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Honoring My Past and the Heros in My Life

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Janur Yasa tells the incredible story of how he left his small Balinese village to work in America. Humorously he gives examples of the contrast between the two places. He shares the many skills he developed in the US and how he used them back in Bali. Asked to open a restaurant, he remembered a mentor saying, "When you do something, think about these four things—learning, earning, sharing, and fun." So he opened a restaurant with a famous Indonesian chef. Janur is very inspiring when he speaks about the bartering system and how an idea helped him assist the people in Bali since the start of COVID-19—Plastic Exchange.

I was born in a small village about one hour west from here in the shadow of Batukaru Mountain. There were no cars, no electricity, and one transistor radio. I'm not one hundred years old. You know that! I'm still young. Every day I would sit around in the morning when my mom cooked. I just loved it, you know, because I knew she was gonna need something from me. Sure enough, "Hey Made, can you take the salt and then get some eggs from the neighbor." This is the moment that I was waiting for. I ran out the door and came back with the eggs. This is the barter system that we have in Bali. You know, I just love that feeling. You barter for something, and everybody in a whole village knows what we have.

At twelve years old, my dad called me in. Wow, this is a little bit serious, I thought, you know. And then I sat next to him, and he said, "Made, if you wanna be somebody, you need to get out from this village, and then come back again when the wind blows in this direction." I was confused. You know life in the village was so damn good. Why does he want me to go out? Well, I followed his directions literally.

In 1996, I found myself halfway around the world in San Francisco—the city I only saw when I was watching Hollywood movies. I was in awe. Oh my God, you know. This could not be more different than where I grew up. It was such a contrast. I'll just give you an example. My friend told me, "If you get in an accident, do not admit it's your fault because you will be libeled for it." What? In Bali, if you fall in somebody's house, you would find the host and say, "Oh, I'm sorry. That was my fault. I didn't see the hole." It was so different, but hey, I needed to learn. And the other thing is that I needed to call my friends to see them, and I needed to come on time. That was a new concept. In Bali, you just show up in somebody else's house, and they have all the time for you. And they even give you coffee.

Well, life is not black and white like that. You know, in Bali, we call it robineda, which is the duality. And I got lucky when I was in the United States. I worked for Outward Bound. I worked at a lot of different things. I just learned everything. I even skied. Can you believe a Balinese skier?! In the United States? I was telemarketing. People said, "That person is from Bali." But I'm not a dancer, sorry.

So I got lucky to meet two of my mentors in the United States. The first one was Yvon Chouinard at the company that I worked at for nine years. What I learned from him was, "Hold your vision and your mission." Up to this date, the most profitable company in the United States, and still owned privately.

The second mentor that I met was Richard Strozzi-Heckler, and I had the privilege to be uchi deshi, meaning that I lived with him like an intern. So he taught me aikido and somatics. From aikido, I really learned how to take care of others with dignity. From aikido, I learned how to fall, get up, move on, roll, get up, move on. From somatics, I learned how to really know myself. From somatics, I learned really just knowing myself that I didn't know before. And from both of those, Richard always said, "If you wanna change yourself, change your practice." This is what he said . . . "To remember, move one hundred times. To get it in your muscle memory, one thousand times. To embody it, ten thousand times." So think about it, one, two, three, four, and so on.

After a few years in the United States, I felt not lonely, but just felt a kind of loneliness. You know, I grew up with such a different way of life. And for the first time, I saw Bali from a different perspective. The community, the dancing, the ceremonies that I took for granted when I was in Bali. I missed them so much. And I told myself, One day when I'm back in Bali, when that wind blows me back to Bali, I will take care of you, Bali.

Of course, at the beginning of 2010, I found myself back in Bali. My experiences in the United States proved to be valuable. I ended up with job here as a guest liaison, as a somatic coach, and teaching aikido in one of the healing centers here in Bali.

In those four years that I worked over there, I met one of the most talented plant-based chefs in Bali or probably in Indonesia, chef Made Runatha. One day he asked me, "Hey, Janur, do you wanna open a restaurant with me?" And I said, "A restaurant?" I'd never run a restaurant before, you know, and I Googled it. It has an 80% failure, you know. Do I wanna put myself though that? But I remember when I was working at Howard Bond, one of my mentors said, "When you do something, think about these four things—learning, earning, sharing, and fun." Hmm. I'd never done this before. Well, I guess I can learn it. So I said, "Sure. Why not?" So then Moksa Plant-Based Permaculture Garden was born. I knew nothing about restaurants, knew nothing about permaculture, but what I learned from permaculture is that inside of a problem, there is a solution. That's one of the principles from permaculture that I really took to heart. Moksa was thriving until COVID-19 hit.

I sat in my home. My wife Hilary was in the United States at the time. (Hi, hon, love you long time!) So she was stuck in the United States with my kids. I found myself sipping a glass of wine. What should I do? I want to help my family in my village. And then I remembered inside of the crisis, there is an opportunity. What is the crisis that we are facing right now? Number one is COVID-19. Because of COVID-19 in Bali, we need rice. If we have rice, salt, and pepper, we live forever. Yeah. That's Bali. The second one. Plastic, plastic, plastic. That's the environment. The third one is like this. When there is a disaster, people bring what we call disaster relief—one hand on the bottom and one hand on the top. I really wanna bring this hand together. In Bollywood, we call it tatvamasi. You as me, me as you. The giver becomes a receiver. The receiver becomes a giver. So we all have an equal feeling what I call dignity.

So I thought to myself, I'm just gonna go to the village. I called the village leader and the youth leader. And I talked, and I presented my idea of exchanging plastic for rice. And then they loved it. And they said, "When should we start?" I said, "Tomorrow." "What?" "Hey, we are not waiting for an auspicious day to pick up plastic. Tomorrow is a good day," I said. "We don't need to wait for the full moon or the new moon. Tomorrow. If there is plastic tomorrow, there is rice tomorrow," I said. "Oh, Janur is crazy. He's been Americanized." But hey, it's good to be crazy.

So the next day, they picked up the plastic in two days. In my village there's only sixty households, which is two hundred and forty people. We collected five hundred kilos of plastic—a half-ton. I was so happy. Oh, my program is great. You know, I got all of this and then, Oh no. If in my village, this small village, I can pick up this much plastic, what about a bigger village? What about around Bali? If this thing works in my village, it's got to work in a different village. And I started the system. How I'm gonna bring it out and all of that, with the help of volunteers—dedicated volunteers—with me, and my wife's support which was really just relentless. Now the plastic exchange is spreading like wildfire. Two hundred villages. One hundred and thirty tons of plastic has been collected.

Thirty-five tons of rice has been distributed, and about four thousand five hundred households have been helped. So really, the core of Plastic Exchange is three—dignity, prosperity, environment. The mission is to empower Balinese people to prosper through the barter system by collecting non-organic stuff. And we give them rice. Assisting them for now.

I remember Richard said, "To get it in your muscle memory, one thousand times, to make it embodied, ten thousand times." I want my people here in Bali, stop doing this, but do this now. One, two . . . sooner or later, it's gonna be ten thousand times, and it'll become embodied. That's my hope. We can do this. All of you here have been donating to Plastic Exchange, supporting me. Now, here, we can do this for our self-worth, for our dignity, prosperity, and the environment.

In Bali, we believe in reincarnation. We're born again because we have work to do. Moksartham Jagadhita ya ca iti Dharma. It means There is liberation in this world when you do your work, when you do Dharma, and you wanna be one with the creation, and then you're not born again. This place we call Maya Pada—the place of illusion. We do our work to reach Moksha.

My dad is my hero. He pushed me out of my comfort zone. "Get out and come back," he said. Dad, I'll stay here in the world to do my work until I see you in heaven.

Thank you.


if you're looking for something to transform your life then they should do FABx. ~ Hoda Monika Agah
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