Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Il bel far niente"

I recently finished Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I picked it up during that time when official, calendar spring has technically begun, but when we're really all just languishing in the fear that it may never get here. This is when my desire to get out of the city and travel is at it's peak. One would think that with winter being over, that my anticipation of the glorious weather in the waning days of cold would be filled with hope. But no. Anxious and angry might be a better way to describe those days. So reading a travel memoir seemed like the perfect antidote to liven up early April.

My reactions are mixed. In short, her writing wasn't great, but her motives for going on her journey and the dedication with which she pursued them admirable. Needing time to "find herself" after an ugly divorce and another heartbreak, Gilbert journeyed to Rome to pursue pleasure in it's simplest form: eating. She then traveled to an Ashram in India to pursue spiritual peace through praying and yoga and discipline. Finally, she traveled to Bali in Indonesia to find some balance between the two, and not only did she feel freed from her demons, refreshed and healthy, she fell in love. (Would this book have sold as many copies if it didn't end this way? Sorry, my sometimes cynical literary voice was begging for a cameo.)

She did have some interesting insight into a few things: "Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment...Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don't really know how to do nothing."

An expression she picked up while in Italy was "Il bel far niente," meaning the beauty of doing nothing. I don't think this passage is interesting to me only because I may or may not have spent my Friday night decompressing by watching 3 episodes of Bones and a movie, eating a dinner consisting of cheese and crackers. It is interesting to me because my brain constantly has a to-do list. I am always mapping out the hours of my days. I have fallen into the habit of working every weekend. Somehow I have turned myself into a person who has to constantly be doing something productive. Every time I realize I do this, I try to become more balanced. At the end of high school, I stopped wearing a watch. In college, I gave up my planner with its minute by minute details of what I needed to do and where I needed to be. I am still a chronic list maker, whether in my head or on post its. I still get a lot of satisfaction crossing things off those lists. Have I learned nothing? Aye.

So. What I did appreciate in this book, is that her peace came from letting go of those lists, intentionally pursuing the spiritual and then being able to experience freedom, though my own pursuit of the spiritual has a completely different foundation.

This post actually took me on a journey. It was initially going to be about my frustration with "journey" books, why I like fiction better than fact sometimes and what that says about me...or people. Alas. Maybe next time. I suppose I unconsciously decided not to stick to the mental agenda I had set out for my day.

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