Thirteen years ago, before she became a Buddhist nun, Heny Ferawati showed up at a meditation center in Bali for her first silent retreat. She had a lot of trouble with the silence part. In fact, Ferawati spent most of her 14-day stay making more noise than anyone else because she kept bursting into sobs.
“At first you don’t know how to control your mind or deal with your anxiety,” says Ferawati, who’s known as Fera. With some guidance from a monk, Fera got her tears under control, and before long she was living at a monastery in Myanmar. Seven years after getting ordained, she returned to Indonesia to care for her mother and eventually began working at a wellness
center at the idyllic Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan — yes, the place where Julia Roberts stayed while shooting scenes for Eat Pray Love and where the Obama family camped out on vacation in 2017.
About five years ago Fera became the resident wellness mentor at the luxe resort, where she created treatments like the Sacred Nap, a blissful ritual that has even longtime insomniacs snoring in purple hammocks as she whispers blessings in Sanskrit and uses a traditional singing bowl. “The idea came after I had my daughter two years ago and saw how comforted she was when I rocked her to sleep or sang to her,” says Fera. “I realized that the best time for us is when we are babies. You have no burdens, no emails to worry about. Everyone loves you, and you can really sense that. I wanted to bring adults back to that time.”
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It was Fera who guided Malia and Sasha Obama through this treatment under a bamboo canopy as Secret Service agents kept watch. But the soft-spoken 38-year-old, who comes from the Indonesian island of Java, is notable less for her celebrity associations than for her no-nonsense brand of wisdom. The daughter of a devout Muslim mother and a strict Buddhist father, Fera is using her privileged perch in the heart of Bali, which has become one of the world’s most high-profile hubs for travelers in search of spiritual healing, to better understand what’s ailing all of us and how we can fix it.
“Today so many people don’t even know that they’re in pain,” Fera says. “They’re already beyond pain. Their heart is numb. Sometimes you have to experience something big, something extreme, to regain your sensitivity.”
If you’re eager to start 2019 with a legit wellness regimen, Fera suggests you create a “mindfulness corner” or find a dedicated spot in your house for meditating, even if it’s just a comfortable chair. Every day take a few moments to sit there and breathe mindfully. (In the mornings focus on your inward breath, drawing in positive energy; in the evenings emphasize the outward breath, expelling anger and worry.) And throughout the day periodically pause and ask yourself, “What am I doing right now?” No matter how banal the answer—standing in line, texting, showering—reply without judgment. “This almost magically brings your awareness to the here and now and helps get your mind back on track,” Fera says.
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She has noticed that anxiety and sorrow often follow geographical patterns. Japanese clients, she says, tend to be very burdened with the traditions of their culture. For many Chinese people the stress is often related to the rigors of competition. And New Yorkers? Fera shoots me a “Where do I begin?” look. “It’s often about how to find a partner or more money,” she says. Of course, one evergreen topic that always pops up is relationship problems. Advice, please? “Well, never think that you’ll be able to manage someone or understand what is in their head,” Fera says. “Even my daughter, whom I carried in my body for nine months and breastfed for six, does whatever she wants. Sometimes we misunderstand each other. So what do you expect if you meet someone new when you’re 25?”
After a split from her partner, Fera is raising her daughter alone in a conservative country where single mothers tend to invite pity or scorn. How does she feel when others judge her for that? “I don’t care,” she says with a soft laugh. Through her Buddhist practice, and also through motherhood, she has learned about the particular kind of “divine energy” she believes all women possess. To get through life’s challenges “we must have two sides — the masculine and feminine — in the same body.” Gentleness and nurturing have their time and place. But in tough situations, “we can put on our armor like a warrior. And then all the swords come out, and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
In an era when making New Year’s resolutions might seem more futile than ever because of the nonstop onslaught of scary headlines and unforeseen crises, Fera has an all-purpose insight that can apply during any news cycle: “The thing I always tell people is, ‘Enjoy the show. If it’s a good show, clap your hands. Sad show? Cry — no problem. Whatever it is, it will pass, so make sure you don’t miss it, because then you’ll miss the chance to learn from it.’ ”
Photographed by Christopher Bagley. For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download now
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