Don’t throw the sadhu (holy man) out with the holy water
NOTE: This letter to the editor was published in the Globe and Mail newspaper this morning, August 16, 2010.
In Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, celebrity columnist Johanna Schneller says about Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: “Gilbert’s story distills for me my problem with spiritual quests. Is trying to be a better person just a really great excuse to think about yourself all day long?” Only in the world of Eat, Pray Love – which does not describe a spiritual quest at all.
Gilbert traveled to Italy, India and Bali on a large book advance – which means essentially that she was doing research – and she doesn’t change, she doesn’t transform, she just falls in love again. The book/movie have none of the hallmarks of a true spiritual quest.
Many people are cynical about the Eat, Pray, Love juggernaut, and I don’t blame them. I heard the cash register ch-chinging as I read it. But I hope the popularity of this highly commercial memoir will not cause people to be cynical also about spiritual quests. I hope people will not throw the sadhu out with the holy water.
An unexamined life is not worth living
Spiritual quests have a long and honourable history. The dictum “Know Thyself” was carved over the entrance to the Delphi Oracle in Ancient Greece. Buddha left his life as a prince to find a solution to human suffering. Jesus went on a spiritual quest – and some say to India where he studied with yogis and learned to perform “miracles.” Aboriginal people the world over have traditions of vision quests and walkabouts. Muslims are enjoined to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. And in India there is a rich and ancient tradition of spiritual questing that takes on many hues.
A true spiritual quest is not about discovering oneself in the egotistic sense – I’m vegetarian, I prefer to live in the country, I would never use Botox – it’s about discovering oneself in the spiritual sense. This means discovering the divine within you; transcending your ego and the materialism of the everyday world and seeing your place in the cosmos; increasing your consciousness and becoming more aware of others, the environment, the sacred and the impact of your thoughts, words and actions, among other worthy pursuits.
Far from being a frivolous distraction, a spiritual quest represents the opportunity to discover an alternative view; a way to live a more meaningful life; a means for recovering from loss, trauma and addiction; and a chance to open to the divine. It is almost a necessity in today’s world of rampant consumerism and materialism.
The massive popularity of Eat, Pray, Love proves there is a tremendous need among people to live a more spiritual, meaningful life. It is a baby step in the right direction.