Being Thankful in Bali, Indonesia

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In the early hours of the morning, if you walk the streets of Ubud, you will find people sitting on the stoops of their houses or stores, nimbly weaving dried palm leaves together into little containers.  The first day I saw this, I watched them do it and wondered about their silent, skilled work. These containers were then set in front of their places of work, in front of their shrines, in front of their houses, and filled with different items. I asked a local about these and she smiled, nodding.

“Yes. Canang sari.”

“Are they for a festival?” I asked, eyeing the brightly coloured little baskets.

“No, no. Daily offering.”

“I’m sorry, did you say daily? Like, every day?” I said, incredulously.

“Yes. Daily offering. Every morning!” She replied, cheerfully.

I looked at them in a different light after that, these little ritualised baskets of colour. Set out with such care in the morning, those that lined the footpath were often trampled underfoot, leaving them bruised and sorry looking by the end of the day.

From what I understand, these are meant to be offerings of gratitude for peace to the Hindu gods, as well as a way to keep evil spirits at bay. These beautiful baskets brought me a sense of peace at the same time that they unsettled me; after all, who has time to do that every day? Every day! Imagine having to set them out every day, and sweep them away every night. Imagine the commitment and effort and time and dedication to detail involved. These are physical prayers, pleated by familiar fingers.

I like to feel for common threads between different religions. The Muslim call to prayer reminds me of the ringing bells of the churches near my home, while Hindu mala beads are similar to rosary beads. I can’t think of a Christian equivalent for these canang sari, however. There is nothing that I do every day to give thanks for everything that I have. There is nothing that I can think of in Catholicism that is physical in nature – unless lighting a candle counts? – with such ritual meaning.

I like the idea of doing something each day to show gratitude. I probably won’t start weaving palm leaves together anytime soon, but I might use the memory of the offerings as a reminder to be thankful. I might try to keep it in the front of my mind a little more often. I know the news these days can get a bit bleak, and the saying “no news is good news” is really coming into its own lately, but there’s a lot to be thankful for. There really is.

Sometimes, I could do with a daily reminder of my own.