyy (up again on last word) bring it baaaaaack (stretch out the word back and bring it down a half note). One of the attendees has never before done yoga. Two are regular yoginis and the others, like me, are on and off practitioners. Our different levels are seemingly irrelevant. Iyan’s intuitive guidance offers precisely what each one of us needs when we need it.

After yoga, we eat breakfast in the open-air (of course) dining room. Black rice pudding with warm coconut cream. Fresh papaya, mango, pineapple, banana, yogurt, home made crunchy muesli, and a delightful bread that can best be described as crunchy, nutty, wholesome, slightly salty, and yummy. These are but a few of the selections on the menu. Master chef and raw organic cooking specialist, Ceciia Chaimberlan of Sweden, owner of Curly Foods (insert website url here) is training the kitchen staff this month. From the “Happy Salad” with its center of finely chopped green olives, lemon zest, olive oil, black pepper, naked cashews, and a side of tamari sauce, to the chocolate mousse which is so delicious that we raid the refrigerator to scrape the remains from the mixing bowl (imagine our surprise when Cecelia reveals the mousse is actually mashed avocado!), each meal throughout the week is a mouth watering concoction of raw organic ingredients. Cecilia says that for food to be truly nutritious, it is essential that it not only be healthy, but that it be prepared with loving hands. Fete acompli!

Early one morning, we drive up the summit of Mr. Gunung Batur and as the sun’s first rays beam over the rim of the volcano, we do sun salutations. Amazing. We gradually descend on mountain bikes past gob-stoppingly gorgeous rice paddies and through villages where the Balinese are going about their ordinary (albeit extraordinary to us) daily lives.

When first informed about the day of silence, some of us are a bit dubious. What, no talking? No phone calls or instant messaging? For 24 hours? Claude suggests we spend some of the time writing affirmations. (but no reading allowed). As it turns out, it is the day of silence that sets a transformative tone for the rest of the week and we love it. I for one, resolve to make a day of silence a regular ritual in my life. One of the participants, Andra from Jakarta says later, “It was the day of silence that changed my outlook on life. On that day I found that I’ve been searching for happiness in all the wrong places. That I have all the answers within me. It was a real awakening.”

A bridge leads from the resort through the jungle into the rice fields and eventually to one of the most unique, awe-inspiring, delicious, healthy open air restaurants in Bali – Sari Organik – situated next to the farm where it grows its own produce. There surrounded by a palette of colors, smells and sounds that are pure bountiful Bali, we laugh and relax and eat together, and I slurp through a hollow tube of bamboo the best mango lassie I have ever tasted in my life.

The world is your mirror.

The world is your mirror.

The spa treatment rooms are open to views that simply have to be seen and experienced to be believed. It is in this setting where we are expertly and reverently kneaded and massaged. I have never and doubt I will ever again experience anything like the three-hour ayurvedic massage that is the specialty of the trained masseuses at Escape the World retreats. The pedicure and manicure, the hair cream bath, the head and shoulder massage, the crown chakra anointing of oil, oh yes, those too are divine. But the ayurvedic massage not only puts me in a deep state of relaxation, but brings up insights and melts away negativity. I have long dreamed of living in Bali, and now here I am sitting smack dab in the middle of my dream my feet being washed lovingly, my shoulders being massaged looking out at what must be the most beautiful place on the planet. The world is my mirror. What I see, both good and bad, I create. It’s an analogy I’ve heard before. But it is not until this day during this massage at this moment as I sat here looking out at these scalloped mirrored rice paddies that the words take root. The world is my mirror. If I created this, I am one drop dead gorgeous woman!

Instead of ruminating on all the things my boyfriend does that bug me, I begin picturing the perfect loving partner all the way down to his calf muscles. The person in our group who annoys me with her deluge of derogatory comments about Americans? She too is my mirror and all negative thoughts about her go the way of the knot in my back.

Wrapped in a sarong and holding a mug of hot ginger tea, I’m seated on the terrace in a full-on post-massage glow thinking I smell like a frangipani flower and look like an oil spill. I don’t ever want to shower again!Someone emerges from an adjoining treatment room and sits down next to me. Guess who? That’s right. Her face glowing like an angel, we smile at each other, Goddess to Goddess. Duchess to American.

On the last morning we meet in the yoga pavilion to create from palm leaves Balinese offerings like the ones we have seen piled up on altars and stone Gods all over the island. Seated in a circle, we watch in silence as Iyan burns the pieces of paper we have given him, containing lists of things we want to eliminate from our lives. He covers the ashes with flower petals and takes the basket to the river. We watch from above as he first prays and then releases the petals and ashes, allowing them to flutter on the currents down to the river below to be carried out to sea. They back up behind a branch that has fallen across the water, but I turn and walk away in peace, confident that it is but a temporary obstacle that will soon be washed away on the current.

The Escape the World retreat touches parts of your heart and soul that a boot camp-like yoga retreat simply can’t reach. It is more than a meditation workshop, where one spends 99% of their time in their heads. And it is far more than its delicious healthy inventive meals and mesmerizing massages. The Escape the World Retreat is a buffet for all the senses. And isn’t balance what the body and soul craves nearly as much as food and water? p10504131Find out all about how to escape your world at

Robin Sparks reporting from her cubicle in Bali

Robin Sparks reporting from her cubicle in Bali

Writing Workshop Aboard Turkish Gulet 2009

Posted by Robin Sparks on December 1st, 2008 | Email this to friend
The Kaptan Sevket

The Kaptan Sevket

Hi Everyone,

Yep, we’re doing it again! We had such a successful voyage last September that we’re heading back to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast for not one workshop but two, September 12-19 and September 19-26, 2009 for a week of sailing, writing, and wandering the ruins and villages. Like last year we’re restricting the group to 10 participants and we’ll meet for instruction in the mornings, have private consultations throughout the day (in and around writing and exploring), and meetings for discussion and sharing our work in the evenings before our sumptuous nightly feast. After that, of course, there’s more time to talk or write, sip wine or raki, or simply lie on the deck and look at the stars. Full details here:

A lot of you have asked me about our 2008 Writing Workshop last September. In short, it was perfect. (My humble opinion of course).

Ten of us climbed aboard the Kaptan Sevket on September 20, 2008 and set sail into the Gekova harbor off the coast of Turkey where the Mediterranean meets the Aegean Sea. Our wildly varied group of personalities, ages and skill levels got along fabulously. After a week that included idyllic sailing along Turkey’s curvaceous coastline, swimming and kayaking in aquamarine waters, visits to small villages, hiking among the ruins on Cleopatra Island, eating outrageously delicious, healthy food that just kept coming and coming, meeting and talking about writing, and producing heaps of newly informed and inspired pieces, we disembarked after one week with indelible memories, new friends, and vastly enhanced writing skills.

Most participants were previously published writers who were emphatic about improving their trade. They worked at it, showing up for every class each morning and evening to write, and to consult with our instructor Larry Habegger throughout each day.

As for our magic carpet, The Kaptan Sevket, it was a sleek, solid, 82 foot, hand-built Turkish gulet with majestic sails that towered high above as we headed each day for our next bucolic harbor. We all concurred that we did not see one other boat on the water that could compare to ours! And the crew, ah the crew, how we loved them. There was the capable, all-knowing Kaptan Mustafa. And sweet, efficient Levent, Batur and Tuncay. The food. Can’t say enough about it and so I won’t.

You can see photos of it here, thanks to our itinerant writer and photographer, Cheryn Flanagan.

We are on again for next fall, September 12-19 and September 12-19, 2009! This year we’ll start a little further south on Turkey’s coastline in Gocek and head to Ulu Deniz – one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – and the waters of Kas where we’ll snorkel over ancient cities, sail past ruins, go ashore when the mood hits, and yes, once again, write. And we will do it on the Kaptan Sevket with the same crew. They are family now.

With two successful writing workshops under our belts, the word is out and we expect that the 10 spots (yes, we will limit it once again to 10) for each of our workshops in September, 2009 will fill fast.
Wondering what to give that friend or loved one for the holidays? Why not a writing workshop off the coast of Turkey? It’s an experience they will never forget.

The price for the September workshop is $2800 usd and is all inclusive for the week on the boat. You can reserve your spot by sending $1400 via to Spots are filling fast so be sure to reserve yours soon. Deposits are non-refundable unless we can fill your spot.

To learn more about our instructor, Larry Habegger, co-editor of Travelers Tales Books, have a look at the following links:

Here is what some of our participants have to say:

When I signed up for the workshop, I couldn’t have imagined what I would leave with: deepfriendships, a new understanding of myself and writing goals, an amazing collection of photos, and a great big notebook of souvenirs in the form of writing tips, techniques, and guidance I received from Larry, who has replaced my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Klein, as my favorite instructor of all time. Sailing on a handsome gulet along the gem-colored shoreline of the Aegean Sea is the perfect place to get inspired, forget about all the distractions at home, and devote yourself to a week of writing. – Cheryn Flanagan, San Francisco, California

This workshop exceeded my expectations a million times. I had a vague idea I could write commentary but had no confidence in my ability to write description. I came away feeling like I can now do both. Larry helped me find continuity in my notes and pull them together into something that was actually writing instead of just ideas on a page. Listening to everyone else was valuable in pointing me in the right direction. Having optional and flexible individual consultations was perfect. Being on a boat in gorgeous surroundings crystallized everything into one great experience. - Nicola Prentis, Istanbul, Turkey

The trip was really fantastic, worth every penny. I would definitely consider coming again next year. - Judith Colp Rubin, Tel Aviv, Israel

Thank you for a wonderful experience aboard the Kaptan Sevket! The trip was well organized. It was a nice touch making decisions as a group about specific destinations on a day-to-day basis. As a lover of the wilderness, I enjoyed mooring in secluded bays absent of resorts and other development. I liked meeting in the morning and reconvening in the evenings for writing. The private meetings with Larry were a real plus. Our group was diverse in many ways, and I appreciated the different personalities. Thank you so much for an inspiring, relaxing and colorful experience! - Carrie Visintainer, Fort Collins, Colorado

The price for the September workshop is $2800 usd and is all inclusive for the week on the boat. You can reserve your spot by sending $1400 via to

Hope to hear from you soon, and I will see you in Turkey in September 2009!

Please purchase travel insurance as deposits are non-refundable unless we can fill your spot. We also reserve the right to cancel the workshop up to July 10 in the unlikely case that there are less than 8 participants.

Robin Sparks in Istanbul, Turkey
OneWorld Ltd

Judy in private consultation with Larry

Judy in private consultation with Larry

Cheryn and Carrie working on assignments

Cheryn and Carrie working on assignments

Cleopatra Beach


Posted by Robin Sparks on April 19th, 2005 | Email this to friend

Adventure Travel Guides – is the leading resource for adventure travel planning and outdoor recreation. We are a direct marketing company that uses our products, services, & events to promote your adventure travel programs. Our partners are dedicated to enhancing our communities by bringing together individuals and groups in adventure recreation.

Posted by Robin Sparks on December 3rd, 2004 | Email this to friend

The Stories of Modern Day Nomads Literary travel writing by some of the world’s most fearless nomads.