"Pay Attention" I was told, at 6am by our guide, Agung Rai as we walked through the rice fields of Ubud, Indonesia. In the excitement of travel and acclimating to a new place and reality you can always miss things. "Listen" he said... and the words of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock "And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden" came to my mind as I heard water, birds, roosters, ducks and dogs.
It all starts with the waters systems, from 300 BC, that rival any engineering feat I have ever seen, and then you add the villagers who farm the rice which sustains them, whose children see every day where their sustenance comes from, who take great pride in their homes, constantly cleaning, brooming and honoring their family temples... (from mud huts to more elaborate stone compounds) watching their mothers and fathers and grandparents working the soil, flooding the paddies, feeding their ducks in the paddies on the leftover rice from the previous harvest and then naturally fertilizing the paddies with the duck droppings, then flooding, pulling and plowing this fertile wet soil with the cows that they don't kill because they work to help make the rice, to the painstaking planting of individual rice clusters, (imagine hair plugs) and then the natural dance of growth and defense from nature's predators to the harvest and drying and then and only then eating. Add the myriad offerings, ceremonies, festivals and celebrations and what you get is family. They celebrate birth, a three month old's first time where their feet touch the ground, harvests, rice, weddings and yes, death. They pray in silence so that everyone is welcome to pray to whomever they want to. When they cut down a tree, they plant a new one to honor the one cut down. They work in small community units, Bangars... remember the political jokes levied about Obama's community organizing background... Agung Rai talked about our Western belief in reality, Sakala. He spoke of his belief in Niskala, the unseen, the intangible and then he dropped the big one..." When things are bad, share with others."
"Pay Attention" he said. As I stood at the highest point in the farmland of Indonesia watching the sun come up there in the distance were the cell towers. Dotted every visual ten feet and of course forever ruining the vista. The buzz and drone of the motorbikes which are ubiquitous in Bali and the trash which was what I brought back as my "How am I changed by my trip and what am I going to do differently?" After seeing the amount of trash I decided (I know better late than never) to not buy anymore plastic bottles of water, drinks etc." I asked him about why there was such attention to home village beauty and care and such widespread trash and plastic and he said:
"You have to teach the young people one thing at a time." The pulls away from that culture is even happening in the villages of Bali.
"Pay Attention... Life, is not mathematical," he said. Back here at home I am seeing his words play out every day. Iran's nascent revolution is not mathematical. Jon and Kate-is-enough and the obscenity that is children on reality TV is not mathematical. Raising children is not mathematical. Being married is not mathematical. Even rice, simple rice and how it is farmed is not mathematical. It is intangible. Unknown...
Our children need to see us all work hard. To take care of our home environments and the environment around us. Obama's message of family unity and gardening is fundamental to continuing these village legacies. Hilary Clinton wrote: It Takes a Village. I was lucky enough to see this first hand, only because of the generosity of Agung Rai's time and patience and deep love for what he understands IS the fundamental connection we all make. Families. Working together. Interconnected. Interdependent. Natural. Beautiful. Breathtaking.
In the book that I wrote about the constant competition that our children face every day; Is There Really a Human Race? a mother answers her son's query with these words.
Sometimes it's better not to go fast. There are beautiful sights to be seen when you're last. Shouldn't it be that you just try your best and that's more important than beating the rest? Shouldn't it be looking back at the end that you judge your own race by the help that you lend? So, take what's inside you and make big, bold choices and for those who can't speak for themselves, use bold voices and make friends and love well, bring art to this place and make the world better for the whole human race.
Agung Rai runs a foundation to bring village children into art classes and offers them free of charge. If you get a chance and are in Ubud, Indonesia check out ARMA, The Agung Rai Museum of Art and take a tour with Agung Rai into the heart of the art... the farms and villages and rice fields where the water flows and the art begins.