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Eat, Pray, Love: Quotes and Concepts for Discussion

Stacey Tuttle on May 18, 2010 - 8:54 am in Book Quotes, Book Summaries, Books, Faith & Culture, Movies, New Age, Theology, World Religions

Eat, Pray, Love:  Quotes and Concepts for Discussion

Book By: Elizabeth Gilbert; Excerpts selected by: Stacey Tuttle

Note:  With 5 million copies in print and a movie coming out August 13 (starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem and James Franco), Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love, (a New York Times Bestseller released in 2006) is sure to see a resurgence of popularity and interest.  Eat, Pray, Love is Gilbert’s beautifully written memoirs documenting her journey not just across the world, but more importantly through her exploration of faith. 

Shepherd Project Ministries does not agree with many of her spiritual views, but does think that she raises some important questions and issues, and that her book has been and will continue to be both significant and influential in the world at large, and as such is something Christians would do well to be familiar with and able to discuss.  Gilbert, through her book and upcoming movie, has provided an immense opportunity for believers to engage with others in matters of faith. 

Additional Resources: 

Meaningful Quotes:

The japa mala which assists Hindu and Buddhist worshippers in prayer and meditation was admired by medieval Crusaders and became the rosary. (p 1)  (Note: from the first page Gilbert focuses on connectedness and similarities of religions.)

First page – she mentions Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics as all sharing common worship practices (rosary, japa mala) and then in next paragraph mentions the Holy Trinity as an example of why Eastern philosophers deem three as the number representing supreme balance.  While this may be true – she is immediately drawing parallels between all religions (whatever her motives/intentions may be.)

“Sincere spiritual investigation is, and always has been, an endeavor of methodical discipline.  Looking for Truth is not some kind of spazzy free-for-all, not even during this; the great age of the spazzy free-for-all.  As both a seeker and writer, I find it helpful to hang on to the beads as much as possible, the better to keep my attention focused on what it is I’m trying to accomplish” (p 2).

“Not to mention that I have finally arrived at that age where a woman starts to question whether the wisest way to get over the loss of one beautiful brown-eyed young man is indeed to promptly invite another one into her bed.  This is why I have been alone for many months now.  This is why, in fact, I have decided to spend this entire year in celibacy.  … This was not my moment to be seeking romance and (as day follows night) to further complicate my already knotty life.  This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude” (p. 7-8).

Setting the tone for her spiritual inclusiveness, ch. 1 ends with a prayer of thanks… “First in English. Then in Italian. And then – just to get the point across – in Sanskrit” (p 9).

“I was trying so hard not to know this, but the truth kept insisting itself to me.  I don’t want to be married anymore. I don’t want to live in this big house.  I don’t want to have a baby” (p 10). 

As she has introduced “that loaded word—God” (p 13) into the book for the first time, she takes a chapter to, “explain exactly what I mean when I say that word, just so people can decide right away how offended they  need to get” (p 13).  She describes her very inclusive theology saying that even though she uses the “word God… [she] could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus” or the ancient Sanskrit “That” or “even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name… “The Shadow of the Turning”” (p 13).  She says the terms themselves are all “equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable” (p 13) and she has chosen the name “God” out of simple preference.

Gilbert was raised Protestant and therefore considers herself a “cultural” Christian and not a theological one meaning that, though she does “love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus” and even occasionally asks herself, “WWJD?”, she “can’t swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only path to God” (p 14).  Rather, she is drawn with “breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed – much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts… and who has [reported]… that God is an experience of supreme love” (p 14). 

She compares her beliefs about God to a “really great dog” she got from the pound – “a mixture of about ten different breeds [that] seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all” (p 14). When asked what kind of dog she had, she simply answered “brown.”  “Similarly, when the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God”” (p 14).

In the middle of that dark November crisis, though, I was not interested in formulating my views on theology.  I was interested only in saving my life…. I seemed to have reached a state of hopeless and life-threatening despair, and it occurred to me that sometimes people in this state will approach God for help. I think I’d read that in a book somewhere” (p 15).

After her first prayer: “I was just alone.  But not really alone, either.  I was surrounded by something I can only describe as a little pocket of silence – a silence so rare that I didn’t want to exhale, for fear of scaring it off.  I was seamlessly still.  I don’t know when I’d ever felt such stillness” (p 15).

The voice, she said, was her own voice, speaking from within herself.  She says it was “perfectly wise, calm and compassionate…what my voice would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life” (p 16). What did it say?  “Go back to bed, Liz.”  (Which, she said was “true wisdom.”  “True wisdom gives the only possible answer at any given moment, and that night, going back to bed was the only possible answer.”)

“I would not say that this was a religious conversion for me, not in that traditional manner of being born again or saved.  Instead, I would call what happened that night the beginning of a religious conversation.  The first words of an open and exploratory dialogue that would, ultimately, bring me very close to God, indeed” (p 16).

“In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place” (p 18-19). 

Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story.  It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never even dared to admit that you wanted –an emotional speedball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement.  Soon you start craving that intense attention, with the hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted ( not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore—despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere…because he used to give it to you for free).  Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have that thing even one more time.  Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you.  He looks at you like you’re someone he’s never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion.  The irony is, you can hardly blame him.  I mean, check yourself out.  You’re a pathetic mess, unrecognizable even to your own eyes.  So that’s it.  You have now reached infatuation’s final destination—the complete and merciless devaluation of self” (p 20-21).

Meaning of the Sanskrit mantra Om Nama Shivaya which Guru gives her students: “I honor the divinity that resides within me” (p 25).

What she told the medicine man: “I want to have a lasting experience of God…Sometimes I think I understand the divinity of this world, but then I lose it because I get distracted by my petty desires and fears.  I want to be with God all the time.  But I don’t’ want to be a monk, or totally give up worldly pleasures.  I guess what I want to learn is how to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God” (p 26-27).

“I explained to Iva my personal opinions about prayer. Namely, that I don’t’ feel comfortable petitioning for specific things from God because it feels to me like a kind of weakness of faith.  I don’t like asking, “Will you change this or that thing in my life that’s difficult for me?” Because – who knows?—God might want me to be facing that particular challenge for a reason.  Instead, I feel more comfortable praying for the courage to face whatever occurs in my life with equanimity, no matter how things turn out” (p 32).

                Iva’s response: “Where did you get the idea you aren’t allowed to petition the universe with prayer?  You are part of this universe, Liz.  You’re a constituent—have every entitlement to participate in the actions of the universe, and let your feelings be known.  So put your opinion out there.  Make your case.  Believe me—it will at least be taken into consideration” (p32).

“It is my understanding that the health of the planet is affected by the health of every individual on it.  As long as even two souls are locked in conflict, the whole of the world is contaminated by it.  Similarly, if even one or two souls can be free from discord, this will increase the general health of the whole world, the way a few healthy cells in a body can increase the general health of that body” (p 32-33).

“They handpicked the most beautiful of all the local dialects and crowned it Italian” (p 45).  (Note: This is essentially how Gilbert handles God and religion: handpicks the most beautiful of all religious teachings and calls them God and religion.)

She says that she can always talk to that voice, “even during the worst of suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and infinitely wise voice (who is maybe me, or maybe not exactly me) is always available for a conversation on paper at any time of day or night” (p 53).  She’s not quite sure who the voice is, it could be God, her Guru, her guardian angel, her Highest Self, or her own subconscious.  However, life is hard and that is “why you sometimes must reach out of its jurisdiction for help, appealing to a higher authority in order to find your comfort” (p 53). 

At the beginning…I didn’t always have such faith in this internal voice of wisdom.  I remember once …scrawling… “I DO NOT F***ING BELIEVE IN YOU!!!!!!” After a moment, still breathing heavily, I felt a clear pinpoint of light ignite within me, and then I found myself writing this amused and ever-calm reply: “Who are you talking to then?”” (p 53-54).

What her voice told her: “I’m here.  I love you.  I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you.  If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it—I will love you through that, as well.  If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too.  There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love.  I will protect you until you die, and after you death, I will still protect you.  I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.”

Of her overlapping cycle of men:  “And I can’t help but think that’s been something of a liability on my path to maturity” (p 65). 

 “How many more different types of men can I keep trying to love and continue to fail?  Think of it this way—if you’d had ten serious traffic accidents in a row, wouldn’t they eventually take your driver’s license away?  Wouldn’t you kind of want them to?”  (p 66).

“I’m exhausted by the cumulative consequences of a lifetime of hasty choices and chaotic passions. By the time I left for Italy, my body and my spirit were depleted.  I felt like the soil on some desperate sharecropper’s farm, sorely overworked and needing a fallow season.  That’s why I’ve quit” (p 66). 

She tells herself to “never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings” (p 65).

Gilbert sees the Augusteum as a sort of metaphor for her own changing life, and a sage warning “not to get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may have once intended to serve” (p75).

“Is it maybe a little shallow to be thinking only about your next wonderful meal?  Or is it perhaps the best you can do, given the harder realities?” she asks (p 114).  “in a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.  Only artistic excellence is incorruptible.  Pleasure cannot be bargained down.  And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real” (p 114). 

 “The appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity” (p 115).

“I do know that I have collected myself of late—through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures—into somebody much more intact.  The easiest…way to say it is that I have put on weight.  I exist more now than I did four months ago.  I will leave Italy noticeably bigger than when I arrived here.  And I will leave with the hope that the expansion of one person—the magnification of one life—is indeed an act of worth in this world” (p 115-1116).

INDIA:

“The Amazing Grace of Sanskrit”: “I adore the cause of the universe…I adore the one whose eyes are the sun, the moon and fire…you are everything to me, O god of gods… This is perfect, that is perfect, if you take the perfect from the perfect, the perfect remains” (p 120).

The purpose of Yoga, Gilbert explains, is not simply to become more externally flexible.  Yoga means “to attach yourself to a task at hand with ox-like discipline.  And the task at hand in Yoga is to find union—between mind and body, between the individual and her God, between our thoughts and the source of our thoughts, between teacher and student, and even between ourselves and our sometimes hard-to-bend neighbors…. Yoga can also mean trying to find God through meditation, through scholarly study, through the practice of silence, through devotional service or through mantra…Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism, nor are all Hindus Yogis” (p 121).

“The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment.  Different schools of thought over the centuries have found different explanations for man’s apparently inherently flawed state.  Taoists call in imbalance, Buddhism calls it ignorance, Islam blames our misery on rebellion against God and the Judeo-Christian tradition attributes all our suffering to original sin.  Freudians say that unhappiness is the inevitable result of the clash between our natural drives and civilization’s needs.  (As my friend Deborah the psychologist explains it: “Desire is the design flaw.”)  The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identify.  We’re miserable because we think that we are mere individuals alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality.  We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature.  We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character.  We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace” (p 122).

“Yoga is the effort to experience ones’ divinity personally and then to hold on that experience forever.  Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise.  Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world (and yourself) be revealed to you” (p 122).

““Our whole business therefore in this life,” wrote Saint Augustine, rather Yogically, “is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”” (p 123).

A Yogi is a person who “has achieved the permanent state of enlightened bliss” and a Guru “is a great Yogi who can actually pass that state on to others” (p 123).

Gilbert opens the chapter by saying that one of her “first roommates at the Ashram was a middle-aged African American devout Baptist and meditation instructor from South Carolina” (p 125).  As an editorial note, I question if she mentioned the Baptist meditation instructor first to suggest to conservatives and Christians that this Ashram’s practices are all-inclusive and are not in opposition to or offensive to any religion. 

She mentions her Guru was not present while she was at the Ashram, but that wasn’t a problem, because “sometimes you will find that it is easier to communicate with your teacher from within these private meditations than to push your way through crowds of eager students and get a word in edgewise in person” (126).

“Remember—everything you do, you do for God.  And everything God does, He do for you” (p 131).

“Your ego’s job isn’t to serve you.  Its only job is to keep itself in power.  And right now, your egos scared to death cuz it’s about to get downsized.  You keep up this spiritual path, baby, and that bad boy’s days are numbered. Pretty soon your ego will be out of work, and your heart’ll be making all the decisions.  So your ego’s fighting for its life, playing with your mind, trying to asset its authority, trying to keep you cornered off in a holding pen away from the rest of the universe.  Don’t listen to it” (p 140).

What Gilbert tells her mind: “Listen—I understand you’re a little frightened.  But I promise, I’m not trying to annihilate you.  I’m just trying to give you a place to rest.  I love you”   Because a monk told her that “the resting place of the mind is the heart. The only thing the mind hears all day is clanging bells and noise and argument, and all it wants is quietude.  The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart.  That’s where you need to go” (p 141). 

Mantra: Ham-sa meaning “I am That” “The Yogis say that Ham-sa is the most natural mantra, the one we are all given by God before birth.  It is the sound of our own breath…. As long as we live, every time we breathe in or out, we are repeating this mantra.  I am That.  I am Divine, I am with God, I am an expression of God, I am not separate, I am not alone, I am not this limited illusion of an individual. (p 141-142).

Of her Ham-sa meditation:  “I fall asleep for a while.  (Or whatever.  In meditation, you can never really be sure if what you think is sleep is actually sleep; sometimes it’s just another level of consciousness.)  When I awake, or whatever, I can feel this soft blue electrical energy pulsing through my body, in waves.  It’s a little alarming, but also amazing” (p 142).

In Indian Yogic tradition, this experience (kundalini shakti) is “depicted as a snake who lies coiled at the base of the spine until it is released by a master’s touch or by a miracle, and which then ascends up through seven chakras, or wheels (which you might also call the seven mansions of the soul), and finally through the head, exploding into union with God” (p 144).

“Mystics across time and cultures have all described a stilling of the brain during meditation, and say that the ultimate union with God is a blue light which they can feel radiating from the center of their skulls.  In Yogic tradition, this is called “the blue pearl,” and it is the goal of every seeker to find it. … In mystical India, as in many shamanistic traditions, kundalini shakti  is considered a dangerous force to play around with if you are unsupervised; the inexperienced Yogi could quite literally blow his mind with it.  You need a… Guru…to guide you on this path, and ideally a safe place—an Ashram—from which to practice.  It is said to be the Guru’s touch (either literally in person, or through a more supernatural encounter, like a dream) which releases the bound kundalini energy from its coil at the base of the spine and allows it to begin journeying upward toward God.  This moment of release is called shaktipat, divine initiation” (p 145).

“If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway.  And guess what the universe will do with that doorway?  It will rush in—God will rush in—and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door.  Let it go” (p 150).

The Geet is conversation between “the goddess Parvati and the almighty, all-encompassing god Shiva.  Parvati and Shiva are the divine embodiment of creativity (the feminine) and consciousness (the masculine).  She is the generative energy of the universe; he is its formless wisdom.  Whatever Shiva imagines, Parvati brings to life.  He dreams it she materializes it.  Their dance, their union (their Yoga) is both the cause of the universe and its manifestation” (p 162).

Swamiji: “He was always scolding people for being jad, the Hindi word for “inert.”  He brought ancient concepts of discipline to the lives of his often rebellious young western followers, commanding them to stop wasting their own (and everyone else’s) time, and energy with their freewheeling hippie nonsense.  He would throw his walking stick at you one minute, hug you the next. Hew as complicated, often controversial, but truly world-changing” (p 166).

Of Swamiji: “He’s the master I need when I’m really struggling, because I can curse him and show him all my failures and flaws and all he does is laugh.  Laugh and love me” (p 167).  (Editor’s Note:  I noted in the margin of my book as I read that in her Guru she had a god she could manage, in her image.  She didn’t like Swamiji because he was too big, she couldn’t control him and he wasn’t in her image.  As she grew, she began to want a god bigger than herself.)

Following the Geet, Groceries writes, “I walked to the front of the temple and bowed flat on my face in gratitude to my God, to the revolutionary power of love, to myself, to my Guru and to my nephew—briefly understanding on a molecular level (not an intellectual level) that there was no difference whatsoever between any of these words of any of these ideas of any of these people” (p 169).

“I’m not interested in the insurance industry. I’m tired of being a skeptic, I’m irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate.  I don’t want to hear it anymore.  I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances.  I just want God.  I want God inside me.  I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water” (p 176).

“The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self (which is a young and volcanic island, yes, but fertile and promising). This island ahs been through some wars, it is true, but it is now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect he place.  And now—let the word go our across the seven seas—there are much, much stricter laws n the books about who may enter this harbor. / You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your slave ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts—all these will be turned away.  Likewise, any thoughts that ware filled with angry or starving exiles, with malcontents and pamphleteers, mutineers and violent assassins, desperate prostitutes, pimps and seditious stowaways—you may not come here anymore, either.  Cannibalistic thoughts, for obvious reasons, will no longer be received.  Even missionaries will be screened carefully, for sincerity.  This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island that is only now beginning to cultivate tranquility” (p 178-179).

“Guilt’s just your ego’s way of tricking you into thinking that you’re making moral progress” (p 183).

“The rules of transcendence insist that you will not advance even one inch closer to divinity as long as you cling to even one last seductive thread of blame.  AS smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul: even one puff of it is bad for you  I mean, what kind of prayer is this to imbibe—“Give us this day our daily grudge”?” (p 186).

On the rooftop, Groceries felt that she and her ex desperately need to release each other, yet she knew they would never talk.  So she prayed and asked God if there would be “some level upon which we could communicate?  Some level on which we could forgive?” (p 186). And the answer she got during meditation was, “You can finish the business yourself, from within yourself” (p 186). So, in her meditations she invited her ex-husband to “be kind enough to meet… [her]…for this farewell event,” which he did.  “His presence was suddenly absolute and tangible” (p 186). Of this experience she writes, “I watched these two cool blue souls circle each other, merge, divide again and regard each other’s perfection and similarity…. They knew everything long ago and they will always know everything.  They didn’t need to forgive each other; they were born forgiving each other.  The lesson they were teaching me in their beautiful turning was, “Stay out of this, Liz.  Your part of this relationship is over.  Let us work things out from now on.  You go on with your life” (p 187).

She did a handstand after the time on the rooftop.  “That’s our privilege.  That’s the joy of a mortal body.  And that’s why God needs us.  Because God loves to feel things through our hands” (p 188).

“God dwells within you, as you” (p 191).  Meaning that, “God dwells within you as yourself, exactly the way you are” (p 192). 

“To know God, you need only to renounce one thing—your sense of division from God.  Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character” (p 192).

“Who is the one who is always standing outside the mind’s activity, observing its thoughts?  It’s simply God, say the Yogis.  And if you can move into that sate of witness-consciousness, then you can be present with God all the time.  This constant awareness and experience of the God-presence within can only happen on a fourth level of human consciousness, which is call turiya” (p 196).

“Pure, clean, void, tranquil, breathless, selfless, endless, undecaying, steadfast, eternal, unborn, independent, he abides in his own greatness,” say the …ancient Yogic scriptures, describing anyone who has reached the turiya state” (p 196).

This is why we all chose to be born, and this is why all the suffering and pain of life on earth is worthwhile—just for the chance to experience this infinite love.  And once you have found this divinity within can you hold it?  Because if you can…bliss” (p 197).

Turiya: “Simply put, I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush I suddenly understood the workings of the completely.  I left my body, I left the room, I left he planet, I stepped through time and I entered the void.  I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time.  The void was a place of limitless peace and wisdom.  The void was conscious and it was intelligent.  The void was God, which means that I was inside God. … I just was part of God.  In addition to being God, I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe.  (“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop,” wrote the sage Kabir—and I can personally attest now that this is true.) / It wasn’t hallucinogenic, what I was feeling.  It was the most basic of events.  It was heaven, yes.  It was the deepest love I’d ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric.  It wasn’t exciting.  There wasn’t enough ego or passion left in me to create euphoria and excitement.  It was just obvious.  Like when you’ve been looking at an optical illusion for a long time, straining your eyes to decode the trick, and suddenly your cognizance shifts and there—now you can clearly see it!—the two vases are actually two faces.  And once you’ve seen through the optical illusion, you can never not see it again” (p 199).

“Man is a demon, man is a god.  Both true” (p 251).

“Human beings are born…with the equivalent potential for both contraction and expansion.  The ingredients of both darkness and light are equally present in all of us, and then it’s up to the individual (or the family, or the society) to decide what will be brought forth—the virtues or the malevolence. The madness of this planet is largely a result of the human being’s difficulty in coming into virtuous balance with himself” (p 251).

There is nothing you can do about the craziness of the world.  “This is nature of world.  This is destiny. Worry about your craziness only—make you in peace” (p 251).

Gilbert contemplates happiness.  She says you have to “fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking or it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.  And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.  If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.  It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments” (p 260).

So, in her prayers she asks God to help her hold on to the happiness and contentment.  She calls this “Diligent Joy,” remembering what her friend said, “that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people.  Not only in the big global Hitler-n-Stalin picture, but also on the smallest personal level.  Even in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me.  The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefitting act, but also a generous gift to the world.  Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else.  Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.” (p 260-261).

“Hindus see the universe in terms of karma, a process of constant circulation, which is to say that you don’t really “end up” anywhere at the end o your life—not in heaven or hell—but just get recycled back to the earth again in another form, in order to resolve whatever relationships or mistakes you left uncompleted last time.  When you finally achieve perfection, you graduate out of the cycle entirely and melt into the Void.  The notion of karma implies that heaven and hell are only to be found here on earth, where we have the capacity to create them, manufacturing either goodness or evil depending on our destinies and our characters” (p 262).

Ketut said he had been to heaven and hell.  But Ketut believed they were places, the same place, and both love.  He said the universe is a circle…up and down all the same place, the only difference is the way you get there, “so better to be happy on journey,” he says (p 262).

She asked herself to reveal everything that was causing her sorrow and then, as things were revealed, she told each sorrow “It’s OK. I love you.  I accept you. Come into my heart now. It’s over.” And she would “actually feel the sorrow (as if it were a living thing) enter [her] heart” (p 327). She did the same thing with her anger and her shame. And afterward, she said, “I saw that my heart was not even nearly full, not even after having taken in and tended to all those calamitous urchins of sorrow and anger and shame; my heart could easily have received and forgiven even more.  Its love was infinite.  I knew then that this is how God loves us all and receives us all, and that there is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds.  Because if even one broken and limited human being could experience even one such episode of absolute forgiveness and acceptance of her own self, then imagine…what God, kin all His eternal compassion, con forgive and accept” (p 328).

“Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years—I was not rescued by a prince; it was the administrator of my own rescue” (p 329).

Zen Buddhists believe that two forces are at work in the creation of an oak tree: the acorn (the obvious seed with the all the potential for life), and the future Oak tree which so desperately wants to live, it pulls itself forth from the acorn.  Gilbert wonders, in light of this, if maybe that voice helping her through her hard years was possibly future, whole, healthy, mature version of herself, so desperately wanting to be in existence she was helping herself grow through it all.   “The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes—grow! Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity!  I need you to grow into me!”  And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor, and maybe it was this me who whispered lovingly into that desperate girls’ ear, “Go back to bed, Liz…” Knowing already that everything would be OK, that everything would eventually bring us together here… Where I was always waiting in peace and contentment, always waiting for her to arrive and join me” (p 330).

In Every Religious Tradition On Earth…

“I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart [the one God dwells in], and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love.  In every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical saints and transcendent who report exactly this experience.  Unfortunately many of them have ended up arrested and killed.  Still, I think very highly of them” (p 14).

“Every religion in the world has had a subset of devotees who seek a direct, transcendent experience with God, excusing themselves from fundamentalist scriptural or dogmatic study in order to personally encounter the divine.  The interesting thing about these mystics is that, when they describe their experiences, they all end up describing exactly the same occurrence.  Generally, their union with God occurs in a meditative state, and is delivered through an energy source that fills the entire body with euphoric, electric light.  The Japanese call this energy ki, the Chinese Buddhists call it chi, the Balinese call it taksu, the Christians call it The Holy Spirit, the Kalahari bushmen call it n/um…the Islamic Sufi poets called that God-energy “The Beloved,” and wrote devotional poems to it…In the Jewish tradition of Kabbalah this union with the divine is said to occur through stages of spiritual ascension, with energy that runs up the spine along a series of invisible meridians.  Saint Teresa of Avila, that most mystical of Catholic figures, described her union with God as a physical ascension of light through seven inner “mansions’ of her being, after which she burst into God’s presence. She used to go into meditative trances so deep that the other nuns couldn’t feel her pulse anymore…. The most difficult challenge, the saint wrote…was to not stir up the intellect during meditation for any thoughts of the mind—even the most fervent prayers—will extinguish the fire of God” (p 143).

“The search for God is a reversal of the normal, mundane worldly order.  In the search for god, you revert from what attracts you and swim toward that which is difficult.  You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up.  Every religion in the world operates on the same common understandings of what it means to be a good disciple—get up early and pray to your God, hone your virtues, be a good neighbor, respect yourself and others, master your cravings….  The devout of this world perform their rituals without guarantee that anything good will ever come of it.  Of course there are plenty of scriptures and plenty of priests who make plenty of promises as to what your good works will yield (or threats as to the punishments waiting you if you lapse) but to even believe all this is an act of faith, because nobody amongst us is shown the endgame” (p 175).

“I believe that all the word’s religions share, at their core, a desire to find a transporting metaphor.  When you want to attain communion with God, what you’re really trying to do is move away from the worldly into the eternal (from the village to the forest, you might say, keeping with the theme of the antevasin) and you need some kind of magnificent idea to convey you there.  It has to be a big one, this metaphor—really big and magic and powerful, because it needs to carry you across a mighty distance.  It has to be the biggest boat imaginable.  …

Your job, then, … is to keep searching for the metaphors, rituals and teachers that will help you move ever closer to divinity.  The Yogic scriptures say that God responds to the sacred prayers and efforts of human beings in any way whatsoever that mortals choose to worship—just so long as those prayers are sincere.  As one line from the Upanishads suggests:  “People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate –and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.”

The other objective of religion, of course, is to try to make sense of our chaotic world and explain the inexplicabilities we see playing out here on earth every day:  the innocent suffer, the wicked are rewarded—what are we to make of all this? The Western tradition says, “It’ll all get sorted out after death, in heaven and hell.” (All justice to be doled out, of course, by what James Joyce used to call the “Hangman God”—a paternal figure who sits upon His strict seat of judgment punishing the evil and rewarding the good.)  Over in the East, though, the Upanishads shrug away any attempt to make sense of the world’s chaos.  They’re not even so sure that the world is chaotic, but suggest that it may only appear so to us, because of our limited vision.  These texts do not promise justice or revenge or for anybody, though they do say that there are consequences for every action –so choose your behavior accordingly.  You might not see those consequences any time soon, though.  Yoga takes the long view, always” (p 205-206).

“The Hopi Indians thought that the world’s religions each contained one spiritual thread, and that these threads are always seeking each other, wanting to join.  When all the threads are finally woven together they will form a rope that will pull us out of this dark cycle of history and into the next realm” (p 208).

“In 1954, Pope Pius XI, of all the people, sent some Vatican delegates on a trip to Libya with these written instructions: “Do NOT think that you are going among Infidels.  Muslims attain salvation, too.  The ways of Providence are infinite.

Doesn’t that make sense? That the invite would be, indeed…infinite?  That even the most holy amongst us would only be able to see scattered pieces of the eternal picture at any given time?  And that maybe if we could collect those pieces and compare them, a story about God would begin to emerge that resembles and includes everyone?  And isn’t our individual longing for transcendence all just part of this larger human search for divinity?  Don’t we each have the right to not stop seeking until we get as close to the source of wonder as possible? “ (p 208).

He encourages Liss to keep up both methods of meditation, Balinese and Indian, because, “both different, but good in equal way.  Same-same.  I think about religion, most of it is same-same” (p 241).

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  • September 13, 2010

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