The book I finished most recently (okay, this morning before I got out of bed) was Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was in the format of 108 stories, 36 stories in each of three sections, one for each bead of a japa mala, in the author's search for pleasure (in Italy), divinity (in India), and balance (in Indonesia). It's a happy coincidence each begins with "I" ... that which she was seeking in each location during her year of travels.
After a bad divorce, an unhealthy rebound relationship, life-threatening depression... and a large advance on her upcoming fourth book... Liz begins asking herself what SHE wants to do. And she wants to learn Italian. (Me, too!) But unlike me (thus far), she makes the leap and takes an extended vacation in Rome. There, she does learn Italian (Her favorite word was a simple one: attraversiamo, meaning let's cross over), makes friend, eats (especially having found the perfect pizza), and learns some Italian ways of life, like il bel far niente (the beauty of doing nothing) and l'arte d'arrangiarsi (the art of making something out of nothing... like my love of throwing together a great lunch with tomato and basil and soft cheese...).
The section on her stay at the Indian Ashram was almost uncomfortably personal. This is coming from someone who loves to read autobiographies. But looking inward and loving yourself fully and unconditionally is a difficult and personal process, and this section would've been too preachy without the comic relief of Richard from Texas and Liz's other friends.
Before anyone points out that I am not a religious person, I'd like to submit that I am in my own way, spiritual. I do believe in rites of passage, rituals (don't get excited; I'm thinking of birthday cakes), and the benefits of meditative practices, especially considering that I tend to feel things intensely, and rarely managed to quiet my mind (especially when I am trying to sleep). I've meditated before. I even enjoyed it. And maybe I'll make use of the mantras Liz wrote about:
Om Namah Shivaya: "I honor the divinity that resides within me."
Ham-sa: "I am That"
While I'm not seeking turiya (constant bliss) I do have my moments, especially sitting alone on my back porch, when I feel that I am communing with the divine.
In Bali, Liz befriends two very different traditional healers, learns new way of meditating ("sit still and smile" and "Four Brothers"), goes on an American-style road trip, helps a friend purchase land for a home of her own, and falls in love. She comes her theory of "Diligent Joy," the realizaton that "you have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings."
I wish the country was more open to healers; I love the idea of using natural ingredients like herbs and roots to cure illnesses and injuries. I wonder sometimes whether some of the medical problems we are having in this country, such as the rise in hyperactivity, autism and infertility might be due to our notion of better living through chemistry.
The theme of this book, oddly enough, mirrors that of The Alchemist. Liz Gilbert pulled herself together, took a deep breath, left her life to go on a journey where she followed omens, learned all she could from her experiences, and found her Personal Legend. And now, back to her life, I can bet that everyone around her (and indeed, even the Soul of the World) benefits from her having lived her Personal Legend.
I almost wonder whether the fact that the books I've read lately have been about journeys and spirituality (and food) are omens I should be heeding. Next on my list is "Kite Runner" ... we'll see what type of journey that begins!