I’ve always hated the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I find it patently false. All the hard times in my life have only made me weaker. Besides, I’d rather be happy than “strong.”
It has been a difficult few years that have included a series of bereavements, the most shocking of which was the death of my 58-year-old father-in-law from Covid in the terrifying early days of the pandemic. Then there was the horror of being extorted of our entire deposit for our first home by a cybercriminal on the day of the big move. Add to that a general feeling of being disconnected from lockdown-era family and friends, and even after the first seemingly “back to normal” of 2022, I still felt fragile and broken.
My hair was falling out in clumps, my sleep was restless (playing PlusWord at 3am had become a ritual), and my tears were flowing. I certainly didn’t feel stronger, just depressed and anxious about another blinding event.
The thing about trauma is that it can trigger a kind of mania. You are desperate to try anything to end the torment. I went through all the classics: intensive exercise regime; subscribing to soothing horoscopes; comforting purchases on Amazon before finally moving on to a self-help holiday. Previously, I was skeptical about this sort of thing, judging it to be the domain of empowered millennials who tremble from microaggressions. But at that point, I was ready to try anything to get relief.
So I went to Bali for a week of meditation, hiking and (hopefully) personal development. I was after this Eat Pray Love experience, made famous by a 1990s diary turned into a Julia Roberts movie in which our heroine finds herself, literally and figuratively, on an island. While it also visits Rome and India, Bali is most associated with the book, and you’ll still find as many women looking for meaning there as Australians looking for a drunken nightclub.
In fact, I was more like the fragile, luxury-loving, well-being-seeking character of Jennifer Coolidge from the black comedy White Lotus, which was quite fitting as I was staying at two Aman luxury properties in Bali. If you’re on a big budget, there’s no better place for self-help.
The brand (even verified under the name White Lotus) essentially planted the flagship of wellness holidays in Bali when it first opened Amandari, near the spiritual heart of Ubud, more than 30 years ago. A few years later, she was joined by Amankala, on the island’s less-visited east coast, for those looking for a more beachy yet still conscious resort. Together, they remain the benchmark for the genre of quiet luxury hotels in Bali, inspiring many imitators who want to reclaim the traditional design of the Balinese village of Amandari or its siblings reminiscent of a tiered rice pool.
Arriving in Amandari I felt instant relief, the tropical heat blast bringing me back to travel in my twenties and to the time before I felt overwhelmed by life. Still, it was hard to shake off my crazy tendencies, so I duly signed up for every experience the hotel had to offer. While most might be content with their expansive suites, an infinity pool overlooking a river gorge, and perhaps visiting a temple or two, I had to do some “healing” – or just avoid leaving my own thoughts.
First, there was a blessing in the water temple to purify the spirit. Dressed in a traditional sarong and led by the village priest, I entered the pool and plunged under the gushing fountain – three times for maximum purification. It was invigorating, but I wasn’t fixed yet.
This was followed by a trip to a local shaman for a home healing session. He told me he sensed my sadness—although tired eyes and hunched shoulders might be betrayal. He then told me that my maternal grandmother, whom he correctly sensed I had never met, was my guide through this difficult time.
A happy guess perhaps, but nevertheless a comforting reminder that she was a woman who had gone through many struggles herself, including a flirting husband, the death of an infant, and chronic health problems. Talking to hotel staff later, they insisted that the medicine man was far from a tourist gimmick, and that locals regularly visited him to solve their own problems.
By the time I moved to Amankali, my frenzied energy had calmed down a bit. While simply sunbathing on a dramatic black sand beach kept eluding me, my mind calmed watching the sunrise on a pre-dawn boat trip, and I similarly calmed myself snorkeling among dazzlingly colored fish.
More revelations have surfaced during a “laughter yoga” session, where you essentially force yourself to laugh between downward dog poses. In the past, I would have found this practice, which promises to release endorphins and improve breathing, monstrous, but I have been deprived of self-awareness. The fake laugh strangely became real, the release was so intense that I burst into tears.
It was during this early morning mountain hike that I was able to see what my struggles had brought me. This exercise regime made me feel really fit for the first time in my adult life. Instead of puffing and hoping it would be over soon, I made my way through the muddy terrain with ease and was able to fully concentrate on the guide’s explanations of the surrounding nature.
On my last day, I swam a few laps of the pool and sipped creamy iced coffee while reading Bob Mortimer’s life-affirming memoirs. It was like progress.
I would love to tie a neat bow on it and say that the holidays totally reset my brain, but of course it’s not that simple. I’m still fighting. But as 2023 approaches and reflection on the past year is inevitable, it stands out as one of the few twinkling bright spots. And when you’re dealing with life’s hardships, these are certainly floating devices to grab onto.
I may not have been able to heal, but my recovery journey has given me a chance to see the little things I’ve achieved and pulled me out of my sad little mind, if only for a week. As such, my New Year’s resolutions are less about deprivation and more about life-expanding travel experiences that don’t necessarily improve us but reveal who we already are.
How to do it
Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk; 03301 734 712) offers a 13-night tour to Indonesia with the Aman Resorts tour from £8,595 per person based on two people. Includes flights, transfers and bed and breakfast. Based on departure in March 2023