Sunday, January 30, 2011

Finding God: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaThe following are excerpts from the book "Eat Pray Love". A true story of a woman who found God and healing through prayer and meditation.

Eat, Pray Love Excerpts by Elizabeth Gilbert

…This part of my story is not a happy one, I know. But I share it here because something was about to occur on that bathroom floor that would change forever the progression of my life-almost like one of those crazy astronomical super-events when a planet flips over in outer space for no reason whatsoever, and its molten core shifts, relocating its poles and altering its shape radically, such that the whole mass of the planet suddenly becomes oblong instead of spherical. Something like that.

What happened was that I started to pray.

You know-like, to God…

This was a first for me….

Let me first explain why I use the word God…I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, or The Higher Power…and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use.

Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed- much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love….When the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God.”

What I said to God through my gasping sobs was something like this, “Hello, God. How are you? I’m Liz. It’s nice to meet you….I’m sorry to bother you so late at night,” I continued. “but I’m in serious trouble. And I’m sorry I haven’t ever spoken directly to you before, but I do hope I have always expressed ample gratitude for all the blessings that you’ve given me in my life.”

This thought caused me to sob even harder. God waited me out. I pulled myself together enough to go on: “I am not an expert at praying, as you know. But can you please help me? I am in desperate need of help. I don’t know what to do. I need an answer. Please tell me what to do. Please tell me what to do. Please tell me what to do…”

And so the prayer narrowed itself down to that simple entreaty- Please tell me what to do- repeated again and again. I don’t know how many times I begged. I only know that I begged like someone who was pleading for her life. And the crying went on forever.
Until-quite abruptly-it stopped.

Quite abruptly, I found that I was not crying anymore. I’d stopped crying, in fact, in mid-sob. My misery had been completely vacuumed out of me. I lifted my forehead off the floor and sat up in surprise, wondering if I would see now some Great Being who had taken my weeping away. But nobody was there. I was just alone. But not really alone, either. I was surrounded by something I can only describe as a little pocket of silence-a silence so rare that I didn’t want to exhale, for fear of scaring it off. I was seamlessly still. I don’t know when I’d ever felt such stillness.

Then I heard a voice….How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine?

The voice said: Go back to bed, Liz.

I exhaled.

It was so immediately clear that this was the only thing to do….

In a way, this little episode had all the hallmarks of a typical Christian conversion experience-the dark night of the soul, the call for help, the responding voice, the sense of transformation….(For me) I would call that night the beginning of a religious conversation. The first words of an open and exploratory dialogue that would, ultimately, bring me very close to God, indeed.

(Later) I walked into David’s apartment and saw this picture on his dresser of a radiantly beautiful Indian woman and I asked, “Who’s that?”

He said, “That is my spiritual teacher.”

My heart skipped a beat and then flat-out tripped over itself and fell on its face. Then my heart stood up, brushed itself off, took a deep breath and announced: “I want a spiritual teacher.” I literally mean that it was my heart who said this…

He said there was a gathering here in New York City every Tuesday night of the Guru’s devotees who came together as a group to meditate and chant. David said, “If you’re not too freaked out by the idea of being in a room with several hundred people chanting God’s name in Sanskrit, you can come sometime.”

I joined him the following Thursday night. Far from being freaked out by these regular-looking people singing to God, I instead felt my soul rise diaphanous in the wake of that chanting. I walked home that night feeling like the air could move through me, like I was a clean linen fluttering on a clothesline…

(Later) I listened to the Guru speak in person for the first time, and her words gave me chill bumps over my whole body, even across the skin of my face. And when I heard she had an Ashram in India, I knew I must take myself there as quickly as possible.

(Later) “I need your help.”

Then I wait. After a little while, a response comes…

“I’m right here. What can I do for you?”

And here recommences my strangest and most secret conversation….I talk to that same voice I met that night on my bathroom floor when I first prayed to God in tears for help, when something (or somebody) had said, “Go back to bed, Liz.” In the years since then, I’ve found that voice again in times of code-orange distress…I’ve been surprised to find that I can almost always access that voice, too, no matter how black my anguish may be. Even during the worst of suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and infinitely wise voice is always available for a conversation…..
Saint Teresa called such divine internal voices “locutions”- words from the supernatural that enter the mind spontaneously, translated into your own language and offering you heavenly consolation. The fact that this world is so challenging is exactly why you sometimes must reach out of its jurisdiction for help, appealing to a higher authority in order to find your comfort….
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you…There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me…

(Later In India) It’s the morning arati, the first morning prayer, sung every day at 3:30AM as the Ashram wakes…(there is a) small gathering of mostly Indian women who are singing this beautiful hymn. This is the hymn I call “The Amazing Grace of Sanskrit”…
I honor the divinity that resides within me…
The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition….the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment….We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character….Our whole business therefore in this life, wrote Saint Augustine, rather Yogically, “is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”

They want you to come here strong because the Ashram (temple) life is rigorous. Not just physically, with days that begin at 3:00AM and end at 9:00PM, but also psychologically. You’re going to be spending hours and hours a day in silent meditation and contemplation, with little distraction or relief from the apparatus of your own mind….My Guru always says that only one thing will happen when you come to the Ashram-that you will discover who you really are.

We are all given work here, and it turns out that my work assignment is to scrub the temple floors-the scrubbing clean of the temple is like that of my heart, the polishing of my soul, the every day mundane effort that must be applied to spiritual practice in order to purify the self.
The mind is restless, turbulent, strong and unyielding. I consider it as difficult to subdue as the wind….

Prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is the act of listening…When I ask my mind to rest in stillness, it is astonishing how quickly it will turn bored, angry, depressed, anxious, or all of the above. The problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

However, there’s a reason they call God a presence-because God is right here, right now. In the present is the only place to find Him…

(Later) For the next forty minutes or so, I tried to stay as quiet as possible, trapped in that meditation hall and ensnared in my own shame and inadequacy, watching the devotees around me as they sat in their perfect postures, their perfect eyes closed, their smug faces emanating calmness. I was full of a hot, powerful sadness, and would have loved to burst into the comfort of tears, but tried hard not to…

“All I seem to do is argue with myself when I try to meditate.”

“That’s just your ego, trying to make sure it stays in charge. This is what your ego does. It keeps you feeling separate, keeps you with a sense of duality, tries to convince you that you’re flawed and broken and alone instead of whole.”

“How do you not listen to it?”

Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with. Something healthier…like love.”

“The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. That’s where you need to go.”

(Later, after many months of dedication to regular meditation and prayer she shares her spiritual experience) I felt this soft blue electrical energy pulsing though my body, in waves. It’s a little alarming, but also amazing. I don’t know what to do, so I just speak internally to this energy. I say to it, “I believe in you,” and it magnifies, volumizes in response. It’s frighteningly powerful now, like a kidnapping of the senses. It’s humming up from the base of my spine. The pounding blue energy keeps pitching through my body…

I am panting, literally panting.

To understand what that experience was…Every religion in the world has had a subset of devotees who seek a direct, transcendent experience with God, excusing themselves from fundamentalist scriptural or dogmatic study in order to personally encounter the divine….

When they describe their experiences, they all end up describing exactly the same occurrence. Generally, their union with God occurs in a meditative state, and is delivered through an energy source that fill the entire body with euphoric, electric light. The Japanese call this energy ki, the Chinese Buddhists call it chi, the Balinese call it taksu, the Christians call it The Holy Spirit, the Kalahari Bushmen call is h/um….”it is a glorious bewilderment, a heavenly madness, in which true wisdom is acquired.”

(Later) When I tried this morning, after an hour or so of unhappy thinking, to dip back into my meditation, I took a new idea with me: compassion. I asked my heart if it could please infuse my soul with a more generous perspective on my mind’s workings. Instead of thinking that I was a failure, could I perhaps accept that I am only a human being-and a normal one at that? The thoughts came up as usual-OK, so it will be-and then the attendant emotions rose, too. I began feeling frustrated and judgemental about myself, lonely and angry. But then a fierce response boiled up from somewhere in the deepest caverns of my heart, and I told myself, “I will not judge you for these thoughts.”

My mind tried to protest, said, “Yeah but you’re such a failure, you’re such a loser, you’ll never amount to anything”-

But suddenly it was like a lion was roaring from within my chest, drowning all this claptrap out. A voice bellowed in me like nothing I had ever heard before. It was so internally, eternally loud that I actually clamped my hand over my mouth because I was afraid that if I opened my mouth and let this sound out, it would shake the foundation of buildings as far away as Detroit. And this is what it roared:


Silence followed. An intense, vibrating, awed silence. And then, in that regal silence, finally -I began to meditate on and with God.
I got to thinking about how much time I spend in my life crashing around like a great gasping fish, either squirming away from some uncomfortable distress or flopping hungrily toward ever more pleasure. And I wondered whether it might serve me if I could learn to stay still and endure a bit more without always getting dragged along on the portholed road of circumstance….it was a beginner’s attempt at self-mastery.

I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances. I just want God. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water….My prayers are becoming more deliberate and specific. It has occurred to me that it’s not much use to send prayers out to the universe that are lazy. Every morning before meditation, I kneel in the temple and talk for a few minutes to God. Of course God already knows what I need. The question is-do I know? Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. I kneel there in the temple with my face on that cold marble floor as long as it takes me to formulate authentic prayer. If I don’t feel sincere, then I sill stay there on the floor until I do. In making an effort to stay alert, I am assuming custodial responsibility for the maintenance of my own soul.

I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I eat and read and study. I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life-whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts. I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.
It was pure, this love I was feeling. It was godly. I looked around the darkened valley and I could see nothing that was not God. I felt so deeply, terribly happy.

I believe that all the world’s religions share, at their core, a desire to find a transporting metaphor. When you want to attain communion with God, what you’re really trying to do is move away from the worldly into the eternal and you need some kind of magnificent idea to convey you there. Religious rituals often develop out of mystical experimentation. Some brave scout goes looking for a new path to the divine, has a transcendent experience and returns home a prophet. He or she brings back to the community tales of heaven and maps of how to get there. Then others repeat the words, the works, the prayers, or the acts of this prophet, in order to cross over, too. Sometimes this is successful-sometimes the same familiar combination of syllables and devotional practices repeated generation after generation might carry many people to the other side. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though. Inevitably even the most original new ideas will eventually harden into dogma or stop working for everybody….

It is useful to remember that it is not the ritual that has ever brought anyone to transcendence, but only the constant desire of an individual seeker to experience the eternal compassion of the divine. Flexibility is just as essential for divinity as is discipline. God responds to the sacred prayers and efforts of human beings in any way whatsoever that mortals choose to worship-just so long as those prayers are sincere.

“People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.”

Shrug away any attempt to make sense of the world’s chaos. There are consequences for every action-so choose your behavior accordingly. The hub of calmness-that’s your heat. Just keep coming back to that center and you’ll always find peace.

“If you meet some person from a different religion and he wants to make an argument about God. …listen to everything this man says about God. Never argue about God with him. The best thing to say is, ‘I agree with you’ then go home, and pray what you want.”

People universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it…

You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings . And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainment. Clearing out your own misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy others. Become an open pipe-line for God’s love.

I love you, I will never leave you, I will always take care of you.


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