The healing power of Bali: Inside Holly Haber’s spiritual journey

by | Culture, Travel

How to center your spirit in Bali


We stood — we pudgy, privileged, Americans — we stood there transfixed. Outside our semicircle stalked a snarling, wild-eyed figure gnawing bundles of burning incense and chewing the embers. We had been told he would probably rush one of us. He charged at the youngest of our adult group. She screamed as two men guided her to the floor and wailed as he shoved his face onto her belly and rooted around. After maybe 10 seconds he jumped up, bit off another bunch of burning incense, prowled around and lunged for another. She fell back silently and lay still.

We knew him as a clairvoyant healer, a middle-aged Balinese who worked primarily with his own people. This evening, he had willfully channeled the n?ga, a dragon energy that we were told would suck spiritual negativity from us and funnel it deep into earth. The growling n?ga repeated his actions, chomping incense — breathing fire, as it were — and plunging toward another. Soon, my reluctance turned to hope that he’d come at me. He did. Two men behind caught me, gently guiding my head and shoulders to the cool tile of the open-air pavilion. I felt teeth hard against my stomach, then my left shoulder. I breathed deeply a few times to quell the shock of the roving teeth, and then he was up and gone. I stayed put, tingling all over with a singular, marvelous energy.

It was my penultimate night in Bali on a two-week sojourn that had given our group of 14 entree to spiritual healers, extraordinary ceremonies and temples of power rarely known to tourists. I felt fantastic. This insider tour was arranged and chaperoned by Ken Ballard of, a Floridian who has made his home in Bali and Thailand since 1976. Ken speaks Balinese, Indonesian and Thai and formerly operated an eco spa and retreat in Bali. We had signed up individually for this adventure with only a general idea of the itinerary and the endorsement of two stateside organizers, Californians Tina Benson and Jodi Gold, who proposed the trip to friends. It was a leap of faith — which, it turns out, was key. We prayed and meditated during every ritual, from the powerful water purifications called melukats, when we were fully drenched with fragrant water and hundreds of flowers by a chanting healer, to the various ceremonies at open-air temples.

The Balinese practice a unique form of Hinduism blended with Buddhism and their ancient belief in animism, Kherti explained. Their spiritualism is ever present, emphasizing the balance of contrasting forces and respect for the spirit in all beings and objects. Small bamboo baskets of flowers, rice and burning incense are placed daily as offerings to the gods before the ubiquitous temples and religious statues and nearly every home and business. Hands pressed in prayer at the solar plexus, a gesture of respect for the spirit within, is both the customary greeting and a way of expressing thanks. As a result, an enchanting sense of harmony and cooperation was palpable in the places we visited.

I came home awash in newfound serenity. To keep it, I’m following the advice of my favorite Balinese shaman: “Be light with yourself.”