I got an email from another white Hindu who was a bit concerned about this movie that's just come out.
Would the character flirting with Indian philosophy as part of her three-country tour reflect badly on the rest of us non-Indian Hindus. Would it reignite the idea of us not being serious about it?
The subject of the movie, based on a memoir, is a woman in her mid-thirties, who has a crisis in her life and goes out into the world to find peace. She goes to Italy, then India, then Bali in search of a happy life.
I went to see this movie with my mother this past weekend and I was very pleasantly surprised.
I enjoyed it very much and it seemed to open my heart back up to the joy of the search for meaning. The most powerful moment for me was when she was getting ready to leave India (where she had been living in an ashram) and she summed up her experience there by saying she had learned that "God dwells in you, as you." This image you have of what a spiritual person looks like isn't a real person. You are not the silent, ethereal, angel floating around being nauseatingly spiritual all the time. That's not God. God is you exactly as you are (the person we imagine we should be is Ingrid Bergman in The Bells Of St. Mary, as the character says).
That spoke to me deeply. I feel I have been going through some similar issues to what this woman was dealing with. It seemed as though she was addressing me directly. She was working to find the balance between being spiritual and enjoying life.
I am always trying to be my vision of what a spiritual or enlightened person should look like and it is exhausting.
I was so inspired by the movie that I went the next day to buy the book. I'm more than half way through it now and it is astoundingly good. I've underlined almost every page and I want to just quote the entire thing for you!
I highly recommend it. She has wonderful and very insightful descriptions of meditation. She tells it like it is, as a real person, discovering her soul for the first time.
One thing that is not so clear in the movie is that she has been practicing Hinduism for two years before she arrives at that ashram. India is not just a random stopover for her in the midst of a world tour, it is deeply personal and meaningful.
I know the guru that she speaks of. I'm familiar with that school, though she doesn't name it. She is still a devote of that guru as far as I can tell. I doubt that she labels herself as a Hindu, but she certainly practices advaita and practices it with great sincerity. It may be that she is beyond the need for labels, while I am not yet. I know that someday I will need to let go of the label and be universal, but right now I really need the label of "Hindu."
In fact, the author has more claim than I to Hinduism in some ways, since she actually went to India and lived at the ashram for four months.
And so I think that Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert fits into our rag-tag little group. If she ever stumbled upon this blog, I would welcome her heartily as another American, non-Indian Hindu. I would give her a guest aarti and feed her chai and chaat.
Inspired by the book, I plan to do a few different posts on subjects that she made me reflect on, such as how prayer works, cherry-picking religion, and how we are imperfect and perfect at once.
I feel better than I've felt in months, refreshed with energy to tackle my meditation again, and to look for a mantra that suits me better. It's cliche to say, but these last months have been very dark for me. I didn't ever lose faith or my beliefs, but I did distance myself from God and from those beliefs as I dealt with the grief and rage of losing a dear friend. I can feel myself starting to find my way back, though, back to the traditions and practices that will heal me. I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for her book because she really showed how spiritual practices work for a real person, not just a monk or a holy person.