The balance of Being and Doing – a lesson from Bali

In Bali being and doing are both important.
Canang sari and the wisps of essence, Ubud.

In the early morning, Rai prepares several canang sari, small baskets woven from palm-leaf  containing flowers, a little rice, and a lit incense stick, to offer to the gods of the Balinese culture. In the ritual, Rai fans the essence, represented by the smoke rising from the incense, toward the place where the dieties rest.

After the ritual, he plucks a petal from the frangipani that was part of the offerings, and tucks it behind his ear.

The canang sari, translated as sari (essence) in a canang (the woven palm leaf basket) is ubiquitous in Bali, on shrines, temple altars, sidewalks, doorways, and even the sand on its beaches.

Man wearing flowers, Ubud.

The offering signifies the close relationship that Balinese nurture with their spiritual companions.

The balance of life, between the state of nature and the state of human effort is one of the beliefs at the center of the gentle attitude toward life held by the Balinese.

Balance is a concept we see so visibly in Bali.

Men and women on Kusamba beach sometimes carry up to twice their body weight on their heads. The women at Klungkung market hurry to a stall to deliver a sack of vegetables balanced on their heads. During temple festivals, the parade of villagers carrying temple offerings stacked high on their heads while walking to the temple is a beautiful and remarkable display of balance.

Beautiful balance.

The Balinese seem to carry anything and everything in perfect balance on their heads.

The weight seems not to matter. The belief in balance, called skala and ni skala— a sort of yin and yang—guides Balinese through life’s walk, whether carrying the feather light headdress a man traditionally wears, to the sacks of rice bound for another island that a porter for hire at Kusumba carries for passengers on the ferries.

In Bali, the lesson of balancing being and doing becomes visible and follows a rhythm of ebb and flow, in cyclical ways. Slowing down to prepare the canang sari is just as important as serving as a village elder during times when the village organizes the water distribution for rice growing or a wedding ceremony.

Carrying sacks of rice, Kusamba.

From a Western-influenced perspective, the tilt toward doing is more prominent in the philosophy of life.

The life trajectory, in itself implying a one-directional line moves in a path upward. The perspective is clear in the words used to express how life should be: “rise to the challenge,” “getting ahead,” “increasing yield” are some of the phrases abundant in the way life is subjected to performance reviews.

If you search online for research into wellbeing, you will find a great number of studies that focus on being and doing as sources of what one scientist, MacIntyre calls “the state of being well and doing well in being well.”

The ideas that are available in these discoveries about wellbeing talk about two kinds of wellbeing. One is hedonic wellbeing, defined as satisfaction and happiness which people describe as the amount of pleasure they feel they have gained, and eudaimonic wellbeing, the state of having and living a good life and a life of good. Eudaimonia (Greek: flourishing of life) is often described as the amount of feeling engaged, immersed and interested.

What is interesting about these two types of wellbeing is that they both balance each other in people who report an attitude and perception of wellness.

Hedonic wellbeing seems to be something people feel when they have accomplished a relaxed state because something has been accomplished.

Eudaimonic wellbeing seems to be something people feel when they are learning and enjoying the process of it.

Interestingly, when we look at the balance of life in living things, there is a constant effort to balance stability and change.

Man on shore, Kusamba.

When there is imbalance, and action must be done to correct the imbalance, the living thing will learn in an effort to bring back stability.

Learning is change; without change the experience of moving toward something different from the current state does not result in that beneficial change.

Life is constantly trying to balance being at rest and acting to change.

Science tells us that both being and doing in balance helps maintain wellbeing.

I have a hunch that this balance is what travelers instinctively sense when in Bali.

Where beauty is just as important as industry.

Where being and doing is the balance of life.


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