Eat, Pray, Liyer

I have never put much stock in spiritual healing, but we were in Ubud, den of tranquility and I had taken a couple yoga classes so I figured what the heck.  Plus, how could I name my blog “Eat, Play, Love” after the Elizabeth Gilbert novel (of a slightly different name) and not take the opportunity to go see Ketut Liyer, the healer slash medicine man who helps save her from her personal torments?

Friends of ours had gone to see him when they were in Ubud and had recommended the experience.  They suggested making an appointment as he is a very busy man and otherwise we might have to wait a while to gain an audience with this holy man.  Although our friend Avi had given us Ketut’s phone number, we decided just to wing it and show up unannounced.

A friendly neighborhood good samaritan (who, it turns out, wanted to sell us a tour somewhere or transportation and wouldn’t leave us alone) helped us locate Ketut’s home down a dirt road side street.  There was no waiting.  We were immediately ushered in to join Ketut who was sitting crossed legged outside one of the buildings in his home compound along with another older man and a young boy who appeared to be his side kicks or translators or something though that was never really made clear.

I’m not sure how I expected our meeting with Ketut would go, but Francesca had read an interview with him saying that the popularity of Gilbert’s book has not changed his daily life at all and that he still spends his days receiving visitors and reading their palms telling them exactly what he sees in their future, good or bad.  He tells the interviewer that in his religion he would go to hell if he did not tell the truth and he does not want to go there.  Fair enough.

Ketut introduces himself and asks our names, where we’re from and what we do for jobs.  He tells us his name is Ketut Liyer, which we already knew.  Then he tells us Liyer means “bright light” which we didn’t know.  He says “Do you understand ‘bright light’?  We assure him that we do.  Ketut is a diminutive man of about eighty years or so (or maybe the sun has prematurely aged him?) with dark eyes that sparkle and about three teeth in total that he displays as part of his constantly beaming grin.  He sports a traditional Balinese hat and a shirt that says “cock fight”, which, by the way, are prevalent, but illegal in Bali.

He asks us in slow, measured English if we have read the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Figuring he might not enjoy all the attention the book has brought him we down play the book as our reason for being there and mention that a friend had recommended that we come see him, which, of course, was true.  Ignoring our answer he produces a copy of the book seemingly out of nowhere and opens it up to an earmarked page where the author describes him.  He slowly hands me the book and asks me to read it out loud instructing me on where to begin and end.  Several times he stops me to ask what a word or phrase means and I do my best to explain, but silently wonder how he doesn’t already know the meanings if he asks all of his visitors to read this passage which I suspect he does (probably even to those who come clean about  their familiarity with the book).

I do my best to add a little pizzazz to the reading, using my performance voice and pausing periodically to engage all the members of my audience.  Perhaps Ketut thought I was stealing the spotlight from him too much because he puts his hand over the page before I am through reading, reclaims the book and with a smile shows us the inscription on the front page by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she has written “To my teacher and friend.  Love, Liz”.   “To my friend” he repeats slowly staring down at the book. “To my friend”.   He seems pleased that he knows such a famous woman.  Francesca and I have a lot on our agenda today and so I am about to try to change the topic to something more spiritual when he snaps out of his trance and announces that he will now read our palms.  Then he rattles off the same disclaimer about going to Hindu hell if he doesn’t tell the truth that he told the magazine journalist.  Okay, we’re ready.  Lay it on us Ketut.

Ketut then takes Francesca’s hand in his and begins to read her palm.  He tells her that she is beautiful with sweet lips like sugar and smart like a queer.  Or at least that what it sounds like to us.  Off our confused looks he says:

“Do you understand ‘queer’?”

“Uh….”

“You know, like a princess with a crown?”

“Oh ‘queen’!!  Yes, yes, we understand queen”, we tell him.

Then he tells Francesca that she will live to be 100 years old, will only marry once and will have two children.  He says to her “You are very intelligent and will be success in anything you try to do like owning a hair salon or something”.  He says this after she has already told him she is in the medical field.

I actually videotaped his entire reading of Francesca’s palm (with his permission of course) so I figured I’d post it so you could hear him in action.

I left the clip unedited for the most part to preserve it for posterity so if you don’t want to watch all 8 minutes be my guest, but if not, if you at least watch the first minute or two you’ll get the flavor.

Then it’s my turn and he proceeds to give me the exact (and I mean word for word down to the last detail) reading that he gave Francesca – I am so handsome like a king with lips as sweet as sugar and I will be success in anything I try (although he stops short of saying owning a hair salon).  Incredibly I will also live to be 100 years old (when he tells me this I nudge Francesca and tell her that it looks like she’ll be on her own for the last eight years of her long life) and that I too will only marry once.   I ask him to check my marriage line again, knowing that I have already been married twice, but he assures me that I will only be married once.  Swing and a miss on that one.  He tops that off by adding, with great severity, that I must stay with Francesca because if I do not then I will be financially devastated while together we will be rich.  Francesca loves that one and grins smugly in my direction.

At this point we have been with Ketut for about thirty or forty minutes and I have not felt anything spiritual about him so we look to make an exit.  As a wrap up question I ask him what is the secret to a happy marriage setting him up for a deep and meaningful reply, but he only repeats that I must stay with Francesca or be financially ruined.   Okay.  I got that.  Thanks.

We graciously thank him for his time and for allowing us into his home.  We hadn’t heard or read anything about how much to pay him, but we figure he makes his living dispensing advice to tourists and locals so, despite feeling like we got a canned palm reading, we are prepared to give a small donation.  Francesca and I hadn’t discussed an amount ahead of time, but I had been thinking maybe 50,000 to 100,000 Rupiah.  That’s only $5-10 in US dollar terms, but carries a lot more purchasing power than that in Bali.

I am unsure about how to broach the subject of payment not wanting to insult a spiritual man who probably has only basic needs for money, but before I do so he whips out a guest book and proceeds to flip through several entries from various admirers over the years and asks us to read them out loud to him.   They are all effusive in their praise and thanks to Ketut promising to keep in touch, some giving their email addresses or even leaving photos of them or him or them with him.  I wonder if these people got a better palm reading than we did?  He then tells us that many of these people gave him 250,000 Rupiah for each person. I have to admit I am a bit taken aback.  I did not expect him to come right out and ask for money.  I figured maybe he would have his side kicks do the asking or at least refer to it as a religious donation, but he piles on the guilt trip by telling us about his niece who is sick and he needs money for her.  We have heard similar stories from many other locals in Bali as well as the rest of Southeast Asia and while I am not saying Ketut wasn’t being genuine, it just left a bad taste in our mouths about the whole experience.  I ended up giving him 150,000 Rupiah total which seemed to disappoint him.  He repeated again with a gentle smile on his face that often time many people give him 250,000 Rupiah per person.  I felt like saying we should only have to pay for one since he gave us both the exact same reading, but instead I just begged his forgiveness saying that is all we could give him and excused ourselves.

Later when recounting this story to our yoga friends Mike and Kim they tell us that they have heard that many of the spiritual healers of Bali have become obsessed with making money and have resorted to pressuring tourists for more money.  When I get back to New York City I think I’ll have someone read our tarot cards, but I’ll be sure to check the price beforehand.

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4 Responses to “Eat, Pray, Liyer”

  1. Hmm, this is somewhat awkward…he told me I would be king once I turned 40. Sounds like the throne might be a bit crowded.

  2. Hey he told me that I would be king too, and that I would only marry once and have 2 kids (i’m already divorced so things aren’t looking bright for me) But if I live to be as old as him and have that much joy for life than I think it’s a life well lived. I still smile every time I think of him

    • aroljahns Says:

      Hi Brad, thanks for reading and commenting. I like your positive outlook on Ketut better than our cynical one. 🙂

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