Friday, April 5, 2013

Eat, Pray, Love: the Exorbitant Cost of Enlightenment (and the Birth of this Blog)

Part of my resolution is to go through all the books in my bookshelf before buying a new one, unless it has a sequel or another book which is related to it. 

To welcome the summer season, I picked out for my first summer reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love".  

Reading it, I was inspired to do my own version of "Eat, Pray, Love".  The "Eat" part has always been a requisite in my travels or even in my day-to-day life (and my weight is a growing testament to it!).  Traveling to eat is always an agenda in any trip in and out of the country.  The "Love" part was out of the question as I am happily settled in a long-term relationship.  

It was the "Pray" part that got to me.    

I envy her desire and discipline to achieve true spirituality.  I envy the calm that her meditation brings and how it elevates her being and keeps her reality grounded at the same time.  

The mysticism of all that chanting, meditation, and yoga in a quiet provincial environment perked the interest of this non-practicing Catholic.  

So I started Googling about ashrams, trying to uncover the identity  of Elizabeth Gilbert's unnamed ashram, so I can follow in her exciting yet still enlightened path. And in the course of my Googling, I discovered several things:
  • That a retreat to an ashram can set you back from US$450 to a whopping a US$14,000.  
  • That there are a lot of ashrams to choose from, each specializing on its own set of teachings / practices.  
  • That there Elizabeth Gilbert's guru's organization, the Siddha Yoga Dham of America, has come under fire for misleading its followers and subjecting them to harassment, including sexual harassment / abuse.  Read the article here: The "Eat, Pray, Love" Guru's Troubling Past  
And, then I stumbled on this excellent intellectual article criticizing "Eat, Pray, Love" in the aptly called Bitch Magazine.  

In a nutshell, it characterized "Eat, Pray, Love" as priv lit or privileged literature -- "literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial." 

It goes on to say that "Perhaps priv-lit is a manifestation of how we love to fantasize about things we don’t—or can’t—have. Rather than offering a model to aspire to through consistent attainment of progressive, realistic goals, priv-lit terrorizes its consumers with worst-case scenarios and the implication that self-improvement is demonstrated by 'works' of spending.... The pressure to obtain happiness by buying a certain book (like Eat, Pray, Love or, more recently, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project), attending a yoga retreat, or hiring a guru moves women further away from themselves, the simplicity espoused in positive psychology literature, and the type of careful reflection necessary to maintain inner peace in the long term." 

And with that article, the harsh light of reality trained its spotlight on me, giving me a silent yet sharp wake-up call.  Yes, we all want to have that great adventure, our own versions of "Eat, Pray, Love," where we travel to exotic locales, eat exotic food, and experience being romanced by exotic men.  But, not all of us have book deals, trust funds, and / or rich daddies that can finance a trip of fantastical proportions.  And, if that's the case, are we now doomed to roam the earth in failure and misery?

In the age of consumerism, we tend to equate happiness and fulfillment with what we possess.  I know this is not the case.  The great Gautama Buddha has achieved enlightenment, nirvana, under a bodhi tree in the middle of nowhere, fer cryin out loud!  How simple is that?!?!

The article could not have said it more eloquently: "If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section. And once that happens, we might just succeed in showing that for every wealthy and insecure woman who can pony up to reach great heights of self and spending, there are thousands more whose lives are comparatively uncharmed, who are happier working with creative and healthy alternatives instead of spending on what they’re terrorized into wanting, and whose stories will, someday, be valued for the strength they communicate, not the fantasies they sell."

So I challenge myself to cut through the clutter of modern consumerism.  To simplify life. To learn to enjoy the simple things. That happiness is always just around the corner, if you bother to recognize it for what it really, truly is.

Me, Version 2.OH!


Read the complete article of the criticism on "Eat, Pray, Love", priv lit and its negative connotations as featured in Bitch Magazine here: "Eat, Pray, Spend"

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