Friday, March 26, 2010
It's not easy to talk about divorces, breakups, a slightly-before-mid-life crisis, and the often painful recovery that comes with it. Humor serves as an aid both in allowing Gilbert to talk about these difficult but valuable life-defining situations and in allowing the reader to make connections to the difficulties in his/her own life.
The ability of humor to deflect pain and suffering is an aspect that we have explored in studying David Sedaris' and Perry's work. This aspect of humor is again apparent in Gilbert's novel, but seems to operate a little differently. In Perry and Sedaris, the humor somewhat hides the pain, the reader has to read a little more closely, look a little deeper to find it. In Eat, Pray, Love, the pain is readily apparent from the beginning, but humor serves to dull the edge. While it's not quite clear how the writers accomplish this, the intent does seem to have some relevance. While Perry and Sedaris seek to expose and explore pain, Gilbert is trying to heal.
Through her struggles, Gilbert comes to realize her life calling or highest purpose. In defining my highest purpose, I have had a lot of difficulty. Is my highest purpose my ultimate professional goal? If so, then I guess it is my highest purpose to be a lawyer. I currently plan to be a public defender, and while helping those who can't afford legal defense is important to me, I would not say that this, on its own is my highest purpose. My father has mentioned a few times that there is a difference between what I do and who I am. I have taken this teaching to heart and recently I realized that my highest purpose is to be present and to be well-rounded.
After a semester that didn't quite meet my expectations academically, I really focused on school this semester in an effort to improve. Unfortunately, this didn't work as it only cause me to lose touch with friends and family, stress unnecessarily over school, and actually perform even more poorly in my classes, and generally felt down. Since I realized that this strategy wasn't quite working out for me, I have tried hard to be more present and engaged with the people around me, and I have begun to exercise more. The lesser emphasis I put on school has reduced my stress significantly, and I have actually started to get better grades in my classes.
My hope is that I can continue to live in the present for the rest of my life. I don't want to always be thinking about tomorrow and the next day and the next. I don't want to miss my kids' childhoods. I want to know my friends.
The idea of defining a highest purpose is an interesting one because it makes it seem as if there's one thing that's more important than all the others for every individual. Personally, I don't think that this is a healthy view of life. Whenever I have focused on one "highest purpose" in my life, I have found that it has come at the expense of all other areas of my life.
My highest purpose is definitely hybrid. I can say that I have a highest professional purpose of defending the less wealthy as a public defender. I have a highest social purpose of being a good friend and boyfriend. I have a highest academic purpose of doing well in school. As I said, my highest purpose is to be well rounded, and I have found that the best way to accomplish this is to always try to be present in the situation at hand, not always planning for the future or lamenting and celebrating the past.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Teaching seems like something that could lead to a great fulfillment of self, but then again so does being a writer, a husband, or a father. Perhaps the realization of such a multi-faceted purpose is simply a testament to the vastness of the world and the possibilities of our purpose. These things being said, I think that it is quite possible that we might each have more than just one purpose. We are strong and capable beings and to limit ourselves in any way is to place a limitation on our progress and our purpose.
Just as Gilbert finds herself amidst an emotional, religious, and romantic upheaval is when she achieves the most self-depth. She no longer strives to be the “perfect wife” or the caring mother; these are archetypes, molds, ideals. Gilbert craves to know herself, not the world’s version of her.
Student, son, friend, brother these are all titles that I give myself or that others give me. At the same time I am and am not these things. I am indeed a brother, a student, a friend, a son, and perhaps many other things, but does any one of these things or even all of them together capture the entire essence of who I am or what my purpose is?
For all of my life, I have been Catholic. I have read and heard stories about God, miracles, and the like. They always seem so outlandish, so Other, so incomprehensible. If the Passion is distant, the Resurrection is unreachable. If the Incarnation is contradiction, the Trinity is paradox. But still, these things, these religious doctrines and Catholic dogma—though tall they may seem—touch on something. They touch on the complete and total reliance of humanity. Reliance on a purpose, a reason, a way.
Gilbert, at the time in her life that she felt most unsure, needed a way. A path that would lead her to something. I doubt that she or anyone else who find themselves on such a path, have any inkling to where it leads—at least not an accurate inkling. However, Gilbert is willing. Willing to reevaluate. Willing to take the first step. Willing to follow through.
I think that this formula of an open path and a willing soul is the formula of purpose. Here is your path, here is your reason, here is your way. We might not reach the end of that path; we might not find what lies waiting for us. But, I don’t think that is the important part. For the path is a journey, it is a means regardless of end. The learning is done on that path, the challenges are met, the friendships are forged, and the soul is searched. The path is not an obstacle course at whose completion the gift of all knowledge of self and other is awarded. We gain that knowledge along the way.
So, although the words son, brother, student, and friend may not define who I am completely and might not encompass my highest purpose, they are my path. They are the means by which I learn my truest definition of self. Though I may one day be a teacher, a husband, or a father, these things will not be purpose any more than the others were; they will simply b the next turn along my path.
Some day, I will no longer walk along my path. It might not be because I have come to the end of it, but rather because I have come to another turn, one that does not require walking or being. When I get there, I may still be unsure of what my purpose was. However, if I have walked along my path willingly and have followed through on my journey, then I do not fear what my lack of knowledge will bring, for I have done all that I could have done. And for right now, that is my purpose.
My highest purpose isn’t as simple as teaching. My highest purpose is to teach, to encourage, to engage, to ignite interest, to create, to mold, to calm, to manage, to listen, to act, to....well, to help others find their highest purpose. Being a middle or high school English teacher is not just about reading books and talking about them. Coming up with creative but realistic projects and activities in order to cover concepts is the easy part. I love literature, and sharing literature with students is amazing and wonderful. Everything else that comes along with the job—the hormones/emotions, conflicts, parents, goals, obstacles, breakdowns—that’s the hard part, but also what makes it all worthwhile. The incredibly difficult aspects of teaching, the parts that make you break down and constantly reevaluate what you’re doing, those are what make it a “highest purpose” rather than just a vocation.
When I say that my highest purpose is, put simply, to teach, I think it’s important to attempt to lay out the way in which I want to go about this purpose. I want my students to know that I care. I want them to realize that I care so much that it’s annoying. I’m going to be on them to do their best, and I’m going to challenge them constantly. I truly believe, and now I can say I’ve seen it through experience, that if my students know that their success really matters to me, it will start to matter to them, too. I know that every student that comes into my future classroom will not be an avid book-lover like myself, but I think that English class is interesting in that literature opens up the door to all sorts of relevant and noteworthy discussions. This course is the perfect example. Just last Thursday, we talked about the N word, the hookup culture, Martha Stewart, and more all in the course of an hour and fifteen minutes. My English class will be the arena in which my students can explore their varying interests, and, hopefully, being their quest to find their own highest purposes.
Saying that I’ve found my own highest purpose feels a little premature. I’m only 22, and I really like the idea that your purpose can be an in-the-moment kind of thing. Teaching is what I want to do now, and I am really excited about it. I don’t know if it’s what I will want to do for the rest of my life, and I think I’m okay with that. It was not something I always wanted to do, by any means. I am a quiet person and I used to absolutely hate public speaking. I started taking education classes partly to appease my parents, who were a little worried during the spring of my sophomore year that yes, I really was an English major and no, I had absolutely zero idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was really challenging and very frightening the first time I taught a real lesson to a real class, but once I did it I was totally hooked. It was absolutely amazing being in front of the students, realizing that I really could engage them, and that I really could teach them. It sounds silly, but I think that I really had to step out of my comfort zone in order to learn about myself enough to truly find what I was meant to do. This is where I can relate to Liz Gilbert’s search for her own highest purpose. She had to get out, to get away (far, far away, in her case) in order to learn about herself. She needed to be removed from the bubble of routines and societal expectations in order to re-discover her role in the universe.
I agree completely with Dr. Ellis in that our highest purpose is not necessarily a ‘what’ but more so a ‘how.’ No matter where I find myself working or living in the next few years, my goal is to exemplify the virtues that I have learned to cherish. There are two virtues that I have recently grown to especially value in my life: trust and patience. These two values guided me through six months in Southeast Asia and, serving as my current ‘highest how,’ are the foundations of my everyday life. When I take the time to stop and think about my day in my own form of Ignatius’ Examen, these are the values I question. Am I patient with myself and others? Do I allow myself to patiently live in the present moment? Do I trust in God fully that, as long as I remain conscious of His push, I will be content with His ultimate will for my life? For me, God is at the center of this higher purpose. I have yet to discover exactly what it is towards which He is guiding me, but I am happy to have recently discovered the how.
So, how did these virtues grow to become cornerstones in my life? Well, without trust and patience, I would not have survived this past fall semester. I mean, I may have survived (in some situations at least), but definitely not with the ridiculous smile that could constantly be found on my face. It is the people I met, the cultures I experienced, and the situations in which I constantly found myself that opened my eyes to the importance of patience and trust in my life.
Of all my experiences over the past semester, the one that deals especially with trust and relates the most to Liz Gilbert’s experience in Eat Pray Love is, coincidentally enough, the time I spent in the one of the last countries I visited outside of Thailand: Bali, Indonesia. A few months into my trip, I decided that I wanted to experience some sort of traveling completely on my own. I wanted to feel the pressure of finding a place to stay, exploring markets, attempting to communicate and eating meals on my own. The perfect opportunity presented itself when our conflicting schedules left me with only one day to climb a volcano; the one adventure I refused to leave the beautiful little island without accomplishing. I signed up for the trip to climb Mount Batur to see the sun rise from the top at a small kiosk on the side of the road next to the beach in Kuta, Bali. My anxiousness that evening prohibited me from sleeping, but with two motorbikes arriving at 1:00am that night, sleep was hardly an option. Soon enough, the promised van arrived driven by two Balinese men and filled only with one other German man also making the independent trip. I hugged my friend Michele goodbye, told her not to worry, and climbed into the van. Three hours later, we pulled up to… darkness. Somehow I failed to realize that reaching the peak of a volcano for sunrise obviously entails climbing said volcano in complete and utter darkness. As I stepped out of the van (in which, might I add, I trusted these men not to kidnap me) a short Balinese man handed me a small flashlight for which I thanked him sincerely and clutched tightly in my hand. After spinning in circles, staring at the stars and searching for anything I hoped to recognize as a mountain, a man said “follow me” and I trustingly obeyed. With monkeys (which are, without a doubt, my number one greatest fear) screaming all around me, a stray dog following, a flashlight that allowed me to see two yards beyond my feet, and surrounded by unfamiliar men speaking a language I had no hope of understanding, the night had never seemed so black. To top it all off, the ground was feeling incredibly flat and at one point the German man leaned over and asked “is there a mountain in front of us?” I responded, “I certainly hope so.” At that moment, over all the Hail Mary’s I was screaming in my head, I thought to myself “What other choice do I have? I have to trust.” I decided to trust in my tour guides, trust in my own ability to climb this mountain (which, let’s be honest, I was beginning to doubt as I struggled through the volcanic ash), and trust in God that I would be protected. After three hours of climbing, the last hour of which my new Balinese friend pulled me up through the ash, the breath taking beauty of the sun rise over the peak of a neighboring mountain convinced me that trust is absolutely necessary to get anywhere in life.
By the end of my trip, I had come to recognize the importance of these two virtues not only as a rookie traveler, but also as an individual living in constant community with others. Living with patience and trust is my highest purpose. It continues to be the focus of my day as I strive to discover that “what” for which I am searching.
Really? Two of my good friends at Loyola and I just had this conversation the other night. Who are you? No, really, who are you? How do you answer that question? You can describe the things you like such as music or going to beach, but what is the real stuff about yourself? Trying to articulate that answer is a difficult task. We couldn’t come up with a formula that provides an adequate answer and we couldn’t give just one story that truly describes us. I instantly looked to my own writing to get a better insight on who I am. Last year, my self-introduction for my writing class had to do with my love of the color pink and what it’s like being the only girl out of five children. Last semester, in my autobiographical poem, I defined myself in the interactions I have with my brothers and my favorite drink to order at Starbucks. This relationship with my siblings and who we are as a family is integral to who I am. It is the basis for what I am in love with and I am in love with strong relationships and wholehearted giving.
I truly believe I am blessed in the life I have been given and that makes me want to share the blessing with others who are not as fortunate as I am. I have recently come across this quote by Winston Churchill that sheds some light on how I see serving. Churchill said, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” You are not given an option on what you are born into and sometimes you are not truly providing for yourself through your passion. However, when you make a conscious decision to share your advantages, and gifts with others, it’s the true reflection of the person you are or working to become. It speaks volumes to who you are when you give part of yourself or part of your time to serve, as the Jesuits say, “for and with others.”
I fell in love about five years ago, when I realized that the service opportunities my mom recommended for me, were actually opportunities I cared about and wanted to do. I’m the classic case of doing service throughout high school from low-level commitments of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during my lunch period to weeklong trips to aid in the rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to the struggle in the first semester of college as to what should I commit to. Eventually found myself on the Service Committee for the Evergreen Program by second semester of the first year and this year I am the Evergreen Program Coordinator for Service. And I am embarrassingly passionate about being an Evergreen and thus, even more embarrassingly passionate about an Evergreen who works with the program staff and first years students to do service.
Liz Gilbert states in section 76, “I don’t know what Ketut has in mind for me, but I’m happy to be in his life,” (229). This is how I feel when I work with first year students, the Evergreen staff, and those who I meet while serving. I am not quite sure what it is I am exactly how I will be serving or what will come of my interactions. I am always just grateful to be in the position to be able to serve. Liz recognizes her opportunity to share her gifts and in turn, receiving insight. This is how I envision my relationship with service. I am giving but simultaneously receiving. I am getting as much out of this as the person receiving. For example, the fifth graders at Higher Achievement are working in conflict resolution. We spend our time together trying to establish the importance of effective communication. Hopefully, this plays out into their everyday lives and they chose not to reactive instinctively with violence towards someone when they disagree, but to be an active listener and work towards a compromise. It might not seem like it’s working, but there’s progress. Leonard, the boy who disappeared to the bathroom for an hour the first week, now participates and let’s me be his partner for activities. This program may seem for their benefit but I’m growing, too. I’m learning how to act in a group and how to generate enthusiasm for activities that there is a low level of interest in.
However, there is another aspect of Liz and Gilbert’s relationship that is similar to my relationship with service. Fast forward to section 105, when Gilbert has not been apart of Ketut’s life in months. She states, “I haven’t seen Ketut in so long… Whenever I try to apologize to Ketut for my absence, though, he laughs like a man who has already been shown the answers to every test in the universe and says, ‘Everything working perfect,’” (314). There is the recognition that the time spent together was beneficial and meaningful. There is no need to apologize for different circumstances. With service, there is always a period where the service is no longer continuous. The semester will end and Higher Achievement may not fit into my schedule in the fall. However, it does not discredit the time and relationships built during the time when it did work.
Life experience, like humor, is full of expectations. It is human nature to expect. In answering Lauren’s question posed on Tuesday I do believe that Liz’s cry for belief and faith in something is incredibly authentic. Although Eat, Pray, Love was financed I don’t believe that had much of an influence on what she has written. One can never predict what experiences they will encounter, therefore whatever expectations Liz had regarding her trip were not a concrete rubric for her to follow. During my sophomore year here I had, what my roommates so lovingly described, an existential crisis. Having to declare a major without any thought of what I wanted to do with my life was difficult. For some reason or another, probably because my two roommates were speech path majors, I chose speech path. That very day I proceeded to come home, cry hysterically for an hour, look up different colleges online, and then decided to make a poster full of all my super fantastic ideas. The poster read,
“Help people less fortunate, experience life, go to Europe and see the world. Have stories to tell with happy endings. Life should be about passion, relationships, and experiences. Don’t feel obligated to do the same things day after day just so you can find a “good” job or make a “good” name for yourself. From now on I believe that what shapes your life are the people you share your time with. The mistakes, the pitfalls, the hardships, the good times, the laughter, the faith, and the love…these are the monumental moments that make life worthwhile.”
It wasn’t until after I watched an episode of Felicity that I took to heart my own words. Ben Covington, a lead character in the show had said, “I always remember this one thing a teacher said, which was, all the interesting people she knew they had no idea what they were going to do with their lives when they were 20. So chances are, I’m going to turn out to be a pretty interesting guy.” (http://www.allsubs.org/search-movie-quotes/Felicity/) This put me at ease and helped me to realize that it was okay to pursue my English major, and this past summer take a chance on an internship in an Emergency Room which led me to the realization that I want to be a nurse. Today I sent out my first Nursing School application.
Reading Eat, Pray, Love this week was almost eerily specific to how I have been feeling lately. After experiencing a tragic loss I feel like I want to be like Liz, run off and discover who I truly am before its too late. I have realized this past week how important it is to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Life is incredibly too short not to be your own person. After reading this book it is all the more clear that no one should ever feel as if they have to fit into conventions. Gilbert writes,
“But I was supposed to want to have a baby. I was thirty-one years old. My husband and I—who had been together for eight years, married for six—had built our entire life around the common expectation that, after passing the doddering old age of thirty, I would want to settle down and have children…But I didn't—as I was appalled to be finding out—want any of these things.”
This is not something anyone should ever feel ashamed of. It is in essence who she is, and perhaps she is not meant for the type of life she expected, that is not an appalling fact but rather an endearing characteristic. As much as I admire Elizabeth Gilbert’s thirst for existential enlightenment, it pains me to think that as she is on this journey for self-realization she leaves so much of her life behind. Yet, this is a risk that we all must be willing to take at some point or another, to be able to leave our comfort zones and be brave enough to be able to say “I did that” or “That wasn’t for me” or “Yes, that’s what I’ve been searching for.”
During Tuesday’s class a rush of insecurity came over me. As soon as Dr. Ellis wrote the daunting question of “What is your highest purpose?” I immediately thought I was going to dread my blog for this week because not only do I have no clue as to what I will be doing after college, but I feel that everyone around me has their life planned out.
Entering college I thought I knew exactly what I wanted out of life, and I had everything planned, but now after my four years at Loyola, I have been presented with so many experiences that have swayed my perspective. Instead of being caught up on what career I want out of life, and how much money I want to make, I have been looking at the bigger questions in life and wonder “What do I believe that I deserve in this life?” (83).
Just like in Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, I feel that I am in a transition stage, and I am ready to come face to face with reality and begin a journey of self discovery. When Liz wrote about the conversation with her mom, and the jealousy of her life and relationships, I began to think about my freshmen year. When I entered Loyola, I did not know what I wanted out of life; I only knew that I was interested in science and English. Out of my two fields of study, I have to say that most of the meaningful learning and lectures have originated in English courses. My English courses have provided me with service learning and insightful conversations that cover many various fields of study. Don’t get me wrong, I have accomplished many goals within my Biology major, but when is dissecting a squid or watching a frog’s heart beat on a string come into play within my journey of self discovery? I love learning about science, I find it very interesting but my point is that without my English courses I don’t think I would be who I am today.
Like I noted I have taken part in multiple service learning’s, all of which have happened to be within my English courses. These experiences have made me reflect on Liz’s question of “What do I believe that I deserve” (83) because not only do I ask that to myself, but I cannot help to think, what doe others deserve? My highest purpose in life is to help others, to make sure justice is still present in our society. If there is one thing that I can take from Loyola, it’s that there are people out there who have it worse then you, whether it’s financially, emotionally, physically, etc. When ever I find myself having a bad day, or complaining about something that went wrong, I stop think about it, and feel guilty.
Life is too short to dwell on the negative and Eat, Pray, Love is a perfect example of Liz coming to terms with life and the ability to keep on moving on. Gilbert’s story is filled with many experiences anyone can relate to, whether you find her as amazing person (which I do!) or hate her for whining about her problems, we have all been there. Her message is beautiful and I find it inspiring that she allowed all of us to read her darkest secrets. Her story allowed me to come to terms with my insecurity, and realize that maybe it is okay that I have no clue, and that I shouldn’t force myself into expectations derived from others.
Reflecting back on my college career has made me notice how much I have transitioned, and how my point of view has matured. I remember sitting in my Travel Literature class, and we were discussing when a person is considered an adult, and I think I now can classify myself as an adult.
Even though I have no clue what I want to do with my life, I think I have a good foundation, and I am ready to go from their. Entering college, I noticed how organized and anal retentive I was, I think I have learned to relax and really appreciate life. Just like in Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, instead I feel that we all are on our own personalized journeys to “
This week’s blog on exploring what we believe to be our highest purpose scared me more than all of the other blogs put together. Mostly because, after the time we took in class last week to think about our highest purposes, I realized I have absolutely no idea what mine is. By nature I am not a very self-reflective or spiritual person. I guess I have always known this about myself, but I became even more acutely conscious of it after reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert as well as a few other blogs by fellow classmates. I know what I like and dislike, what I’m good at, what my weaknesses are, but besides some of these more obvious traits I could spell out in a Facebook “about me” page, I don’t have much insight into the inner workings of my brain or heart, let alone soul.
With the 6 PM Wednesday deadline to figure out my purpose looming over my head, I began frantically flipping through Gilbert’s novel, trying to find something amongst the pages upon pages about spiritual enlightenment and talking to God that I could actually relate to. The section that jumped out at me was when Liz decided to be the “Quiet Girl in the Back of the Temple,” only to be assigned the position of key hostess. She goes on to explain how trying to be something you’re not divides you from God, and in finding your natural character, simply as God created you, you will come to know God. “God isn’t interested in watching you enact some performance of personality in order to comply with some crackpot notion you have about how a spiritual person looks or behaves,” explains Liz (192). I don’t know if God is watching me or not, but I definitely understand the whole “trying to be something you’re not” conflict, since that was me all elementary and even some of middle school. My childhood attempts to fit in can surely be attested to the process of growing up, and I know that that need to alter myself is gone. I guess you can say I know I am who I am, but I don’t know who I am…does that make sense? Liz talks about how she can modify herself, but can never defy her true character, never become “That Quiet Girl.” And yes, I am acquainted with my personality and can tell what I will or won’t feel comfortable with, but what about stepping out of my comfort zone? Is that trying to be something I’m not?
A few other people mentioned in their blogs that their highest purpose is teaching. As a mentor at the Ashburton School for my service learning, I can most definitely attest that teaching is not for me. As an English major, it is usually assumed that I will go into the teaching profession, and although I admire those who do, I never have and never will be interested in becoming a teacher. I simply do not have the patience to teach children, or even people my own age for that matter. But I force myself to be something I’m not for 5 hours a week. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Do I feel the planets align while I force Spanish vocabulary words down the throats of my 6th graders? No, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I get a “shout out” at the end of the day from one of my scholars who was excited about our session.
Last class we talked about how brave Liz Gilbert is for traveling across the globe without knowing a soul, and some people commented that they could never do something like that. All I was thinking was yeah, me neither...but I still want to. I am a person who probably couldn’t survive a weekend without my planner or at least a few post it notes by my side. But the prospect of hopping on a plane and taking the next flight out or even backpacking across a country are things I desperately want to do someday, no matter how unlike my natural character they are. Sometimes I need to force myself out of my comfort zone, and while I may not be acting according to my natural character, I think this not only helps me find out who I am by recognizing what I’m not, but challenges me to experience things I otherwise wouldn’t.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s year of self-discovery is a personal examine in which she realizes what her higher purpose is. I thought this concept was a refreshing take on parenting as it is often illustrated that both men and women seem to realize their life’s purpose when they must take care of another human being. But what happens if that does not happen? What happens if you can’t live your life dedicated to another human being, and you are left to dedicate it to yourself?
I loved this concept in the book as I’m coming to many realizations about my life. As a college student I am constantly looking ahead to what I will be doing when I graduate. It’s unreal how unpredictable the next few years are going to be, and I can see Gilbert’s struggle in wondering what to do. Even more so, while thinking about my future, I have also come to the realization that I don’t think I want kids. Walking through the airport while traveling back to Maine from Baltimore there was a mother with two children in front of me at security. It took her forever to get all of their crap through the machine and of course the metal detector went off as she’s holding her sleeping baby and she had to skillfully wriggle the loose change out of her pockets. When it was my turn I quickly put my laptop on the conveyor belt and walked through with no problem. Looking at the children with stained sweat suits and jam hands waddling away from their exhausted mother, I turned to my friend Annie and said simply, “I would never go through all of that to travel with children, which is why, in a nutshell, I don’t want kids.” Similarly to Gilbert, the thought of travel and freedom brings me the pure joy that many girls think of when talking about their boyfriend, motherhood, and a stable marriage. When I tell my friends “I wont have kids” they feel bad as if I’m looking negatively at myself and claiming I’m not good enough for a child or marriage. They try to cheer me up saying; “K, you’ll have children and you’ll be a great mother.” I then have to deal with the awkward correction of telling them “No, I meant, I don’t want kids.”
Also like Gilbert, I think I am open about these feelings and love to bring humor to them. As she came to the actualization about the life she wants (as well as the life she doesn’t want) she also uses the humor model of making herself the target. Similarly to this I joke with my friends about how I’d be a horrible mother anyway since I’d just make fun of them all the time, be a complete diva, and probably push them down the stairs. I think both Liz Gilbert and I make ourselves the target in order to cope with the decisions we’ve made and as a way to accept our differences, however, I also think that it’s a way of still respecting motherhood. If you make fun of yourself, you are therefore not making fun of all of the people who are mothers (including your own) and who want to be mothers.
The point of searching for a higher purpose is to feel as if you have an excitement about life. For some, this excitement comes with the challenge of having children, for others, they must find a different way. However, I think what is most important is to have the determination to achieve. I think my struggle of not knowing what I want is also reflected in the students I serve. A lot of them seem bored with the lesson plans and are just watching the minutes pass by, counting down until they can leave. Interestingly enough, the program I’ve been doing my service with is called higher achievement and, although some of these kids don’t realize it now, their ability to go through a full day of classes, do their homework and then work on an extra lesson with a mentor is allowing them to get the most of their learning experience. Even if they don’t remember all of the Spanish words I’m teaching them hopefully they’ll come out with a strong work ethic that will get them through the rest of school and the rest of life. All of this is funny as I'm learning life lessons from my students in the midst of ranting about not wanting children, however, I just hope I'm teaching them some decent life skills so when they are in my position (with many choices to make and things to achieve) they'll have the confidence and drive to do it.
In some sense, I think this is everyone's communal highest purpose, and we are all called to carry it out in different ways. Yet I think it my distinct and special mission to, as the Girl Scouts taught me, "Leave this place better than I found it." I constantly catch myself wondering like a child at the beauty in the world and longing to participate in it. (For example, I love churches, libraries, and museums for their vast collections of prayers, books and pieces and can't help musing about how one building can hold so much beautiful human creation.) It is a broad higher purpose, and I like that because it leaves room for interpretation and many different manifestations. I think that it is a purpose that will grow with me and move with me throughout my life. It is a guiding principle I can always come back to when making a decision: Does this possibility add to the beauty of the world? How can I approach this difficult situation in a way that will eventually (if not immediately) build beauty?
I can think of several ways I live this purpose already, and several ways I would like to be able to live this purpose in the future. I add to the physical beauty of the world with my writing and my art, with the way I dress modestly and carry myself with confidence in my femininity. I celebrate beauty and affirm it when I see it in other people, "You have such an amazing voice; thank you for sharing it with us" or, "You give really good hugs." I give verbal praise to the Creator when I experience natural beauty: a bright sunny sky or a majestic mountain always does it for me. I find confidence in the peace and eternal love I experience in my relationship with Christ; I find joy in the love and loyalty I share with my boyfriend and close friends; I find strength in the moments I get to spend alone, thinking and praying about questions like, What is your word? These qualities of confidence, joy and strength help me to move forward in my mission to add beauty to the world.
Ultimately though, I think the best and most important way to add to the beauty of the world is through kindness. I believe in kindness like small children believe in Santa. Now, I don't profess to be a master of it at all, but I think that kindness to oneself AND to others has true, healing, life-changing, world-altering power. And in a world that is broken and bruised by poverty, natural disasters, corruption, disease, violence, etc. we sure could use some serious healing. Healing that will eventually lead us back to celebrating the beauty rather than focusing on the pain of the world.
Gilbert's entire mission for her year of travels was, in some sense, to seek kindness. She was especially in search of kindness towards herself. After years of failed relationships and one catastrophic divorce, she set off to discover who she is on her own terms. When Depression and Loneliness finally catch up with her again in Rome, she ultimately banishes them by writing a love note to herself. "There is nothing you can ever do to lose my love" (54). Gilbert admits that she had been looking for another person to make that exact promise to her for years. Yet it is only when she is kind to and forgiving of herself does she find the one person who truly can make that promise to her. This is a big moment for Gilbert on her journey. It seems to be the first step in her healing year of self discovery. After she learns to love herself, she can go on to release herself of David, conquer her depression, control her wandering mind, and eventually fall in love with someone new.
I have also seen the healing power of kindness in my service work at Don Miller House. Ms. Sofia (name changed) is usually the residential aid on duty when I do my shift. She is a short round older woman from Trinidad who is constantly cooking and constantly laughing. She moved to the States in her teens and worked hard to put all three of her children through college. She adds to the beauty of the world more than any other person I have met. One day, I arrived at the house to see a beautiful floral arrangement on the table: Ms. Sofia made it at a class she was taking and brought it to the residents. Ms. Sofia's dinners are works of art and labors of love. She patiently tells Sherry to keep out of the small kitchen while I am doing the dishes and always asks about my family. I have volunteered at the house on nights when Ms. Sofia isn't working, and the mood at the dinner table isn't nearly the same. When Ms. Sofia is there, she lights up the room: the residents are more talkative and use friendly banter with her and with each other, no one complains and everyone thanks her for the meal. When I tell people that I work at a hospice home for people with AIDS/HIV, I usually get horrified looks and comments like, "Wow, that must be so hard." Some days, it is hard. But Ms. Sofia's kind presence somehow makes everything infinitely easier, and I can sense a significant difference when she isn't there.
Kindness towards oneself and others is a hard quality to develop. As I said before, I am no master of it, but I would like to be one day. I see my quest for a kinder spirit as the best way I can add to the beauty of the world right now. If I continue on this path, I know that I will eventually discover my vocation, or more specific purpose in life. But for now, like Gilbert, I am exploring and wandering. I am "abiding in the process" of discernment and discovery, trying as many "meals" as I can and "meditating" as much as I can; I am celebrating and adding beauty where ever and in whatever small way it is possible for me to do so.
“So what is your major?” It’s a question we’re all very familiar with. “The Major” is a part of how the college career is defined. If you don’t have one, you will soon enough. When you meet someone new and he or she discovers that you are a college student, their obvious response is, “what are you studying?” When I respond, “I’m a double major, in English and Music,” it has become almost inevitable that the person posing the questions will then assume, “Oh, so you want to teach?”
“Um, I’m not sure yet,” I’ll say, avoiding a real answer. The truth is, I don’t want to teach. In fact, I’ve never wanted to. Don’t get me wrong; I have incredible respect for teachers. I have had some teachers that may have changed my life. I admire those that do want to be teachers, and I believe they have great patience and certainly the potential to change the world. But I just never saw myself doing that work and being really happy. Perhaps that sounds a little selfish. Who could not want to pass their knowledge graciously onto a younger generation? But maybe we are allowed to be selfish in deciding what we are going to do with the rest of our lives. It’s my life, after all, so how much should I care about pleasing the innocent stranger asking, “Oh, so you want to teach?”
Liz Gilbert’s journey to self-discovery contains many factors that encompass the idea of finding one’s own happiness. She learns to balance pleasure and devotion. And she learns many other things along the way. She learns to let go. She learns to be happy with herself. She learns to stop trying to live up to the expectations of others and instead find her own destiny. Most of all, she finds freedom. And I could relate, to some extent, to the experience of self-discovery that she described. I can’t say I’ve completed it, but I can say that I am a much happier person now than I was at the start of my time at Loyola. Originally, I struggled with being at Loyola. I blamed that unhappiness on the minuscule music department and very nearly left for a music school. But something made me stay. I believe I began my journey sometime around the middle of the summer. I was in a musical, written by one of my friends, with people I had either only known of or hadn’t known at all. I was used to my friends from high school musicals, but this was a very different crowd. The musical was about spiritual and self-discovery, and it was through all of this that I began to realize that my real problem with college had been that I was holding on to high school. The show made me realize that, as did the wonderful new people I came to love. I still was tormented by the fact that it seemed like my only future option was teaching, though. At the end of the summer I went through a breakup. It had been a very short relationship, if one could even consider it a relationship, but I didn’t take it well due to circumstances surrounding it and the fact that I had never been in a relationship before. This added to my need for some sort of change or realization. I decided, as school began, that I wanted to live spontaneously. Almost as Liz Gilbert decided that traveling on a whim would relieve her of her loss and help her find herself, I felt that freedom from structure would relieve me. And perhaps it would allow me to find that unnamable something that was missing.
Over fall break, I packed up on a whim and took the MegaBus to visit my friend at NYU. We were able to see two shows and spend the weekend aimlessly wandering my favorite city. A few weekends later, I decided last minute to go to the Equality March in D.C. with Marie Gause. I met another friend from NYU there and was in a euphoric mood all day. I began doing BodyFlow at the FAC, a combination of Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates. I still had a hard time accepting how things were going, though.
It wasn’t until a little over a month ago that I finally turned my worldview around, and it took two devastating events for this to occur. Someone I had known and done musicals with in high school passed away from a combination of drugs and alcohol. He was only a year older than me, on his way to great things at Yale, and very close with many of my close friends. Barely a week later, the father of one of my best friends passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I am close with the family, and the news was terrible. But among these morbid events, I was hit by a realization of what was important and what was petty. My friends are important. My family is important. I have been able to forgive the boy from over the summer. I have been able to forgive myself. I am trying to eliminate the phrases “could’ve,” “would’ve,” “should’ve,” and “if only” from my vocabulary. I do not believe in regrets, and somehow I’ve managed to realize that I do not regret my short-lived relationship from the summer or my decision to come to Loyola or even my decision to stay here. Perhaps it’s cheesy, but it all happened for a reason. I could now list those reasons. In reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, I was even more inspired. I was enlightened because I had already discovered many of the things she did. I can’t say that I have completed my self-discovery, but I have been able to wake up every day in an excited mood.
My journey to self-discovery has finally begun. My attempt to find my higher purpose has begun. I don’t want to teach; yet I could not say for sure what I want to do. I don’t think I need to know. Perhaps next time I’m asked, I will say, “No, I’m not going to teach. I don’t know where I’ll be five years from now, but who does?” And that outlook has made all the difference. I don’t need to know where I’ll be. I will find out. That’s not to say that I plan to sit back and wait for a sign. Destiny is not about sitting still. It is about taking action and in that way discovering where you belong. That is what I’ll do. For now, my highest purpose is with my family and friends, and to appreciate the blessing they bring to me everyday. It is for my teachers; it is for the English teachers who introduce me to new worlds and ideas, and for my music teachers who are incredible people and make up completely for the small music department. And it is for living each day fully. Living, in a sense, the way Liz Gilbert begins to live abroad. It is about finding balance and learning to eat well, pray often, and fill my life with love.
My roommate says herself that she is not the best at articulating herself… When she tries to describe someone she often uses the word “ness.” For example, she will say, “He is so funny! Like, you know, just his ness is makes me laugh at everything he does!” As ridiculous as this may sound, it’s accurate and I have come to love it over the years as another word for someone’s essence or aura. I think, it is in fact Liz Gilbert’s ness that makes Eat, Pray, Love funny. I mean, honestly a lot of what happens to her isn’t funny, but it is the way she presents it that makes it funny. A perfect example of this is within Gilbert’s thoughts during an attempt at meditation in the Ashram:
Here you are in India, in an Ashram in one of the holiest pilgrimage sites on earth. And instead of communing with the divine, you’re trying to plan where you’ll be meditating a year from now in a home that doesn’t exist in a city yet to be determined. How about this, you spastic fool—how about you try to meditate right here, right now, right where you actually are? (172)
Meditation is not usually funny and honestly, neither is the fact that most of are probably similar to Liz in the fact that we struggle being present because we’re constantly thinking about what we have to do next, brooding over stresses that we have little control over (at least I know I am), but calling yourself a spastic fool, on the other hand, is quite funny. What makes this thought process most perfect though is that Gilbert calls herself a spastic fool within the context of her desire to be fully present, to be authentic in her meditation, to accept where and when she exists right now. Maybe her authentic self is a spastic fool, but it is within this moment that she accepts her ness that brings a smile to our faces.
At service this past Friday, the boy I was working with, Ronald, thought my ness was pretty funny. He was writing a paper about William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; his thesis emphasized that foreshadowing was an integral part of the play and although his examples were accurate, he did not explain why foreshadowing mattered in the play. I asked him what the Prologue said and how it made him feel; together we decided that foreshadowing was important to Romeo and Juliet because most romantic tales do not end in suicide. The Prologue provides just enough information to spark curiosity and intrigue, to hook the reader. Ronald was attempting to make the point that foreshadowing gives hints to the audience to increase interest. I (obviously) got really passionate about the idea, which made him laugh… a lot. Neither Romeo and Juliet nor his paper was funny, but my authentic (and possibly excessive) enthusiasm was (apparently) quite hilarious. In the acceptance of my authentic, nerdy self we could bond over making fun of my ness and he could feel comfortable to express his authentic self knowing that I had already taken that risk.
Friday night after service, I went to go see Stomp at the Hippodrome for my Modern Dance class. I was quite excited, thinking that Stomp would be full of great, unique dance, which it was. What I didn’t expect, though, was how much I would laugh. Stomp was hilarious! There is no talking and I was so far away I could barely see, but still I could not stop laughing. For example, there was a part during which one of the dancers was sitting trying to read the newspaper, but everyone else was making so much noise with their newspapers, etc. that he couldn’t concentrate. One dancer, in particular, was making ridiculous shapes out of his newspaper just to annoy the first dancer. At one point, he made a bird and starting running around with it as if it was flying, when he got over the head of the first dancer, he made an awful spluttering sound to imply that the first dancer had been pooped on by the newspaper bird! It was so absurd that I could not help but laugh. I didn’t ever think that wordless dance could make me laugh, but it totally did. It was just the way that everything was done that made me giggle uncontrollably. Each character had a ness which was exaggerated without words to produce the most humorous dance I have ever seen.
I believe that my highest purpose is not my vocation, but, much like Liz Gilbert, to commit to my “never ending mission” to get to know, accept with love and therefore express my authentic ness. I have fallen in love with the spirit I feel within me, with my belief that we all have good within us, with humanity—each individual I meet, with justice, with forgiveness, with the feeling of utter joy, with yoga and what it does for me, with literature and the power that it has to completely change the way I see the world around me, with the human capacity to love and love’s capability to ignite both the givers and the receivers. I have fallen in love with my life and all that is in it, with song, with food, with art, with expressing myself in any way. I am afraid of being hurt, of being misunderstood, of failing, of the paralyzing effect of fear itself, of losing those I love, of myself, of change, of settling on something less than I know I deserve, of losing sight of my highest purpose, of anger, of death, of the reactions I might receive when I share the most precious parts of myself. My essence, my aura, my ness is all those things, but it is also a constant search for that which is authentic and that which brings me the most joy. Those times when I feel the most joyful I forget about roles I play, I forget to worry about what anyone thinks, I just am, I just exist. Laughter is like that. When I laugh, I don’t worry about how silly I look, the weird noises I’m making, or whether or not I, too, am a spastic fool. I just laugh. When I am living my highest purpose, I am existing in the moment, the “right here, right now.”
"Lost" would have been the last word I would have used to describe myself before October of last year. My nickname all through school was "smiles" and I seemed to find pleasure in just about everything in life. So you can imagine how hard it was for me to feel so detached from the person I thought I was. Who was this new emerging being? Why is she so awful and sad and confused and broken? These are questions I asked myself everyday while I cried myself to sleep. And then came the big question, ironically, the question we were asked in class to use as the basis of this blog... What is my purpose? WHY AM I HERE?
This is exactly what Liz Gilbert was asking herself and searched desperately for the answer. She writes in response to Guilio's question, "I don't know the answer, and I suppose what this year of journeying is about. Finding my word." For me, it's about changing mine from LOST to something much more worth while.
When you're at a low point in your life, it is so easy to let you mind give in and to fall apart. I know from experience, and so does Liz Gilbert. But what I love about her memoir is that she tried so hard to fight that battle and to win over her mind and fill it with positive thoughts. Too often I feel that we let negative emotions consume us, but Gilbert tells it to us straight when she says, "You were given life; it is your duty to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight." We cannot waste the life we have been given by only pointing out the things that, pardon the expression, suck. We do that, and we will never find out our true purpose in life.
In the India section of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert begins to get to the heart of the question, "What is your higher purpose?" She writes, "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. That supreme Self is our true identity, universal and divine." The unfortunate thing about this statement, I concluded, is that we have absolutely zero clue (at least I don't) on how to understand that supreme Self within us. How do we get there!? I think Liz Gilbert is trying to show us how. Now, we all are not fortunate enough to be able to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia to find that "supreme Self", but I believe we can do our best to find it through the life we live. What is standing in our way? After contemplation, I believe it has come down to this fact: We are so busy with finding what we want in life, that we cannot find what we need. Our wants are constantly blocking us from the most important needs that make us who we are. The things I think we need are family, faith, love, truth, etc. But our wants, like money, a good job, a house, etc. keep us from seeing the non-material items that make us who we are. Before we know it, we're going to be 60 years old, ready to retire, and we have no idea how we even got there. The time will just slip by and we will never truly have lived. Sure, it will seem like we did because we'll have that high paying job with that Benz in the driveway of our 1 million dollar home, but we may have lost our true self in the process. Now, I am not saying that all of us are going to end up this way. But I think Gilbert is trying to get us to see that our happiness is never measured by the material. Gilbert wants us to take time to "listen" to God to help us find who we truly are.
When I was feeling "lost" last year I had, according to my counselor, "an A+ in Worrying." Thoughts would go through my mind a 100 miles a minute, constantly racing and racing through my head until I had nothing left to do but cry. I wish I had Richard as a friend at that point because he told Elizabeth, "Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, just you mind something better to play with ... Like pure divine love" (141). I could not agree with Richard more because I feel that, like Gilbert, we tend to let our thoughts take over inside our minds and we have ZERO control over them. And how in the world are you supposed to understand your purpose in life when you have no control over what you are thinking on a daily basis? We need to calm down and manually put in the good thoughts, like love, as Richard suggests.
When Liz Gilbert is in India I feel that she truly begins to find her higher purpose in life. So I have decided that I am going to put myself in my own India and find our my purpose in life, and this is what I have come up with so far: My higher purpose is to help others from becoming lost. More specifically, I am going to become a teacher and a coach (hopefully at the all girl high school I attended) and I am to help those girls find out who they are and keep them from becoming as lost as I was last semester. I want them to live by Elizabeth Gilbert's words that the mind is always telling us, "I'm right here. It's OK. I love you. I will never leave you..." (148). Everyone is going to go through a rough patch, some may be worse than others, but I have come to the realization, with the help of Liz Gilbert, that you have got to LET GO and allow yourself to live beyond the bad experiences. You MUST find your higher purpose. Like I said, mine is going to help others from becoming as lost as I was. My higher purpose is going to be to understand that life is so much more than the material wants and more about the spiritual needs that we should long for each and every day. I want to help as many young women, and eventually maybe a wider variety of people, understand that and realize they have so much to give to this world. My new word: FOUND.
The title when I first got the book, struck me. I am reminded that as Catholics we are taught to say Grace before we begin a meal. That's always how I was raised. especially on holidays. But for Gilbert she means it as a spiritual experience. She goes to places that are known for food, like Italy but it is not food she is interested in. I have heard that many cultures, like Chinese and Indian view eating as aspiritual experience, and something sacred. That could be the reason why she chooses places like that. It is not or the food, it is a tool in her own spiritual journey.
In our own lives, we are so busy that we have no time for a time out like this. That is what makes me care a lot less about the fact that she got an advance on this book. She was, in a way killing two birds with one stone. Her mental health was in shambles, and she got to make money to do it. Unlike the rest of us that have to spend $150 on a therapist, her art was her therapy and she got paid to do that. There are others that would think of that as a selfish, but if it works who cares.
In reading this book I have reflected on my own journey also. I think about the fact that my life has not turned out the way I want it in a lot of ways. For the most part, I am happy but there have been a lot of things that did not turn out the way I wanted them to go. For example, I found out that my friend's dad had cancer during the summer and I knew she needed me. But I also needed her to talk me thorugh the fact that a bio major can't get C's. Obviously you can tell whose is worse, but it took a lot of effort to put my own anguish aside (or what I thought was anguish) and help her deal with losing her dad. My mother even said to me, " How can you be so damn selfish?". The simple answer, I have my dad, and since my friend is two years older I always looked to hrer for advice and she has always been there. All of a sudden, our roles were reversed. I recently during spring break (ironically while medatating) came to the realization that I was pretty self involved during that time. We are like sisters, and with all the legit stuff going on I don't think she noticed my insensitivity, but looking back I feel rotten about it.
I am making it a goal in 2010 to meditate and reflect more on my life. Obviously, college students can't run halfway around the world and go to foreign countries. However, I think in reading about Liz's journey I have a lot more in common than I realized. We both struggled with mental illness at one point (her depression, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I am positive that her book is the first book in a long time that allowed me to have such a mental eye opener. That has not happened for me since 2007. In doing more self exploration, I hope to avoid the " What was I thinking situations?". I know that's a daunting task, but maybe I can minimie them. I never want to sink to the point where I am insensitive to a friend's needs on any level.
Liz's book, I am hoping is in the 'self help' section. I am planning to take a lok when I go home for Easter at Boarders just to see where she is catagorized. There have been many writers that I have read that I feel should be in that section, but I am quite certain that I will find her in memiors to. 1980's Harvard star Elizabeth Wurtzel took the mental health world by storm in 1994 when she published the first book about Prozac. I made a joke when I was buying the book for a friend that Wurtzel should be in the sel help section, not women authors. He didn't get my joke. In a darker phase of her life, she is asked if she feels that her understanding her own life makes others feel understood. She comments that " That sounds about right." I think Gilbert does the same thing, but her's is more thought provoking, and more recent given the stressful time we are in witht the eceonomy. I hope to find more authors like her, and learn from their experiences so that I can further my own self exploration in the future.
When we were asked in class the other day to identify if we were pursuing our higher purpose, I suddenly felt awkward and shy. I knew that no one would have to read the page, and that no matter what I wrote this was meant to be written for me, and my exploration only. However, I couldn’t help but think, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life after college, not to mention what I want to do with my life to achieve fulfillment and purpose. I tried desperately to find things that gave me a sense of bliss and peace, things that meant that I was doing something that felt right in the world. I thought of that moment of clarity when Liz Gilbert sat in her pile of snot and tears on her bathroom floor and finally realized that she was lost and she needed to find herself. I didn’t feel lost but I clearly didn’t have direction. Instead of thinking of what I was doing right for my spirituality, I found myself thinking of all the things that I worried about on a regular basis which definitely wouldn’t qualify as a greater meaning in life.
It was exactly these petty concerns that had me stressing out for days, turning me into an insufferable monster of a person that I pitied my friends and roommates for having to deal with. I was suffering from a serious case of the Mondays after wrestling with my printer, sopping wet in the incessant rain, my study abroad appointment running late, and CCSJ accidentally cancelling our motorpool car. When we finally got to mentoring and sat down to start working, I couldn’t help but notice that the boy, Justin, seemed to be having a difficult time as well. I racked my brain, trying to think to myself, What exactly does one to do cheer up a ten year old child they barely know? I was overwhelmed with the need to make sure that his day got better – it was a nagging urge to make him smile. I talked to him and Asia, his fellow scholar student, and I asked them cheerfully about their weekends and made jokes about the lesson plan. I was careful to leave happy promises of candy and play time in the gym if we finished on track, assuring them that we would try and have fun with an otherwise dull lesson. He and Asia joked with each other and I could see him returning to himself. Suddenly, in the middle of reading a section of the story, I heard that welcome raucous laughter.
Now, I don’t want to make my classmates think that I am obsessed with bodily humor, but this is another story about farting. Justin had “let one slip,” as he giggled, and Asia kept imitating the “berp!” and surprised expression that he had on his face when it happened. From then on he wasn’t shy about excusing himself to pass gas, and each time they burst into a fit of giggles. I was trying to keep them on track despite the gastro-distractions, when the director of the program came to sit in on my lesson in the middle of one such episode of gas attacks, and he looked confused as Justin leapt out of his chair and ran from the room. I was mortified, because I didn't share their fifth grade humor and thus didn't find this funny. I explained apologetically and informed the director of the issue, hoping that he wouldn’t consider this to be a punishable offense (the poor boy was already having a bad day and apparently an issue with control of his bodily functions.) To my surprise, he leaned in to whisper to me and Asia just as Justin returned to the table, “You know why right? He had beans for lunch.” Hearing a respectable authority figure, dressed in suit and all, make light of the farting made us all burst into laughter. When I responded to Justin’s defensive protests about how he couldn’t help it, I couldn't help but laugh, “Whatever, sit down and read tooty fruity”, sending everyone into another fit of giggles.
Something about this moment, the sharing of laughter and the lightening of a situation that could potentially serve as dry, dull, and frustrating brought such a lightness to my mood that it ended the spell of frustration I had been sulking in for weeks. The director smiled pleasantly at closing, Justin and Asia sat cheerfully beside me when we waited for their parents, and I laughed the whole way back with my fellow classmates. I found that this guiltless contentment I felt from that evening must be something like that feeling of purpose we were meant to explore. It hadn’t done anything to solve the stresses that I felt outside of mentoring, but because I had become so invested in the stresses of Justin, and had been able to see them lifted by something as simple as giggling about gas, it was almost as if his relief (no pun intended) was greater than my own would have been. That laughter with the kids, and that ability to help them find laughter in a strict collegiate setting was beautiful and simple and fulfilling.
In the beginning of the novel, Gilbert wrote of the struggle she faced with depression. She opens a notebook and writes to herself, “I need your help.” She then responds in her own handwriting with, “I’m right here. What can I do for you?” Though she got this wonderful opportunity to travel the world to deal with her stresses and her sorrows, she made it happen for herself. She made her own travel plans, she told her people of her idea, and she happened to get a book offer that allowed her to make it a reality. This journey ended up offering her a wealth of much needed change and self discovery, but it all came about because she followed an inkling of enlightenment. Though I don’t yet know what my greater might purpose might lead me to do or become, I have found my inkling of blissful relief in the brilliance that comes from working closely with others. It hasn’t prompted a great spiritual movement but it is a beginning, and I might have to make it come true and offer that help to myself, but now I am aware of a possible pathway.
The question “what is your highest purpose?” is a difficult one. It forces one to consider an aggregate of factors including what direction they desire his or her life to take, what external currents and forces are affecting your future and whether or not these align with your desires. Ideally, one should also consider how one would best be able to contribute to society in the most beneficial ways. This element of the question is important because it forces one to consider how he or she is best able to contribute. This is often overlooked in favor of the first question element because one’s desires and ambition can be easily prioritized over one’s possible contributions to society.
In my Kairos notebook I resolved that one of the changes I was going to make in my life to more adequately serve my higher purpose was that I was going to be more open to new friendships and appreciate my parents more. I could not discern the handwriting in which I scrawled my “highest purpose.” This attempt to rediscover my past goal has led me to an interesting realization. That goal was important at the time I wrote it; however I have since had many experiences which have further shaped and refined my goals.
At this point in my life, I feel as if I cannot relate to Liz Gilbert’s need to make a pilgrimage like journey in order to find myself and my highest purpose. I feel that regular self reflection has afforded me the insight into my own strengths, weaknesses and passions that I do not have to make such a deliberately life altering change. Over the past few years, I have learned that I derive intense enjoyment from mentoring and teaching those younger than me. After this slow realization, I began studying secondary education so that I might become a teacher after graduation. Once I made this determination, all of the anxiety regarding my future plans faded away. For lack of a more eloquent or scientific reason, it just feels right. I have been working in schools for 3 semesters now and I have learned so much about the art of education.
My higher purpose cannot be found in Italy or India. My higher purpose is in a classroom. Through teaching I hope to inspire in my students a love of knowledge and the artful spoken and written word.
One, I try to be a person of God. Though I question my faith nearly everyday I also find reassurance everywhere I go from the beauty in a spring day to the kind people I interact with everyday. To me God is everywhere; it is just up to us to notice him. This has always been my philosophy on faith and its one I share with Gilbert who writes, “There’s a reason they call God a presence—because God is right here, right now. In the present is the only place to find Him, and now is the only time.” (Gilbert, 132) There is a great truth in this quote that transcends all of the other meaningful passages we have read this semester; this is by far one of my favorite quotes I have ever read.
Vocationally, I have decided that for the foreseeable future I would like to be an English teacher. Not only do I hope to inspire my students in the classroom, but I also hope that I teach them more than just grammar or literary history. I would like to teach them to question: the world, morality, religion, race, politics, me, as well as their own views.
I know that when I tell people what I do for a living I will say that I am a teacher, but I also never want to stop being a student. Whether it’s learning from my students, my peers, strangers that I meet, or even a good book; there are bountiful sources of education at my fingertips. I believe that there are always new lessons to be learned, even when I am eighty years old I hope that I still keep the mentality of a student.
Gilbert clearly recognizes that she is still learning with each day. One of my favorite characters in the whole book is “Richard from Texas”. His quirky, everyday wisdom gives her what she needs, someone to open her heart the way he did to the whole world. One of the funniest parts of the book was when Richard described praying to God for an open heart only to have open-heart surgery soon after. It’s an ironic moment he chooses to learn, laugh, and grow from. If anyone has a healthy attitude towards life, it is Richard. And subsequently by knowing him, I think Elizabeth learns to also adopt a similar attitude as both her heart and her mind are open to true love by the end of her journey.
When Liz describes her marriage and career in the first chapter, she says: "But I was supposed to want to have a baby. I was thirty-one years old...we had built our entire life under the common expectation that...I would want to settle down and have children...and would be happy to live in a big, busy household full of children and homemade quilts, with a garden in the backyard and a cozy stew bubbling on the stovetop" (10). She describes a type of cookie-cutter life that a lot of people strive towards when they are young. Not that this is in any way a bad lifestyle, but it fits into a general definition of happiness that has become a defining part of our culture. Sometimes, though, one possible path to finding happiness doesn't end the same way for everyone, as Liz found out. Her courage to travel alone, so far away from home and the sense of security that it offers, proved to be a life-changing decision, and one that introduced her to a whole new set of experiences.
In grade school, and then again in high school, I viewed the world mostly through the lense of my family. Our family is pretty small, almost miniscule. My parents divorced when my brother and I were in third grade, and when my dad left, so did his side of the family. For most of my childhood and into my adolesence, it was just my two brothers, my mom, and me, with various pets. Our extended family was made up of our mom's parents, and her uncle who lives across the sea in England. We didn't travel much either, never really leaving the eastern seabord, and haven't yet traveled out of the continental US. Needless to say, during my grade and high school years, my view of the world was based mainly on my experiences in PA, where I live, and in a few of the surrounding states. When I entered college, though, I met people from all over the United States, and a few from different countries. A few of them held vastly different beliefs than my own, and had had many different experiences growing up. It was exciting and eye-opening at the same time, and every year that I am here, I learn new things and my view of the world changes just a little.
Entering into the world straight from college can be scary and very intimidating at times, especially if you're still trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do in life. For this reason, I think that Liz's story about her own quest for her life's purpose is inspiring. She was able to let go and embrace all the uncertainty in her life, letting it lead her on her path of self-discovery. It also changed her perspective: "...I think that perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated...one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation" (75). I think that's probably the best advice of all -- to learn to embrace change and to treat each new experience as a way to learn more about who you are.
My highest purpose? Well that’s the billion dollar question, isn’t it? Would it be wrong to say that I think I have four? Or five? Oh my God, can one person have five highest purposes? I’ve fallen madly in love with teaching, but I’m not sure that constitutes it as my highest purpose. Running marathons has become one of the most important things I do for myself but, again, it’s not really what I’d call the-greatest-good-I’ll-ever-do. There is something Liz Gilbert’s friend, Linda said that, I think, just might qualify as what I’ve always considered my highest purpose: “Admittedly, I am not the one who looks fantastic in everything, but still I cannot help loving myself” (100). Yeah, yeah that’s definitely it.
The past three years of my life have been big. Huge. We’re talking monumental. I’ve discovered that my parents are human, that dysfunction is pretty normal, that sometimes, things really can just be broken. I’ve found that relationships are not always meant to last for more than five minutes, or five years, or fifty. Whatever. I’ve learned that college changes pretty much everything, that people are mostly good, and that worrying is a stupid hobby to take up in your spare time. Most recently, I’ve realized that peace is a whole lot easier to find than I first imagined. In the midst of the chaos I was being tossed around in, it was easy to cling to things, people, places, and yes, even Sunday morning Mass as though they were life rafts. I wanted tangible comfort so badly that I began using all those things as crutches: my schoolwork, my boyfriend, my friends, the crucifix I wore around my neck (and which I was beginning to wear simply because I feared taking it off would surely lead to some other disaster). But none of those things, I don’t care how little you weigh, can support you forever. You can only lean on a crutch for so long before it, like you, grows warped and oddly, uncomfortably bent with the heaviness of your stress.
I knew a girl in high school who, every Friday night, regardless of anything else, took herself to dinner and a movie. No books or magazines to keep her busy at the dinner table, either. She just sat with herself. At lunch one day someone sitting at our table asked her why she did that. “I like my own company. If I don’t take a second to listen to myself, why should anyone else?” Kara was her name. So I did something radical. Well, radical for me anyway. I did say that I’m the world’s worst traveler, so jet-setting anywhere alone was out of the question. I simply started hanging out with myself. I broke up with my boyfriend of four years (a guy who, it should be noted, supported the weight of my worry and fear the longest), I put down my weekly planner and stopped looking at anything less than an A+ as worthless, I quit giving in to every invitation to parties, concerts, road trips (especially ones I truly, honest-to-God didn’t want to attend) extended to me by friends, and I unhooked the clasp that kept my crucifix around my neck. And I stopped going to church, which was pretty much the only place where I felt I could count on finding any rest.
I did all these things because, and Liz Gilbert said this best, “once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, [I] recognized [myself] as a friend” (55). And I wanted to find that recognition again. All I can say is this: it worked. There are about a million examples of this “Diligent Joy” that I could give. But a recent one seems most fitting. Last Friday, driving home from the library with the windows of my car rolled down, a live recording of the Dave Matthews Band in my stereo, and about ten different assignments due the upcoming week, I felt a sense of peace so absolute, so complete and sincere that I looked around my car as though I would find the source of the sudden contentment I was feeling. It was as though the whole world conspired, if only for a moment, to reassure me, to serve me a sparkling, thrilling, decadent slice of happiness. I was, for the entire thirty-minute ride home, confined to my own confidence and excitement and certainty. I’m pretty sure that this moment was a culmination of sorts. All the movies watched with myself, my golden retriever, and huge bags of Lifesavers hard candies, all the early morning five-mile runs around my neighborhood without my iPod, all the cooking I’d done alone in the kitchen of my parents’ house, all the drives to and from school, all the nights of good sleep and good dreams: it had all led up to this moment, these thirty minutes of just-plain-fantastic. The funny thing is, this peace was greater than any peace I’d ever felt while sitting in church. It was more spontaneous and lightweight and transparent and genuine than the kind of peace I’ve ever felt anywhere. The most self-satisfying and self-defining moment I’ve ever had. And it happens in my car. With Dave Matthews singing about Cornbread in the background. With my yet-to-be-written twelve page paper on Victorian Poetry due in five days. With a lesson on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to be taught in three days to a classroom full of tenth graders who seem really unsure as to why I think I have any right to stand in front of them and breathe, let alone teach.
OK, so the point is that “happiness [and loving yourself!] is the consequence of personal effort” (260). Yes, I think that’s true. But I also think that that effort pays off in the most unexpected of ways, that it simply hits you with such force that you’re stunned into acceptance. And then overwhelmed with gratitude, because in my car that day I simply could not help thanking myself over and over. What Liz Gilbert did in her travels seems, as we said in class, gigantic. Who has time (or money) for all of that? But I want to assert right this second that what I felt in my car the other day was as grand as any trip to Italy. I’ve never even been there and I just know. Honesty is the most crucial element of any relationship and it should be at the core of a relationship with yourself. That honesty with yourself is also the biggest step to finding your highest purpose. Admitting her emptiness that night on her bathroom floor, Elizabeth Gilbert started telling the truth. I figure that if at the end of any given day, I can tell myself the truth too, I'm doing just fine.