Tuesday, February 05, 2008

been reading

I've been reading this fabulous book, eat, pray, love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. You've likely heard of it or at least seen it around, as it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller, as the cover proudly proclaims. It was recommended to me by both my devout mother-in-law and by fellow DAMU blogger, love medicine (who has exponentially expanded my To Read list).

The first section, "eat," is about a four-month stay in Italy, where the author practices the art of indulgence by learning Italian--for no other reason than she wants to--and by eating wonderful, delicious Italian food. There's this great chapter where she describes seeking out the best pizza place in Naples, the city where pizza began. Get this: she's eating the Best Pizza in the World. She gushes about this pizza with it's thin crust, perfectly flavored red sauce, and fresh mozzarella (once you've gone fresh, you can't go back). I tell you, she practically describes a food-gasm about this pizza. Tears of joy over the cheese. Shit, I almost had a food-gasm myself just reading about it. I thought back to the best pizza I've ever had, in New York City, with fellow exmos Meg & Jack Slate, hank rearden, lisesymom & exV, and juggler vain. We were there for lunch, I had skipped class and taken the train in just for this lunch, and we ate pepperoni pizza with rolls and red wine. The sauce was perfect, the crust was crisp but melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, and the fresh mozzarella just made this pizza. I can't imagine the pizza in Naples.

What I love about this section of the book is that the author feels it is 100% okay to indulge like this. Enjoy life; cater to your senses; focus on the body. This is not okay in Mormonism, where the spiritual self is supposed to put above the physical self: sacrifice, deny immediate pleasure for future gain, fast from food to get in touch with your spirit. That's not to say that Mormons can't be foodies; I certainly was. But I always felt a bit guilty about it.

Twenty-three pounds heavier, Gilbert goes on to India for a spiritual journey in the Buddhist tradition. There are parts of this I really liked and appreciated. Some of it made me want to try meditation, explore Buddhism more. I felt a bit jealous, really, of the transcendent moments she experiences. On the other hand, I found myself irked by it all being explained with the term "God." I don't want to be irked, but I am. Gilbert's version of God is absolutely nothing like the Mormon's Heavenly Father, of course. It's something much more elusive, certainly not corporeal, but still, often, a He. Ick. I also found my skeptical side kicking in and asking, "Why should we be seeking these altered states of consciousness at all? And why do they have to be called spiritual? Isn't what they call "god" just a part of our brain, a state of mind, something inexplicable to them but not, someday, to science?"

There was one particular passage that describes faith. I found my skeptic self frustrated by the description and argument.

"There's a reason we refer to 'leaps of faith'--because the decision to consent to any notion of divinity is a mighty jump from the rational over to the unknowable, and I don't care how diligently scholars of every religion will try to sit you down with their stacks of books and prove to you through scripture that their faith is indeed rational; it isn't. If faith were rational, it wouldn't be--by definition--faith. Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark."

I didn't like it. That leap from the rational to the unknowable. Been there done that. Except that I was ignoring the rational because the knowable was artificially made unknowable by the scary label "anti-Mormon lies." So in leaving the church, I made the opposite leap; from what I thought was the knowable to the rational. And the rational won, and I value it too much right now to try any leap back. Maybe sometime I'll try seeking out some other level of spirituality, but not now.

The same paragraph goes on to read,

"If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, out belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be...a prudent insurance policy."

That bit I appreciated. I realized that had I read that three years ago, when I was on the verge of the collapse of my Mormon belief, I would have really liked it. It would have opened my eyes and changed my understanding of faith, and helped me see that Mormonism had a messed up view of faith. Other religions see faith as doubt; Mormonism sees doubt as antithetical to faith. Mormonism confuses faith and knowledge; people say "I know the church is true" instead of "I believe the church is true." Gilbert never, ever says, "I know" about anything. She never, ever says, "This is the way to achieve transcendence." Her attitude is more, "I'm not sure what this is, but I like it" and "Everyone should seek their own way, this way has been working for me." How refreshing. Overall I liked the section, and appreciated that even though her experience and interaction with spirituality is so different from mine, it is still human experience and valuable to her and to me.

And now for the "love" section, where she seeks balance. I can't wait to read it.

*Both quotes are from p. 175


paranoidfr33k said...

I never felt guilt over eating. I love food. Never thought of it as sinful. Well, I guess I did if I gained a few pounds, but thats a different story.

I'm not much of a reader, but I've listened to two audio books recently, The God Delusion and God is Not Great. Both pretty good in their own ways.

Love Medicine said...

Mmmmmm orgasmic pizza, and all that gelato and pasta and wine, oh my!

I felt the exact same way about the pray section. I had a negative physical reaction to the very word God or Faith. In fact, I almost skipped the section because I could't will myself to be exposed to anything religious. But, I took "the leap" and am glad I did. I also appreciated that she didn't come across as preachy.

I've been taking an asian philosophies course and find the Hindu and Buddhist version of God so refreshing. God as ultimate reality and the connection between all living and non living things sits much better than "Heavenly Father". This connection is also seen in quantum physics, so I can more easily digest it. Baby, I've come a long way!

I have more books for you...hehehe...and I'm so glad you're reading this one. I hope you love the love section!

Phoenix Touch said...


I, too, have read this book. I devoured the second section all in one night in the bathtub - surprising myself, actually, with the accomplishment.

In speaking with others, I have discovered that there is a common occurrence in each reader with experiencing one section as being more difficult to _________ (fill in the blank with your word... "tolerate" or "digest" or "understand" or "get" or "connect with") than the others.

Sadly enough, mine was the third section - Love.

Go figure.

(chandelle) said...

sounds very interesting, i'll have to pick it up and add it to the dozens of other books that i'll get to when i'm done reading my current dozen. sigh.

(chandelle) said...

oh, and my inner stalker puts a finger to her chin and thinks, hm, so she lives in new york...interesting...

Mai said...

I haven't read that book, and maybe I will. It sounds interesting.

I belong in a religion that is against fasting and all 'mortification of the flesh.' We are supposed to take good care of our bodies.

And if spiritual stuff makes you really uncomfortable - although I sense a strong fascination therewith in you - there is enough in this universe to keep anyone occupied for many, many lifetimes. Consider what J.(BS) Haldane said:

"Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
-- J.B.S. Haldane

(chandelle) said...

actually, fasting (especially on juice, not water) can be very good for the body, especially in times of stress or illness. when the body doesn't have to put energy into digestion it can focus its calories on other problems.

Figaro said...

Thanks for the reading tip.

Sideon said...

I'm thinking about Zachary's deep dish pizza in Berkeley, which doesn't come close to anything in the Chicago area, but it's as close as we're gonna get without forking over +$75.00 to have a pizza shipped this way... Food-gasms are a good thing.

I'm jazzed for Sunday, FTA.

f said...

paranoid- I was always a foodie before, I esp. loved to cook desserts. Now I've come to appreciate it more--I can talk, eat, love food, and feel okay about it. A feast is as good for my "spirit" as church, at its best, every was. And those books, I've read 'em to and thought they were very interesting.

LM- I'm enjoying the love section. I definitely want to explore the eastern versions of god/religion more.

phoenix- Makes sense that people would connect differently to the book. Something for everyone.

chandelle- Well, on the train line to NYC. :)

mai- I think you are right. I do have a strong fascination with both religion and spirituality. Still trying to figure things out.

fig- I would guess that it's more of a "girl" book, but maybe I'm wrong. Try it out!

sideon- Great pizza can be found in lots of places, even if not food-gasm levels. I'm looking forward to Sunday, too!


Love Medicine said...

just for kicks...we went to this hole-in-the-wall italian place called Ciao Bella (Brit Spears has been there as well so it must be good)last night and ate the flat out best pizza I have ever had...I had an "o" moment and needed a minute to calm down. They also make the best home-made Terrimassou (sp?). It was incredibly light and not too sweet, a great balance of flavors and the espresso kick....yum!

Meg said...

I also found my skeptical side kicking in and asking, "Why should we be seeking these altered states of consciousness at all? And why do they have to be called spiritual? Isn't what they call "god" just a part of our brain, a state of mind, something inexplicable to them but not, someday, to science?"

I really resonate with this. I've been exploring spirituality. I've been meeting in a small group with a buddhist spiritual teacher for a while, and he talks about an underlying reality that we can experience. That may be, but I can't shake the notion that whatever I experience is "all in my head" and not some objective reality out there. Still puzzling that one out.

Bling for the King said...

Sounds like a good book