I am a little superstitious. I secretly check my horoscope and I am constantly reading signs into everything. Breadcrumbs pointing to some future action or consequence.
So over the last four weeks I had heard a snippet of an interview with a woman who had written a travel memoir. I remember the interview because of some reference to food and Italy (one of my favorite topics), then I think I saw a newspaper review of the book. Didn’t read it, but noticed it was there.
Well about two weeks ago, I was in between meetings and walked through a bookstore in Palo Alto, and there on the counter is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love with the subhead “one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia”. OK, that would be considered a breadcrumb pointing to my own trip. I am not planning to stop in Italy, but I am also not planning to be away for a year.
I read the book in three sittings one for each country. Afterwards, I was forced to ask myself, “Why am I taking this trip, again? What exactly will I gain?” Living and working in the midst of America’s abundance, it is easy to get lost in all of the desires and expectations. People are never really happy because they can always have something deemed by someone to be better – better clothes, a better home, … You are always lamenting some missed opportunity or planning some way to rectify it in the future. [This becomes particularly acute in your mid-40’s] Well, somewhere in the midst of that there should be happiness. Not happiness as I have traditionally thought about it – the good feeling that comes from something else, probably the consumption of something else, but also the approval of someone. Now that I think about it that is really a description of pleasure. Maybe the right word here is contentment, maybe bliss. These words suggest a timelessness that isn’t the result of the satisfaction of a momentary desire.
So, one of the goals of my practice and my trip is to pursue contentment, maybe in the next life I can work on bliss. Looking back at Eat, Pray, Love a lot of Gilbert’s trip was about self-acceptance. Something I am perpetually lacking. Like a schoolboy, I am always preparing for someone’s evaluation. Well, if at the end of the this trip I can accept some of my perceived shortcomings. [I mean I am 46 years old.] I will consider it time well spent.
Now the part of the book that most appealed to me – was not the eating part (Italy) or the boyfriend part (Bali) – but the ashram stay and Gilbert’s description of meditation. I appreciated the tongue in cheek way she refered to her quest for something else. Spirit, love, universal love, … Irony and a smile is at least what I require right now to even talk about these things without a raised eyebrow and an expectation of some polite ridicule.
So, my goal is personal acceptance and contentment (Santosha) and somehow maintaining that in a world that is built on the need to create a desire for something new to make you better, more desirable. Balancing personal desire with a need to claim acceptance for myself is a struggle and one that I haven’t generally won. And I am going to have to work to put this into action, to have this be more than just another mid-year correction on my perennial New Year’s Resolutions. The best I can do now is to augment my asana practice with meditation to see if that helps solidify my direction. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get started and stay focused, please let me drop me a comment.
Finally, if you are looking for a very human, very funny [I did actually laugh out loud a couple of times] description of a journey to “happiness”, I recommend the book.