In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year traveling the world, finding spiritual enlightenment along the way. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert’s character in the movie version out this week, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role, revealing that she has become a practicing Hindu.
As Joan Ball asks in a Guest Voices post, “Is it possible to live a life of deep, transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road?”
Taking a spiritual journey is part of our everyday vocabulary – whether done metaphorically or in reality. What is a spiritual journey? As a Hindu, I see it as letting go, dropping all thoughts, it is to see the unvarnished reality – the Truth – As Is, unfiltered without the prism of our internal programming, a Yoga (union of the finite with the infinite). It is to bring a transformational change within one self, to discover the joy and peace of divinity.
When one is in their familiar environment, it is difficult to detach from one’s own conditioned thoughts. That is why the ancient seers encouraged a seeker of enlightenment to meditate, to turn within and recognize the prison of the auto pilot through which one operates. The many aspects of Yoga, which are central to and an integral part of our tradition, enables the seeker a path for enlightenment. A calm and peaceful mind allows the inner voice to be heard. One becomes an inner traveler. Growth does not come in a static environment, only stagnation. Travel, in some form or another, we must, to realize our own full potential.
I feel travel to another place; especially one which is very different from yours, forces you to examine all your dearly held beliefs. It makes you question and evaluate them and consciously determine which ones are Real and which of the external conditioned ones you want to keep.
My travel was from India to America. I came here just as my teenage years were ending, with no real life experience. I found I had to face an environment for which I was totally unprepared; in a country where I was seen as the other, a minority, a person of color, an Asian Indian Woman in America, where my culture and mental conditioning was not easily understood and as someone on a different path; early on I became a single, divorced, working mother. I had to face head-on an existential question – Who Am I?
So, I found my own spiritual growth here by exploring the many traditions and taking what I found relevant for me. My roots are in India from where I brought many books hauled in the suitcases and shipped (thanks to my parents who gave me the exposure each time I visited them), but the understanding took place here, all over America, from the many teachers (who now live here or visit regularly). I visited many ashrams, temples and spiritual centers – primarily Hindu but also Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim…… to understand who am I? what is my culture? What aspects do I hold on to? What do I pass on to my daughter so her, yes journey, is easier, one in which she also questions to understand her roots and appreciates the ancient culture for herself.
I have discovered that religion often takes on a political identity in America and all religions (hence the people of that identity) are not fully accepted as they are. And, for the Hindus much of the academic literature is also biased and misunderstood. The message is not a positive one for the youth. There is a push – subtle or overt – for conforming to the mainstream where one is accepted. Now, we see that in the public sector with Niki Haley and Bobby Jindal. We see a growing recognition that the young people of eastern faiths (often referred to as Dharmic) need to be accepted with that identity; and hope a person of eastern faiths, perhaps a Hindu will be elected soon.
I also recognize that my daughter like other Hindu/Dharmic Americans, needs faith based infrastructures, faith based conduits to express important tenets of their faith, the sadhana (spiritual practice). These are easily experienced through service (seva) to the community and this seva in turn strengthens America.
I am grateful that for the first time a Hindu (me), as a member of President Obama’s Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council, was given a voice to provide our perspectives. The recommendation in the Council report includes a section - Valuing and Integrating America’s Religious and Cultural Diversity - where the New Americans (the post 1965 immigrants largely of diverse faiths) hope to get guidance to develop faith based structure to serve America domestically, globally and also have an opportunity to bridge cultures. We, Hindus and people of Dharmic traditions, contribute tremendously to America and need to develop sustainable infrastructures, conduits for community service, in the American context, through our religious identity which will enable us to do our sadhana (spiritual practice) and share our in-culture understanding of Yoga, such as the national Yogathon planned for August 29th.
It is through the sadhana (spiritual practice), the yoga of many forms, that transformational changes occur, whether a metaphorical journey or a physical one. There is no conversion but a peaceful practicing of transformational Hindu tenets, which I hope Julia Roberts and her family are discovering.
Spiritual transformation is a journey……of some sort….