[The following piece was written in 2010 and details, among other things, my visit to the Reiki Master, the Balinese healer. Although it seems, now, a bit callow, which itself serves as a measure of the displacement and confusion one experiences after first setting down in a strange, new environment. Familiarity, as it turns out, does not really breed contempt. It breeds personal growth and expansion]
Handoko is the most compact man I have ever met. He is stout, brawny, with four distinct sides, like a square–somehow reminiscent of the tactical formation adopted by Napoleonic era infantry to defend against cavalry assault, thereby avoiding attack from the rear (except perhaps by the lone hapless horseman who happened to land smack-dab in the center–in which case the rear of the enemy would have been equally his own).
And I think that my mind happens upon this military metaphor not by accident, for there is something imperial about the man in general. He is stolid, regal, fiercely composed, as if the long odds of Austerlitz were always before him. Such strength in composure is the habit of generals and emperors, not of mere mortals.
We are new here in Bali, and Handoko is our first connection. He is the man who knows. Ten years ago my wife had known the man fairly well, he and his daughter Feni–but ten years is a long time, especially as Indonesian time goes. Things have changed, some people have fled to far locales, others have simply gone out of business, and my wife has perhaps grown callow on a nine year diet of American culture and law.
Things are different here in Indonesia, and in Bali the ways are the same but the faces have changed. In any case, thriving here is a matter of who you know and what you can get because of who you know. It helps (immensely) to be Indonesian as well, and so we are at least one foot up there, since my wife fits the bill–native, as she is, to Jakarta, in Java, that well respected hub of government, commerce, education, and corruption.
Case in point: When you arrive at Denpassar International Airport you are immediately ushered by airport security to the end of a line which really has no end. Here most people wait until death, or at least until their vacation visa has expired. And if you are actually moving to Bali, as we are, and are therefore burdened with about 27 pieces of luggage, this can be quite bothersome.
But here is the catch. My wife is Indonesian. She is a young, pretty Indonesian. She is a Jakartan Indonesian and of course she speaks the language fluently (and speaks some Balinese to boot). By the time I come out of hiding in the smoking room she, our son, and our baggage are surrounded by most of the employees in the airport. Everyone wants to carry a bag, everyone wants to bring a luggage cart, more than a few want to carry my wife.
In such a manner we are whisked away, leaving behind a mass of suffering humanity, our fellow sojourners–straightaway through Visa, straightaway through customs. One bag is inspected for good measure, the inspector is rewarded with one carton of Kools from the bag, and the bag itself is then sealed with tape, with something very official looking stamped thereon.
The airport itself is put on hold while our army of carriers and accommodators follows us out the doorway into our first shocking blast of equatorial heat. Here is where money is exchanged, and generously so. Negotiations ensue, one fee is put forward, a counter offer is returned. It’s a complicated business, and the denominations are far beyond the kin of one used to the American dollar–for we are talking Rupiah here, thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions in Rupiah. Who has that much money?
Why, we do, once we exchange a few tens and twenties of US currency.
Our team in the this process of bargaining is joined by Victor and Iluh, our former telephone and e-mail friends made during the initial process of the move from America.
Iluh is a quiet, business-like woman of 50 or so. She knows how these things work and keeps smiling sweetly and shaking her head no. Victor is British, 62, brusque, determined, outspoken (especially when asked not to be), a not so perfect match for his reserved Balinese wife. They remind me rather of my own wife and I.
“Bloody hell!” Victor shouts in his normal tone of voice. “Did the man say one million? He’ll not get a million. He not get fuck-all.”
Victor is quietly shooshed by his quiet wife. He is given two heavy bags to carry to the car, and the patient, the knowledgeable are left to proceed, while I myself and left to wonder the bloody hell whether the fellow did say one million.
I too am shooshed, and sent to help Victor lift the bags he had been given into the rear bay of his SUV.
“Bloody scalpers,” Vick says, wresting the bag from my erstwhile assistance. “Bloody cheats and vipers, the lot.
“Glad to meet you, by the way,” he adds. “You’ll see a lot of this, mate, but you’ll learn, you’ll learn, don’t worry, don’t worry.”
The truth is, I am not yet aware enough, of anything, to worry. Worry is too focused an emotion just yet. Mainly I am hot, astounded by the heat, and I am frankly too busy wiping sweat from my formerly cool American brow to entertain anything, the effort of thinking for instance, that might further strengthen the unfettered flow of perspiration.
Vick tells me to give it three weeks. Acclimate. I am two weeks into this process when Handoko visits our hotel for the first time, and though it is evening, my pores and showing no sign of acclimation.
We are looking for a house, somewhere to more or less permanently stow our gear, and we are not so far having a lot of luck. My wife, always the optimist, seems to have been at least somewhat mistaken about the ease with which we might settle here. Victor and Iluh had done their best, but real estate is apparently not their forte. On our last house hunting excursion Victor had driven us down a lane just about wide enough for half a car. Along the way a woman wearing a red miniskirt and no top to speak of approached the passenger side door, tapped on the window, and inquired whether we were looking for a party.
“Party Mister?” she said. “You want party?”
That was right before she noticed our two wives sitting in the back seat. Scowling.
Later that night, back in the hotel, my wife called Handoko.
We sat on the patio–I, Sant Louis, Handoko, and Feni. Handoko smoked unusually fat Kreteks, one after another. Feni continually sniffed at a Vicks inhaler, and sneezed when not sniffing. Puffing, pondering, Handoko listened, collected the details, seemed to scrutinize an actual picture playing out before eyes set deep in wrinkles of hard won wisdom.
And then he said this:
“I, Handoko, have done many things in my life. Many things for which I cannot now sleep. I lived this way, not sleeping, for a long, long time, many years. I have seen people die. Too many people. And then I had a heart attack.”
Instantly, I fail to understand what this has to do with our hunt for a residence. I am quite frankly sick to death of living out of a suitcase and my son is dying because we have no TV. I look to Louis for some indication of what this departure from pertinence might mean, but she returns a sharp glance, quite familiar to me, which just as instantly imparts a message to the effect that I should keep my mouth shut.
Handoko proceeds with an ever more fantastic story of employment by the Indonesian Secret Service, assassinations and beheadings, mafia style executions. He had no heart back then, he said–or at least he didn’t think he had until he got the heart attack.
After that–after realizing that he had a heart–he had to quit that business.
Now he works in the tourism industry. He has more clients, he says, in the Sanur/Kuta/Seminyak area that anyone else in Bali. People know his name.
Those who are still alive, I’m thinking.
My wife gets up to refill Handoko’s coffee mug and I quickly follow her to the kitchen.
“What’s up with your friend?” I whisper.
I roll my eyes. “Yes, that’s the one. Handoko. I thought he knew something ab out houses.”
“He has had hard times,” she explains.
“I’ll say. I haven’t heard a story like that since H.G. Wells.”
“Who is Archie Willis,“ she asks, and pushes me out of the way to get to the cupboard where the sugar is kept.
“H.G. Well’s. He’s . . . oh, never mind. He’s the quarterback for the New York Yankees. What difference does it make?”
“Exactly,” Louise answers.
To my great relief, Handoko is standing when we return to the patio. Feni has remained sitting, looking up at the man, her Vicks inhaler suspended, frozen in air. My wife sits down as well. It is clear somehow that Handoko is about to make a pronouncement, or a declaration, a speech. The birds have stopped their singing. The Cicaks have stopped their panicked skittering–one fixed to the wall, another to the ceiling. The air itself waits, the wind, the clock.
“I have heard your story,” Handoko begins. “I have considered your troubles, your frustrations, and your desires. And I have decided . . .”
Here he leaves a space. A space about the length of two puffs from his fat kretek.
“What?” I say. “What is it? What have you decided?”
I cannot help myself. My wife frowns. Feni giggles. And the man himself, Handoko, smiles. Yes, he actually smiles. It is the first time I’ve seen this since he arrived.
“I have decided, he says, that Handoko will help you.”
And he did help, Handoko did. He got right to work.
There was a house to be had in Denpasar. Well, not a house really, but a building. A three story building (perhaps it had been a former Secret Service HQ, I cannot say). It is a building designed quite perfectly to frustrate any attempt of my own to live comfortably, given the condition of my health, but my wife likes it, and so Handoko proceeds.
My wife likes it, as I say, but there is much lacking. Lacking, for instance, is a kitchen, although there is the skeletal appearance of one, on the third floor, or rather on the roof, in the open air, where several significant looking metal pipes jut out from the wall and shriveled wires climb about like ivy.
This will need a bit of work.
My wife says to go forward. Handoko proceeds. And my wife flies to Jakarta to visit relatives. I am to supervise the process.
But a problem soon arises. The problem is that Handoko will not communicate with me. He adopts an increasingly familiar habit of turning his back whenever I speak.
And so I turn to Feni. The Vicks sniffer.
“Is there a problem, Feni? It seems like there is a problem. But Handoko will not speak.”
“Is problem,” Feni says.
“Yes? Problem how? Problem what?”
Everything in the Indonesian language is backward, you see. We do not say what problem, but problem what? And although I am speaking English to Feni, I give the structure an Indonesian spin to be as accommodating as possible.
“Problem electricity,” she answers. “Not enough.”
“In the house, or in the Country?”
“In the kitchen.”
“What kitchen?” I catch myself. “Kitchen what?”
“Kitchen of the future,” she says.
Now my first impression upon hearing this harkens from times long past, having myself grown up during the 50’s. The kitchen of the future. It sounds like an old television ad. I picture a well groomed woman in a conservative skirt and blouse, perky breasts, no doubt wearing one of those bygone pointed bras underneath. The kitchen of the future. The space age kitchen. Plates hover about like flying saucers, picking up food from oven and stovetop. Meet the Jetsons.
But Feni and never heard of the Jetsons, and says so when I mention it. She has no idea what I’m talking about, in either language.
Maybe, I think, this is why Handoko will not speak to me. He has no idea what I’m talking about either, and is wise enough to understand that the same is true of me where his own efforts to communicate are concerned.
I wonder for the first time what the hell I’m doing here. I cannot speak, I cannot be heard. What I do hear, suddenly, is the voice of my first wife.
What is wrong with you? Are you crazy? What do you know about Indonesia? What do you know about those people? What are you going to do when you get sick, and have no doctor, and have no medicine?
And then the voice of my second wife chimes in as well.
That woman never loved you. You never listen. Once a fool, always a fool. She’ll take your money and dump you in the jungle, and if you think I’m gonna come save you, think again!
And so I call Louise. My wife. In Jakarta. And end up interrupting a party of some sort.
“Can you handle one thing?” she says. “Can I trust you to handle one blessed thing for me?”
And so it goes. The rest of that is a long story, folks–which I do not have the heart, nor the words to tell.
Saturday rolls around, and Handoko the man himself shows up at my door very early in the morning. Pagi-pagi, they say, which means very early. In this language the doubling of a word indicates either plurality or more of the thing mentioned. Pagi on its own means morning. Pagi-pagi means very, or early morning.
Pagi-pagi it is. I am in fact still in bed.
Handoko therefore waits on the patio, smoking fat kreteks.
While I throw on some clothing my son asks if we can get a TV today. He has already watched from my laptop about 52 times the Mr. Bean cartoon I bought for him on DVD, and he’s getting a bit bored.
“No,” I say, briefly, but not without sympathy (in my heart anyway).
Handoko, I realize, is not the sort of man who shows up for a social visit. He is here for a reason, and awaits an audience. It is with some trepidation that I join him, wondering if he has gotten wind of my complaint about his silence, wondering if in fact he is going to tell me to butt out of his business, or else. This is not a man to trifle with, as apparently many in the past, who have now passed on, have found out the hard way–their only recourse having been to trouble his sleep. I don’t want to trouble Handoko’s sleep.
As it turns out, however, Handoko wishes to address the issue of my illness. It has come to his attention that I suffer from multiple sclerosis, which, as he speaks about it, sounds even more serious for his utter inability to pronounce the words.
Multiplexosis, he says. Multiactosis, multicirrhosis.
And so on. I’m beginning to feel significantly more diseased than usual.
He has read about the disease all night long, he says.
Oh Christ, I’ve disturbed his sleep after all!
He has studied it in detail. On the internet. All night. He is concerned, and he wants to help. He says so.
“Handoko will help.”
I will be taken, by Handoko personally, to see the Reiki Master. Not eventually, but now, today, pagi-pagi. This morning.
A Reiki Master is, of course, a master of Reiki. Reiki itself is a Japanese healing technique, with subsequent add-ons from India, Indonesia, Bali, Hinduism, and probably a few other isms. The practice involves a manipulating of the life force energy–essentially that invisible set of nebulous spiritual components that keeps us alive. The man or woman who is sick or disturbed needs to have these forces aligned, massaged, kneaded, and generally rubbed down. A sort of chiropractic for the soul. (I should know, I looked it up on the Internet). A subsequent program of meditation don’t hurt neither.
But you have to know someone. It’s all by word of mouth. You hear about it, you ask around, you make the preliminary connections. Then you drive up into the countryside, past the stone cutting shops, all the grey faced finished and unfinished idols cued up on the earthen sidewalk like sullen beggars, awaiting devotees, almost to Ubud when you turn to the left and follow the long road between rice fields until finally you arrive in the Reiki Master’s village.
There you find a little community of Java style huts, open to the air all the way through, wooden racks for beds, a porch and chairs, all sweltering under the sluggish sun. The air is incense, everything breathes–the foliage, the earth, the grass, the moss, the stones, the very wood of which the huts have been made.
An old man sits on the porch, still, like a growth, a complimentary form of dilapidation. This is the Reiki Master. Younger men and women sit back languidly on benches and chairs, patiently waiting their turn to be healed. The Reiki Master is never in a hurry. When either he or the powers or both are ready, he will examine the Chakras of each person–head, throat, chest, pelvis, sex organs, limbs, back and shoulders, and divine by the use of a little copper L-shaped rod which Chakra is healthy and which is not. The Master makes the diagnosis, and then sends his patient to the healers, the worker ants, within the humid bowel of the hut.
And so we wait. But we don’t wait long. I do not know if this is because I am a Westerner (and will be able to pay 100,000 Rupiah up front), or if it is because I am with Handoko, well known as he is, and a patient himself of the Master’s.
“I came here after the heart attack,“ he told me on the drive up to Ubud. “I was very sick, and nothing worked. I was dying. I was tired, no energy, just lying in my bed all day, although I could not sleep (again the trouble with sleep).
“The Master helped me. Now you see Handoko and Handoko is well.“
He meets briefly with the Master before my session and explains the nature of my disease. Multiple Cyanosis. Soon I must surely die, he says, if I don’t get the proper alignment.
Alignment. Every time I hear that word, I think of the front wheels on a car. If the front wheels on your car are out of alignment, the rubber on the tires will wear at the edges, and then pretty soon you will end up with a flat tire.
Is that how it is with me? Am I about to go flat? It is true enough that I am not feeling all too well, and haven’t felt well for the past few years, but I don’t feel like I’m running on my rims or anything like that.
And who told Handoko I was about to die? It certainly wasn’t me. Maybe my wife, I’m thinking, inclined as she is to be a bit dramatic.
I ask the man straight out.
Handoko looks a bit taken aback initially, almost as if I had made an accusation.
“No one tells me,” he says. “I read this on the Internet.”
This, in fact, is an answer which provides some clarity, for depending upon what word or words he had typed into the search box–be it multiferous skytosis, melting cytosis, malignant scamosis, or any one of multiple other possible variations–I may well be dying indeed.
But then again, I think, who says I have anything at all? What is multiple sclerosis after all? What is any disease except for a name invented to sum up various sets of various symptoms. Maybe I’m just getting old.
How can the doctors really prove that MS is what they say it is, or whether it is something else altogether? Specifically, it has been the long held belief that MS is an autoimmune disorder, wherein the wrong sorts of cells are allowed to cross the blood-brain barrier–destructive cells, killer cells–and these proceed, on the wrong side of that barrier, to inflict damage on the otherwise (or theretofore) brain and spinal cord. Yet, a growing body of evidence now arises that suggests this is not an autoimmune disorder at all, but a vascular disorder, wherein the blood itself regurgitates, flowing every now and then in the wrong direction.
Which is it really? This, that, or something else altogether?
And then there is this: When I had my first MRI back in 2005 it was read by the radiologist as being suspicious for possible MS, and in turn dismissed by the neurologist as showing nothing specific or diagnostic. Two years later a second radiologist read the old MRI as classic for MS, and a new one as confirmative.
Was the first doctor wrong, or was the second doctor wrong? And why, come to think of it, are we so generally inclined to favor the positive (and therefore negative) diagnosis over the neutral or nondiagnostic one?
I guess it is because we don’t feel good, and insist on knowing why. We want a word, a definition, a prognosis, a pill.
The facts of the matter, in my case, are that in May of 2007 my right foot suddenly went numb, then my left foot, then both legs to the knees. I believed nothing at the time, suspected nothing, premeditated nothing. The problem was simply, undeniably there. Call it MS, call it vascular disease, call it just plain weird-it doesn’t matter. The numbness climbed to my thighs, climbed to my groin, and for a time switched off all sensation to my penis (an alarming, terrifying circumstance indeed, though thankfully, at present, a thing of the past).
If the symptoms constitute the disease, is the lack of symptoms therefore the absence of disease?
Since 2008 my symptoms have been increasingly mild. In fact the worst symptoms I experienced during the period of about a year were from the injected medications, not from MS at all. Upon stopping the medications in later 2009 I felt yet better with each passing week, so that now I find myself suffering hardly any symptoms at all.
Or do I?
We human beings seem to have been made to adjust to circumstances of almost every sort. The mind and the spirit both pursue peace, we acclimate, we shift and turn, we love ourselves whomever and whatever we are. Take the convict for instance who grows so fond of his cell that he has no desire to reenter life on the outside. Take the child who becomes so accustomed to abuse that he takes abuse to be the norm. Take the Cicak, which when threatened discards its own tail, yet carries on with the remainder of its body, making do.
Am I only used to my MS symptoms? It is possible that I have become actually fond of them? They are, after all, mine and nobody else’s.
And what about the healings? I have been healed now by three Christian pastors and one Hindu master. The Reiki Master tells me that I was healed two years ago and need now only to have my chakras cleansed. That’s interesting, because I received a healing from the first of the three pastors just about two years ago. Hmmm.
Your faith has made you whole, Jesus said. This was echoed also by the Reiki Master, who told me that he was doing nothing, I was doing everything within myself. He simply recognized and focused.
When the Lord was walking along a road with his disciples, pressed by the crowd, a woman pushed through to touch the hem of his garment, and Jesus immediately turned and asked Who is it that touched me just now, for he felt power go forth from him.
What power? Desire. Desire had touched him, faith, belief. If only I can touch your garment, then I will be well.
What are the mechanics of this, really? Modern quantum physics instructs that nothing in the world happens without our participation. No sickness, therefore, exists without the participation of the one who is sick; no diagnosis is made without the doctor actually looking at the test, the MRI, and thereby setting the conclusion into motion.
And yet one day my legs went dead, my brain went foggy. I was told that this was because I had multiple sclerosis. I believed it. Beforehand I did not even know what MS is, but now it was in me, of me, and I was explained to myself by the disease itself.
The Reiki Master–a very old man by all appearances–a mix of Chinese, Balinese, ethereal being and witch doctor, has me sit down opposite him to get acquainted. He is acutely interested to find that I am an American. I have found that most people in Bali have the same response. Ah so that’s what they look like!
The old man then closes his eyes and pointed his little L-shaped copper rod at my head. The idea seems something along the lines of a divining rod for detecting water, only in this case a flow of life force is divined, or a lacking in the same.
The little rod spins.
“Head is good.”
It spins again.
“Neck is good.”
And again, and again.
“Chest is good. Legs are good. Back is bad.”
Again, the pronouncement of something bad interests me, whereas all the good parts had not.
“What’s wrong with the back?” I ask.
I try to sit up straighter.
“Pelvis good,” the Master says. “Pelvis very good. Can still have babies.”
On the one had this makes me feel pleased, and virile. Can still have babies. Many babies. Especially after my frightening experience with numbness, this feels nice.
On the other hand, I’m done having babies, so to speak. There is no way in the world I would want more babies. And my wife doesn’t want any more either. So this is more of a confidence builder than anything of actual pertinence.
Still and all, I don’t mind.
Handoko, seemingly disappointed at these large positive findings, leans into our meeting to mention again that I am dying.
I receive a rescanning with the magic copper wand, carefully, patiently, eyes squinted tightly shut.
“Not dying, not have disease,” the Master pronounces again. “Disease gone two years ago. See?”
He spins the copper smoothly, three times.
“But this is very good,” he adds, and clutches his own crotch. “Have many more babies if want.”
I was told by the Reiki Master to come once a week. For how many weeks, I do not know. But truthfully, I have no desire to return. If you feel just fine, why take further notice of what once made you feel not just fine?
What healing have I received that has healed me indeed? Is there a man who has the power to arrange the nature and circumstances of the body, or is the power already there for the use of all men?
Where is the Kingdom of Heaven? the disciples asked.
The Kingdom of heaven is in your midst.
What has healed me, if I have indeed been healed? Exactly what is it, was it, that needed healing? And if one does not start with a disease, how is it that he may receive healing at all? Is not disease the necessary precursor to health–else, how do we know we are sick or well?
I do believe that we are all led throughout life from sickness to health, from question to answer, from corruption to perfection, from being lost to being found. From the earliest time we yearn to somehow return somewhere, or then again to arrive somewhere.
Yet is it not true as well that the more we gain in consciousness, the farther away we find ourselves?
Slip-slidin’’ away, as Paul Simon put it. You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-slidin’ away.
We come to understand that we are not in stasis, but on a journey. We sense that the journey has a destination. Since the actual destination is lost in the fog of all that we do not know, we most often provide our own definitions. Perhaps, one may decide, the point is success on worldly terms. Perhaps the point is money, comfort, leisure. Whomever has the most toys wins. Maybe this is all about family, or love, or survival of the fittest. Maybe even it is about nothing at all. So said Sartre and Camus. Maybe it is all vanity, maybe it is senseless. So said King Solomon.
What guide can we have along the way? And if we go astray, what can pull us back, reset the compass, turn the rudder?
How about disease? Is it possible for disease itself to be a cure? We find ourselves in the grasp of illness and wish instantly to be released–but what if disease is sometimes The Power’s idea of health?
Is disease necessarily the bane, or is it sometimes the blessing?
We choose according to the patterns of the world those things that we understand, and yet find ourselves chosen nonetheless, not by permission, not by desire; unasked, unbidden, unwilling, and yet fully apprehended.
Even as we seek magic–the touch of the Reiki Master, the good man’s prayer, the laying on of hands, injected medications, miraculous pharmaceuticals, devastating doses of intravenous chemicals–the true magic that brought the disease remains fiercely contained in the same.
Look then, learn, listen, feel, struggle and grow; surrender, love, persist, and prevail. It is your faith that has made you whole.
As a postscript, I feel obliged to say that Handoko’s three story military intelligence headquarters did not in the end pan out as a house for us. There was simply not enough electricity that could be made available for the kitchen of the future, nor really for the first and seconds floors of the present day.
Moreover, Handoko decided along the way to pay himself a wage of his own choosing, no more inclined to consult his employers than Napoleon had been to consult the Pope. It became clearer and clearer that what we were facing was a money pit. What we were facing was a Waterloo.
And so it was Louis who made the ultimate decision in the matter, just after she returned from Jakarta, just before she left for a visit to America.
“Handoko will no longer help,” she said.
[My apologies for the imperfect formatting. The piece was originally composed in a WP program that resists tinkering in WordPress]