Epitaphs and mantras

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dec. 27, 2007

Dear Julie,

Our friend Gail probably was a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Eat, Pray, Love" before Oprah Winfrey's favor turned it into the top-selling nonfiction paperback book of 2007. Gail gave the book to all her friends and follows Gilbert's advice to ask yourself each morning, "What do I really, really want?"; to ask yourself at the end of each day, "What was the happiest moment of my day?"; and throughout each day to refine your mantra, the encouragement you give yourself.

After reading the book, one of Gail's friends immediately took off for India, as Gilbert did, in search of spiritual enlightenment. He doesn't think he found it, but seems to have been affected by the people.

His sister sent him off with a gift of underwear that promised to see him through 12 weeks and six countries. "The quick dry underwear should have dried faster, but they didn't," he related, "and desperately poor people shouldn't be happy but they are -- or at least they seem to be both in Kolkata and in Mumbai."

How do you plan your year now that you are free of work responsibilities? For that matter, how do you plan your week and your day? Do you impose a structure of your own or see what the day brings?

DC is so busy I only see her occasionally. She's up at 5:30, down by 10 p.m. and rarely motionless in between.

Because I have 50-50 control of her epitaph, I've threatened to put this one on her headstone: "She just ran out of time."

She does leave signs -- literally sometimes -- that tip off some of her movements: a butter wrapper on the kitchen table, special instructions taped to the back door for the care and feeding of the dogs, questions taped to the back door she thinks a story in the newspaper should have answered, discarded mail and paperwork, messages on the answering machine that test my cryptographic abilities. "Whatchamacallit said that thing you wanted him to do might be possible. Let him know."

DC's and my plans this year are as always fluid. We anticipate traveling ourselves, though hardly anywhere as exotic as Gilbert's destinations in Italy, India and Indonesia.

Some readers of "EPL" want to go to the same pizzeria she loved in Naples and to the same ashram where she meditated in India. Maybe a place as spiritual as India can offer glimpses of enlightenment other places don't. I suspect the answers we seek are as far off and as near as understanding the reality of our own lives.

What is enlightenment but a perpetual state of joy? And where does joy exist but in our own hearts?

Everyone has experienced joy, if only in brief moments. Joy can just happen.

Joy also can be cultivated. Invited. Room can be made for joy by noticing whatever else is cluttering up your heart.

And nothing -- no misfortune, no illness, no enemy -- can stand up to joy welling up in your own heart. That's why you can be happy in Kolkata or in Cape Girardeau.

What does it mean to think of 2007 as a good year or a bad year? Nothing. Good and bad are merely reflections of our own beliefs. They don't exist objectively.

"Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field," Rumi said. "I will meet you there."

In India Gail's friend met a man who speaks Farsi, French, Dutch, English, German and Spanish and said the secret to learning languages is to love it.

Elizabeth Gilbert says the same about being a writer. Start with the love, work hard and don't worry about the rest.

There's a mantra for the new year.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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