Our “Strandemic” in Bali
In late March of 2020, I am sure you remember the week when Covid shifted from a “Chinese problem” to a global pandemic. Our news feeds on our phones became flooded with rising death tolls from around the world and images of dead bodies being escorted from hospitals in Hazmat suits were burned into our consciousness.
My family and I found ourselves in Bali, Indonesia having just finished running one of our EcoKarma retreats. We had a flight back to Canada a few days after the retreat ended in mid-March.
On the day before we to leave Bali on March 18, we got a text message from the airlines saying our flights were cancelled. We were a little surprised and slightly annoyed, but we didn’t panic. We simply bought new tickets for the next week at a fairly reasonable price.
Day by day, the news headlines increasingly filled our heads with fearful thoughts of an evil virus. We loved being in warm Bali, but we longed for the safety of our new home we had just bought in Canada.
Every day, my wife was in touch with the Canadian Embassy to let them know that we were safe and shared our location. Every few hours, we received status updates on What’s App from the Canadian Government saying something like, “Get out of Indonesia now. Rates are spiking in Jakarta and Indonesia is set to become the next hotspot for Coronavirus.”
I did my best to stay calm and take it one step at a time, but I remember a jolt of fear in my heart when I would watch groups of six or seven workers picking up trash cans and emptying them into garbage trucks. In a time where hand sanitizer sales were going through the roof handling truckloads of unsanitary debris. None of the men were wearing gloves or masks.
It sent shudders of panic down my spine. My phone was giving me new updates by the hour about how the virus is transmitted through different materials. Coronavirus (the media hadn’t started calling it Covid-19 yet) lasts 3-7 days on plastic, up to 4 days on paper, 24 hours on carboard and 4 hours on glass.
While the rest of the world was bleaching their countertops and wearing rubber gloves to touch doorknobs, these men were standing up to their knees in trash without concern.
“Oh, man,” I thought to myself, “If this country doesn’t take better precautions, we are going to be the next Italy.”
I slept in fits and starts. I feared for my family’s health and I wasn’t sure if seeing body bags being hauled down streets of the village where we were staying was soon going to be a common site.
As if this wasn’t enough, I was living with massive economic uncertainty. My demographic was directly hit by the restrictions Covid brought to the world. I make my living by gathering large groups of 40-80 people together to run yoga and wellness programs. I had to cancel two really big trainings. My income went immediately to zero overnight. I was in disbelief.
I explained to my young son that we might lose our new house to the bank, but don’t worry, we have each other so we will be ok. We will be back home soon.
Another Cancelled Flight
It was on March 24 that things really shifted. We had a ticket from Denpasar, Bali to Taipei for a short 3-hour layover and then on to Vancouver. We had our bags packed, our N-95 masks ready and a taxi driver arranged. Finally, we were homeward bound.
It was about one hour before we were to leave for the Bali airport that our friend Kat texted us saying, “Hey, did you see the Taipei airport just closed for international transit?”
“No, this can’t be.” I texted back in full confidence. “We’ve already checked in for our flights and EVA airlines hasn’t sent us any messages saying our flight was cancelled.”
Panic set in when I did google the status of the international airport in Taiwan.
Kat was right. It has closed at 12AM that day. A mere twelve hours before our flight home. A call to EVA air confirmed it. We were not leaving Bali that day.
I lay awake at night trying to sort things out. I played out different scenarios in my head. “With no tourists in Bali, the locals could turn to crime,” I thought to myself.
We have next to no security either. Bali villas are famous for their indoor/ outdoor living. We had just a small, seven foot wall around our compound that I easily climbed over it in about 15 seconds on the occasions that we forget my keys inside.
I tossed and turned. It occurred to me that I didn’t even know how to call the police in this country or speak the language even if I did.
“Does 9-11 even work over here?” I asked myself at 3:30 AM. I was clueless.
This fear was exacerbated as we watched videos of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau saying, “All Canadians must return home now.”
Our friend Daphne in Texas was kind enough to help us. She was our friend who had become an angel travel agent. Out of the goodness of her heart, she volunteered hour on the phone to help us find flights. She scoured kayak.com for any tickets while I searched google flights and my wife checked Expedia.
She was telling us on our call that we have to get out of Bali. She had been talking to her friends in Jakarta. There are no respirators at the hospitals in Bali. If we got really sick, we would no access to the services we needed. On top of this, I only had 2 more weeks left on my travel medical insurance.
I will never forget her words. “The situation in Jakarta is already not good and if things get bad in Bali, the only thing they have to turn to is prayer… And they are sure going to need that.”
As we looked for tickets, the harshness of human nature became clear. At a time when you would think that kindness would prevail and airlines would help travelers get home, they were jacking their prices up by the second.
It was like a mad bidding war. One minute you would find flights with three seats available for a whopping $4000 per ticket. By the time you could press “book now,” the prices had risen again to $5000 per ticket. Then the next minute, they would be sold out altogether.
“This is insane,” I thought. I was trying to maintain my calm as I swallowed down a harsh emotional cocktail of part anger, part worry and part tears of sadness. I pushed them back and reminded myself to stay strong and calm.
By the end of our FaceTime call, we had bought three tickets for about $12,000 for my whole family to fly back home on a wild route through 4 different airports. This was the opposite of a dream flight. The total flying time was around 50 long hours. We would have to sleep on the floor of the Jakarta airport for 12 hours waiting for transfers while wearing N-95 masks. It sounded like hell.
The psychological signature of these early stages of the pandemic for most people on the planet was two bitter pills of terror. One pill was the fear for our own health and the ones we love. The second pill was all about economic fear for how we were going to keep the lights on.
Now, it seemed like I had been issued and an extra-large dosage. Here we were stranded in a foreign country; we had no more income and I just put $12,000 on my credit card to fly home at a time when the news headlines were filled with news about how Coronavirus is actually transmitted through the recirculated air in airplanes.
“Is it more of a risk to fly out of here than to stay?” I asked myself incessantly.
Just When we Thought It Couldn’t get Worse…
Just as I thought that my daily hits of adrenaline and panic couldn’t get any worse, it did. Our nine-year old son Lion who was normally filled with an abundance of playful boy-energy began to feel weak.
“Dad, I just feel so tired,” he would say as he slumped over the front of our rented scooter as we drove home. If there are two things that he loves it’s swimming in the ocean and croissants from the local French Bakery, Monsieur Spoon. He wasn’t interested in either and, in fact, he barely ate and instead of swimming at the beach, he would sit silently in a lump.
Over and over, my mantra of, “don’t panic” and “one step at a time,” filled my headspace. It worked to some degree, but still fear lived inside my wife and I. We only felt reassured by the fact that, besides feeling tired, it was his belly that he complained about. Thank God it wasn’t the tell-tale Covid symptoms of cough and fever. He was weak and didn’t eat for a few days.
Then, just two days before we were due to depart, Lion felt warm to us. We took his temperature and to our slight horror, he had a small fever. It was only 99.1 Fahrenheit, which is relatively mild, but still nothing we wanted to be faced with.
This was the hand we were dealt. There was no option to tell the universe, “Um, excuse me, this is not my order, can you please send it back to the chef.”
We took him to the doctor and he said that it could be dengue, a mosquito born virus common in the tropics.
To this point in time, we still don’t know exactly what affected him, but we do know that the next day, his energy was slowly returning.
The day we were due to depart, it weighed heavily on my mind. I still wasn’t entirely sure if our son was infectious even if he was feeling better. The doctors suspected dengue, but we still don’t know for sure. There were no rapid tests for Covid available back then.
All my philosophy studies in university didn’t prepare me for this internal debate. The only symptom of Covid was tiredness and a small fever than came and went in one day. Was it ethical to put him on a plane and possibly infect others in the unlikely event it was Covid?
This worry combined with the fact that I couldn’t stomach the $12,000 in credit card debt that I was going to assume at a time when I didn’t know where my next dime was coming from helped us make a decision. It seemed at this point, even if Lion had previously had dengue and not Coronavirus, our chances of getting sick were higher on the long flights back home than if we stayed put.
We had a family meeting. “Let’s ride this out in Bali,” I suggested. “For almost the same price as the tickets home, we can rent a villa in Bali for 9 months. We will have clean, tropical air and good food.”
We made a collective decision about 2 hours before the flight was supposed to leave to cancel our flights and, in so doing, we sealed the deal.
We were staying. I swallowed hard as I pressed “cancel ticket” button on Expedia’s site
Our fate was sealed
In one sense, there was so much relief in my mind because there is no greater prison cell than a human mind full of indecision. We had been going back and forth for weeks now. Should we just stay? Every 10 minutes we changed our minds. It was so crazy making that I would almost prefer the torture of being crushed by elephants that to live inside a mind that careens back and forth indecisively between two different options.
Now there was no way out. No more torture of indecision. Our fate lay in the island of Bali. The international airport closed in April and it remains closed to this day.
With Lion feeling better, we ordered food delivery from local farmers, we promised we would live into the hashtag “#StayHome.”
I sat at the breakfast table and explained to our son that we will be fine, but we have to cut off all contact with the outside world. I drew cartoon diagrams of the spikey coronavirus outside the castle of our home and explained how viruses are transmitted.
“Think of our home as “Fort Finn.” Nobody comes in or out. If we do this, nothing can happen.”
“This was going to work out,” I assured them.
Another Unexpected Curve Ball
“When life looks like Easy Street, there is Danger at Your Door,” The Grateful Dead
We felt healthy and hopeful. At least for a few days, then slowly, my wife Insiya started sniffling.
“She’s prone to colds,” I reminded myself, “so don’t panic.”
Then the next day, it happened. A fever hit. She looked grey and not herself. This didn’t seem like just a cold.
She lay on our couch and I truly felt fear. More than anything, I feared for the health of the person I love most dearly on the planet. I feared for my son, as well. Was this Coronavirus? My plan was backfiring. We were supposed to keep all viruses out of Fort Finn, not bring them in like a Trojan Horse. She has a fever. Again, like Lion’s it wasn’t very high but it’s still worrisome.
Not knowing what was coming next and thinking chances were high that I may be infected, I sat my Lion down and explained the plan if both his parents got sick. He would have to make eggs for himself for breakfast and quarantine in his bedroom. I explained how to have groceries delivered using an app.
After one rough and very sleepless night, the next evening Insiya’s fever is gone but she is still sniffly and weak. We’ve made it through another day.
Enter the Daily Blissology Commitments:
How could I find peace in this situation? I remember how I had worked myself into such a frenzy with constant attention to the newsfeed alerts on my phone. After watching what was happening in Italy, I wasn’t even entirely sure if I would be alive in 2 weeks.
We needed something to lean into. The universe had truly knocked us to our knees.
We turned extra hard at this point to the five Daily Blissology Commitments of Yoga, Meditation, Nature Appreciation, Food Awareness and Gratitude.
The most healing thing at this point was nature. Intuitively, our family silently walked towards the beach to see the sunset to end each day. Almost all the tourists have left Bali for the safety of their own countries. It’s a surreal site to see the emptiness. The phrase “Quiet Bali” normally seems like an oxymoron but this is our reality.
The beaches in Canggu where we stay in Bali are normally filled with hundreds of tourists. They are surfing, playing volleyball, laying back on beanbag chairs with a coconut or a Bintang beer while loud music pumps out of the local food stands called warungs. People in bikinis can be seen everywhere showing off their tanned butts or pouty lips for their instagram feeds in front of bright orange sunsets while dogs and children are playing in the background.
However now, in the presence of the massive, billowing cumulonimbus Bali clouds, the vast horizon and the blue churning ocean, we seem so small. The splendor of nature is so big. It’s like bathing in beauty.
Our worries seem far away. We’ve developed what I call, “Stress Amnesia.” What I’ve learned about Nature Appreciation is that when we sit in the confines of our homes, sometimes those walls start closing in on you. Your problems keep you trapped. They become all you can see.
All problems seem bigger within the confines of four walls and smaller relative to vastness of Nature.
2020 was a year characterized by restricted breath. From George Floyd to Coronavirus and it’s politically charged signature, the mask, so many people on this planet have learned not to take breath for granted.
This couldn’t be truer for our family now under this big sky. Fear has been constricting us so hard. We have been enveloped in worry. Insiya has been sick. The term for a flu in French is “la grippe.” It grips you like a hand that squeezes. In 2020, we have all been gripped by a huge cosmic hand that won’t let our lungs fully expand when we inhale.
Our bodies are tense. To breathe deeply, we need our intercostal, side rib muscles to activate so they can expand the lungs and increase their volume. If these muscles remain in the grip of our minds, they will not move, and breath will remain shallow.
Likewise, we have to let go of the knots in our belly. It is key to soften the abdominal muscles a little so that the belly button can move enough to make space for the diaphragm to descend into the organs of our viscera. When we hold our bodies tight, it’s like driving a car with the emergency brake on.
The interesting thing about stress and worry is that it feels like something is happening out there to you and there is nothing you can do about it. But we are the one creating these gripping sensations.
Stress happens between our ears. Our mental reaction to a stimulus controls how the nervous system sends signals to muscles. These signals tell the muscles to contract so that they are primed for action in the” fight, flight or freeze” response. With prolonged stress, where we live with chronic tightness, our minds become our own worst enemy. Our minds become like the desert wind that shape the sand dunes in our body.*
Most of us don’t realize that we are living with this high degree of this tension until it is gone. It is a subconscious app that stays running in the background of the operating system of our minds and body.
Our family has been squeezed tight. But that night on the beach, it all shifts.
By tuning into the beauty of nature that firmly gripping hand in our bellies and our hearts loosens. We can finally exhale fully as we stand silently under that huge sky. We aren’t just breathing in air; we are breathing in waves of gratitude. We are no longer ghosts in this world. It is like our souls are returning to our bodies again. There is hope.
We sit and watch as the sky turns bright orange, purple and pink. The wind blows warmly on our faces and we breathe calmy. Memorized by the spell of the beautiful, we whisper under our breath what almost everyone does when they slow down and observe the magnificent displays of nature, “Oh my God.” The word God is extra breathy, like “Gahhhhhhd.”
That prolonged exhalation is an unconscious sigh to release our worries and bring us into the present. We breathe more easily. The lesson is clear: Sometimes we need to go to the places that take our breath away in order to get it back.
We are practicing “Nature Appreciation” at this point. No conversations, just silently observing and receiving the “transmission of the beautiful.”
Over the coming weeks, we seek more and more Nature Appreciation moments. It’s the antidote to the news headlines and the worries that fill our heads so easily. Silently basking in beauty becomes a tether back to sanity in an insane world.
We commit to eating the best food we can. We get produce from the local farmers delivered and every night, the ritual of family dinner becomes a joy. It seems strange, but we love the slowness that the world has provided for us. We share our stories and what we learned that day by candlelight. It’s all so simple now.
We cut out all food that does not make us feel good. Fresh and local is the only way. Our microbiome is now linked to the land that has become our home. I used to travel all over the world to teach but I’m noticing the local produce is making me feel extra alive. The microbes of this land become part of me. As Hippocratis says, “all health starts in the gut.” Our immune systems grow stronger as our minds become cleared. Food is not just our medicine; it is our joy.
We practice Yoga daily. It’s the ultimate quarantine activity. You don’t need to go out to a gym, a studio or any public place. Yoga is so portable. Simply unroll your mat, and you will have created a sacred shrine to increase your health and shed layers of worry. We feel loose, yet strong and full of vitality.
We commit to Meditation every day. I wake up before dawn and walk to the beach under the bright Bali stars. Under those stars I get clearer and cleared daily. I feel like peace and sanity are restored. I am not sure how people stay sane if they don’t make the time to feel this peace.
Lastly, every day we practice our fifth daily commitment of Gratitude. Usually at dinner or before bed, we share three “gratefuls.” Not only does this make us feel better as individuals, knowing the things that light us up become powerful conversation starters. Sharing gratitude isn’t just good for you, it is our social glue.
It is through these five daily commitments that life in lockdown became joyous, healthy and peaceful again.
It occurs to us that destiny has been guiding us the whole time. An invisible hand has been pushing us towards something with cancelled flights. In 2008 we came here to Bali to film videos for the Blissology Project. The DVDs came out in 2011 when our son Lion was born.
The world is still living with a high degree of fear and worry. Nobody can say that they have and easy ride. The message from the universe is clear: It’s time to share our medicine. It’s time to bring back this version of the Blissology Project on it’s 10th Anniversary. Welcome to it! This is our story and we are so thrilled to launch the new version of 7 Yoga and 7 Meditation videos to help us all create an Upward Spiral in challenging times.
Thanks for reading. I hope it helps you through your challenges and joys.
Good luck, everyone. Share you light even more during this pandemic. The world needs it!