During our discussion of the authenticity of Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love some of us contended that her global journey to discovering herself was, in some ways, inauthentic in that it shouldn’t take an expensive journey across the world in order to discover who you are. On the other hand some disagreed and found Gilbert’s story inspiring and relatable. In my opinion, however, I think that you can never go too far (or even too near) in order to discover your higher purpose in life.
In fact, Gilbert even says “You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.” In that regard, the distance traveled in order to find that beautiful something becomes obsolete. I suppose what Gilbert is saying is that what is more important is the end result—what you gather from your experiences—and not the means by which you get there.
For so long as I’ve been at Loyola, I have wanted to do Service-Learning for a class, and of all the classes I have taken that have offered a service-learning option, I have been unable to because of scheduling conflicts—until now, that is. Like Gilbert (though, this may be a stretch), I found an opportunity to pursue that which I most desired and I took it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a car or that I had no previous experience with service-learning. I would find a way for it to work, and I did.
While my service-learning experience at Guilford has not been what I expected it to be, I can’t not regret making the decision. Gilbert’s own experiences at the Ashram in India had similar beginnings, in that she doesn’t have an easy time getting accustomed to the meditative practices (her issues with the mantra Om Namah Shivaya (p.133), the difficulties in calming the mind (I believe at one point she even says, “I quit” (p. 136)), and the painful experience of the Gurgugita, just to name a few), yet she never reflects on her efforts and struggles as wastes of time or as unenlightening parts of her spiritual journey. Instead, the obstacles she encounters end up revealing more about herself than if her expectations were always met, that everything in her travels went smoothly. It is only in her battle against such difficulties that she comes to recognize powerful aspects of herself that she never realized previous. For example, it is only when she has regressed back to brutal self-deprecation that the “voice” inside of her bursts out screaming “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS!!!!!!!!!” (158). In confronting that which upsets her expectations, she manages to exceed (unexpectedly) her hopes of finding enlightenment and answers on her path to spiritual illumination.
Though I can’t say that my time working at Guilford has brought about a full revolution in my expectations, I also can’t say that my time there has not been worth it, either. In working with these kids and in helping them memorize endless sheets of facts that had long since vaporized to nothingness in my brain and in watching them practice their knowledge in intense matches against rival schools, I see in them aspects which I do not really want to observe in myself. I see their dedication, their frustration, their jubilation and their agitation so blatantly and so naturally, that I am compelled to use them as mirrors to myself. In tutoring one boy about notable vice presidents, he told me, outright, after getting a few of them wrong, that he couldn’t do politics. “I’m not good at that sort of thing,” he said. “Give me a science question, though, and I’ll get it.” To see this middle school boy so sure of his strengths and weaknesses while I am still wondering what on earth mine are was somewhat irritating, as though in hearing him say that, an itch suddenly surfaced that I could no longer ignore; and I scratched it.
In the class where we wrote down what we thought our higher purposes in life were, I couldn’t think of mine. I wrote (exactly) “I’m not even sure what my highest purpose is, but I suppose I’m not responding to it by continuing to wonder what it is. I should seek it out.” And in doing so, I may, in the long run, need to go on a global journey (like Gilbert) to conduct the search or I may only need to go so far as Guilford Elementary Middle School. Who knows? Nonetheless, a journey to discovering my higher purpose, that “something beautiful” that Gilbert speaks of, seems to be a necessity, something we need to find if we are to find ourselves. Sometimes, such as in my tutoring of a middle-schooler, the road to self-discovery begins with a reflection, that sometimes in order to see what is within, we need to look at the world outside of everything we are comfortable and confident in knowing.