Once in a Bali Lifetime: Our Eternal Quest to Understand Our Origin

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

It’s unrelenting.
“Where do (tree) seeds come from?”
“From trees.”
“Where do trees come from?”
“From seeds.”
“Where do seeds come from?”
“Where do trees come from?”
“Where do seeds come from?”
“Where does God come from?”
“Who made Heaven?”
“Who made God?”
It’s not yet 9am, and this part-game, part fundamental inquisitiveness is already in full swing among my five- and seven-year-olds. They giggle at the routine, but the raw curiosity at existence is firmly there, the primordial questions we may never know the answer to that run through our lives.  That young children are alert to it is the essence of the condition of humankind.
In designing The Big Questions item for this newspaper, I wanted to know what the person on the street thinks, and thus far the responses have largely been based on drummed-in, non-thinking religious perspectives that don’t fully satisfy.
Imagine how ultimately different our lives would be if we knew the answers. But we cannot, at least not in this lifetime. Would we despair, give up, if we knew? Maybe. It depends on what the answers were. For some, their lives would be spent in prostration to any deity behind creation. For others, a rebellion? For now, all we can do is plod along and do the best we can in our seemingly mundane lives.
As a boy in boarding school in Ireland, we held clandestine Ouija board sessions, because they were banned and if found out, expulsion would result. Late at night in our dorms, and occasionally after classes had finished, we would whip out our A to Z cut-out letters, place a glass in the center that we would place our fingers on and get started. Always a bible would be nearby to ward off evil spirits that might descend and attempt to create havoc. Often we had to use it.
Invoking mantras, inevitably the glass would start moving around the letters, spelling out answer to questions posed, even in members’ minds. Unnerving at first, it developed into a fascination.
Years later, as a young adult working in Dublin, that interest in the occult developed into fully fledged séances, with spirits descending fast and thick, at one stage one telling us to go to a cemetery at night to do one on a headstone of a dear departed, a challenge my girlfriend and the time and other friends accepted. With flashlights beaming, we scaled the cemetery gate and set about our otherworldly business.
Again, it was for kicks, as ethereal as they were – but, still, we were searching.
For some, these kind of questions never enter into their packed, packaged lives. Running households and  making ends meet are the ever-present challenges, and things beyond our control or imagination are best left to those of a religious bent.
But for some, the big questions persist, and cast a long thought process over their lives. One of our contributors, Nicholas Rety, a retired Canadian surgeon and talented writer who spends part of his time in Bali, is one. He mailed last week to say his partner Eva had enjoyed a recent column of mine, The Simple Life, saying “she saw the soul behind the words.” And so, as they had been out of Bali when more deeply probing columns of mine had been published, I sent two of them, one about the contentious atheist Richard Dawkins.
Nicholas mailed:

Dear William,

Thank you for sending us your two articles which we are still discussing during our endless sessions in the pool.  We shall take them home for the benefit of our friends.
I must say I was most impressed by Richard Dawkins when I read The Selfish Gene and was blown away by his comprehension of the minutiae of science as it relates to life. In medical school I did develop a degree of skepticism about God, religion and things spiritual but in my old age (I’ll be 78 in December) I am beginning to look on my skepticism as uninformed arrogance.  There are things I cannot explain in the general (remarkable) order of things. Equally I now recognize the value of belief in something as an anchor to hope.  In my memoir I devoted a chapter to my views on religion, and concluded that to many of us humans honor comes only in the form of religious ceremonies marking birth, marriage and death. “Without it (as I wrote) shovelfuls of earth falling on a coffin would make an undistinguished exit from this world.”
On a more personal level, I cut short a holiday in Bali some years ago in order to finance a surgical operation for a friend.  I left for Canada 10 days earlier than planned.  Only three days after my arrival home I suffered a heart attack.  Happenstance or reward for a good deed?  How am I to know?  All I know is that I have been more humble since.
Eva sends her thanks and regards.

All the best,

Some of us will never stop searching, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. As my namesake wrote in Hamlet:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


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