Eat, Pray, Love, II

I finished the second part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love today, and while it’s quite different from the first (which I wrote about here), I enjoyed it very much. In this section, instead of seeking pleasure in Italy, Gilbert is seeking God in India. The section has a completely different feel to it; now, instead of practicing Italian and eating pasta all day, she scrubs floors, chants, and meditates in an Indian ashram. She intends to stay at this ashram only 6 weeks and then to travel around India for the next couple months, but after the first 6 weeks are up, she finds herself wanting to stay, so she does.

The section describes her spiritual explorations, her struggle with meditation, first, and then her extreme dislike of the ashram’s practice of chanting the Gurugita every morning. The Gurugita is 182 verses long, and it takes 1 1/2 hours to chant. People get up at 3:00 a.m. and get breakfast only after a session of meditation and then the chanting. Gilbert struggles and struggles with the discipline necessary to do all of this, and with her mind’s unwillingness to settle itself. This is how she describes her struggle with the Gurugita:

When I try to go to the chant, all it does it agitate me. I mean, physically I don’t feel like I’m singing it so much as being dragged behind it. It makes me sweat … Everyone else sits in the chant huddled in wool blankets and hats to stay warm, and I’m peeling layers off myself as the hymn drones on, foaming like an overworked farm horse. I come out of the temple after the Gurugita and the sweat rises off my skin in the cold morning air like fog — like horrible, green, stinky fog. The physical reaction is mild compared to the hot waves of emotion that rock me as I try to sing the thing. And I can’t even sing it. I can only croak it. Resentfully.

But she does learn to sing it. One morning she wakes up to find her roommate has padlocked her into her room and that she is about to miss the chant. Before she realizes what she’s doing, she finds herself jumping two stories out her window so she can join the others. There was something in her that didn’t want to miss it, that insisted she be there. When she arrives she tries to think of a way to make the chanting meaningful, and she decides to dedicate it to her nephew Nick, and this makes all the difference. The chant now becomes one of the most important parts of her time in India.

Gilbert describes a number of spiritual “breakthroughs” she experiences, times when she feels her mind finally quieting down, when she enters new levels of consciousness, when she has dreams and visions. All of this interests me very much, although I find myself, not suspicious or disbelieving of it, but distanced from it somehow. I am very interested in spirituality, but I don’t seem to be able to stick with any kind of spiritual practice long enough to experience anything similar. I’m not sure I’m the kind of person who can. But then again, I don’t know, and I wonder if I’m missing out on something wonderful.

I’m a little uncertain about giving meditation (or any other spiritual practice, for that matter) a serious try partly because, I think, I went through many years as a child of trying to participate in worship and prayer at my parents’ church and not succeeding very well. I grew up thinking I should be feeling God’s presence in church or in prayer on my own and sometimes thinking that I did, but then doubting myself almost immediately afterward. I spent a lot of time feeling like a spiritual failure, and one of the best things that happened to me was growing up and coming to believe that I was actually okay with being a spiritual failure, and that a life without believing in God or feeling God’s presence was quite all right with me.

So I remain intrigued by stories of people’s spiritual journeys, particularly those stories from outside the Christian tradition, and I also feel a bit wistful. There’s something in me that responds to these stories and that feels curious about them, and that also thinks I could learn a lot and benefit from picking up with my own journey. And there’s another part that would prefer to stay far away.

At any rate, Gilbert is now on her way to Indonesia for the last part of the book, which is supposed to be about finding pleasure and devotion both. I’m sure to post on it when I’ve finished.

24 Comments

Filed under Books, Nonfiction

24 responses to “Eat, Pray, Love, II

  1. See, I had some problems relating to this part of the story for the same reasons you describe about prayer and worship. In my case I was pretty lackadaisical–probably didn’t try really hard. It seems like so much has to be taken “on faith” and I am always looking for verifiable evidence. I could appreciate what she went through and found it interesting, but I just couldn’t relate. Once again, the last section is fairly different. I’m curious about the movie, which I heard is being made from this book.

  2. I know what you mean about being intrigued by people’s spiritual journeys but unable to with any kind of spiritual practice. But I wonder if maybe you haven’t created one with your cycling and just haven’t realized it? Cycling as meditation.

  3. Danielle — I forgot to respond to your comment on the first Eat, Pray, Love post, but I wanted to say I find such stories interesting, how people move on from their childhood religious experiences and make sense of things as an adult — or don’t make sense of things, as the case may be. What you say about verifiable evidence is interesting; one of the things I like about Buddhism is that it can be very practical and focused on what actually works for individual people. I mean, it’s not big on faith in the way Christianity is — to a certain extent, you’re supposed to search and try things and go with what works.

    Stefanie, good point! Yes, I think you’re right, although cycling as meditation isn’t something I’ve thought through a whole lot, but it does make sense. It can be a way of getting body and mind to work together, which, as I understand it, is what practices such as yoga are all about (unity).

  4. Cam

    Interesting post, Dorothy. I’m going to have to read this book at some point. What I think is interesting is that from outside perspective of both Gilbert’s experience, and yours as a child, the practice of prayer and worship seem vaguely similar — at least the aspect of repetion and participation. Yet, I know that they aren’t the same. Maybe the difference is that in some Christian traditions the focus isn’t on the repetition as a way to meditation — repeat until it is incorporated into your being & becomes meaningful — but is on emotion. The emotional state needs to come first and when that doesn’t happen, one feels like they have failed. Whereas, as you describe it, Gilbert’s experience was to continue to fail until succeeding, to repeat until one succeeds in achieving a meditative state (and then keep doing it). In some ways I think that the mysticism of some Eucharistic traditions (for example, the R.Catholic Mass, Anglican or Lutheran Eucharistic worship) could be like this, but I don’t think it is the common experience — at least it wasn’t for me growing up. As an adult I’ve only experienced occasional glimpses of such. I think too that an important difference is being expected to participate as a child vs freely choosing to experience it as an adult. I can’t help but think that has to play a huge role in most people’s spiritual journeys.

  5. I really like what Stefanie said about cycling and meditation. It seems very similar to the athlete being in “the zone,” which is a marvelous feeling.

  6. I was lucky enough to have a grandmother who taught me meditation as a child, so I’ve never needed the communal aspect (though now as a busy working mother of three I was envious of the TIME Gilbert had to devote to her devotions – I’d love that). I definitely agree with Stefanie that a sport that takes you deep into yourself the way cycling does could be a form of meditation. Meditation, as Gilbert discovers in the book, requires you to sublimate the ego in order to access the divine. That is the ongoing struggle for us, because our egos are so strong and willful. My grandmother described meditation to me as “listening, not speaking” and that resonated with me as a child and still does as an adult.

  7. I attempted my first meditation classes a few years back. The teacher spoke of the jnanas and other metaphysical things that seem unattainable for an ordinary person like myself. I stopped striving for the janas, but I still try to meditate (Willpower low though). Even if I never achieve jnana in this lifetime, at least I can still try to practice. That’s all that is really asked of us – that we try our best.

    But I always think of yoga as my spiritual practice, and I always believe my yoga practice and Buddhism are totally compatible.

    And after a while, I realise any action, made mindfully can be a form of spiritual practice: Cycling, walking, singing karaoke(!), doing the dishes. As Charlotteotter’s grandmother said, meditation as “listening, not speaking” – it’s a matter of REALLY paying attention.

    I believe the best testimony of our spiritual practice is how we live our life, and how we treat others. If your practice don’t make you reconsider the consequences of your actions, don’t make you more compassionate or allow you to be more content with life – maybe it’s time to reconsider the direction you’re heading.

  8. I can’t wait to read this book. I’m also intrigued by people’s spiritual journeys. I know I’ve gone through periods of feeling extremly lost and for me it has helped to hear how others found their peace.

  9. Cam, that’s a very interesting point, and it rings true to my experience, as least as far as the Christian part of it is concerned — that you’re expected to feel the emotion and if you don’t you’re experience is not genuine. I much prefer the idea of repetition until a breakthrough comes and that the repetition in and of itself it meaningful.

    Jenclair, yes, that’s it — feeling in the “zone” or whatever metaphor your image you want. It’s a feeling of being so involved in what you’re doing that you lose the feeling of your mind observing and commenting on everything.

    Charlotte, you ARE lucky to have had a grandmother teach you meditation. That’s a great religious inheritance.

    Dark Orpheus, you’re right that any action that’s done meaningful can be a form of spiritual practice, although I do think I could benefit from a regular way to practice that kind of mindfulness. I think yoga could be a great practice for me too, if only I could stick with it for longer than a few months at a time. I like the way it’s both physical and spiritual.

    Iliana — yes, it does help to find out how others find peace, isn’t it! I look forward to your thoughts on this book when you get there.

  10. All right: I’m convinced. I have to read this book.

  11. It really is a great book–I was a bit skeptical, but I loved it.

    It’s sort of an interesting test of character or at least life situation which one of the three stories we respond to most, eh?!? I found the Italy stuff appealing (and hunger-inducing!) but did not like the idea of this hanging around binge-eating and gorging on pleasure more generally, it did not sound my cup of tea at all! And while I am not spiritually oriented I am fairly obsessed with yoga or at least very into it & I liked the stringency and monastic aspect of the India sections, that was the part of the book that really resonated with me & made me want to follow in her footsteps. The romantic resolution in the last section seemed a bit too neat. Anyway, good stuff…

  12. That’s right about the test of character! And India was my favorite too — it sounds like just my kind of challenge.

  13. Janet W

    does anyone know the morning arati that she mention son page 120 ? It sounds so nice that I wish thee was more identification of it.

  14. I don’t, unfortunately. Anybody else?

  15. Tom O.

    Hello All: I just happened upon this site as I was googling the Guru Gita because some friends of mine who practice Siddha Yoga Meditation – which is the path that Elizabeth Gilbert is on, happened to mention that people were searching the web and finding out about our meditation centers all over the world – which is really cool.

    I have been practicing Siddha Yoga under the loving and caring eye of our spiritual teacher, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda for 17 years and the transformation in my life has been incredible.

    Before I forget to mention it, the “Morning and Evening Arati” Janet W. is asking about can be found in the book (along with the Guru Gita and other chants) entitled The Nectar of Chanting and is published by the SYDA Foundation, check out the websight Siddhayoga.org – there is a link to the online bookstore. Siddha Yoga is not a religion and people of all faiths, or lack thereof are welcome to explore the teachings and engage in the practices of meditation, chanting, selfless service (to name a few) under the guidance and protection of a enlightened master – and yes enlightened masters really do exist.

    I was raised Catholic and still consider myself very much a Christian, but I deeply appreciate the tidal wave of blessings and peace Siddha Yoga has brought into my life. My life is far from perfect and I have plenty of days with their share of life’s frustrations – but the quality of my problems has improved dramatically and I do feel that step by step I am moving closer and closer to a much clearer and higher state of consciousness. Gurumayi is a monk who has devoted her entire life to the advancement of her students and upliftment of humanity, you can find out about the great humanitarian work she sponsors by checking out The Prasad Project at Prasad.org

    Enough from me, but I just want to say that I had tried various types of meditation for quite a while before I found Siddha Yoga, with very mixed results – by the Grace of the Universe I somehow stumbled accross this path (actually I stopped for a kinish in a deli in New York City) and saw a flyer for a Siddha meditation class – that was the best deli stop I ever made.

    Everyone finds there own path in life, and I don’t want to be accused of proselytizing – but if Eat, Pray, Love resonated deeply for you – there are hundreds of Siddha Yoga centers around the U.S. and it is possible to find a supportive and Grace practice of yoga meditation to move you forward on your path of spiritual growth.

    My blesssing to you all, I received so much on this journey, I feel I have an obligation to share it with others on occasion.

    Take care, Tom O. in Los Angeles. Om Namah Shivaya – God Dwells Within You As You!

    Both the Guru Gita and the Arati are amazingly powerful chants and they will rock your chakras and your soul. The arati has about 28 verses, each taken from a variety of ancient sanskrit chants from the Vedas and other sources – so when you combine all these sacred texts into one 25 minute chant the result is very, very powerful and purifying. The Guru Gita is very powerful because once again the syllables are in sanskrit which is a language of tremendous spiritual power – you can buy CD’s of both these chants on the Siddha Yoga website.

  16. Thank you for all the great information, Tom!

  17. Tom O.

    Dorothy: Glad to have been able to offer some info. on this topic. Eat, Pray, Love has been a great read for me too, becuase even after having practiced Sidda Yoga Meditation for 17 years I still have not had the good fortune to visit our mother ashram in Ganeshpuri, India, which is located about three hours east of Mumbai. People should keep in mind that you need a reservation as a retreat participant to stay there, no “drop in” visitors – there’s just not enough room. Hopefully I’ll make it there in next 2 or 3 years, that’s my intention. And at the risk of sounding like a name dropper it has been fun to read this book because Richard is an old buddy of mine, and yes he is quite a character. Elizabeth did not have to “pump up the volume” on Richard to write this section of the book. He’s a great Texas style yogi and truely compassionate and caring good ol’ boy – quite an oxymoron in any neck of the woods. I took a six month sabattical in ’91 and lived at our ashram in the Catskill Mountains (in upstate New York) and was on the garden crew with Richard for about a month until I was moved to another seva. Richard continued to live in the ashram years after I left and he then continued to return to the ashram as a weekend and holiday visitor (as did I). Sean the “Irish dairy farmer” was living in the ashram too, taking care of a few ashram cows – so it sort of feels like a reunion (that I am sharing with a few hundred thousand other readers) when I read this book. At any rate – ‘nuf from me. My blessings to you and everyone on the path to peace, inner freedom and balance with this beautiful planet we call our home (for now at least).

  18. Oh how interesting that you know Richard! I hope you are able to make it to the ashram in India.

  19. Debi Higdon

    Dorothy,
    Eat, Love, Pray is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
    Elizabeth Gilbert is an inspiration to us all.
    I live in Austin Texas and was SO excited to hear that Richard lives in Austin! I was wondering if you could contact Tom O. (he wrote a message that he knows Richard personally). I would like to see if Richard is available for consultations. I am on my own personal search and would love to meet with him sometime. I am a firm believer that you are where you need to be, to hear what you need to hear when you need to hear it. I just happened to be home on the day that he & Elizabeth were on Oprah discussing “Eat, Love, Pray”.
    I would consider it an honor to spend some time with him.
    Thank you,
    Debi Higdon

  20. Shashi

    hi good to hear all the good comments about eat pray love, I enjoyed it as well. I actually had the grace to stay at the Ganeshpuri Ashram in 1995 volunteering. While only there a few weeks, it was a great experience and truly a beautiful place. I haven’t stayed as close to SYDA for a while now, I was wondering if Gurumayi was staying away from the spotlight, a few of my friends who are devotees mentioned she’s been less present at functions and I wondered what your prespective was.

  21. Giovanna

    well….I just started reading the book like three dasy ago..It is great Im halfway done pg169 If I could though I would read it more often …everything is just real busy work, school everything…But such an amazing book I think it just came out straight at its best moment someone had given me the recommendation of it about two months ago….& then a friend of mine gave it to me as a present I dont know why..he doesnt even like to read……But guess what??

    Like that commercial from McDonald’s; I’m loving’ it!!!

    Gotta read….Very High standards not required but the books’ worth it….

  22. Janea

    When I read “Eat, Pray, Love,” my heart burst open with recognition for her time in India. I met Swami Muktananda, Gurumayi’s guru when I was eight years old and have been following a spiritual path filled with grace ever since. The practices of contemplation, meditation, chanting and selfless service are universal and have had a profound impact on my life. I like to say that I imagine without Siddha Yoga, my life would be black and white and instead, it is in vibrant color! Love is everywhere.

    There are centers throughout the world. But the beauty of Siddha Yoga is that you learn to realize that the entire world is an ashram. The practices can exist anywhere. Your own home can be a great temple. There are beautiful books and chanting CD’s you can order and read/listen to in your own home. From my own experience, this is a true path. The guru always directs you into your own heart where you will find beauty, magic and mystery.

  23. Barbara

    Eat,Pray,Love, did not care for this book Gilbert’s I, Me, Mine – mind chatter was
    simply annoying. A true spiritual practice is very difficult for the western mind to grasp this book throws it in like part of a travelers guide or part of a pizza receipe.
    I sat with Baba Muktananda in the seventies and continued to live a true spiritual practice to this day. For all of Gilbert’s seeker intent she finds her true
    prince like a Disney movie. May I suggest prior to leaving for a ashram question your true heart’s intent “what are you searching for”you will most likely find it in your own backyard including God”.

  24. Jim

    I sympathize with the difficulty some have with the discipline of meditation. I went through many forms, each with little benefit and the need to be disciplined. I finally learned Transcendental Meditation (of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), and that has been wonderful. It’s easy, enjoyable to do, and best of all it really, really works. I recommend it to anyone interested in meditation. The classes cost money, but well worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s