Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Part II: Was there a Part I? Oh, yeah, last year…*

So, I’ve been pondering procrastinating this blog post for a while now.

Do you even remember what I said in Part I? Well, neither did I!

I had to re-read the whole thing just to remember that I didn’t remember anything about it.

But, after sitting dumbfounded for about an hour, I’ve finally come up with something.

So, on to my issues…

Oh, wait, what is the book? Well, it’s Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert**

The gist of the book (a memoir) is this: After going through a painful divorce and ending another relationship, the author decides to try to “find herself” (my words, not hers) by going to Italy to eat (live in the world), India to pray (leave the world), and Indonesia to love (find balance between the two).

Overall, a very interesting story, indeed. She’s a good writer, very funny. And I breezed through the book.

But, there were a few things that bothered me. In this post, I’m only going to talk about one of them—the main one.

You see, this book is just another in the long line of books Oprah has had on her show about “finding your path” or “uncovering your authentic self” or “following your spiritual guide,” blah, blah, blah.

I call it “Generalized Gospel.” You know, everyone’s path is different. No path is right or wrong. It’s all about spirituality without the bothersome task of actually having to believe in anything.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In a sense, I do believe everyone has their own path. But, I also believe in absolutes. And I believe that having absolutes is vital. Not individual absolutes, but universal absolutes. And that’s the place where I differ with the author.

The generic spirituality espoused by so many, bugs me. I mean, women who read this book were saying things like “This is my new bible.” And “I just flip to a page and I know that my spirit guide wants me to follow what it says.” And “You’re my Guru!”

After hearing comments like these, you can see why I had to pick up the book.

Now to be fair, the author only ever speaks for herself, of course. And I’m sure she didn’t realize what a fanatic following her book would create. So, it’s really not her “way” that’s the problem for me, it’s the fact that so many others have gone for it.

And as I was trying to figure out why so many people (mostly women—which is another topic/post, entirely) identified with her, I came to realize the answer: Because she had a real experience with the Divine Power. Because she found a connection greater than herself. And most importantly, because the message this divine experience taught her was that she was good, as is. No need to change anything, no need to adopt any hard standards that would compromise her true self, no need to do anything but just live.

Accept the Love the Universe has to offer, and live your life!

This is why people have flocked to her book (and so many others like it). It’s easy. It’s just another way of saying “God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt.” In other words, God/the Universe/ Divine Power made me exactly the way I am, so I’m perfect exactly the way I am, and all I have to do is accept that.

In some ways, I agree with this. God is love. We are divinely created. We need to love ourselves. But, there is a point where self-acceptance crosses the line and soon stunts any growth in the person. Love becomes narcissism. And, in my mind, this happens when the love you have for yourself stops you from taking any responsibility for change. After all, there is no right and wrong. So, what is there to change (or restrain yourself from doing).

Maybe you’re okay with that. A lot of people are. But for me, it’s a scary world where nothing is wrong, everything is right, and if you speak up, you’re an “intolerant” idiot who can’t appreciate "diversity.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’ve read too much into the whole thing and my mind has lead me completely off base. In fact, knowing myself, that’s very likely. But, I just have to say what I think!

Do I believe God loves us, as is? Of course! But, does this mean that we don’t have to do anything to try to be better? Of course, not!

That’s like saying that because parents love their baby, as is, they don’t expect the baby to grow and take on more responsibility with age. That would be ridiculous! (And would create a child with a lot of problems.)

God loves us, but expects that as we know more, we do more. His love is always there, and He forgives us when we make mistakes, but He would be stunting our growth if He didn’t hold us accountable. And we can only be held accountable to absolutes. If what is required of me is not required of you, then God is not just. And that’s not a God I want to believe in.

Now, what are these absolutes, you ask? Well, that’s for another time.

Having said all this, and to wrap this whole post up before I go on another tangent, I liked the book. It made me think. And for me, that’s the sign of a book worth reading (whether I agree with it or not).

I thought it took a lot of guts for the author to leave all that she knew and try to figure herself out. It’s the whole maxim from Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I agree 100% with that. And I’ve tried to do that in my own life.

But, I also believe that with that examination comes responsibility, and an understanding that there are absolutes in this world. And that’s the hard part that I see most people ignore.

*I almost didn’t post this because I felt it was confusing, and therefore, a stupid waste of time. So, forgive me. This post was going to be twice as long, but I thought it would bore people to tears so, I kind of cut stuff out.

**You were right, Liz! (Not me, the other Liz) Also, if any of you are considering picking up this book, I offer a few caveats: First, there is some strong language (not a lot, but some). So keep that in mind. Second, she is very frank about things of a sexual nature (this doesn’t come up a lot, but when she talks about it, she talks about it).


Amanda said...

Liz, when are you going to just write a book? I don't mean a novel, but just pick a topic and write about it. I would read anything you have to say. I want to be able to say "Yeah, I know her. She is my smarty-pants friend." Not as a diss to my other intelligent sistas, but you all know what I'm saying. You can write a novel too. I wasn't saying you shouldn't.

Rachel said...

First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! You are, quite possibly, the smartest, funniest, most wonderful person I know.

Second, I agree completely. And I'd like to add a point. Notice that she got that message that she was fine just the way she was AFTER she went on her journey. A journey that no doubt changed her. I'm sure she recognizes this but I don't think that a lot of women do. People who read these types of books looking for help will say, "Okay, I just have to love myself just the way I am, starting now," and not realize that sometimes we have to make some changes to love who we are, and that we'll have to keep making changes because that's the nature of life.

I don't think the answers is to just love who were are as is, but to become the person we want to love.

Call Oprah. I'm taking her job!

Heather said...

Happy Birthday!!!
(I wrote several drafts of this comment, but they all turned into long complaining monologs, and while they started with a topic you mentioned, I managed to run out of control with it...So, that's why my actual comment is just 2 congradulatory words.)

Gina said...

Happy Birthday, Liz. You deserve the most wonderful things in life. I'm grateful for your friendship. Grateful also for the hallway chats. :)

Wendy said...

Happy Days Will Come To You All Year, Liz! Happy Birthday. I envy anyone who gets to celebrate it with you.

Ms. Liz said...

Haaaaa-py birthday!!! Happy Happy Birthday! Haaaaa-py Birthday. Li-eh-eh-eh-zzzzzz!

I like the book all right and I took issue with a full things and became full of concern for women who are so willing to just hand of guru status to an honest stranger and my reason was - like you so eloquently stated - this was HER path and it worked for HER. These were the lessons SHE had to learn and I don't assert that there aren't all things that we have to learn that are similar, if not identical, but we almost always often learn them in very different ways. I looked back and was more like "good for her" instead of "I need to be just like her". Though - I think that was a good call on the Italian trip. Super awesome call. I would have gone too.