Bali, Canang Ceper, Canang Sari, and Our Own Devotions

Here’s an example of Canang Sari – the more ornamented of the two types of Balinese Canang.

‘Canang Ceper’ and ‘Canang Sari’ are the names given to the daily offerings Balinese Hindus make to nature spirits. These intricate and beautiful gifts are painstakingly made by the hundreds of thousands each day. It’s estimated that at least one million Balinese have temples in or attached to their homes. And every morning, before they eat their breakfast, before they feed themselves, they feed and honor the spirits.

I’ve been watching tutorials on how to make ‘Canang’, and am amazed at the humble devotion behind the lengthy process of making just one. A Canang is made of perishable material, and lasts just one day; the next day, more must be made. A fresh offering each morning.

Today, markets in Bali offer ready-made Canang for purchase. Much of Bali, after all, has joined the Wi-Fi/9-to-5/smartphone rat race, and time for real things like devotion, connection, naps, and face-to-face encounters is wearing thin.

I’ve recently been drawn to Bali and the Balinese culture and language, all of which are gorgeous. And the climate in Bali – tropical hot, often humid, with a short rain daily to break the heat and water the wild plants that thrive there - suits me just fine. Yes, I could live simply and happily in Bali.

Funny thing is, I’m discovering that many of the Balinese customs mirror many of my own, including animism. Animism, to put it simply, is a belief in the universal soul that inhabits all, including plants and animals. Human spirit and plant and animal spirit all emanate from the same. One miraculous consciousness weaves through all, and all are seeking enlightenment.

Without even knowing it, I’ve maintained a practice of Canang for years. We own a small (about 9 inches long) teakwood carving of an outstretched hand, palm up, which I’ve used for years – long before my marriage – as a Canang of fresh flowers, food, incense, and herbs.

In summer, not daily but several times a week, we take flowers, food, and herbs from our gardens, incense, and sometimes nuts or sunflower seeds (which the birds eat) place them in the teakwood hand, and leave at our outdoor shrine until the next day. This has always been my way of thanking Mother Earth for her abundance and honoring the Buddha. I just never knew that it had a Balinese name – Canang.

This teakwood hand is amazing. Over the years, I’ve marveled at how it hasn’t been affected by the weather or age. It’s been rained on, baked in the sun, dropped, pooped on by birds and washed countless times. And there’s just no wear on it.

I don’t remember if I found it in Hong Kong, or if it was a gift. I don’t know if it was made in Thailand, Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, or China. I have a vague-ish memory of picking it up in Hong Kong, along with some chopsticks, but I’m not sure. And I don’t even know if it was made for Canang. It just suits that purpose perfectly.

I remember being in college and regularly bringing flowers to a tree that I bonded with. It was an old, old chestnut that leaned to the side a bit, and grew hundreds of feet tall. Its canopy reached a half-block wide.

In the trunk, about 6 feet off the ground, was a large cavity, and this is where I placed my flower offerings. One day, I added soil to and placed a spearmint plant in the cavity: it took root deep in the trunk and flourished. Canang.

I woke up this morning craving fresh purple mangosteen. I haven’t had mangosteen since I lived in New York City, a place wonderfully thick with Asian markets. My friends and I would regularly head to Queens, where Jamaican markets abound, and stock up on fresh sweet mangos, sugarcane, mangosteen, papaya, guava jelly, and jelly coconut. But I’m going to rate my chances of finding fresh mangosteen in Connecticut at about a zero.

It’s cold and it’s staying cold. The forecast is grim; lots of rain and cold temperatures for the foreseeable future. Spring will be arriving late this year. We should be readying to plant the greens beds about now, March 23, but there’s still a thick layer of hard snow over the gardens. I’m trying to not be sad about this, but I warned my husband last night that I may start freaking out in a few weeks, maybe sooner. It’s time for life to return.

I’m exploring Balinese authors now. Feeling completely drawn to this beautiful culture. The Balinese are gentle, spiritual, grateful, compassionate, beautiful, no-nonsense people who happen to live in paradise.

I’ve added Bali to my bucket list. From what the map says about the proximity of some of my destinations, when we make the trip, it would be best to visit Thailand and Indonesia together in one go. And Vietnam has always been on my bucket list. This may be a long trip. My husband said we’ll have to dedicate at least two months to it. We’re talking a leisurely sabbatical in Southeast Asia. Totally works for me.

Two weeks ago, my husband suggested that I move our large, floor-sized snake plant to a corner near a bookcase. I argued that it was too far away from the light, and the plant would be sad. He said try it. This morning, the plant let me know that it wasn’t happy in that dark corner, so I moved it back to the warm light of a window. When lifting it to move it, one of the razor-sharp leaves reached out and poked me hard, right in the middle of my eye. That hurt. Plants are completely and utterly aware.

Be kind to each other.

Live in peace.

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