In defense of the spiritual quest

Sadhu at the gates of the "Beatles ashram" in Rishikesh, India

Sadhu at the gates of the “Beatles ashram” in Rishikesh, India

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.

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4 Responses to In defense of the spiritual quest

  1. Andi August 17, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Really interesting article! I think for Elizabeth her spiritual quest was being able to let go of the past loves in her life and get herself prepared for finally the right man, which she did. So her spiritual quest was a success! Personally, that’s not what *my* spiritual quest would be about, but who am I to say what the definition of a spiritual quest should be for another person, you know?

  2. Mariellen August 17, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    You make a good point and I agree with you to a certain extent Andi. Spirituality is a very mysterious thing. Personally, a spiritual quest for me is about opening up to the divine and to the world, not to just one other person.

  3. Candice August 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    This is such a great post, Mariellen, and I agree with Andi in the sense that perhaps the spiritual quest varies per person. I REALLY hope the movie encourages people to be more open-minded about that sorta thing, rather than close-minded…but I can’t help but feel the movie is getting more negative attention than good.

  4. Mariellen July 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    The movie version of Eat, Pray, Love turned out to be a box-office bomb, but that doesn’t take away from the value of a true spiritual quest — the desire to get to know the truth of your being, your place in the cosmos and the underlying truth; the answer to the questions, what is reality? What is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of my life? These are all very valid questions — especially in this day and age when misunderstanding causes so much strife and environmental degradation.

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