June 27, 2019

MINDFUL KIDS: Finding peace and life lessons with the gods in Bali

Words by Travel to change the world
Travel Better

Amongst the chaos, noise and ‘Aussification’ of Bali, Sally Matheson finds calm and mindful moments with her two young sons.

We’ve just stepped outside Bali’s Denpasar Airport and the air is thick, warm and dreamy, even at this late hour of the night. While the dusty breeze is making my eyes itch a bit, it’s still soothing after our long flight from Australia.

As far as authentic travel destinations go, Bali is probably the most westernised south-east Asian island I could bring my two boys (Luca aged 6 & Beni aged 4) for their first taste of something ‘unusual’.

It is, however, still another country, and it’s enormously different from the kid’s affluent by comparison, eastern suburbs Sydney home.

It’s also nostalgia from my own multi-cultured childhood that has me most excited about this trip, as it’s a chance to see the world through my babies’ eyes.

My eldest boy Luca (aged 6) suffers from anxiety, but mostly he is just petrified of the unknown. It’s been like this with everything since he was born. Cinemas, swimming, going on a plane, taxi’s, Santa Claus and sport.

For him, it’s not just the usual childhood fears.

Beni, Sally and Luca

My husband and I have sought practical help from psychologists over the years, which has helped somewhat, but before this trip, he was feeling particularly apprehensive about being “different” to the people in this foreign land called ‘Bali’.

Walking towards our taxi, the boys’ eyes light up when the driver gave them the infamous Indonesian cheerful, song like spirited welcome. Ushering them into their seats, he asked the boy’s questions about their life at home while they practiced their “Apa Kabar” (hello) and “Bali Bagus” (thumbs up – I love Bali) as we sped off into the dark of the night.

On the way, our driver talked to them in his broken English. As they discussed soccer, Bali’s temples and beaches, I felt my son’s energy already shifting from trepidation to curious joy.

As we continued to crawl through Denpasar traffic; I gazed out the dusty window while the boys continued to chatter.

A lady sits on her blue plastic chair, outside what I assume is her shop. The neon lights inside the shop are only half working, and the shop is empty. Her left ankle is draped over her right knee, and her hair is pulled back; she looks content.

Immediately, my own hypersensitive, over wired brain began to wonder – Who is this lady? What is her life like? Who are her people and where does she go home to?

I’ve remembered why I personally love travelling. It’s a paradise for the over-thinker. It instantaneously creates new pathways and thought patterns for my brain, without me consciously having to do so.

It truly is my favourite form of meditation. Fresh perspectives arrive in droves, and suddenly, my own life seems less overwhelming and far less important.

There is an absolute peace that comes from being thrust out of your usual environment and subsequently out of your own head.

On the road there are cows, crates of chickens, bikes, cars, trucks overflowing with all sorts of produce, and mashed up bunches of powerlines hanging over the road.

Amongst the swarm of the traffic, I spot an elegant looking mother, sitting side saddle on the back of a scooter and holding her tiny baby.

While we literally crawl along, frequently stopping on a loop, no one is seemingly frustrated or aggressive. People just go with it, including the lady on the bike with her baby. There’s a peaceful flow, with everything in its own time.

My son squeezes my hand and points to a statue next to us, he whispers he saw a few of them at the airport too, and they look scary. It is my favourite insight yet. It provides me with an opportunity to spark a genuine conversation with him around religion, culture, differences, peace and harmony.

In simple, childlike terms, these statues are very similar to the church he prays in, at his Catholic school. These are the symbol of the gods that Balinese Hindus pray to also. It’s the same.

The driver joins in and tries to explain that the statue’s “Idol” means the figure of inspiration, spirituality and a sincere faith.

The next morning I loved watching Luca walk up to a little statue on our way to breakfast with his hands in prayer position, whispering something about love to himself.

Over the next week, I observed Luca dive into Bali life with a carefree spirit. He learnt to connect with other kids and street sellers without using words. Just big smiles, nods, hand movements and a football.

His confidence grew from his being here, and it was such a pleasure to watch.

Luca and I also had a lot of conversations around the value of money and respect. While Luca is still only 6, he seemed to understand most of our chats in his own little way. I’m confident we wouldn’t have been able to engage Luca at this level, without bringing him away to experience and feel these kinds of “differences” for himself.

I wholeheartedly believe that travel is something that can’t be taught without experiencing it.

Travel can change the world, and already, its had a profound effect on my boys. Through observing the change in Luca, it was also a beautiful reminder about the impact it can have on me.

Preparing for our flight home, I found Luca sobbing in the shower. I asked him what had happened, thinking his brother must have hit him. “Mum, I don’t want to go home. All the Bali people in Bali are so different mum, it’s like they have Christmas cheer and spirit every day.”

How can you travel to change the world?

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Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.