Restoring My Photography Karma so Stop With the Eat Pray Love Already!

I kept hearing it. “Oh, of course you’re going to Bali. You’re doing the Eat, Pray, Love thing after your divorce.’’ The comment irked me. It ignored all the sophisticated analysis and carefully selected criteria that went into choosing this exotic destination for my solo adventure.  And having a fling halfway around the world wasn’t even on the list of priorities; I just wanted to fall back in love with photography.  And myself.

Solo? Seriously?

An unrelenting work schedule this past year left me with just two weeks to travel – the last week in August and the first week in September. When I urged friends to join me,  most were either returning from their summer vacations or getting their kids ready to begin a new school year, so none were available. Dying to get away, I considered the idea of going alone. Fear and doubt haunted me: Could I really do this? What if I didn’t leave the hotel room? What if I was terribly lonely? What if I got sick? What if not a single person spoke to me in two weeks?

For several days a wrestling match raged inside my head, resembling the likes of Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. Finally I decided. I would go! Alone. I would spend two weeks in the pleasure of my own company with only myself to please. Such a feeling of freedom. I was simultaneously elated and scared. I was so accustomed to making decisions based on what would please others that it felt foreign to ask myself what would make me happy and then take action. The minute I made the decision, my anxiety abated, and I knew this was the right call.

The Perfect Spot

I pulled up Google Maps and decided that the entire world was a possibility for this trip of a lifetime. Since I have terrible luck with bad weather on vacation, I ruled out anywhere with the potential for hurricanes, monsoons, or snowstorms. The list of criteria wrote itself: 1) it had to be a place I had never been before; 2) it should be a place with a unique culture, diverse sites to explore, and vivid imagery to make pictures; 3) near the water; 4) the opportunity to meet other solo travelers; 5)  a place where English would be readily spoken. But my bottom line was clear: the ideal location was one where a woman could feel safe on her own.  So OK. I have to hand it to her: Elizabeth Gilbert and her book single-handedly made Bali a top destination for women to safely journey on their own, even following the horrific terrorist attacks in Kuta in 2002 and 2005.  The more I read and talked to friends who had been there,  the more excited I became about Bali. It met or exceeded every criteria. I thought, to hell with those who thought it was a cliché. Bali would serve as a perfect backdrop for my solo adventure and my new beginning.

Falling out of Love

Somewhere in between getting the Camera+ iPhone app, a falling out with a close friend who shared my passion for photography, five professional photography gigs this past spring and summer and the start of the BOCCE in the AFTERNOON series, I found myself leaving my camera in its bag more often than not. Gone were the days when I had jumped out of bed before daybreak to chase the beautiful, golden light that makes an image sing or planned my weekend around discovering a new location in the hopes of capturing the shot of a lifetime. Making pictures had become a job with a set of expectations and assumptions that took a lot of the joy and creative juices out of me. Pressure to create art on demand that pleased others became a burden.  I needed to reignite my passion, but I didn’t know how. It was clear that forcing it wasn’t the answer.


In planning my trip to Bali, I decided to hire a tour guide. Not only would I get the insider’s perspective on the 2,200-square mile, Hindu island of more than 4 million residents in the Muslim archipelago country of Indonesia, 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, I would also have a guaranteed companion to talk to on the days that we toured together. With a few clicks of the mouse, I found Bali Photography Tours led by Yande Ardana. With more than 10 years of experience, he agreed to be my capable mediator on the island. His images were stunning, and his passionate words for both his island home and photography felt inspirational.

A New Dawn

My alarm went off at 3:45am. It had been the first morning I rose before the roosters and dogs began their morning sing-a-long. I walked to the front of the resort where the hotel concierge smiled and wiped sleep from his eyes as he handed me a breakfast go box. Yande was waiting. He quietly introduced himself and shook my hand. Around my height with a fair build, Yande had a gentleness about him. Looking at him, I tried to figure out my new friend’s age.

We drove for 45 minutes through the darkness to the northern part of Bali; conversation was polite, though minimal, as I tried to wake up. When Yande stopped the car and signaled that I should get out, it was pitch black and my eyes struggled to adjust.  The temperature was in the low 50s, which made me shiver in my shorts. Yande set my camera up on his tripod, and we waited. Together we watched the sky go from black to orange to gold until the sun came up over Batur, Bali’s most active volcano. Struck with awe by the dawning of this new day, peace washed over me. I snapped hundreds of images, hoping at least one would capture this gift of a morning that Yande and I had experienced together.

Once the sun had come up, we drove to a small, lakeside village where the morning light was spectacular. A woman came with her small son to the water’s edge,  where they too were beginning their day. She washed their clothes, and he brushed his teeth in the water beside us. This would be one of the many memorable moments that gave me a different perspective on Bali than the one that I had gained at COMO Shambhala and some of the more touristy parts of the island.

Wild Horses

Yande was a true Renaissance man: he played the guitar and sang; he studied martial arts and played badminton; he hated paperwork and being stuck in an office. He paid attention to subtleties in nature and in people and was equally a good listener and an engaging conversationalist. He had strong opinions yet was open to alternative perspectives.

While we explored the island, we talked about ourselves and our families, Hinduism, life on Bali, and his impressions of the tourists from around the world he has met. Americans, he said, generally had it all wrong: they were too head-focused and ego driven and didn’t pay enough attention to their hearts and souls. He looked at me and said, “You need to reign in the wild horses that run through your mind, Cindy, so you can unlock your heart and reveal your true spirit.” He advised yoga and meditation. He made me smile. I enjoyed his company thoroughly.

Never Too Busy

My new teacher was very patient, and I hung on his every soft-spoken word. He explained what my eyes were seeing but couldn’t compute, like the bamboo poles that lined every road we drove. These symbols, called penjor, marked the most important religious holidays on Bali: Galungan and Kuningan, when the spirits of deceased relatives return to visit their former homes, and the women say many prayers and make offerings of fruit, water, rice, and flowers.  I revealed my Western, Fresh-Direct mentality, asking naively if their local grocery stores sold pre-packaged offerings in case the women were too busy with work or their families to make them. He paused a moment and then replied, “No. Women in Bali are never too busy to make their offerings by hand.”

Over fried bananas and ginger tea, our conversations moved nimbly between Reiki healing; reincarnation; the Hindu gods; restoring one’s karma through forgiveness; different varieties of incense, the signature fragrance of the island; men showing off their roosters to their village “warung” or café in the afternoons; techniques for growing rice; dating and marriage rituals; music and traditional dancing; and the Balinese educational and political systems. Yande was so proud of Bali – its beauty and spirit. He had only left the island twice in his nearly forty years; once to go to Java and once to Lombok, both neighboring islands in Indonesia.

Yande told me about his spiritual teacher, who came to his home every Saturday night to help him to deepen his meditation and Kundalini yoga practices. His latest assignment was to meditate for 2 consecutive hours; compared with my 3-minute meditation practice, this goal felt daunting and impossible. I asked how he was doing, and he proudly smiled and revealed that his all-time longest meditation was 60 minutes and that he is up to 30 minutes routinely. I became anxious for him: “Does your teacher get angry that you haven’t achieved the goal yet? What are you doing to get yourself there? Do you get mad at yourself about your lack of progress?” He chuckled and said, “Cindy, it isn’t about getting to the destination or achieving the goal. For me, it’s about the process, and I enjoy every minute of it. 30 minutes or whatever I can do is perfectly enough.”

Excellent Karma

Mostly we talked about photography, and why we were both drawn to it. Yande was self-taught and knew every technical aspect of each piece of gear that we both had in our bags. He shot with older Canon equipment, which he treasured. He gently gave me tips, as we compared the composition of our many landscapes. He would become animated when I captured an image he liked more than his own; he would run to the same location and recreate the shot. On two occasions when the morning fog rolled in over the water, he looked at me and shook his head. “Cindy Morgan, you have excellent photography karma.” I admired Yande’s simple joy and passion for making images. He shot only for himself and felt no pressure to yield to someone else’s expectation of what good looked like. While we brainstormed ways to develop Yande’s touring business so he could better integrate photography, he thanked me for my very strategic and insightful wild horses.

Falling in Love Again

In total, we spent three days together, from the darkest hours before daybreak until the dazzling sunsets of dusk. From the first day of being with Yande until the end of my trip, my heart leapt every time I put my eye to the viewfinder. My brain raced with options for composition and depth of field for every scene. I longed to feel the weight of the 70-200 lens on my hip when I went to bed at night, and I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to explore and discover the images that lay ahead to fill my day. Without even realizing it at first, I had rediscovered my artistic purpose: to capture with my camera the indescribable beauty and sense of myself that I was experiencing on this magical island, and to make these images to please me alone. My time with Yande had filled me with a renewed sense of my own creative process and restored my energy and passion for photography. This was a far better outcome than falling in love and riding off in a boat with Felipe/Javier Bardem! Everything felt possible again. Bali had brought love back in my life, and I couldn’t have been more excited. 

Thinking of a trip to Bali? Have Yande be your tour guide! Details about Bali Photography Tours can be found at:

Swimming Naked: How a supermodel, a skinny dip and the Source helped me silence my voice of shame.

I had to travel halfway around the world, make friends with a supermodel, and skinny dip for the first time in my 42 years on this earth before I learned to silence the voice of shame inside my head that had haunted and followed me most every day of my life.

I’d started my morning at the COMO Shambhala resort in Bali with an Estate Walk around the perimeter of the property, accompanied by a beautiful, athletic American girl with long eyelashes. I turned to her when we’d finished: “I hope I didn’t go too slowly for you. I’m fighting some jet lag, and the humidity is killing me!” She chuckled and admitted, “Are you kidding? I was working my ass off just to keep up with you!” We both laughed. “I’m Jen,” she said. Our friendship had begun.

Our Very Big, Small World

Within the first 24 hours of my stay in Bali, the universe sent me several signs that, while the world is very big, it can also be quite small and interconnected. People show up at just the right time, teaching you just what you need to learn. Jen was traveling with another woman named Kate. They had recently reconnected after being on the same crew team in college. The three of us met up later that afternoon to participate in hydrotherapy, and they asked me to join them for dinner, where we discovered that Kate’s mentor just happened to be a former classmate and friend of mine from the Pepperdine MSOD program.  I had traveled halfway around the world to meet a friend of a friend! Earlier that day, I had had an instant connection with Eve, the soulful, in-house nutritionist who also went to Pepperdine and also, like me, worked in academic medicine for many years.

By the time I went to bed that night, a sense of quiet confidence washed over me. Now I knew my two and a half weeks alone in Bali wouldn’t be spent in isolation. Without much effort, I had already formed several connections in a short time. A new thought arose: perhaps, I could do less and still get what I wanted; just maybe I wouldn’t have to push the river to feel connected to others despite being so far from home in this foreign land.

Beautiful Women, Traveling Alone

The next morning at breakfast, I listened to the sounds of misty rain falling in the jungle and watched scurrying lizards and swooping birds.  The fresh air and the humidity somehow ignited my appetite, and I devoured a fresh tropical fruit plate, with papaya, mango, banana, pineapple, and fresh coconut, and an egg white frittata with mushrooms and truffle oil. While I digested, I saw a striking young woman with mile-high cheekbones and bushy eyebrows slip in and sit down at a table across the open-air restaurant. Sneaking glances at her periodically, I was captivated. And I had a sense she might be watching me too. I got the feeling she wanted to connect.

Then I thought, “Why would such a beautiful woman be traveling alone? She must be waiting for her entourage or at least a significant other to join her.” The thing about being alone with your thoughts is that your self-talk is really pronounced. Then the other me, the new friend in my head, rebelled.  “Seriously, Cindy?! Are you listening to yourself? That woman is too beautiful to be traveling alone? Hello? YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN TRAVELING ALONE!”

A Swimmer from the Source

It was cloudy and overcast and rained on and off during my first few days in Bali. One afternoon when there was a slight break in the clouds, I ventured out of my room and found Jen reading by the pool while a solitary woman in a bikini swam laps alongside our lounge chairs. As Jen and I chatted about her morning, we watched the tall, willowy swimmer go back and forth across the pool. “The Source,” a local spring believed by natives to have healing benefits, provided the water for the various unheated pools, making swimmers earn their rewards while fighting not to get hypothermia.

The swimmer emerged from the water and smiled. I was surprised to recognize her as the woman from breakfast. I smiled back and asked, “Level with me. Just how cold is it?” With her exotic beauty and self-assuredness, I conjectured she must be French or English, anything but American, and probably a model. She gracefully shook the water out of her cropped hair and in hip Southwestern tones, she replied, “It isn’t too bad once you are in.”

She sat down next to us and seemed as excited to make our acquaintance as we were hers. Like me, she was traveling on her own after an intense period of non-stop work; and unlike me, she made her living as a model. Having never bought a copy of Vogue, my new friend’s name didn’t ring a bell, thus putting us all on equal ground. We chattered like high school girls, mostly about the current state of our love lives and the loves that had come and gone; growth and development in our lives and careers; our homes and communities; yoga and working out; and our perspectives on the Estate.  It’s interesting how open strangers at a spa can be, so authentic and vulnerable with one another, seeking perspective on their life stories, including hopes and dreams, challenges and hardships.

I found myself admiring my new friend and her self-assuredness. Despite being in her early twenties, she had the maturity of someone much older. She was open and answered questions honestly. And she was curious and asked insightful questions in return. She admitted she doesn’t always like the way she looks in pictures, and she can be extremely hard on herself. She blushed when I teased her a little. She listened intently, taking in every piece of hard-earned wisdom that Jen and I offered. She said she appreciated meeting people like us that she would never regularly meet who didn’t know her, didn’t know her world, and who held up a mirror for her to see herself and the possibilities that existed. She liked us, and it felt important to her that we like her too. I wondered if the supermodel and I weren’t all that different after all, both of us perfectly and uniquely flawed and just trying to be liked for our best selves in the world.

Friend or Foe?

Something shifted inside of me that afternoon, lying in my bathing suit next to one of the world’s most beautiful models. While I was trying to suck in my tummy during our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder if this lovely woman was actually my enemy. The media made her the standard to which all women, myself included, compared ourselves. My new friend represented the nearly unattainable — flawless complexion, beautiful, tall, thin, young, and sexy.  I’ve been conditioned from an early age to strive to look like her, while simultaneously making it look like I’m not focusing too much on my appearance. In falling short, I have felt badly about my body and myself.

I suspect other women feel like this too: we hide in bathing suit cover-ups, if we have the courage to even get out in a bathing suit at all. We put ourselves down as not good enough because we haven’t shed those last five, ten, fifty or one hundred pounds. Collectively, we spend billions of dollars on make-up, anti-aging creams and gels, and weight loss regimes, and when we ultimately fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves, we feel shame.

Escaping the Booby-Trap

And it isn’t just our appearance and body image – it is our intelligence, money and work, health, speaking out, relationships and parenting choices too. Shame makes us feel inadequate and disconnected, and creates feelings of being unlovable and judged, in competition with and/or judging or shaming anyone who comes closer to hitting the standards than we do. Shame sits like a booby trap on top of our happiness, holding us back from ever feeling too good about ourselves and even poisoning our relationships with others.

At one point in the conversation our friend went to the bathroom, Jen turned to me and whispered, “I would never mention this in front of her, but I used to model too when I was younger and living in Japan.” I said, “No doubt. You are beautiful and still are! But why wouldn’t you mention that?” She replied, “Because look at how fat I am now. She would never be able to believe that I was once a model.” I was shocked to hear this since Jen was beautiful and by no means heavy. There it was: the voice of shame, and it had connected us all: it lives in my head, and Jen’s and even inside the head of our beautiful new friend the international model. Even she has been taught to judge herself against some impossible standard that even she isn’t living up to.

Peace Treaty

This realization hit me hard. My new friend wasn’t the enemy, shame was. I have spent so long hating my body that I hadn’t even realized that it had been serving me well for the past 42 years. My short time at the Estate reminded me of how good I feel when I treat my body right – regular exercise, fresh air, lots of water and healthy foods including fruits and vegetables. I made peace with myself and my body that day sitting by the pool next to my new friend, the supermodel. I unclenched my stomach muscles and stopped sucking it in and just relaxed. I realized that the more comfortable I was about my body, the more comfortable they would be about their bodies. I embraced my body for what it was and treated it with more respect in the days that followed, overriding any negative messaging that was prompted by who I “should” be and sharing my insights with a few friends. Due to these shifts on the insides, my outside has caught up, and I show up differently in the world now. I have lost weight without being on a restrictive diet. I have gotten into great shape because it feels good, and I feel more confident and at home inside of myself.

When I think back to seeing my new friend for the first time across the restaurant, I am convinced we were meant to meet each other on this trip and to be connected in each other’s lives. Now when I’m on my way to work and see her face on the side of a building or a bus stop or catch her latest TV ad or see her image in a magazine, I can’t help but smile and send my love, admiration and support to her. The courage that she displayed in being vulnerable and admitting her flaws with Jen and me that afternoon had a profound impact, and in some small way, I hope that sharing this story might help others become more aware of the impact of shame on their sense of selves as well. Maybe, if each of us is a little more authentic and open about the thoughts that go on in our heads, and when we are brave enough to say them aloud to those we feel safe with, and they are met with empathy, and maybe if we have these types of conversations with our daughters and model what it means to really love our bodies, maybe we have a chance at beating shame once and for all.

My Balinese Souvenir

I changed hotels and as I unpacked my suitcase I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I thought, hey, here’s the souvenir I want to bring home from Bali — this mirror. I looked taller, more angular, slimmer. As I went about my activities throughout the day I found myself wondering about that “skinny mirror” back in my room. Was that really me, the way the rest of the world sees me? Was the mirror flawed, or had my recent insights simply fixed my eyes, which had given me a skewed vision of myself?

My room at this hotel, in the city of Ubud, had its own private pool, enclosed by a wooden fence and tropical plants, and I could often be found drifting in an inner tube, soaking up the Vitamin D. Then one day, with the ink not yet dried on my fledging peace treaty with my body, I decided to strip off my bathing suit and take a swim — a baptism of sorts. Despite being a competitive swimmer for 10 years during my childhood, I had never ever gone skinny dipping. I dove headfirst into the pool and the water against my naked skin made me feel free and alive. My negative inner chatter was silent and was replaced with overwhelming joy, freedom, affirmation, and acceptance, which warmly spread across my body. Through this symbolic ritual, a new relationship with myself had been christened.

*Note: Character names have been changed to protect the privacy of my new friends.

Blazing My Own Trail in Bali

After 36 hours of travel, the first challenge on my solo adventure to Bali was behind me — I had arrived! After a much-needed shower, I face planted into bed, exhausted from battling not only a 12-hour time difference but my anxiety as I anticipated the two-and-a-half weeks that lay ahead, and my incredible excitement and exhilaration that I was actually doing this. I would hardly call myself adventurous or a risk taker, but here I was on the other side of the world, in a foreign land with nothing familiar in sight.

For three months I have tried to find just the right words to describe my life-changing experiences in Bali, Indonesia last August and September. A friend suggested that instead of trying to do one post describing the trip in its totality that I break it up into the moments that have stayed with me. Starting today, I invite you to join me as I relive my adventures — from the small, quiet moments to the big, sweeping ones. Together they add up to new insights and a deeper sense of myself that I am honored to share.

I woke up early that first day to a cacophony of barking dogs and crowing roosters and decided, after some internal debate, to take the resort’s Estate Walk at 6 a.m. It had been a new kind of conversation with myself that went something like this: “Hey, Self. Holy cow! You are in Bali. By yourself. You really did this. I’m so proud of you. You are doing great despite being an utter nervous wreck. Self, you can stay in your room all day today — restoration could really serve you. Or you can get outside and take on the day. The one thing you know for certain is that you have no idea what awaits you. All you need to do is walk out of your hotel room and put yourself out there. The rest will fall into place.”

The self-talk was affirming, positive and loving and not my typical way of speaking to myself. I had found a friend within, and she couldn’t have shown up at a better time. The night before, I had been far more brutal with myself on the car ride from the airport when I couldn’t figure out the Balinese currency and just how much to tip the driver. The bills looked like Monopoly money and choosing one over another could have been the difference between a $1 tip and a $100 tip. I berated myself: “You should have memorized all of the bill denominations and their value on the plane instead of wasting your time watching ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ and the first season of ‘New Girl’. What were you thinking? Cindy, this is not the time to make a mistake. You can’t appear cheap or stupid. You should have known better.” I picked incessantly at my cuticles for the first time in months as I tried to take in my lush yet impoverished surroundings.

Then the other voice took over, reassuring me it was ok to not tip right now, that I could get a tip to him later through the resort and that there would be time and people to help me learn the currency when I was well-rested and in a better frame of mind. I liked this new friend inside my head. She had more realistic expectations, and empathy. I was going to need her if I was going to survive this time alone.

At 6 a.m., I arrived at the start of the Estate Walk, which followed over 500 stepping-stones and stairs that line the perimeter of COMO Shambhala, from its highest point up in the jungle to the lowest point along the Ayung River. I walked behind the leader, Made, who was quick and nimble and all of 18 years old. I struggled to keep up with him, feeling pressure from the beautiful, athletic American girl with long eyelashes who followed behind me. I kept worrying I wasn’t going fast enough for her to have a good workout as I tried to push myself over the stones.

I had two realizations on that walk.

First: I’m far more comfortable and sure of my footing climbing up a mountain than down. Going downhill, I was tentative and uncertain. My legs felt shaky. I wanted to grasp the handrail for support, while I coached myself to take it slow. It was quite the opposite while climbing: I could go for miles despite the high humidity, my heart pounding and my legs feeling the exhaustion of the jet lag. It didn’t matter — the higher we climbed, the more comfortable and secure I felt. I chuckled to myself, thinking about astrology and how my sign of Capricorn is far more comfortable climbing than descending and maybe I was experiencing its influence on me.

My other big revelation on this early morning walk was that it’s tricky to feel comfortable walking in another’s path. While the stones were comforting in a psychological way — they defined and set the course for me to follow — they were also difficult to mind. Sometimes they were too close, forcing me to shorten my stride into baby steps; sometimes they were too far apart, and I had to leap to remain on the path. It was far more comfortable walking on the grass alongside the stone path, where I didn’t have to pay as close attention to what I was doing. I was free to look around, make choices as to where I wanted my walk to lead me, allowing for spontaneity and freedom of choice. It comes down to blazing my own path, which really is the only path. I appreciated this gentle reminder from Nature, who provides powerful metaphors for us when we are in tune, and the powerful kick-off to my Balinese adventure.

Coming Soon! Images from Bali

The Kids are Alright: The Last BOCCE Show

“Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not yet the end.” – John Lennon

The finale of BOCCE in the AFTERNOON signified an ending. No longer can we count on seeing posh party-goers in a suit or 3 inch heels toss a bocce ball at 6pm on a summer Friday. Instead we will need to come back to our mind’s eye to relive the camaraderie and joy experienced over the past six years. Whether it is your favorite bocce fare — the pesto pasta, egg salad bagel sandwiches, macadamia nuts or sliced duck breast –  the hard-fought victories on the bocce court, the warm glow of beautiful sunsets on the roof,  getting deep in conversation with fellow smokers in the Bourdain room, cutting a rug in the living room or the possibilities of meeting someone new, BOCCE in the AFTERNOON will live on through our enduring friendships and our memories. I loved meeting so many interesting people these past six years, and I’m honored to call many true friends. I hope that as our memories begin to fade in the summers to come, the photos will allow us to revisit the various funny, silly, sweet, and maybe even the annoying moments that we spent together and will serve to jumpstart our whimsical nostalgia.

Endings can often be beginnings, and I find myself wondering, what will come next? Will this party morph into PUTT PUTT in the AFTERNOON? Will someone else take the reins and reconceptualize the spirit of bocce? Might we have periodic bocce reunions? Whatever will come to pass in the future, we can feel good about this ending, for it is a happy one. And how often in life do we actually get the happy ending?

To our longstanding host, Mark Falconer, thank you just doesn’t capture my deep appreciation for your enduring generosity and willingness to have your apartment trashed routinely. You did something truly special: you created a community in New York City. You brought people together who would otherwise never have met. For this and so much more, I thank you. I will miss our routine, 7:30am Saturday morning post-bocce debriefs where you, Val and I would piece together the evening — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  While it was never going to be a good time to end, now feels right because ultimately, Falconer, the kids are alright. You did it, and you did it well, my friend.

There are SO many more pictures from this party. To see the entire gallery, go to:

To read more about the inception of BOCCE in the AFTERNOON, please go to: