“It feels like a precious wound, like a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same, David; settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked around in this place, at the chaos its endured – the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured that maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic; it’s just the world that is and the only real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation… We must always be prepared for endless waves of transformation. Both of us deserve better than staying together because we’re afraid we’ll be destroyed if we don’t.”
E P L
2014: The Year of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
In 2014, I set out to publicly read Elizabeth Gilbert’s now classic, ‘Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia.’ Akin to my love of Katy Perry, I have a feeling many people took this as another David-stunt of hipster-ironicism. What people don’t get is that, most often, these aren’t actions of irony, but sincerity.
“And then there was David.” +Gilbert, EPL
My genuine interest in Elizabeth Gilbert began when a friend had me watch a TED talk Gilbert gave about creativity and the dangers of the genius concept. The timing was right: I was about to graduate from college into the broken 2009 economy. Further, I was graduating with a creative degree, and I had already felt the weight of the need for the genius. The talk resonated with me, and it brought me a true respect for Gilbert.
If you weren’t already aware, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ documents a year in Gilbert’s life. Following a divorce and another failed romance with a young man named David, she then travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of Answers to those Big Life Questions.
Like anything successful, her book endured public backlash, being criticized for being the complaints of an over-priviledged white female who was paid to travel the world. In my opinion, that’s simply blind jealousy. If we are so quick to negate one woman’s struggle, despite her economic/racial status, then we have lost our compassion for the human struggle. In truth, every person has their own challenges, pain. In looking at someone else’s struggle, despite their differences between our own status, we find that commonality between us, and thus find that which is human.
“David was catnip and kryptonite to me.” +Elizabeth Gilbert, EPL
The book is told in three sections, Italy, India, and Indonesia, with each chapter representing a bead on a meditational rosary, or japa malas. In effect, the book becomes Gilbert’s meditation towards balance, and we are able to benefit from her own Self-seeking.
As I read the book publicly, I let the story infuse itself into my own experience. Eat, Pray, Love became my own mantra. In living in my own pain, I tend to stop eating. I tend to stop praying. Most importantly, I stop loving. Elizabeth Gilbert was giving me a gentle reminder: Eat, Pray, Love.
Eat: Italy (Pleasure)
In what I have now learned might be called BED (Binge Eating Disorder), I ate frozen pizzas like clockwork. I’d starve myself, suppressing my appetite with a Starbucks iced coffee (let’s not forget the power of meditational fasting) and I’d then eat an entire frozen pizza, almost daily. I got a job at a pizzeria, first washing dishes (thank you, expensive creative degree) and then making gourmet pizzas sold for four times my hourly wage (thank you, shitty American minimum wage and greedy business owners).
You see, all I really wanted to do was to make music, to make videos, to make art. People kept telling me to get a job. That’s fair. Money is needed to survive in this world.
But what you don’t hear a lot is: create your own business. Use your creativity to make a living. Make your own opportunities. That’s an important message for anyone who has something unique to offer the world, but we don’t give it enough. We just say, “Oh, you’re creative? Well that’s nice. (But you’re screwed).” My generation even seems to romanticize working menial jobs, as if it’s some rite of passage into the ‘real world.’ I would be honest in saying that that is why I took a job as a dishwasher. Yes, it gave me a better perspective of the working class struggle, but it also wasted my energy, energy that could have been used to create art and a business.
Pray: India (Devotion)
In a talk about her writing process, Gilbert discussed writing to solely one person as her audience, “So I wrote the entirety of Eat Pray Love to my friend Darcy who lives in Brooklyn. She’s a very funky hipster Christian.”
In a way, I am Darcy, that funky hipster Christian. I grew up in the Christian church, specifically the Baptist Church; however, growing up, I was consistently aware of the hypocrisy and hate that was infused into Jesus’ message of Love. For that matter, I found it hard to believe in a literary character from a book over 2,000 years old.
During my childhood, I suffered my own personal traumas that made me seriously question the presence of God. “How could a loving God allow this?” By age twelve, I had begun to deny there was a God, but usually only for a moment, until that God-fearing (Old Testament) conditioning set back in, and I pleaded to God to forgive me out of fear of being struck by lightening or being banished to Hell.
I began to distance myself from the church about the time we also begin to distance ourselves from our family: our teenage years. By the time I was graduating college (and hearing Gilbert’s TED talk for the first time), I was a definitive agnostic, edging closer, day by day, to being a full blown atheist.
The summer after graduating college, I read ‘50 Reasons People Give For Believing in a God.’ The book, as the name implies, lists 50 common reasons why people believe in a god, and then systematically and intellectually tears these reasons apart. The book helped me take a large intellectual step towards atheism.
Just as I had made this decision to give up on God, I went through another series of personal tragedies. Without that God, a God that we often turn to in our darkest times, I went through a downward spiral, until I discovered Buddhism.
Buddhism, if practiced correctly, is similar to atheism. It’s an intellectual endeavor, versus one of blind faith. Buddha tells you to test out his ideas. The Bible tells you if you don’t believe this, well…you’ll burn. That fact alone makes it that more attractive to someone who likes to think for themselves.
I became enamored with Buddhism. I devoured the work of Alan Watts, and he thus led me to a deeper exploration of Eastern religion, including Hinduism and Taoism. Buddhism didn’t completely save me, but it helped change my perspective into a healthier worldview.
Love: Indonesia (Balance)
I am a seeker. That is, I search for truth. In my time as a seeker, I have found truth in the ineffable, an experience that is ultimately out of words. Words, or a book, can point you the way, but that isn’t it. Gilbert says it perfectly:
As a reader and seeker, I always get frustrated at this moment in somebody else’s spiritual memoirs — that moment in which the soul excuses itself from time and place and merges with the infinite. From the Buddha to Saint Teresa to the Sufi mystics to my own Guru — so many great souls over the centuries have tried to express in so many words what it feels like to be- come one with the divine, but I’m never quite satisfied by these descriptions. Often you will see the maddening adjective indescribable used to describe the event. … I don’t want to read about it; I want to feel it, too. Sri Ramana Maharshi, a beloved Indian Guru, used to give long talks on the transcendental experience to his pupils and then always wrap it up with this instruction: ‘Now go find out.’
I have had my own tastes of the transcendent. Yes, I’ve experimented with psychedelic drugs. I have used marijuana regularly. In short, my drug-use showed me there was more to this three-dimensional reality; however, those feelings didn’t last. Those realizations, ultimately, led me to Buddhism and other philosophies built on the Mystical experience. There are even forms of Christianity (Gnosticism) which use Mysticism as the starting point, and it is those that interest me the most, that speak to me the most truth.
[Let me say now, for the record: I do not condone drug use. I am simply being honest with you, because honesty is what we need in this world. If you are going to take drugs, do not say I suggested it. My experiences with psychedelics drugs have been mostly scary. Eye-opening, yes, but scary. Everyone’s experiences differ. Only you can make the choice what to put in your body. Do your research, and be honest with yourself about your mental capacities.]
With my own experimentation, and then explorations into other cultures’ viewpoints, I have become what I might call an agnostic seeker. I do believe (yet still see that my viewpoint could easily be wrong) there is a higher order, and quite possibly, a higher power, but I have no way of defining it, or labeling it. Universe, God, Brahman. All words to describe that ineffable thing. The thing is beyond words. The thing is Now. To me, the thing is not an object, but an active experience. And that’s all I know. I can never pretend to have THE answer, but I do believe you should be questioning your culture’s dogma. Every cultures’ dogma, for that matter. Only you can define your God, your Universe. Do not accept what is handed down to you. Try it on for yourself.
In looking for balance, I have come to realize that it differs from person to person. Just as, maybe, God differs from person to person. I might need time in the mountains to find that ineffable, another might find it in the busy streets of New York (and yes, I have found the ineffable in NYC).
I realize, for me, balance is asking for help. I have spent so much time and energy sure that I can figure it out myself. Afraid to say how I really feel. To say that all of my searching had made me feel lost and without a strong foothold on Reality.
I got lucky when I met Elle. She helped me see the steps I needed to take. She showed me it was okay to ask for help. She helped me get that foothold on what matters. She helped me find balance.
And so now, I am looking to balance my seeking with a creative business. My creativity has always been a doorway into the ineffable, and thus, I know it is a part of my own spirituality. I hope to use my creativity to create value in the world and to point to something beyond myself.
One day, I hope my life will be a message just as clear as Eat, Pray, Love. Maybe some people will be quick to write me off as a privileged white male, but others, the ones that are interested in our shared humanity, will look at me and see themselves. They will find the wisdom amidst my confusions and pains. And maybe, they too will be inspired to seek for themselves. To put down what was handed to them and look for what is personally real.
Thank you, Elizabeth.
Until next time.
Eat, Pray, Love,