Elizabeth Gilbert is a novelist. In her non-fiction real life, she had a bad spell: a contentious, ugly divorce, an overly needy relationship with a distant rebound lover, a bout of depression. She goes on a journey to heal, to find herself-- a pre-planned, publisher-financed 4 months of pasta and language classes in Italy, 4 months of meditation at an ashram in India, 4 months with a medicine man in Bali. It's kind of everyone's fantasy, no? Okay, parts of it are kind of my fantasy. Parts of it.
When I read a book, or listen to a lecture, or turn on the TV, grab my popcorn at a movie, I'm looking for something. Sometimes, I simply want to be entertained (a worthy goal in and of itself). Sometimes, I want to learn something that will change how I see the world, or how I relate in some small way. Sometimes, I'm looking for something that resonates, that I can relate to, that holds true. A great plot will draw me in-- so nothing about 24 or The Sopranos or LOST feels anything like my life, but still, they draw me in.
I started Eat, Pray, Love, and honestly, the author felt like a patient. Her life is chaotic, her relationships packed with drama, she spends an awful lot of time sobbing on bathroom floors, and she makes no secret of her love-hate relationship with anti-depressants and what her therapist advises. Her therapist and her Guru. At first, I found it hard to relate to her, even though she was running away from her real life. Does everyone else occasionally have this fantasy, even if real life isn't so bad?
I got to page 154, somewhere in India, and suddenly Elizabeth Gilbert became someone I could relate to. Now people who don't know me very well sometimes think I'm laid back. Anyone who does know me knows I'm a worrier, prone to obsessing about....anything and everything. So Elizabeth Gilbert is talking about Sean, an Irish farmer she's met at the ashram and she's talking about Sean's "search for inner peace through Yoga." He's home in Ireland, sitting with his serene dairy farmer father in front of the hearth, telling him about the wonders of his spiritual discoveries:
Da--this meditation stuff, it's crucial for teaching serenity. It can really save your life. It teaches you how to quiet your mind.
His father turned to him and said kindly, "I have a quiet mind already, son," then resumed his gaze on the fire.
Gilbert goes on to talk about people who don't have quiet minds, who are restless, and she includes herself in this group.
The other day in prayer I said to God, "Look-- I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?"
In my last post on impulsive suicides, when I mentioned writing about this book, a few readers wrote in asking about the Amazon reviews-- one in particular calls her 'self-absorbed and irritating.' Self-absorbed, self-indulgent, absolutely. At some level, aren't most people self-absorbed? I suppose it's a matter of degree-- since I listen to people's self-absorption all day, it doesn't particularly bother me, it's not a fatal flaw. I wasn't irritated. I suppose at some level, I just enjoyed the fantasy of it all. The journey to self-discovery is, of course, and old and oft-told story. Now please excuse me while I boil the pasta and recite my mantra for a while.