Saturday, January 10, 2009

Soldiers of Seriousness

I'm continuing on with the book Eat, Pray, Love. Found some GEMS in the section on Italy, where the author spent time exploring the whole concept of pleasure.

I particularly related to the section on page 23 where the author says:

"For years, I'd wished I could speak Italian--a language I find more beautiful than roses-- but I could never make the practical justification for studying it. Why not just bone up on the French of Russian I'd already studied years ago? Or learn to speak Spanish, the better to help me communicate with millions of my fellow Americans? What was I going to do with Italian? It's not like I was going to move there. It would be more practical to learn how to play the accordion.

But why must everything always have a practical application? I'd been such a diligent soldier for years--working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of my loved ones, my gums and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty? In this dark period of loss, did I need any justification for learning Italian other than that it was the only thing I could imagine bringing me me any pleasure right now? ..."

Yeah, I could relate.

For many years I've piled load upon load of responsibilities on my own plate, scrambling from one "should do" or "ought to do" to another, too often confusing RELAXING with sloth, an unpardonable crime.

My focus all too often has been more on accomplishing, achieving and acquiring than it has been about savoring, relishing, appreciating.

I'm working at shifting the balance of that in my world.

Another part that really hit me was over on page 42-43 where she talks about beginning formal language classes in Italy. She has to take an entrance test that will determine which level she will be place in, Level One is the most basic, for brand new beginners. It becomes VERY important to her to prove she can make it to at least Level Two. The scorn she feels for Level One is absolute. After all, she had begun learning the language while she was still back in New York. She has practiced. She has studied. She is ready to shine. So she pushes out her very best effort and does indeed make it to Level Two.

However, she flounders there, feeling out of her depth, way beyond the right fit. She writes:

"Classes begin in the afternoon. So I go eat lunch (roasted endive) then saunter back to the school and smugly walk past all those Level One students (who must be molot stupido, really) and enter my first class.. With my peers. Except that it becomes swiftly evident that these re not my peers and that I have no business being here because Level Two is really impossibly hard.

I feel like I'm swimming, but barely. Like I'm taking in water with every breath. The teacher, a skinny guy (why are the teachers so skinny here? I don't trust skinny Italians),is going way too fast, skipping over whole chapters of the textbook saying, "You already know this, you already know that..." and keeping up a rapid-fire conversation with my apparently fluent classmates. My stomach is gripped in horror and I'm gasping for air and praying he won't call on me.

Just as soon as the break comes, I run out of that classroom on wobbling legs and I scurry all the way over to the administrative office almost in tears, where I beg in very clear English if they could please move me down to a Level One class. And so they do. And now I am here. This teacher is plump and speaks slowly. This is much better."

OH how I recognize in myself the driven need to prove my advanced proficiency at ever so many things...even when it meant putting myself into circumstances that were way beyond me. Unfortunately, unlike the author, I have not often had the courage to recognize it and fall back, take things at a more appropriate pace. Instead, I've just pushed and pushed and pushed to keep up, making myself nutty in the process.

Maybe there is a lesson there for me... maybe I CAN set my sights "lower" and find the right fit in things I take on. Hell, I have nothing to prove to anyone else. It's high time I quit scrambling to prove whatever it is I'm trying to prove to myself.

Yeah, I really like this book - even the parts that make me a little uncomfortable. Maybe ESPECIALLY the parts that make me uncomfortable. It makes me think, to ponder, to recognize. I'm enjoying it way more than I thought that I would.

I just finished the section on Italy. Now I'm off to India where she will be exploring Spirituality. I can't wait!


  1. I have to say I am still stuck in doing the responsible things. . .oh to find something that I find pleasure in. Oh to have the courage to quit being responsible, throw caution to the wind, and do the things that may bring me pleasure. Baby steps. . . .

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  3. My question to you is this:

    Do you
    a) KNOW what gives you pure pleasure but feel you must forgo it to be responsible?


    Do you
    b) feel uncertain about what pure pleasure would be like or where it might come from?

    I've talked to several people for whom core pleasure is completely foreign. Others recognize it well enough but feel suspicious of it, feel they don't deserve it or that the consequences of indulging in it would be too devastating.

    I have had my moments of indulgence in pleasure... mostly from savoring simple things...a particularly nice sunset, flying kites with a friend, hot tapioca pudding, long hot bubble baths, that sort of thing. But alas, all too often there is a backdrop to whatever pleasure I find, the pilot light of responsibility I carry around in my brain whispering what I SHOULD be getting done that leaves snags and wrinkles all over my fun.

    But I am working on changing that. Like you steps!

    One thing I am focusing on now is shifting from and EITHER / OR dichotomy of viewing the world in shadow and light, FUN or DUTY...changing to a both / AND way of seeing things. I'm trying to more consistently ask myself: How can I get the things done that I need to get done today and truly ENJOY the process? Instead of limiting my perceptions of pleasure to vacations and other escapes from reality I want to learn to recognize the pockets of real pleasure that can be found all tangled up in the midst of the mundane I do every day.

    I know those sparkly moments are there if I will just let myself find them.

  4. I'm finding "pleasure" in reading this book While I am not doing the things that I "should" be or "ought" to be getting done!