Several years ago I bought a copy of Eat, Pray, Love for my stepmother for her birthday or Christmas, I can’t recall which. I hadn’t read the book but from what I gathered in the hubub of the Book World, it was the current It Book. Knowing she was a book-lover like myself, I figured she’d like it – not that I knew much about it other than what I gathered from the cover – traveling, pasta, pretty love story. I think she did. But I still didn’t read it myself for years, even after picking up a used (and clearly well-loved) copy for myself, it sat on my bookshelf for a long time, whispering, “Not yet.”
But I finally picked it up a few weeks ago and this time, I read a few paragraphs and knew instantly, “Man, this is the book for me.” I could tell within the first few chapters that I was going to fall in love with this memoir of a divorced thirty something who travels the world to find herself (I also thought to myself, God I hope Marie didn’t get the wrong message when I gave her this book). And every night as I giddily read passages aloud to my husband and dog eared favorite pages to remember later, I fell deeper and deeper and more passionately in love with her story.
I found myself dreaming of visiting each of the three countries that she stayed in for four months each. So depending on which section of the book I was reading, I became accordingly passionate about the Italian language and pasta, or Buddhism and meditation or Bali and Indonesia and “Ohh we should really take a vacation there,” and so on. And through it all, I became more and more convinced that Elizabeth Gilbert and I are twin spirits. I get her – and I think if we ever met, we’d probably get on famously. So many times, I read a passage (and then read it aloud to my husband of course) and it was like reading a paragraph out of my own mind.
So, to put all my dog earing to hopefully good use, let’s pretend you are my husband and I am reading aloud to you now from some of my favorite passages and then eagerly spewing my own thoughts accordingly. Mkay?
In the end, what I have come to believe about God is simple. It’s like this – I used to have this really great dog. She came from the pound. She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but she seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, “What kind of dog is that?” I would always give the same answer: “She’s a brown dog.” Similarly, when the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God.”
I got pretty nervous about my love affair with this book when I realized how religious it was going to be. I am not a typical religious person, despite having a keen interest in Spirituality, I get pretty annoyed with denominations and religious sects and the battles between them all – like any one religion can really think they’ve got it all figured out. But Gilbert, to an extent, seems to be on the same page as me – which made the book so much more enjoyable and intriguing.
If you ask a Protestant from the American Midwest to commit to a dinner date next week, that Protestant, believing that she is the captain of her own destiny, will say, “Thursday night works fine for me.” But if you ask a Catholic from Calabria to make the same commitment, he will only shurg, turn his eyes to God, and ask, “How can any of us know whether we will be free for dinner next Thursday night, given that everything is in God’s hands and none of us know our fate?”
This passage really made me laugh because although I am not originally from the midwest and my husband is not from Italy (and not terribly religious these days) I still see us in this quote. I was a lukewarm Protestant at birth and I have this incessant need to plan my life and organize it – I am always ten minutes early, even when it might have served me better to be casually late. My husband, Catholic born and bred, would much prefer to swing it, go with the flow and get there when he gets there. He doesn’t plan, he follows me happily wherever I’m going and seems to have this understanding that everything will fall into place. And he’s usually right, the bugger.
Like must humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the “monkey-mind” – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknown future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined.
Whenever I’ve thought about meditation in the past, I think, “There is no way I could do this.” How am I supposed to get my mind to shut up and let me concentrate? But reading about Gilbert’s experiences with meditation – although never easy, as she is inflicted with the Money Mind like me, it worked – she figured it out (finding it to be much simpler than she’d anticipated) and it really worked wonders for her. It should be unsurprising that I picked up a small paperback on meditation at the library last week.
I am looking forward to trying out some mantras and giving meditation a shot now, not so much in an effort to “Find God” as to learn to control my mind and maybe relax more throughout the day. I might give this mantra a try first:
Ham-sa. In Sanskrit it means “I am That.” The Yogis say that Ham-sa is the most natural mantra, the one we were all given by God before birth. It is the sound of our own breath. Ham on the inhale, sa on the exhale. (Ham, by the way, is pronounced softly, openly, like hahhhm, not like the meat you put on a sandwich. And sa rhymes with “Ahhhh….”) As long as we live, every time we breathe in or out, we are repeating this mantra. I am That. I am divine, I am with God, I am an expression of God. I am not separate, I am not alone, I am not this limited illusion of an individual.”
And of course this book was not all about religion – it was about travel, about food and diet, about love. Especially about love. Of course the book begins with her getting a divorce, but she falls in love again after that, and again much later – and talks about love and her patterns a lot throughout the book.
I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been the victim of my own optimism.
So basically – I am still, after having finished this book – basically it’s biggest fan – her writing style is fresh and engaging and her story is so amazing that it sometimes baffles me that it’s nonfiction. Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my new favorite authors (she’s my home girl you could say) and I am eagerly looking forward to reading her other books, especially her latest book, Committed, which essentially picks up where the last book left off.