Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eat Pray Love...then what?

Well, it was bound to happen. Oprah had Elizabeth Gilbert on her show and now the book is big-time famous. My review of Eat Pray Love is by far, the most accessed blog entry. It dramatically surpasses all the blog entries I meant to write but never got around to. We will just have to all imagine how entertaining and poignant those would have been.

I wrote the original review in April 2006 in the midst of a spiritual pilgrimage- or maybe just an early mid life crises- and it's amazing how has and has not changed in that time. For one, at that time I was beginning to fear that I would never be able have a second child. The barren months stretching endlessly. And today, I type one-handed, a nursing baby curled against me. A living, breathing blessing, if you believe in such things. Sometimes its hard not to.

And then other times....

Since reading Eat Pray Love, I've had my share of fortune and trials. I've continued my search for the eternal "meaning of life" and slowly added to my knowledge, carefully adding each fact or plausible theory to the overall equation like a little mad scientist. Then I ran into some health issues and completely lost my faith for a period of time. I believed that there was no one "looking out" for us. It was a stupid idea anyhow. Like some God in the sky was micromanaging our lives, giving me this condition and letting children starve in Sudan. It was maddening, because clearly it seemed, we were alone. Very alone. I felt like a small child. A cosmic orphan.

And yet, I looked at my earlier experiments with attraction theory- being explicit about what you wanted and waiting for the universe to make it so. It wasn't entirely a failure, that experiment. In fact, it was a little eerie. Strange enough for me to quietly send out copies of the little book (It Works) on the subject to friends in distress like a closet evangelist.

And then I started looking at healing through hypnosis, and concerned about falling into the hands of a crackpot, tried self-hypnosis and found it also sort of works. The hypnosis also helped with the onset of anxiety brought about by this condition I developed. I wasn't depressed per say, and was quite happy with life, but would be seized by bouts of anxiety where I got dizzy and wanted to jump out of my skin. Maddening. My husband was great, and in a way, it renewed my love for him- him being such a rock and safe harbor. That was a type of gift- to have such a renewed gratitude for my amazing family. In the past, having heard people say similar things "the tragedy brought us together" I thought- geez, some consolation, but now I think I understand that more.

Then I read the book "Miracle in the Andes". Which is part of the whole Alive story about the plane crash in the Andes. I don't know why I read it, I knew the story. But I'm glad I did, because I really identified with the author, one of the survivors, having gone through a transformation as a result of his experience. A transformation that I really understood in light of my own challenges, which thankfully did not include me having to watch my friends die and eat their bodies (cheap shot but you know you're all thinking it). To understand my current state, I will quote from that book, which I really related to. It's long and it's not my words, but for now, there are a lot of parallels to where I am.

"I have lived a happy life since the disaster. I have no guilt or resentments. I look forward to tomorrow and I always expect the future to be good.

“But how is that possible?” they often ask. “How can you be at peace with life after what you suffered?” I tell them I am not at peace in spite of what I suffered, but because of it. The Andes took so much from me, I explain, but they able gave me the simple insight that has liberated me and illuminated my life: Death is real, and death is very near.

In the mountains, there was never a minute that I did not feel death at my side, but the moment I stood on the summit of the mountain and saw nothing but towering peaks as far as the eye could see, was the moment all my doubts were swept away and the certainty of my own death became viscerally real. The realness of death stole my breath away, but at the same time I burned more brightly with life than I ever had before, and in the face of total hopelessness I felt a burst of joy The realness of death was so clear and so potent that for a moment it burned away everything temporary and false. Death had shown its face, dark, predatory, invincible and for a split second it seemed that beneath the fragile illusions of life, death was all there is. But then I saw that there was something in the world that not death, something just as awesome and enduring and profound. There was love, the love in my heart, and for incredible moment, as I felt this love swell- love for my father, my future, for the simple wonder of being alive- death lost its power. In that moment, I stopped running from death. Instead, I made every step a step toward love, and that saved me. I have never stopped moving toward love. Life has blessed me with material success. I like fast cars, good wine, fine food. I love to travel. I have a beautiful house in Monetvideo, and other one at the beach. I believe life should be enjoyed, but my experiences have taught me that without the love of my family and my friends, all the trappings of worldly success would ring hollow. I also know that I would be a happy man if all those trappings were taken from me, as long as I am close to the people I love.

I expect most people would like to think of themselves in this way, but I know that if I had not suffered as I did, and not been forced to stare death in the face, I would not treasure the simple precious pleasures of my life as richly as I do. There are so many perfect moments in a day and I don’t want to miss a single one- the smiles of my daughters, my wife’s embrace, a slobbering welcome from my puppy, the company of an old friend, the feel of beach sand beneath my feet, and the warm Uruguayan sun on my face. These moments bring time to a stop for me. I savor them and let each one become a miniature eternity and by living these small moments of my life so fully, I defy the shadow of death that hovers over all of us, I reaffirm my love and gratitude for all the fits I’ve been given, and I fill myself and more and more deeply with life.

In the years since the disaster, I often think of my friend Arturo Nogueira, and the conversation we had in the mountains about God. Many of my fellow survivors say they felt the personal presence of God in the Mountains. He mercifully allowed us to survive, they believe, in answer to our prayers, and they are certain it was His hand that led us home. I deeply respect the faith of my friends, but to be honest, as hard as I prayed for a miracle in the Andes, I never felt the personal presence of God. At least, I did not feel God as most people see Him. I did feel something larger than myself, something in the mountains and the glaciers and the glowing sky that, in rare moments, reassured me, and made me feel that the world was orderly and loving and good. If this was god, it was not God as a being or a spirit or some omnipotent, superhuman mind. It was not a God who would choose to save us or abandon us, or change in any way. It was simply a silence, a wholeness, an awe-inspiring simplicity. It seemed to reach me through my own feels of love, and I have often thought that when we feel what we call love, we are really feeling our connection to this awesome presence. I feel this presence when my mind quiets and I really pay attention. I don’t pretend to understand what it is or what it wants from me. I don’t want to understand these things. I have no interest in any God who can be understood, who speaks to us in one holy book or another, and who tinkers with our lives according to some divine plan, as if we were characters in a play. How can I make sense of a God who sets on religion above the rest, who answers one prayer and ignores another, who sends sixteen young men home and leaves twenty nine others dead on a mountain?

There was a time when I wanted to know that God, but I realize now that what I really wanted was the comfort of certainty, the knowledge that my God was the true God and that in the end He would reward me for my faithfulness. Now I understand that to be certain-about God, about anything- is impossible. I have lost my need to know. In those unforgettable conversations I have Artuuro as he lay dying, he told me the best way to find faith was by having the courage to doubt. I remember those words every day and I doubt, and I hope, and in this crude way I try to grope my way toward truth. I still pray the prayers I learned as a child- Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers- but I don’t imagine a wise, heavenly father listening patiently on the other end of the line. Instead, I imagine love, an ocean of love, the very source of love, and I imagine myself merging with it. I open myself to it. I try to direct that tide of love towards the people who are close to me, hoping to protect them and bind them to me forever and connect us all to whatever there is in the world that is eternal. This is a very private thing for me and I don’t try to analyze what it means. I simply like the way it makes me feel. When I pray this way, I fell as if I am connected to something good and whole and powerful. In the mountains, it was love that kept me connected to the world of the living. Courage or cleverness wouldn’t have saved me. I had no expertise to draw on so I relied upon the trust I felt in my love for my father and my future, and that trust led me home. Now I am convinced that if there is something divine in the universe, the only way I will find it is through the love I feel for my family and my friends and through the simple wonder of being alive. I don’t need any other wisdom or philosophy than this: My duty is to fill my time on Earth with as much life as possible, to become a little more human every day, and to understand that we only become human when we love. I have tired to love my friends with a loyal and generous heart. I have loved my children with all my strength. And I have loved one woman with a love that has filled my life with meaning and joy. I have suffered great losses and been blessed with great consolations, but whatever life may give me or take away, this is the simple wisdom that will always light my life: I have loved, passionately, fearlessly, with all my heart and all my soul, and I have been loved in return. For me, this is enough."

I still love the book Eat Pray Love and I'm delighted it's such a success. Though I sometimes feel like it's an old friend who went to Hollywood and became a movie star; I want to yell- hey I knew you when...!

Or at least I think that is how I would feel, given that Hollywood is not filled with people from my hometown. Or even with people who may have accidentally driven though my hometown, as far as I know.