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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Gilbert’

Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, wrote an interesting article about “over giving”that has got me rethinking generosity.  You can read it–it’s a fast and easy read–but the main point is that she has caused rifts in her relationships with her generosity.  In paying off her friends’ credit card bills, she neglected their dignity.

She puts it this way:

Sometimes, by interrupting his biographical narrative so jarringly, I denied a friend the opportunity to learn his own vital life lesson at his own pace. In other words, just when I believed I was operating as a dream-facilitator, I was actually turning into a destiny disruptor.

I’m thinking about how when Jesus tells us to be generous, it’s in the context of a relationship with another person.  Somebody asks to borrow your coat, you give them your coat.  Somebody asks you to borrow money, you say, here, no need to pay me back.

I think the key here is that a person is asking for these things.  They are already humbled, in a way, and so you don’t have to worry about their dignity, or interrupting the pace of their own work/goal achieving. Someone asks you for help, then you really help them.

The main point Jesus makes (again and again, and its a point Paul likes to reiterate in his letters) is that we “put others before ourselves.”   That means we treat them the way we want to be treated.  I am not sure it’s Christ-like to make people feel like they owe us something, or to empower ourselves through our giving.  It seems like true generosity takes something much more involved–it takes a relationship with that person, trust.  Someone trusts us so much, trusts our generosity, that they ask us for something, for our help in meeting some need.

I know this is tricky, and I’m still thinking it through.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the  word conversation and so here are some of my thoughts. They are vague and philosophical thoughts, but hopefully I’m hitting on something concrete here.

1) A relationship with God is a conversation

In that book I read, Eat Pray Love, the author (Elizabeth Gilbert) says that prayer is the act of talking to God and meditation is the act of listening to God. I have never really meditated in the way she speaks of (the yoga way, I guess)–I really wouldn’t know where to start. I am willing to learn, but I’m not sure what I think of the concept. Actually, I don’t really know what it is. P’Nui says she counts her steps to meditate. I’ve done that before, and I like doing that, but I wouldn’t call that meditation, I’d call it concentration, which is extremely valuable for me as a writer, or for anyone who needs to concentrate on anything. 🙂

But sitting down with my hands cupped and breathing–I just don’t understand it. I’m willing to take on the challenge of shutting off my mind, but I don’t see the difference between that and sleeping. And to tell you the truth, I have so many wild and vivid dreams that I don’t believe my mind ever shuts off. Maybe I should learn how to meditate, to stop the chatter. Any thoughts or words of advice on this would be appreciated…

Yet when it comes to meditating on things, this I feel like I understand. My brain is constantly grappling with ideas–working things out. I guess this is the closest experience I have to listening to God. Sometimes it seems that I can feel God’s words. The ones that bring me peace–that’s how I know it’s God. Sometimes words settle me and I say He is the one doing the settling. At other times, I just get a great idea that seems like a piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out who God is. This great idea sometimes comes with days or months of grappling with all the evidence. This is another way God speaks to me, answers prayers, and adds to the conversation He’s having with me.

2) There is a conversation going on

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he invites us to seek after truth. When we read literature, watch movies (with substance), experience any kind of art, and talk to the people around us, we have an opportunity to be alert, to listen, and to learn something true. I like to think that Truth is tangible, it’s not always relative, but there is something concrete to grasp that is true for everyone. And the closest humans have gotten to experience this universal truth is love, which Christians (and tons people belonging to other schools of thought) often equate with God himself. When Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” I think He is revealing himself in all that we seek. The Good Way (which is in Buddhism as dharma) is apparent to everyone–we all have a sense of right and wrong. This way, just like Truth, and Life, is for everyone. It is not as restricted as we often like to restrict it (maybe through denominational/religious doctrine). I want to live as though my life is a conversation that will reveal these three aspects of Jesus to me.

3) Art is the limitless way we express ourselves in the conversation

Conversation isn’t limited to artists or bohemians, or talent for that matter. Any time we interact with someone, we have opportunity for the conversation. But I believe that God, out of love, put the gift of creativity in the world so that this conversation can be interesting and dynamic. And even if we’re not the creators ourselves, art is there for us to experience. Some people express themselves through food. Others on a canvas, a page, a stage, a screen, a vegetable garden. And music! Music is probably the most fascinating way we experience this conversation. God can reveal his truth in all of these things.

This helps me to understand what I mean when I say I want to create art. Lots of times, my creation is writing non-fiction, which, to me, is the same as talking on a page. Or on a screen, like I’m doing now. But when I craft a fictional story, I am taking the conversation to a new dimension. But the goal is the same–to seek, to learn, and to express everything I know to be true so that I may add it to the conversation.

4) The conversation isn’t limited to creative-types.

We can work at an automotive company (ha!) and contribute to the conversation. It’s really just the act of expressing what we know and listening for a response, all the while seeking, seeking, and seeking after the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Or Love. Or God. Or all of it together. We might progress further in this conversation on a trip to the gas station than we would reading an entire anthology of philosophical or religious thought. All it takes is the ability to know when to speak and when to listen.

I definitely need to improve my ability to listen. Maybe this is what meditation is all about. I hope one day I will find out.

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I finished “Eat Pray Love” last night.  It’s about this writer’s year of traveling she took to recover a divorce and a messy rebound relationship.  She went to Italy to eat, India to pray, and Indonesia to–well, I’ll let you guess.

Sometimes the book really irritated me, but I think the irritation was jealousy.  It’s sort of silly for me to be jealous because my life is pretty great.  I get to travel and learn stuff about myself and God, too.  I think the real jealousy is about her success in her writing.  I mean, she financed the year on a book deal.  A book deal paid for her to do whatever she wanted for a year, as long as she wrote about it.  And by the end, she was just writing about how spectacular her life is. Hmph.

Okay, jealousy aside, I liked the message that there is a whole world out there full of people to love.  And she does love people and people love her.  She makes it seem so simple.  And when I think of my life in Thailand, how much I love my friends here, and my friends at home, I agree–life is wonderful, God’s love is enormous, and everything seems much nicer when I’m crazy about all of it.

Today I was walking home and I passed the couple boys who have a mini-elephant that they charge people to feed.  I hate this feeding the elephants business.  The elephant looks miserable and the boys are scrappy.  They are elephant abusers.  I had to share the crowded sidewalk with them for a moment and I put on my fiercest “don’t mess with me I’m from Detroit and I’ve survived being held up by gunpoint, rrrrr” face and when the older boy saw my oh so scary expression he said “I love you!” and I rolled my eyes.  But when I passed him I started cracking up because, you know?  I love him too!  I love that he said I love you.  I hate that he’s an elephant abuser but I love him despite that.  And I laughed more when I imagined what someone in his position would be like back home.  Actually, we don’t have street-elephants back home, but if we did, and if I rolled my eyes at the elephant abuser he would have probably yelled at me or called me a bitch and told me to step aside or something.  But not in Thailand.  No, not here.  Here it’s like when my brother used to tease me when I got mad at him.  I’d scream “I hate you!” and he’d say “Well I looooove you!” and it would really piss me off.  But I’m not a toddler anymore.  I’m grown up and I think that shit is funny.

Sometimes I stand on the 12th floor and watch the skyline and I look at all the condominiums and houses and skyscrapers and I think “There are so many people here!” And I love being in a crowded place because there are so many people and I just can’t help thinking that I’ll never know them all, but the ones I know I love.  And God knows them all, and he loves every one.  And that is astounding.

And so… What should I read next?

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I am reading this book called Eat, Pray, Love (by Elizabeth Gilbert) and this quote begged to be added to my blog. It’s from a poem she wrote to end the India section:

…sleeping in doorways, under bridges–a hobo

(which is short for, “homeward bound,” you know)

And now he chases me, saying, “You got that, Liz?

What HOMEWARD means? What BOUND really is?”

So now I know what a hobo is… though I’ve known what it means to be homeward bound for quite some time, I am (probably too) proud to say.

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