The positive effects of spending a few days at the Bali Silent Retreat include eating well, blissing out in the jungle, catching up on sleep, and having a good cry. Recovering from heartbreak and finally quieting your monkey mind are just a nice bonus.
UBUD, Bali — I lie diagonally across a bed draped in green silk, feeling the softness on my naked skin. Through the half-open shutters, the mountains ridge like a dinosaur’s spine shrouded in a haze of white mist, drifting down to where the rice fields begin, tumbling terraces of green glimmering in the late sunshine. A lone figure in a cone hat shuffles along the horizon, deep and methodical and still in his work. In the distance, workers weave their way home on scooters that rumble like bumblebees. A wave of gratitude washes over me, that I am able to lie here, alone, in this pure peace. The simple wooden hut belies the comfort of the mattress, the crispness of the sheets, the yellow wildflowers in a vase by the bed. There is no greater luxury than this time. No plans, no obligations, no expectations, no shoulds or buts, no masks or mirrors. There’s no one I need to be but me. To watch the world in its rhythms and allow myself to just ... sleep.
It had been four months since I’d arrived in Bali with two bags, a broken heart, and no fixed plans aside from yoga teacher training. My first stop was Ubud, and I got well and truly stuck. The new-age jungle-town in the heart of Bali draws hippies and healers from across the world to practice yoga, dance in eco-temples in rice fields, and lose themselves in cuddle puddles (yes, they’re a thing). Everyone is seeking something — a new sense of purpose, relationship, a cure for chronic sickness, or just a place to be different, a way of life outside the matrix of relentless achieving.
I was no different, but beneath the eye-gazing and self-actualizing buzzwords, life here could be a little relentless too. Different words, same old tricks. Who knew consciousness could be so tiring? From breathwork to yoga, women’s circles to conscious business workshops, I wanted to drink it all in, to learn what my limits were and when to say no. Ubud was like a spiritual circus, and I wanted to go on every ride. But I was bone tired, and while I had long mastered the art of distracting myself, the deep grief that had led me to Bali in the first place growled and howled, shifting like a monster under the covers. They say that your problems and patterns follow you wherever you go, and I was starting to see just how right they were.
No plans, no obligations, no expectations, no shoulds or buts, no masks or mirrors. There’s no one I need to be but me.
I had heard of Bali Silent Retreat during my first week in Bali, and particularly about the food: sumptuous plant-based feasts that had returning yogis raving about Dutch chef Simon Jongenotter’s pumpkin sourdough slathered in homemade cacao butter, the tea station of local herbs, and the peanut butter cookies. Also of note was how much everyone had slept. It sounded like heaven. “He’s like a Bali-ebrity,” my Earth-goddess Kundalini yogi roommate Kelly said when I told her I’d met him. “Have you seen his videos? He’s like Jamie Oliver with tropical fruits.”
So one Saturday morning, I found myself riding my scooter into the early morning sun behind Simon the spiritual chef, with his little dog Tumeric tucked between his knees. We drove through the dirt lanes and busy roads that wove towards Mount Batukaru, until we turned off into a tiny village. Paper banners waving hello in the breezy streets gave way to terraced rice fields in thick jungle. The air was dewy and fresh, a peace hanging over the valley transporting me from the hum of Ubud, broken only by the occasional rooster.
“A lot usually comes up,” Simon had warned before we set out, “it’s the energy of the place.”
Unlike most retreats, when rest time tends to be filled with yoga, group sharing circles, and nonstop healing treatments, here the days open before you, with only your thoughts and emotions to keep you company. That in itself can be quite the rollercoaster. While silence and contemplation is definitely the order of the day, there’s so much to do and see on the grounds. Yoga and meditation classes at sunrise and sunset are held in the circular yoga bale surrounded by the herb garden. There is a sacred bathing station (a traditional Balinese ritual where you cleanse your energy field by bathing under fresh spring water surrounded by jungle). And prayer circles to walk. My favorite spot was Crying Bench, tucked away in a strategic spot overlooking the rushing river where the tears flow with nature.
For the first time ever, I didn’t have to show the world just how brilliant, empowered, and beautiful I was. And what did I find? A part of me desperate to sleep for 1,000 years, cry rivers of tears, write and read and talk to trees, watch the stars come out and the moon rise, and go to bed at 7 p.m. I realized that I didn’t need a guru or an expensive course to heal my sorrow and confusion, just a safe space to take off my armor, open up and allow the depths of my emotions to unfurl.
Unlike most retreats, when rest time tends to be filled with yoga, group sharing circles, and nonstop healing treatments, here the days open before you, with only your thoughts and emotions to keep you company.
When I wasn’t crying or sleeping, I was eating. The food is truly fabulous. Plant-based feasts are sourced mostly from the gardens and surrounding food forests that increasingly envelop the property. This is all part of chef Simon’s New Earth Cooking philosophy, which he considers the only future for humanity’s long-term survival: to live off the land in old-school permaculture style.
Make no mistake: Simon is tough love, uncompromising in his passion and commitment. Many a vegan warrior's feathers have been ruffled during the lively Sunday night food debate, one of the only times guests actively engage with each other. But beyond discussions about the merits of tofu, transformation comes from having peace and space to savor each meal, eaten from a wooden bowl in silence overlooking the forest where it was harvested. It did something deep to me — made me rethink it all — as well as see how quickly I could substitute my longing for true love with the cookie jar.
I left with a glimpse of a new future, for myself and for our beautiful Earth, of how closely tied we are, of how it’s possible to connect with the planet and ourselves more deeply, armed with the consciousness that can come from a few days sitting in perfect peace. It was far from an easy ride, but of all the things I did and places I went in the six months I lived in Bali, none provided the deep transformation that I felt after the Bali Silent Retreat.
My only regret? That I didn’t stay longer. While most people check in for a minimum of five days, I thought I could do it in two. (Those patterns of overachieving are hard to break!) It was far from enough, but it did make each moment crystal clear in its preciousness. So if you feel like falling apart, sleeping for a century, or rethinking the world or your role in it while feasting on some of the most delicious plant-based food on the planet, this is the place for you. In fact, I think this is the place for everyone.
Dorm rooms from $20 USD a night, private single rooms from $45 USD. Daily food and activities are an additional $35 USD per person.