When ‘Eat Pray Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert came out two years ago, it spoke to thousands upon thousands of people, including me.
As a result, I conceived yoga retreats to Italy last June and Bali last month while joining my first teacher, Sherri Baptiste’s journey through India last October (www.powerofyoga.com).
I have recently concluded my own journey to these three countries in the last nine months and this is my report:
In Italy I learned that if you eat Gelato nearly every day, it doesn’t taste as good as the first day you ate it. There is a fine line where one’s senses are numbed and the brain begins looking for more, more, more, more to attain the same level of pleasure. After studying art history for eight years, actually seeing the famous architecture was anti-climactic in comparison with finding what I didn’t expect: a playground at dusk in Rome where children from all parts of the world were playing, a very very, very old lady filled with the Holy Spirit who took my mom’s hand in a cathedral in Rome, reminding us through a simple gesture that there is always a way to be happy even if you can barely walk anymore. Italy’s two great teachings for me were, 1) moderation of sensory enjoyment produces greater sensory enjoyment and 2) trust your journey to take you places both outside yourself and inside yourself that you would have never found on your own.
In India I learned that it’s worth the risk of all the bad things that could happen to you to go there, the main reason that keeps most people from going. There is an uncanny order that resides beneath the phenomenal chaos and you can appreciate it once you have submitted yourself to it. There is beauty everywhere, but not the kind of beauty we are accustomed to. It consumes you with the mystery of life and makes you realize just how much stuff you think about doesn’t really matter. The big lessons, 1) thanking the God of your own understanding every morning and every night keeps what is important at the forefront of your mind and heart and 2) it is possible to be truly and consistently happy with a great, great great, great deal less.
In Bali I never met anyone that wasn’t genuinely happy, not the “I’ll be happy when I get this next thing or things go the way I want them to” kind of happiness but just enjoying being. Much of their lives revolve around being together, having festivals, and honoring their Gods. The women in Bali create thirty offerings a day. An offering consists of a box made of palm leaves and flowers and incense. Offerings are placed in front of every home or in the corners of homes, on what we would call altars set up throughout villages and cities, three times a day. There are prayers said and incense is lit. I was driving on a motorcycle around a small island beside Bali and came upon a festival of hundreds of women and children celebrating the trees and plants that provided food for them to eat. Taking time out to thank the trees. I learned that 1) its possible to just be and 2) inherent in just being is love. Not the kind of pining âif I don’t’ have him I’ll die sort of love,’ but the calm peaceful state of love that is inherent in every breath we take.
Italy, India and Bali all have tangible devotion woven throughout the fabric of their culture. While traveling I read “The Geography of Bliss,” which was written by Eric Weiner, an NPR reporter who went to about nine countries known to be the happiest countries on earth to find out why each is so happy. In every country it was something different. In the process of his journey he discovered that the human brain manages to always focus on some source of distress. It’s just what we do. For example, in every language there are many more adjectives to describe unhappiness than happiness. The advantage of cultures of affluence where so much of our life threatening distresses have been alleviated is we are comfortable. The disadvantage is that we have the luxury of creating problems that seem significant but aren’t. In America we live in a culture that is dedicated to the âpursuit of happiness,’ assuming then that it’s something we find out there eventually, if we are hard working and lucky. In the yoga tradition contentment is a quality that one commits to being at all times under all circumstances, learning to observe the mind, replacing thoughts that are destructive with thoughts that are constructive in order to find peace with everything that is happening in life, even when it didn’t go the way the mind thought it wanted it to.
We don’t have a Ganges, and we don’t have little offerings to make every day together as a culture. But we do have a river of real people who are really struggling and when we give ourselves in whatever capacity we can to them, all our own little problems become less significant. A recent Japanese study proved the physical and emotional benefits of giving to others in order to alleviate or own unhappiness. We can make invisible offerings often in the form of random acts of kindness that cost us nothing but the joy of making someone else’s life a little easier. Buddha said, “No self, no problem.” It’s hard to remember that we are specks of dust floating in the universe and frankly who wants to be reminded? But holding the big picture close is essential. Nothing remains but gratitude and awe.
A collection of photographs from all three trips have been posted through my Facebook account.