The Swami and My Walls
No trespassing! Keep out! Beware of Dog! We westerners do love our walls. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I wish I were more laid back about privacy, but the desire to define my territory is just too strong. “Don’t touch that, it’s MINE”. “Stay on YOUR side of the fence”. That’s me. Even my dogs seem to be more territorial than their Filipino counterparts. When we go to the beach, they quickly stake out their patch, which usually ends up being pretty much the entire beach.
I don’t like to generalize about Filipinos. Having said that, I live on an island that is considered part of “the provinces.” Most people here don’t have a lot of money or education. Their attitude toward private property can often be summed up like this: “what’s mine is mine, and because you’re a rich foreigner, what’s yours might become mine also”. Which is why a lot of expats have built a lot of walls around their houses. Many of these houses resemble penitentiaries, with their massive concrete walls topped off with barbed wire and jagged glass. Our need for so much security makes me sad. We’re human beings, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we at least aspire to operate on a higher level than dogs?
It just so happens that I received a rather mysterious message from an Indian Swami in Bali on this very topic:
We had just moved into a new house, one that had appeared to be surrounded by secure concrete walls — until the day we moved in and had a good look. A small child could step over the wall’s lowest sections. Within twenty-four hours most of my orchids had been stolen and one of our dogs had escaped into our new and strange neighborhood and could not be found.
Two days later an orchid vendor stopped at our house, selling, among other things, my stolen orchids. I bought them all back. That same day I received a text message that our missing dog had been sighted in our old neighborhood, five kilometers away.
“This is terrible”, I shouted. “I can’t live like this. This is the Philippines, for god’s sake. What kind of fool would build a house with no walls? We’re going to be picked clean!”
Days later I was in Bali, attending a yoga retreat that I had booked long before we had decided to move. All week I fretted about our lack of walls. How could we make them higher, I asked myself over and over. I sketched diagrams and vowed to begin construction as soon as I returned home.
The day before the retreat ended, our teacher announced that a swami from India was in Ubud and would be giving a talk at someone’s home. Would anyone like to go along with her?
“Sure”, I said. “I’ve never seen a swami. I’d love to go”.
We arrived a little late and the swami was already speaking to the small group of people assembled. We quietly placed our cushions well off to the side of the room. The swami discussed Hindu gods and goddesses and how to live a happy life. Then, out of the blue, he turned his body toward us, looked directly into my face, and said,
“You know, it’s possible to live very happily in a house that has no walls”. Then he smiled, turned back to the center of the room and moved onto a completely different subject.
I couldn’t believe my ears! The doubter in me briefly tried to pass it off as a coincidence, but I knew that wasn’t true. This was clearly a message for ME. Chills ran up and down my chakras.
When I arrived home the next day my partner asked, “so what did you decide to do about the walls?”
“I’ve changed my mind. Swami says we don’t need walls”.
And for the past eighteen months, we have lived very happily without walls, living peacefully alongside our Filipino neighbors. The occasional goat wanders in and chews up the plants and the neighborhood kids help themselves to mangoes from our trees. But that’s okay. Our roaming dog is happy with the low walls, and comes and goes as he pleases.
Now I’m definitely not recommending that you rush outside with wire cutters and a sledge hammer to knock down your walls. Sadly, the fact is that walls are a big part of expat life in this part of the world. I fully expect that our next house will have substantial walls. I just wanted to share what I consider to have been a rather strange and mystical experience in my Asian life.