Escape to Bali! Yes, what an enticing idea! Yes, away from the city gloom, rush, incessant noise, stress and endless to-do lists! No wonder that this is the most popular slogan for the likes of retreats, hotels and co-sharing spaces. And so we escape. And then what? And then as many discover, comes the shock of grass not greener.
Bali is a place people come to… well, escape. Hit a pause button. Simplify. Like most things, escapism in and of itself is not so bad. Bali can be a way to break out of the mundane, the boxes you are squeezed into, from the subtle guilt of not fitting in. Bali is home for the visionaries, the misfits, the non-conformists. Relocation for them was an opportunity to leave behind a constraining atmosphere. Many people happily living in Bali are enjoying bidding farewell to the oddly persistent misconception that you can be called a mature well-functioning adult only if you have a narrowly-enough defined 9-to-5 job, conservative-enough looking family, conservative-enough looking house, conservative-enough looking you. From this point of view escape can be marvelous – removing yourself from the environment that is stifling to your personality and instead nurturing your individuality where its expression is unrestricted and valued.
When does the bad and the ugly come then?
One of the most common reason to move to Southeast Asia is the desire to lower the cost of living. Research shows that people who move guided mainly by the financial considerations tend to get unhappy pretty fast. Moving to spend less usually means that you still value the same comforts, it’s just that you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay for them as much. Alas, those first-world comforts you will not find here, and if you do you will pay the tourist prices that are not much different from what you paid in your home country. On top of that, anything that you are not used to would be seen as downgrading, as annoyance. The barking dogs, the ceremonies, the smells, the garbage, the motorbike traffic will feel like irksome irritations, not charming local quirks. And don’t underestimate the joy-sucking power of irksome irritations! You will be expending a lot of energy on dealing, ignoring, avoiding and recovering from these daily unavoidables.
Many people escape in the name of freedom. It is no doubt a very effective short term solution to remove yourself (quite literally) from the burdens, rules, obligations, expectations and relationships (or lack thereof). Differently framed, but equally the wrong kind of escapism is a move in the name of quality of life improvement. Say you are thinking of moving because you realize you drive too much and country life will do your step-o-meter good. You think you will meditate more. You will write more. You will be good. But this new-life-starts-on-Monday mindset tends to be nothing but a convenient self-delusion.
Of course you may also be wanting to escape things that are happening truly outside your control (and I mean truly, not learned-helplessness-kind of out of control). You may believe it unhealthy to live in a city. You may want to educate your children in a different system. You might be unhappy about the violence in your neighborhoods. The difference here is that you are aware what life conditions your happiness requires and you look for a place that offers a better fit to your needs. Trouble happens when the move comes from an idea that a new place will drastically change who you are and what keeps happening to you (as opposed to following your passion and creating a better environment to go on doing what you do already). Most of the happiest people I know living in Bali ended up staying here quite by accident. An extended holiday, a longing to keep coming back, an opportunity to engage with the passion more deeply, a sudden progress with an ancient head-against-the-wall problem. There was a natural continuity there. Bali gave to the interests, values, healing, opened the door to an opportunity (and we know Bali gives generously).
A planned move is not necessarily a guaranteed dud. You just need to make sure you are radically honest in your assessments of what you need, why you are not getting it now and how exactly the new location will contribute to your goals. It takes a lot of courage and self-leadership to own up to the responsibility for what’s happening in your life. Relocation out of boredom, because people suck and don’t get you, because work is tough – none of these are good reasons. Adventures you make your own, people you attract yourself, work you choose. Things that happen TO you in your home country are happening BECAUSE of you and sooner or later no matter where you go you will end up with new heaps of same same but different issues. A more sustainable option is to dig deeper into your current situation and work on having the mindset, the relationships, the job, leisure that allow you to be 100% yourself and leave you 100% satisfied.
No, life is not necessarily easier in Bali. There are plenty of people who end up disenchanted, bitter or depressed even in this paradise. Having your own custom system to go through your emotional baggage before taking off can prevent you joining their ranks. And this is precisely what this regular column will be about – guiding you through a more difficult and infinitely more courageous choice of building self-leadership, self-reliance and nourishing relationships as a foundation to sustainably fulfilling life. Because even the greatest visionaries need a little support.
Trouble in Paradise
Dr Anastasia Belikova
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