Okay. I really hate to burst the bubble but “Eat, Pray, Love” and all such stories about women who strike out and find great wisdom is sort of well–misguided.
I don’t doubt the author had a nice vacation, relaxed and came away with some good stuff. Sure, if you can afford that it’s cool. But as one who did the whole deal in a gritty non materialistic way I got to say–it’s generally a bad idea. We live and we learn. Here’s my experience in a boiled down version: I “decided” to quit my job, quit my home and my community and strike out to a Zen monastery only to return to odd jobs and more stress than anyone would want. Did I learn some stuff? Of course. But just as you don’t have to go to India to become spiritual (that’s kind of for posers and amateurs in this humble reporter’s opinion), you don’t have to set fire to your life to reset your values. Whew–bet that’s a relief since you were planning on it..right? No? Okay well feel free to dip out of the discussion. For the rest of us hard core idealists I want to spare you some ridiculous amounts of hassle.
First of all wisdom lives within you and is accessible at all times wherever you are. You just need to allow yourself some quiet and space everyday and you’ll know what to do. Secondly, no one and I mean not anyone can say what’s right for you no matter how well meaning they may be, so generally don’t follow advice unless it also matches your insight. Thirdly intense experience does not equate to freedom of the mind, body and soul. It can speed you along but it has it’s huge barrel of dynamite level explosiveness that I wouldn’t wish on you. It’s basically not worth the story or the insight. Finally, this is a big one, having money does not necessarily make you an out of touch, non-compassionate ass. You can have money and spend it wisely and with awareness, you can give it away with discernment and you can avoid becoming a burden on someone else, like your family.
I’m lucky most of the people in my life hung in there with me while I paired my belongings to fit in the trunk of my car and insisted on leaving a nice job and home for a destination I knew nothing about only to return as a person struggling with the basics of life. You cannot take those basics for granted. If you’ve got a home, a nice job and family–man– hang on tight and be grateful everyday. If you’re clever enough to be Elizabeth Gilbert or the writer of “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed, then that’s a gift. But don’t believe their stories because as my son put it, “there’s no such thing as non fiction” and don’t for a minute think your big trip in search of wisdom will lead to certain results. So while some of you have followed my adventure and cheered me on, thank you, I recommend against as strongly as I can. Here’s why. Nothing beats day in and day out practical understanding, insight and experience. Yea I had some super juicy and interesting peak experiences but the lows out weight the highs two to one. I have a friend who says his life goes like this, “wash, rinse, repeat”. He means that most of your days may run together and if you take them for granted you may wonder what the meaning is. It’s tricky. But your purpose is the life you’re living and the people you touch. It’s all about nuance and subtlety. If your really paying attention your current life is your purpose chock full of meaning. Geography is destiny. Where you are located is where you flourish and learn. What is possible often already exists and you’re probably already doing and living it.
It’s good to be open and consider your options but do so with discernment while respecting your current life and the work which went into it. Just being open to all people and experiences is the fast track to getting used up. My sweet ones, I do not wish this for you and I confess to you this is what happened to me. We are all wired differently and thrive in different environments. I believe I am compatible with meditation as the most important thing in my life as well as the principals of the Dharma. Fortunately this costs no money and requires no equipment, wardrobes, travel or knocking on doors. I just need a floor and a mindset. Given that, if I’m out of my practice I am entirely lost. That’s how I forgot about wash, rinse and repeat. That’s how I found myself in places I shouldn’t have been simply because they aren’t me. It’s fun and entertaining to hear rock stars and comedians talk about their lives of debauchery and recovery but it sure as heck is nothing to copy or believe in. It’s also not going to work if you think setting out on a bold adventure and slipping out of your life will be somehow romantic.
This past year has been the hardest of my life. Setting my life on fire and walking away was far too bold. I needed a change and I don’t regret that part of it but it could have been done as a middle way with proper planning and appreciation. Adventures are interesting but they are not a way of life no matter what kind of romantic notions writers and producers are selling. They’re trying to make money and they’ll say about anything to do it. I say although it’s not as exciting keep living your loving and responsible life. That’s the truest thing you can do.
If you need a change as I did, then do it, but ease out of it rather than jumping out in one fell swoop. Writer, teacher and hallucinogen advocate Terrence McKenna famously said those who really understand how things work know that, …when you jump into the abyss you discover that you land in a feather bed. It sounds incredible right? It sounds as if you muster the courage to jump you may also be rewarded with freedom and ease. With all respect, it’s along the lines of total bullshit. When you jump into the abyss you are in the darkness with no direction until you crawl your way out one hand hold at a time. It can be done and I am doing it but you can do better. I’ve learned a lot in that darkness yet I realize it was most likely not necessary. I believe now that I could have learned the same things by sitting and meditating in my comfy chair among all the sweet things I collected along the way and so can you. Of course one never knows the path untraveled and there’s much written and spoken about regarding the value of choosing an alternate path and being bold. I think there should be more written about a life of daily habit and kindness. Any fool brave enough and with enough privilege can jump into the abyss for a path less traveled but it takes true courage and compassion to stay put and grow in your situation especially when you aren’t sure how. Not knowing is where the wisdom begins.
So far what it’s worth let me raise a glass to Mike who “washes, rinses and repeats” and all of you who do the same. It’s simple to find the romance in the big journey, I always did especially when I felt trapped, but the truth is far more hidden. The truth speaks in the way you love the people in your life, in how you do your work even though you don’t feel like it, in being gracious during financial struggles and continuing on with awareness right now in your actual life. It’s also very romantic. the daily hum begets the music, the ordinary care speaks to adventure if you’re willing to see it.
Right now I’ve sworn off books and movies like “Eat, Pray, Love” because I know better than to believe them. They make a good story but nothing in it compares to the real story of you and your life. So, just keep doing that.