Alan Oken’s Monthly Newsletter
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This is a quiet time in Bali as this is the height of the rainy season and there are therefore fewer tourists and those of us who live here tend to remain at home, watching and listening to the almost daily torrential downpours. In addition to the heat and wet of our “summer,” Gunung Agung (Great/Noble Mountain) our “local” volcano has been, as many of you know, quite active and unpredictable in recent months. After a period of tremendous earthquake and explosive activity in October and November (when Wira and I were not sure if and when we were going to be able to return to Bali from Portugal), the Mountain quieted down. On January 11th it became quite active again, spewing ash and smoke some 2,500 meters (nearly 8,000 feet) into the sky. As of this writing (January 12), Agung is still “expressing itself!” This volcanic activity has also obviously reduced the number of visitors to the island.
Our house is located some 75 kilometers (about 45 miles) southwest of the volcano and we feel no earth tremors nor receive any hint of smoke or ash. But many, many villages and 10s of thousands of people have been moved to makeshift safety zones where they are being housed and fed. This is very difficult for these Balinese people as they are so intimately linked to their land and animals and the rhythm and rituals of the rice harvest. Although they may be only 10 kilometers or so away from their home villages, they do indeed feel dispossessed.
The government both federal and local in connection with certain island-based organizations (made up of both Balinese and Western people), are doing a very good job of taking care of this large number of people. Even so, it is very difficult for all concerned. It is hard to say just how many people are displaced due to the volcano. It varies from about 30,000 to about 130,000 as the exclusion zone becomes smaller and thus people are let back onto their lands when the volcano calms down. But the exclusion zone can expand with volcanic activity and then people are once again evacuated. And it goes on…
My life is quiet and good. I am happy to be back at work in my office facing the very green and floral garden. Two of my walls are almost completely made of glass so I may watch the monsoon rains pour down while speaking with students and clients on skype or writing these very words to you.
With love and blessings to one and all,
Florence is amazingly beautiful and for a large city, is remarkably gentle and civilized. I have been there several times since my first visit in 1962 when I was a university student of 18 and I look forward to returning to this belissima citta’ (gorgeous city) as many times as life will allow. Every turn on every street yields beauty, impressive, awe-inspiring human-made beauty. Our AirBnB apartment was a real find, located literally around the corner from Michelangelo’s statue of David, down the street from the impeccable Uffizi Gallery, and a 7 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio overlooking the Arno River.
Our next stop was Pisa where Wira climbed the Leaning Tower while I settled for exploring the street level Cathedral and Baptistery. Pisa has a lot more to offer than its iconic Tower and we were very happy to stay there for four nights. Wira and I are very fond of Chinese cuisine and Pisa did not disappoint as chopsticks in hand and despite all the yummy pasta and pizza around us, dug into a daily diet of Chinese delights! We then took a 20 minute or so train ride to another Medieval, walled Tuscan town, Lucca, birthplace of Puccini. Although the hotel and general atmosphere was pleasant enough, the people for some reason were a bit “sour” in spirit. This is a spot that offers much to the pursuit of Italian culture (but so then does tutta l’Italia) and we could have skipped this part of the journey, using our four nights there for more time in either Barcelona or Florence.
The same can be said for our next stop, Mantua. It took 5 hours and four trains to get there, by which time both Wira and I were pretty exhausted (especially Wira as he lugs all the heavier bags and I just with my cane in one hand and my computer/valuables bag in the other). Although this large town is truly beautiful and our accommodations very spacious and centrally located, the weather was absolutely freezing (-1 to +3C/30-39C) and we did relatively little walking around. Although we did fine a great Chinese restaurant outside a relatively boring palace/museum on the other side of town. (As I said, we are die-hard hot and sour soup fans!)
Our final stop was in a city that I really appreciate, nice people, beautiful architecture, and really yummy ITALIAN food (yes we broke down and had some pasta)–Bologna. A very dear friend and Light Worker from Turin took the train to have lunch with me and to have a Brother on the (same) Path with whom to “compare notes” so to speak, was of great value and provided much joyful companionship. Bologna is seriously beautiful, quite off the normal tourist route and by the time we arrived was festooned with Christmas decorations. Loved the place and would happily return there! And karma being what it is, when we arrived at our well designed, comfortable hotel, the owner offered us (what turned out to be) a large and lovely apartment (at no extra cost) around the corner instead of our reserved room. A a very kind hotel staff member escorted us over to the apartment to see if we would like to take it. We rounded the corner and what me our eyes? Sitting no more than 5 meters across from our building was a—Chinese Restaurant! So with no doubt that we were being heavenly guided (if only by our solar plexus!), we of course happily took the apartment!
December 1 saw us land in our beloved Lisbon where we were met by our dear friends who drove us to our lovely AirBnB accommodations. And tomorrow, the 13th of December we leave for Bali from where I will be writing the next installment of this Travel Diary.
Hoping that you will enjoy the enclosed photos from Wira, and with love and blessings to one and all for a more inspiring and uplifting Holiday Season, Alan
The Portugal Experience 2017 ended on the morning of November 1st. It was a 17-day event in which 34 people from 13 countries participated in shared companionship on the spiritual path as well as in the physical pleasures of beautiful art, architecture, music, and fine food. Many of the participants made new and profound friendships and I was so pleased to be able to teach both astrology and The Ancient Wisdom to such a fine, international group of men and women. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to contribute to your individual Life Paths as you have contributed to mine. Melanie Reinhart who co-taught with me in Part I is a treasure as both a personal friend and a gift to all astrology students. My sincere thanks also go out to Michael Bartlett, Patricia Lopes, and Wira Suryawan as our helpers and guides.
On November 4th, my “official holiday” began and Wira and I took off for Barcelona. Quite frankly we did not know what to expect as there is so much political turmoil taking place in this, the capital of Catalunya. But much to our relief, we found a very tranquil place with polite if somewhat reserved people. This incredible city was a delight to visit, felt amazingly safe at all hours of the day and night, and was filled with amazing artistic, cultural, and culinary delights. We staying in a lovely rented apartment in a calm and non-touristic part of Barcelona called “Graca” (pronounced with a soft “c”) and indeed is a very “graceful” neighbourhood.
Fortunately for many who are discovering Lisbon for the first time but unfortunately for us, the Portuguese capital which is not in any political chaos, is much more tense and noisy these days than is Barcelona. There were literally hoards of tourists pouring through Lisbon, creating a great deal of urban tension and raising the cost of everything from taxis to restaurants to accommodations and even to the cost of roasted chestnuts, which rose in price by a third since the last time we were in Lisbon some 10 months ago. And the salaries of the Lisboetas have not risen, so that while hotel, apartment, and restaurant owners are making much more money these days, their employees (and people in general) are working harder for the same standard of living.
We have a true family of personal friends in Lisbon, love the city and were seriously planning to move there in 2018 but we have put all moving plans on hold until Lisbon becomes “undiscovered” and returns (if that will ever be possible) to the gentle city I have intimately known since 1991. This intense tourist wave has only been happening in the past 2 years or so and this year felt more chaotic than ever. This added to the constant heat due to climate change, made the usual delightful-in-October-Lisbon feel as if it were July or August. So we are returning to Bali on December 13th (will be with friends in Lisbon from December 1st) and will remain on this beautiful island in our very peaceful home until the latter part of 2018 when we will visit Lisbon once again to see and feel what is taking place.
Our itinerary from tomorrow (November 11) to December 13th is: Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Mantua, Bologna, Lisbon, and finally, Bali. Will share our experiences in Italy (as well as thanks to Wira, some lovely pictures) with you in next month’s edition of The Wisdom of Astrology: As Above, So Below. It begins on December 22nd with a conjunction of the Sun and Saturn at 0 degrees of Capricorn! Please enjoy the following photos of our stay in Barcelona…with Love and Blessings to one and all, Alan.
Alan’s Travel Diary
Hello everyone! We left Bali for Lisbon on September 14th. It was an incredibly challenging series of flights both in terms of the natural and political climates. It comes as little shock to you all but the world is positively nuts, coo-coo, twisted, and profoundly polarized. This clash of energies filters down into the bouts of insanity we see before us almost every day on local, national, and international levels—and our personal lives are also profoundly affected by these collective currents. Just today I was informed that a dear friend of mine has been evacuated from her home due to the fires in Napa-Sonoma. And normally, Lisbon a very tranquil and laid-back city has become an ocean of never-ending waves of tourism, creating a massive change in the rhythm of this city—a “high tide” of noise both silent and vocal. In addition, greed is in the air, prices for anything related to tourism have risen and local wages have not. Therefore while a new upper middle class has recently risen (as well as apartment rentals, hotel fees, and meals at restaurants), the salaries for working people have definitely not (although the physical and psychological demands on them definitely have!). Example: hot chestnuts (a feature of the historical centers of Lisbon) that a number of years ago were 1 euro a dozen and then a few years ago went up to 2 euros a dozen are now (since about 9 months ago) 3 euros a dozen, meaning that only tourists can afford to buy them! A small detail in a much larger distressing economic picture. Bottom line—Lisbon has been discovered and I so look forward to the day when it becomes “undiscovered” again and we have less frantic Portuguese and fewer hoards (litterly!) of loud and blind tourists.
Back to our flight over. The traffic from our tropical street in Bali to the airport was insane when we left and what normally takes 20 minutes or so to get the airport, took an hour—fortunately we gave ourselves plenty of time and were not at all late for our flight. The 9-hour flight from Bali to Doha itself was incredibly turbulent, with a lady screaming and no sleep possible—lightening having struck the plain several times (planes are built to handle this but the “bumps and grinds” are definitely no fun). We arrived rather tired and shaken up in Doha (Qatar) at 5 or 6 am for our flight from Doha to Munich.
There is a “cold war” taking place between Qatar and Saudi Arabia (and many other Arab countries) so security was very, very tight—soldiers with machine guns everywhere and lots of fear in the air. Airport personnel tried to keep polite and calm faces but in most cases, they failed and emotional chaos ruled. We were sloppily searched and finally made it just in time to our gate. Second flight was easier—perhaps because it was not bumpy and we fell asleep. Got to Munich with 50 minutes to spare to get us through security (again!), EU customs, and over to another terminal a number of kilometers away (we tried not to think too much if our luggage would make it; we were just concerned if we would make it!). “Fortunately,” I had asked for a wheel chair which arrived 15 minutes late BUT the wheelchair helper said: “Do not worry, your plane is 30 minutes delayed!” In addition, he knew all sorts of hidden channels through the airport and we were the only passengers at a private security clearing booth and the only passengers at a very private customs office (30 seconds and poof, our passports were stamped—Welcome to the EU) and then driven by private car the long distance over to our terminal where we found out (huff-puff) that (love Portuguese timing), that our plane was not 30 minutes delayed but 2 hours and 30 minutes delayed!!! So after Skype calls to the group of friends picking us up Lisbon airport (who being Portuguese had no trouble with our late arrival), Wira and I exhaled and relaxed! Flight from Munich to Lisbon was awful, seats were definitely cramped, the service was non-existent. and the food was definitely worthy of a severe Gordon Ramsey thrashing on “Kitchens from Hell!” And PS…that was in Business Class!
But then we arrived in Lisboa…our luggage was the first to arrive and we were out of the arrivals hall in literally 5 minutes to love of our waiting friends, two of whom were dressed in the sarongs we had given them as gifts when they visited us in Bali earlier in the year, as well as with flower in their hair. As we approached, these dear sisters but their hands together and bowed: “Bem vindos meus queridos”—“Welcome dear ones.” Many hugs, kisses, and tears…we landed!
Update: today is October 10 and in 3 days my students and dear friends begin to arrive. We are also about to pack up and leave this rented apartment on the morning of the 15th to move into the Hotel where we are all staying. In the November issues I will be happy to bring you up-to-date about the Portugal Experience 2017.
Love and blessings to one and all, Alan
Alan’s Travel Diary
Hello everyone! This past month I have spent my time in Bali preparing for our three-month voyage to Europe which begins on September 15th (it is September 13th as I write these words to you). In this respect, there is no “Travel Diary” segment this month but stay tuned for a rather full Diary along with a number of lovely photographs in the November edition of this newsletter. Only fitting as the sign we will be featuring is Sagittarius, the Archer who points the way to wider horizons through foreign travel and higher learning.
Alan’s Asian Travel Diary
My youngest grandson, Connor Oken came to visit us for his summer school holidays. This young man is a delight, kind, funny, and easy to be around. I do not care how close the relationship, anyone visiting for two months must be easy to be around! Connor is a Pisces with the Moon in Cancer and is quite happy being in his own space as well as sharing space with others. His watery nature makes life on this topical island rather natural for him. We decided that we would like to take some time to travel together and went off for a week to Singapore. I had come across the amazing work of Yayoi Kusama a Japanese artist, still active and now in her 80’s. Her work is amazing, much of it reminding me of the incredible artistic output from New York in the 1960s. It was a delightful surprise for me to discover that she indeed lived and worked in the incredible New York of my 60s hippie-experimental-adventurous youth. We took some photos of both this exhibit and our other fun days in Singapore that I am happy to present to you.
Alan’s Travel Bali Travel Diary
This month is turning out to be very special. My bright and handsome grandson, Connor Oken (18) is here for the summer. The other day we went to an incredible annual celebration at a Bali Aga village, located about a 2 hour drive from my house. The Bali Aga are descended from the original inhabitants of this island. Bali became populated (actually invaded) by a large group of Hindu Javanese who were escaping from the Muslims in the 9th century. These Javanese brought their royal courts, dances, customs, and religion to this island and settled here, without a war between themselves and the Bali Aga people. They also brought their language, which today is known as Bali Alus—High Balinese. Bali Alus is still spoken by high caste people among themselves and by lower caste people—who can still speak it as not everyone can–to higher cast people. If one does not speak Bali Alus, well then everyone speaks Indonesian! When I go to visit priestly families (Casta Ida Bagus) for example, I always greet everyone in a phrase or two of Bali Alus to be polite (as well as the fact that that is the extent of my vocabulary!), and then switch into Indonesian. Just as another linguistic aside note: there are three levels of the Balinese language: Bali Alus, Bali Biasa, and Bali Keras. The middle one is still polite, often used for speaking when many different casts are present or when speaking to older people. Bali Keras (Low Balinese) is the language of the farmers and just “ordinary folks.” The difference between Bali Alus and the other two is really two different languages, quite far apart in spoken vocabulary. Anyway, I will stop here because many of you know I am a language buff and could easily write a very long essay on the subject of the relationship of the Balinese languages and Indonesian (which is really a totally different language altogether!).
Back to my story. So Connor and I went to this wonderful celebration with the Bali Aga and Connor made a video of the goddesses who preside over the combatants. Yes, the men of the village battle with one another using thorny plants and straw shields. It does get a bit bloody but the combatants are chosen from men of the same age and stature (beginning with boys and going up to old men) who shake hands (and in the case of the young guys, give “high-fives”) both before and after each fight. There is much laughter all the way round and there is a distinct sense of positive male-bonding. The goddess pictured in the video stand midway between the fighters and the gods whom these smiling warriors are honoring with their fights. Enjoy the video and the additional photos.
Alan’s Bali Travel Diary
Hello everyone! Aside from visits from lovely birds, mating frogs, and lizards of various sizes and shapes, it has been a very quiet and work-filled couple of months for me. We did take a four-day “escapadinha” (“little escape” in Portuguese) to Singapore where Wira took the enclosed photos which we hope you will enjoy. I have also included some additional pictures of Bali.
Alan’s Bali Travel Diary
Two of our favorite Portuguese friends, Isabel Sanchez and Rita MC, came to Bali to visit with us for 11 super days during April. It was the first time they had traveled to Bali and we were very happy to take them on several tours around the island, excursions that were appreciated by us all. Wira was at the ready with his camera and took loads of pictures, of which I am happy to share some of the best with you. As Meninas, as I like to call them (meaning: the young unmarried ladies, “the girls”) are beautifully spirited, spiritually aware, super kind women with a great sense of humor, and the four of us were always laughing, smiling, and sharing. It was a pure delight for one and all. As I spend most of my time in Bali at my computer, it is great for me to get out and about especially when temples and good restaurants are featured as major treats on our visitors’ lists.
We are looking forward to two more visits. One from Anne and Jose’ Rodrigues from Lisbon in early June and then in late July, my grandson Connor Oken will be coming by to spend 6 weeks or so with us. During Connor’s visit, I look forward to leaving Bali for a brief adventure in Java or another country in Southeast Asia. Plans are now for Wira and I to go to Portugal on or about September 15th in preparation for The Portugal Experience 2017 that will begin in the middle of October.
I leave you now with a Picture Diary which I hope you will enjoy.
Alan’s Bali Travel Diary
The rains have stopped at last and the hot/dry season has begun. This gives many Balinese the opportunity to dig out from under this year’s terrible flood damage, rebuild and replant. Fortunately, these are resilient people who live on a very fertile island (much of this fertility cause by cooled lava from ancient and not-so-ancient volcanic eruptions).
My life this past month has been very subjective. As my ruling planet Mars, transits through my 6th house, I am focusing on my health and taking all necessary steps to improve and regenerate this 73 year old physical vehicle. I have also being doing a lot of inner work, contemplative reading, working with clients and students, and praying, lots and lots of prayers. As you well know, these are very challenging times and I have found an increasing number of people in real distress and confusion knocking at my virtual doors (emails, Facebook, Messenger, etc.). I live a rather isolated life with my dear Balinese companion Wira and our helpers, so few people actually knock on the physical door. BUT, we are expecting two of our dearest lady friends from Portugal to arrival at the end of this month to stay with us for 11 days during which time we will act as tour and gourmet guides. Wira will have camera in hand to record photos, so that the Taurus newsletter will contain a gallery of happy and interesting pictures to share with you. I am also invited to speak in mid-April at a spiritual gathering being held in Ubud (about 90 minutes north of here), so will report on that to you in word and image as well, most likely in the Gemini edition. We are looking forward to two other Portuguese visiting friends coming to stay in June and then in July my youngest grandson Connor (18 and about to enter university) will be visiting for 6 weeks and we will be definitely having a few adventures both within Indonesia and hopefully in another country in south-east Asia. In September, it will be time to leave for our beloved Portugal once again as in October we are hosting The Portugal Experience 2017 where along with Melanie Reinhart I hope to see a number of you!
May you all have a very joy-filled month of the Ram. Whether it is spring or fall where you live, Aries always gives us opportunities for new beginnings as well as some extra potency to move along our Path.
Alan’s Bali Travel Diary
The chaos of our times is reverberating around the planet, shaking up so many people and giving others a definite chance to work for World Goodwill. I saw the practical use of this positive collective energy for planetary healing at work while watching the Grammy Award presentations the other night. Beyonce’ and Adele were amazing examples of the vulnerability and power of the Mother Goddess and Her earthy daughters. The defiant and joyous singing and marching of an inter-racial and multi-religious group of people onto that world stage gave me great uplifting feelings and reinforced the spirit of hope for humanity in me. I have also recently been in contact with a number of men and women representing organizations and activities pledged to the service of the Heart both human and Divine.
It has been difficult here in Bali…
The past two weeks saw the heaviest monsoon season in decades with massive flooding, loss of property, livestock, and the deaths of at least 12 people due to landslides. Wira’s village was very badly hit. His family property inundated and his grandmother’s small house completely washed away (she is OK and temporarily living with a sister). Due to modern technology, we received live streaming via smart phones from village friends and family members while all of this destruction was taking place. The beautiful Botanical Gardens covered in mud and the fantastic Lake Temple awash in at least a meter of water. But the Balinese being the resilient and strong people that they are were out there helping one another first to clean and then to rebuild. Neighbors gather to help one family and then that family joins the others and they move on to the next family. This process will take months but nature is very powerfully regenerative on this island as are its people.
On what appears hopefully to be the last day of the heavy rains this season, an earthquake shook my house. It measured 5.2 on the Richter Scale but as its epicenter was not far away from the southern coast of this island and we live in the south, the impact was loud and unmistakable. Fortunately there was no damage. Ten minutes later (literally!), I received a picture of my eldest grandson (Tyler, 20) all wired up to machines in a hospital bed in Seattle. He is fine and was released that same evening. Seems he touched the wrong wire while trying to repair a car and got himself a shock that knocked him unconscious and removed all feeling from the “offending hand.” So off he went by ambulance to the Emergency Unit of the nearest hospital, his girlfriend by his side. I immediately sent word to his mother who just as quickly let me know that he was OK.
As for the astrology of the moment: transiting Neptune in Pisces is square to my natal Moon in Gemini and opposing Wira’ natal Moon in Virgo. At the time of the earthquake and the news about my grandson, 23 Taurus was rising here in Bali and the Sun was at 23 Aquarius at the MC. My natal Ascendant is 23 Scorpio. The Lord ain’t foolin’ my friends!
Alan’s Lisbon Travel Diary
The Portuguese are a very sentimental and deeply emotional people. If you have ever heard their national music genre, O Fado, I suggest you click on to YouTube and enjoy a sample. Listen to Amalia, Camane’, Mariza, and Carminho for starters. These fadistas will bring you the sounds of the Portuguese soul. A major facet of what it means to be Portuguese is saudades, a sense of longing and nostalgia for something or someone or someplace in Portugal that is far away and untouchable save for the feelings you hold in your heart for that person, place, or thing. It is a poetic sadness, one so very pure in its truth.
As we leave Portugal, a heavy sense of saudade begins to enter our hearts and our consciousness. I have been taught through my esoteric training to objectify all astral currents: identify them, never deny them, hold them in front of me, inspect their quality of energy, and then circulate them to a higher level, releasing myself in the process. Whew! And you thought that walking out of the last episode of The Hunger Games was tough! It is not easy leaving Portugal. Even saying good-by on the telephone involves on a normal day requires a gradual energetic withdrawal with a continuous lowering and softening of the voice with many exchanges of “Ate’ breve!” (See you soon!), “Chaow-Chaow” (Port. pron. of “ciao-ciao”), “Beijinos” (little kisses on the cheeks), until the final “Adeus” (good-bye, lit. “To God”) is murmured. I love Portugal and my Portuguese friends would say, “E Portugal gosta muito de ti, Alan.” (“And Portugal loves you very much, Alan.”) And it does.
And now we must go away from this land of great heart and whose language I have adopted as my own for living inside the Portuguese language is very much like living inside of a poem, an archaic, melodious, dramatic, romantic, while always even in its most strident, still subtle poem. Ever since Christmas we have been saying “adeus e ate’ breve” to so many people. In addition to the general festivities of the past couple of weeks, there have been “final” dinner and lunches aplenty just for us. So when I mentioned in my “Bom dia!” paragraph on the homepage of this month’s newsletter, that I was returning to Bali to swim and exercise, it was this vestige of “saudade” to which I was making specific reference! In fact as I write this to you it is the morning of January 9th and I am soon to meet one of my dearest friends anywhere, Anne Rodrigues for a final lunch date on this particular visit to her homeland. Anne and her husband will be visiting us in late May in Bali as will our two “girlfriends” here Rita and Isabel who will come for two weeks in April! When they asked what should they bring, I asked for Portuguese olive oil as well as black and green olives! The best in the world…
As sad as I am at our parting, I am now thinking of the smiling faces that are waiting for us in Bali, both Balinese and Western. My head is already “switching” language tapes as yesterday upon leaving a restaurant, I said to the waitress, “Termiakasih” which is of course the Indonesian word for “Adeus.”
More to follow next month in the Pisces edition, which is very appropriate considering, it will be written on a tropical island located between the Sea of Java and the Indian Ocean.
Com muitas saudades, ate’ breve, chaow-chaow, beijinhos…