Miracles of Intention
Some days have a way of turning out differently than you intend. Some people might call this luck. Some people might call it coincidence. Others, serendipity. And some call it karma. The short, secular definition of karma is simple: “cause and effect.” You do something bad, you receive ‘bad’ payback in return. You do something good, you receive ‘good’ payback. Some wise men say that the cosmos does not care what you “intend” to do; the only thing that matters is what you actually do.
I may have gone a tad guantanamo on my persuasion strategies while trying to train the smallest-sized ants (out of the seven varieties sharing my rental house in Ubud) not to use my kitchen counter as their personal highway to some ill-perceived gastronomic nirvana of theirs. I don’t like killing ants. I don’t kill many living things. Sometimes when I slice a tomato, I imagine it feels my knife. But I wouldn’t make a good Buddhist because I will kill a mosquito or a cockroach, and feel no guilt. In the jungle in Bali, I’ll share a house with various creatures: spiders, geckos, birds, dragon flies. I’ll allow ants to walk on the floor, I’ll allow them to climb the walls. I’ll share the shower, the hallway, the stairs. I draw the line at the kitchen counter. But how do you train a jungle-wild swarm of ants to understand that “the kitchen counter is off limits, a danger zone and do not walk here, please”…unless you lay down a bit of collateral damage is all I’m saying, god.
I’m riding my motorbike, hoping to discover the road that leads to the far side of the Sungai Valley, which I overlook from the balcony of my house. I’m searching for the path that runs atop the opposite rim of this ravine. Though I’ve been to Bali numerous times, I’ve never seen that particular area before, never driven into that lush jungle nor past the few houses clustered along the rim. From my balcony, I’ve seen a couple motorbikes cruise slowly across that ridge, so there must be a path of some sort, but the Ubud locals who live near me, and the waitress in the Yellow Flower Café, cannot explain how to get there. But I intend to locate it today.
Long story short: I find the road that leads to the path on the rim across the ravine. I photograph Villa Setia—the house I’m renting—from the far side, and then ride my motorbike further down this unknown path, which leads through luxurious vegetation into vast, open rice fields. Most “roads” that lead into rice paddies in Bali are merely dirt walking paths, centuries old, built long before there were machines and motors, or the word “tourist.” The path I’m riding on is a freeway by comparison to most paths; this path is made of concrete, wide enough for one or, in places, two motorbikes. The concrete is bordered by rice paddies on either side. The path was originally narrower and dirt, so the path plunges abruptly, vertically, on either side and descends directly into rice paddy. Fairly precarious, but at least it’s better than a narrow dirt path.
As I round a curve and maneuver past a low-leaning coconut palm, I feel a nasty sting on my calf. An ant is chowing down on my skin. We’ll call him Arnie, after Schwarzenegger, because this ant definitely found a stash of steroids somewhere during his previous meanderings. He is larger than the largest of the seven sizes of ants sharing my house. Arnie is so big, I can see his eye glare at me as I lean down to brush him off. I feel his solid body thump against the back of my hand. I rub my leg, sit upright again, grab the handlebar.
If I were taking a selfie at this moment, I imagine my eyes wide as saucers. My front wheel hangs in mid-air as the bike sails right off the concrete path in slow motion, and soars straight down into the rice paddy. There is no time to feel fear, or to think of much more than one four-letter word, maybe twice in quick succession. Woosh, thump, splat….effing ant karma.
The mud is so thick, it holds the motorbike upright. The bike sits exhaust-pipe deep in watery, muddy muck. The field is lying fallow before planting—so, thankfully, no rice has been destroyed. But the rice paddy stinks. And when I say “stink,” I mean the most awesomely-horrible-fertilizer stench you can imagine. Not that long ago, the Balinese used human dung to fertilize their fields. Supposedly, they no longer do. But if you’re sitting tailpipe-deep in a paddy, you may have cause to ponder the possibilities, or wonder exactly what a water buffalo eats.
The bike is sitting in the muck; I’m sitting on the bike; the motor is still running; the exhaust creates ripples in the water, and white smoke is rising from the tailpipe. When I stick my feet in the muck to climb off, I sink knee deep in the stuff. I lose both thongs with sucking, squishy noises. And they are not dollar-a-pair thongs, they are pricey Crocs thongs.
I try to drive the bike out, but the back wheel spins as though sitting in a slippery pile of manure, which it quite literally is. Imagine, if you want, a string of words I might hiss at a time like this. Imagine me wondering just what might happen next. There are no AAA tow trucks here. There are no road-side-assistance patrol cars cruising here. There is no garage just down the road. There is no road. They don’t call it the third world for no good reason: it’s two whole worlds away from what we call home.
Imagine me standing on a crude concrete path, arms akimbo at my side, staring into the watery mess where my bike wallows and snorts like some brooding wild beast. Long story short: a good-Samaritan with a Swedish passport, but Vietnamese ancestry and stature happens by with his girl (she has a similar background, an interesting story for another time). His name is Thanh, which means “delicate sky” in Vietnamese. He’s an Asian-thin man and maybe five feet, three inches tall. A good six inches shorter than me. Delicate is right. Why couldn’t he be like seven feet tall and named Thor, Mac Truck, or Mountain. Delicate Sky?…come on, god.
Delicate Sky and I look at the mud. We look at the bike stuck deep in the mud. We look at each other. We know we are not exceptionally large men. Although we know we will not be able to pull that bike out of there, we shrug our shoulders with intention. Thanh’s girl covers her mouth with both hands; I’m not sure if she hides a giggle, or dismay.
Thanh grabs the handlebar end, I take the tail end, and we lift that machine straight up out of that mud and set it on the concrete in one swift motion with such apparent ease we stun ourselves. Then we all three burst out laughing. Thanh’s girl has a gap between her two front teeth, and radiates beauty and a warmth you can almost feel. Thanh is no delicate sky.
Anyone would have guessed that it should have taken many more than two small-boned men (a midget and a geezer, for crying out loud) to pull that bike out of there. Even small-engined motorbikes are not lightweight pieces of machinery. They are difficult to hoist on dry land. Try lifting one end of a 125cc motorbike sometime when there’s no muck sucking it down, when you’re not bent over and barefoot and unsteady and leaning into a rice paddy where your Crocs lie buried and stinking.
Some invisible angel bestowed another miracle is all I’ve been able to come up with. Some may argue there is no such thing as miracles. Some may argue there is no such thing as karma. Yet others might argue that sheer will power — the intention, even of small men — wields enough juice to bend the laws of physics.
And perhaps, those wise men were wrong: perhaps, what you intend can manifest karma on the physical level. My sister believed that. She used to say that I could “fall into a pile of shit and come up smelling like a rose.” But she was wrong. There is only so much an angel, a miracle or intention can create on the physical level. A rose is not what anyone smells like after wallowing in a rice paddy in Bali.
always finds himself out of water.
He tends to a hermit crab,
downs Haagen Dazs,
travels the world,