Awake in the World

Bali’s ancient spiritual traditions and culture of rituals and healers make it a sacred destination for spiritual tourists from around the world.

Since the international success of the book, Eat, Pray, Love where author, Elizabeth Gilbert ends her spiritual journey on the island, Bali has become a paradise for spiritual seekers. Spiritual tourism is on the rise around the globe, with people traveling to faraway destinations for yoga retreats, wellness centers for personal healing, and to discover a deeper connection to life. With over twenty thousand temples and shrines dotting the roadsides in both the city and country and yoga and retreat centers across the land, Bali draws a growing number of these adventurers.

On the way to Ubud, one of the main spiritual tourism centers, a giant statue of Krishna accompanied by Arjuna pays tribute to the Indian spiritual text, the Bhagavad Gita. Buddhist statues, ancient fertility temples and a mosque along the way also reveal the islanders’ spiritual beliefs and their openness to many traditions. Though much of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali’s spiritual influences come mainly from Indian Hindu practices and Java and mix with the island’s animism which views all of nature, and all beings as divine. This deep reverence of nature which permeates the culture, inspires artists, painters, seekers and tourists and has gained it the name, “Island of the Gods.”

Australian mandala artist, Christine Rainbird moved to Bali for the inspiration. “The deeply rich spiritual energy of Bali, its gentle people, majestic mountains, peaceful rice fields and cultural ceremonies have all lured me to retreat here many times during my own spiritual journey,” she says.

Spiritual rituals and traditions permeate the culture and the most evident is through the offerings which appear every day. These canang sari offerings are made at the temples in hotel courtyards, at the thresholds of shops, in houses and at work. Throughout the day, women sit inside shop doorways preparing the little baskets and local markets sell frangipani and exotic flowers to fill them.

One of my favorite places in the world is Fivelements Puri Ahimsa, a retreat near Ubu. it practices Balinese principles of Tri Hita Karana means balancing life through honoring God, people and nature. The principles are interwoven into all aspects of this site, from its healing arts to the nurturing foods and the spectacular architecture where the lodgings are made of local grass, bamboo and recycled wood. Fivelements is a member of the “Healing Hotels of the World,” a designation which defines hotels where guests “become whole again in body, mind and soul, freeing them to enjoy the sacredness and abundance of life,” according to the organization.

In this privileged setting by a rushing river, a sacred circle of stones marks the healing energy center of this property which was consecrated by a local priest. Janur Yasa, the Sacred Arts and Guest Liason at the resort, uses a metal rod to illustrate the powerful energetic field of the sacred circle. As he walks around it, the rod continually points inward toward the center, pulled naturally by the energetic fields. He offers the rod to other guests to try and they repeat the experience for themselves.

He describes the Agni Hotra ritual, a fire ceremony performed by a local priest on the grounds at fivelements. An ancient Vedic practice of purification, agni means fire and hotra means healing. The priest chants Vedic mantras and verses in Sanskrit and makes ritual offerings of rice and ghee to the fire. The ritual promotes healing, purification and abundance for the individuals who participate as well as for those in the surrounding environment and worldwide.

“Every indigenous culture that practices ceremony has so much wisdom and power,” Janur says. “Modern society can benefit from it. In Western culture we forget about ritual because of the demands put on us and we lose touch with ourselves. Indigenous culture tries to balance life between spiritual and non-spiritual. That’s why a lot of people who come to Bali for the rituals feel differently. They feel the calm.”

Bio: Debra Moffitt is author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life. A visionary, dreamer and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices at the Sophia Institute and other venues in the U.S. and Europe. Her mind/body/spirit articles, essays and stories appear in publications around the globe and were broadcast by BBC World Services Radio. She has spent over fifteen years practicing meditation, working with dreams and doing spiritual practices. Visit her online at

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