Thursday, September 22, 2011

“Eat, Pray, Love”: If you can get through the first 40 pages….

Throughout my reading of this best-selling spiritual memoir I could not decide whether I hated it or I liked it. The first 40 pages are quite difficult. Like a stereotypical teenage girl, she talks about her feelings for a cute Italian guy. Does she really want to break the promise she made to herself to remain celibate? She decides not to break her promise. She is happy the next morning that she didn’t give in.

After describing this horribly difficult decision to keep it in her pants, she complains about the last year or so of her marriage. Apparently she had decided that at the age of 30, she would *gasp* decide to be a mother. As 30 loomed near, she changed her mind and came to the conclusion she couldn’t give up her traveling and career for a child. She further more decided she could no longer be married. To her credit, she does not disclose any of the specific problems she and her spouse had, but she does seem to dwell on how much it hurt her.

Maybe I’m being too self-righteous, maybe I should go to confession after writing this blog, but I:

1)      Don’t approve of having sex with a cute Italian guy to whom you are not married.
2)      I don’t appreciate the dichotomy she sets up between being a mother and having a career. It’s not an either/or situation. Nor is giving up a career for children an ignoble thing to do.
3)      Her lack of details about the reasoning behind the divorce makes it sound as if it’s another one of those cases where they “fell out of love.” That is a poor reason for a divorce and I hope my impression is inaccurate.

Now to the confessional:

All of that said, after her divorce and a whirlwind affair that ends terribly, she decides she needs to travel to Italy (to experience pleasure and learn the language), India (to find spirituality with her guru) and Indonesia (to fulfill the prophecy of a medicine man).

Over all, the rest of the book is much better than those first 40 pages. She does from time to time dwell on those shallow, stereotypical female problems, namely her weight and men. At those times a reader such as myself will get the urge to throw the book across the room. There is more to life, and there is definitely more to the female psyche, than worrying about our looks or men.

The non-shallow part of the book that interested me most was her time in the ashram in India.

Now for a bit of personal interjection: I practiced Buddhism for about 3 years before converting to Neo-paganism before converting to Catholicism. In my undergraduate studies, I more or less specialized in both Christian studies and Eastern Religions. Now, back to your regular reading.

There are many people at the ashram from many different nationalities and walks of life. Their typical day includes getting up at 3:30 AM to chant, hours of independent and group meditation, and a few hours of labor for discipline and to keep the place going. The ashram is a hub in the town where it is located, it provides much of the town’s jobs and income. People from the town go there to meditate and show respect.

This section about her life in the ashram includes a very good exploration of distraction and forcing in meditation. She feels like a failure because she can’t come to some kind of enlightenment even though she had been meditating and practicing yoga for years. A straight talking Texan gives her some good advice: quit fighting the mind, distract it. Also, a monk tells her that the mind just needs some rest. She comes close to her goal when she decides to no longer fight the mind, but to ignore it.

This is also good advice for anyone of any religious persuasion engaging in prayer or meditation. Do not fight distraction because that will only breed more distraction and stress. For example, when something pops into your mind when praying the rosary: Don’t fight against it or beat yourself up for being a bad Catholic. I believe that when something pops into my mind, it’s God’s way of telling me I need to pray about it. So I pray about it and let it go. The rosary is the perfect prayer for the Texan’s advice because you have many aspects of it to distract your “monkey mind” with (the beads, the prayers, the meditations…).

By the way, she does give an accurate, and interesting explination for “kundalini shakti” in chapter 46.

She continues to battle with distractions and boy troubles, with increasing maturity and wisdom. The gems of good advice continue: the Texan teaches her to be patient with herself, a monk challenges her to participate in a chant that she does not like, she fights and wins against her negative self-talk through positive thinking and prayer, she learns to see things through the lenses of eternity, and she tries and fails to fight against her outgoing nature. It is when she embraces her unique personality is when she finally has the elusive experience of bliss, “turiya.”

The entire section about her time in India is makes reading the whole book worth the effort. It is the deepest part of the book. There is something worthwhile for everyone, regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey.

At the end of her story, it’s a man (who worships the ground she walks on) who carries her off into the sunset. This is a very disappointing ending to the book. She becomes mature and wise through her journey in India. Instead of finding her ultimate fulfillment in God, however, she finds it in a man who idolizes her. A man with whom she can talk to and have sex with for days on end. A relationship that tramples all of her other responsibilities in Bali. Sounds like the perfect romance in our culture which values physical pleasure and “all about me.” And so this book starts with every bad stereotype involving women, gets better toward the middle, and then ends with “every woman’s dream.”

What do you think? Am I being self-righteous? Am I being too picky? What are your experiences with meditation and prayer?

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