I didn’t come to Bali with plans to become a connoisseur of Balinese healers – it just kind of happened.
Ok, I’m exaggerating – I just love the word "connoisseur". I visited three healers in Bali, to be exact. (I was in Bali for 8 weeks and I think seeing any more in that short time would have been overkill.)
The word “healer” has always had a seductive appeal for me, and you put “Balinese” in front of anything and it becomes doubly enticing, but I didn’t go looking for Balinese healers. It just so happened that while in Ubud, I kept crossing paths with people who recounted astonishing experiences with local healers. So naturally, I had to go check them out for myself.
The three were all very different from one another.
The first was a young Balinese woman named Tunjung who sees clients in her office at Pertenin Body Care, a spa that also offers wonderful massages and other treatments, optionally followed by luxurious soaks in flower petal baths (an experience I personally think everyone should have at least once in their lives).
A friend of a friend of mine had been to see Tunjung and came away wide-eyed with amazement at the experience. “She knows things,” she told us. “I walked in there and the first thing she told me was, 'well, you need to fix that issue with your mother.' How would she know that?”
Our mutual friend then scheduled a session for herself and came away equally awed. “She does know things. You can ask her anything. And I could feel her moving the energy in my body,” she reported. “It was amazing.”
So I in turn scheduled a session with Tunjung. To give her psychic powers a fair test I didn’t tell her much, just asked what she could read from my energy. In her genuine, direct and no-nonsense way, she told me a few things, all of which I recognized as true. She then had me lie down while she did an energy healing for a half hour or so, and when that was finished she gave me her final assessment, which was impressively spot on.
She also told me something wonderfully therapeutic. “Your energy is quite open. It’s like subconsciously you know – you actually quite know – that everything is just going to happen in your life, everything you wanted actually. But there’s another part of you that’s always trying to prepare for the rainy day. That actually makes your energy heavy – like it’s wrapped up in this weight which is the fear of how things not gonna work. You don’t need to prepare for it, for how things not gonna work. You just need to do it. Then you’ll be fine.”
It was a perfect description of the inner tug of war between my intuition, which joyfully tells me that everything will always be fine and the future will be beautiful, and my risk-averse pessimistic mind, which believes it should prepare for all possible worst case scenarios, just in case. Tunjung’s words were like a permission slip to let go of the worry.
Curious, I asked her if she had always had this gift, this ability to read people’s energy. She said, yes, she always had it, but she used to hate it and tried to ignore it for a long time. She said, “you know in Bali people believe in this stuff, in spirits and energy, but I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it.” It was only 6 years ago that she finally accepted it and started to work with it. And now she loves it, she told me with a smile. I liked her powerful, comfortable authenticity.
Unlike my friend, I didn’t feel anything happening energetically during the healing, but hours later, I felt that my own energy had shifted completely. I felt light as a feather and on top of the world, and it was a feeling that lasted for a while.
A few weeks later, a friend and I met an Australian woman who lives in Ubud She raved about another healer, Tjokorda Rai, whose grandfather was the last King of Ubud. He’s now close to 90 years old and has devoted his life to healing for over 40 years. He’s quite well known in Bali and is considered a master spiritual healer.
“He’s amazing!” the Australian told us. “People line up every day at his home to be healed; you should get there early, like before 9am. The healing is out in the open, you’ll just lay down on a table in front of everyone and you can talk with him and then he does something with energy. He always knows specifically what’s wrong. A friend of mine went to see him and he started pointing at her belly and saying “Get it out! Get it out!” She had an IUD. She went to get it checked out after seeing him and they found cancer around it.”
A couple days later I was chatting with a fellow guest at my hotel, a Spanish woman, who mentioned she had visited Tjokorda Rai the previous week.
“He’s amazing,” she told me. “He knew what my problem was without me telling me, and he gave me the best advice. It was so common sense, but I never thought of it.”
That settled it - of course we had to go see him too. No matter that we didn’t have any serious health concerns. After our festive holiday celebrations, if nothing else my liver could surely use some healing and my friend primarily wanted to find out if he could help her father. Luckily, our destination appeared on Google maps under Tjokorda Rai, so it wasn’t difficult to find him. Although I read online that you can call and make an appointment, locals told me you should just show up. So early one morning we jumped on our scooters and drove the 10 minutes to Tjokorda Rai’s home, prepared to wait all day if necessary.
His residence was a spacious compound, laid out in typical Balinese style, with groups of buildings enclosed within a brick fence. We wandered through the yard until we found a woman who appeared to live there. “Tjokorda Rai?” we asked. She pointed and said, “You’ll see many people!”
We headed in the direction her fingertip indicated and found a group of 10 Westerners seated under a covered dais. One man was lying down on a raised platform and a thin, elderly Balinese man was tracing a short wooden stick over his body as the others watched in fascinated silence.
We sat down quietly and joined them in watching with fascination.
Tjokorda Rai spent about 10 minutes with each person. They would first sit down facing him and he would spend a minute or two talking with them. Then he would ask them to turn around and would massage their face, head and ears, with strong pressure.
Next he had them lie down on the raised platform and would press on a certain area of the toe with the edge of the wooden stick, causing some people to yelp in pain. Then he would move his hands over their body for a few minutes, moving in different patterns and focusing on different areas for each person, sometimes massaging somewhere or applying pressure with the stick.
Finally he would press again on the toe, but the pain would be gone. The patient would sit up and talk with him for a couple minutes. He has a lively sense of humor and would usually start cackling with laughter at some point.
We chatted with a British guy after the end of his treatment. “I have to say, that was incredible,” he said. “I was having this intense pain, and then it was just gone.”
When it came to my friend’s turn, to our surprise, he told her there was nothing he could do for her and she should come back later. We were taken aback, but she acknowledged happily that actually, she was feeling perfectly fine. Tunjung’s recent work had apparently been very effective. (My friend had visited Tunjung twice, for the record.) Maybe two visits are the secret because I, as it turned out, was not in such perfect health; Tjokorda Rai didn’t send me away.
When I walked up hesitantly to sit in front of him, he looked at me for a second and said with a smile, “You are very happy!”
I laughed. “So are you!”
He gestured for me to turn around and did the scalp, face and ear massage. As he was pressing on the sides of my scalp, he exclaimed, “Ooooh! You worry a lot!”
I laughed. Spot on. “Yes, always!”
"Don't worry, worry brings doubts. Just be happy," he told me.
(Great idea - note to self, let's try that.)
He massaged some more and then told me to lie down. When he pressed on the side of my toe, it was excruciating. “Aaiieee!” I yelled, writhing in pain.
Luckily he didn’t keep the pressure long. I closed my eyes while he did something mysterious above my body - moving energy around, I assume. After a few minutes he pressed on my toe again. This time there was no pain.
When I sat up, he announced, “Your hormones are low. You need Omega 3.”
I looked at him in surprise. Omega 3 is the only supplement I take. In fact, it’s the only supplement I’ve ever stuck to taking regularly in my life, but my supply had run out a couple months earlier while I was in India. A friend of mine had brought me a bottle of my favorite brand of Omega 3 capsules from the US a month earlier, but I had lazily not gotten back into the habit of taking them daily.
“Omega 3?” I repeated.
“Yes, Omega 3. Just one capsule a day.”
That’s also interesting, since the recommended dosage on my capsules is two per day, but I only take one. Kudos to my intuition.
“You will feel very good, you will be very happy!” he announced. “Then you come see me again!”
After that I went back to taking my Omega 3 capsules religiously once a day.
Last but not least, there was Jero Made, the shaman.
A Belgian Ubud resident told us about her. She enthusiastically described the healer as amazing, and the real thing, so of course we had to visit her too. She doesn’t speak English, so a very personable Balinese guide/translator named Agung took us to see her.
Her name is Made (Maa-day) one of the 5 extremely common names in Bali (as in, one out of every five Balinese you meet will probably be named Made) – and Jero is a term of respect.
I loved her from the moment I met her. She has a smile that radiates light and an energy that exudes warmth, love and sweetness. She greeted us as if we were dear friends and served us tea, coffee and Balinese pastries. We chatted for a little while over the refreshments, with Agung translating. Then he explained the process: that we could ask her any questions we wanted to, and she would relay our question to the spirits and the ancestors, and then let us know their reply. And afterwards she would do an energy healing on us.
So we got started. We went into a small room where a Buddha statue stood silently at one end and we each sat on a square meditation cushion. In turn, we each asked our questions. After Agung translated each question for Made, she stood up and faced the Buddha, murmured words we couldn’t understand and after a few minutes, came back to sit with us and report the answer in Balinese to Agung.
Her first report was a 6 minute torrent of words. We all started laughing at the point Agung interrupted her with the clear meaning of: woah, hold on, you expect me to remember all this?
He seemed very adept at condensing her answers. For every question Made returned with a prolific answer, and Agung's translation was about 80% shorter. Typical man/woman communication styles, maybe. Made gave very specific answers: when we asked about health issues, she would prescribe recommendations for what to do, what to eat, etc.
After our questions were answered, she had us lie down on a mat outside, one by one, and she gave us a relaxing energy healing that took about 15-20 minutes.
We left feeling calm and light and good. Because we didn’t arrive feeling unwell, it’s hard to say definitively whether we experienced any supernatural effects, but it was a lovely experience. Made’s light, loving presence alone seems healing.
As I finish writing this now two months later, I’m reflecting on what a true healer really is – because I would say these three were true healers. They each had a gift, an ability to know, see and feel things in a way that most of us can't and that can’t yet (as far as I know) be explained by modern science. But a healer isn’t a healer in the way I had imagined: a quick, easy, perfect fix. Someone who instantly fixes everything that’s wrong with you and sends you away a beautiful bow-wrapped package of a healthy, perfect human. Maybe it can be this easy for some people. But I have a feeling that more often, healers pinpoint and adjust something that was out of whack, maybe give us a missing piece of a puzzle. But it's still up to us to put the piece into the puzzle, and more often than not, our puzzle is missing more than one piece. So in a bigger sense, maybe what healers really are is facilitators, and we are the true healers of ourselves. And maybe life is actually just one long game of putting the puzzle together.
All this being said, I do think Balinese healers are unique, special and extraordinary.