I know, sometimes, it is all too easy to get caught up in passing trends. I know my mother thought this way about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I remember picking it up off her shelf before I was old enough to understand it, and asking her what she thought about it. My mother, even though she was a wise woman in so many ways, shrugged her shoulders and called it a bit ‘self-indulgent’.
Yet here I am, somewhere about eight years later, having read it countless times. I’ve dog-eared pages, highlighted passages. I’ve studied this book the way I studied neuroscience textbooks in college. There’s something about it that speaks to me, even though every time I read it, that something seems to have changed.
Today, I have realized that right now, my something is what Liz Gilbert calls the Physics of the Quest.
She writes, I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call ‘the Physics of the Quest’ — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics my go like this: if you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comfortable (which can be anything from your house, to your old bitter resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all- to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself …then truth with not be withheld from you.
I have come to believe that I am smack dab in the middle of my quest. Which, I suppose, isn’t saying much about a young twenty something post-graduate, scrambling in our failing economic and cultural climate to find something marginally resembling stability, something marginally resembling structure or success. We could all be in search of something, and in many ways I think we are searching, for what life is supposed to be like as far as making it fulfilling and meaningful.
But I think I’ve been delivered my first clue.
I’ve been in the United Kingdom for about a month now, lounging around, watching movies, wrapping chocolates and basically being a bum. It’s been great. In the beginning, I was worried that I wasn’t doing enough with my time, that I wasn’t pushing myself to be adventurous enough. I must be adventurous, I told myself. Then I started looking back over the past four years of undergraduate work, and realized I could afford to give myself the luxury of doing nothing. If nothing else, this past year has been one of the most difficult years of my life, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, if not also physically.
A year ago today, I was just beginning to come to terms with my assault. Terms I still haven’t completely come to grips with. A year ago today, I was ravenously applying for jobs that I didn’t really know if I wanted, terrified that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My relationships were in shambles, both with myself and others. I was so terrified of being alone, but couldn’t bare the thought of being touched.
My relaxation was interrupted by one of the worst stomach flues I’ve ever experienced, quite possibly one of the worst that the world has ever experienced (that’s an exaggeration, I know). I was sick for days on end, just over a week in total. I was blinded by migraines, wracked with vomiting and abdominal pain. Crippled by anxiety, curled up on the carpeted floor struggling to breathe while my friend sat by me, constantly reaffirming me that I was going to be okay. I was doubled over in pain more nights than not, scared and lost in this foreign country.
I went to the hospital, and the doctor asked me, “Why didn’t you ask for any pain medications if you are in such agony?”. I didn’t know how to answer her, honestly.
Native American spiritually has become quite popular in the recent years, but I can’t help comparing my experience to a vision quest. Young men go up into the mountains to find themselves. They sit for days, watching the sun rise and fall as the days pass. They fast.
When you are fasting, Eagle Man says, your mind becomes more alert. You simply contemplate your life. And when you fall asleep, your dreams become more vivid.
In essence, this is what I was doing. I had been so sick that I couldn’t keep a meal down for days. I can’t describe to you how I would watch the night, waiting for the sun to rise in the morning and feel so grateful for the day, only to watch it set again a few hours later, unable to move from my bed. I prayed to a God I don’t wholly believe in to release me from the pain I was in… but I think now there’s something to pain that helps us see deeper into ourselves. As though all the walls, all the cognitive distortions that I have built up over the years were corroded away, and I was left at the end of the day with my own raw self.
It brought me to tears.
I was given a vision of my life, how I wanted it to look, and how far I still have to go to get there. Yet, there was a calmness to the experience. I was not anxious or anticipatory. I was not drowning in sorrow. It was just, this is who I want to be, and this is how I get there.
This may not be my very first clue, and it’s most certainly not my last- but I can’t help seeing it like a lesson. I am working the muscles required to be brave, to abandon all comforts and face some difficult realities about myself, as Liz says, in order to seek a truth about myself. Perhaps it is just one stepping stone on my greater quest.