Sunday, August 15, 2010

questioning higher powers and

I went to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love with my friend Kathy the other night. I have to say that, after hearing so much hoopla about that book and about the movie, I wasn't totally sucked into the adoration of it. This is probably because of a couple things the movie didn't mention, such as the fact that Elizabeth Gilbert (author of this book) had a huge book deal with money up front so that she could travel for a year. And also, the guy she ends up with in the end in the romantic closing of the film is not a guy she stayed with in real life (I saw her on Oprah some time ago. Feel free to make fun of me for watching Oprah).

But the main thing that bothered me about the film was the "pray" part. It looks so cleansing and healing and spiritually wonderful, and evidently meditating and making her "liver smile" every day for hours worked wonders on the psyche of Elizabeth Gilbert, but I have never been able to meditate. I don't know if it's my personality or the mental health issues that roll around in my head, but I can't do it. And I admire people who can do that, because it seems to have great results for them. I wasn't bothered by Julia Roberts' meditations (she played Gilbert in the film), but more so the idea that going to India for months and meditating and praying would solve all of one's problems.

There's a young Indian girl in the film who is being forced into marriage to a boy she doesn't like, and the film actually turns that situation into something that is good because watching this young girl being forced into sexual slavery is spiritually fulfilling and culturally educational for Julia Roberts. Yeah, I don't get that.

I've been having a hard time with the whole "higher power" issue lately. I wrote about it here, and after thinking about it more, I keep coming back to my agnostic self. I always think of agnosticism as being an atheist with low self-esteem, and this is what I am. But I've been going to these Alanon meetings where "God as you understand him" is stressed a lot, and the idea that the program is spiritual is stressed a lot too. I'm really not spiritual. I really have no desire to be, either. A few years ago, I tried attending the Unitarian Universalist church in my area, which is the only church I'd willingly step foot into now, but I couldn't get into it. They accept atheists there, but there is still the idea of a higher power. I have a hard time with that.

I do think there is something bigger than me in this great expanse of a universe. I do believe that. I'm not sure what that thing is, really, but I feel that there is a connection between all living beings, through their souls. I guess if I was going to be religious, I'd be a Unitarian or a Buddhist, but I'm not into religion at all. It seems to be helpful for some people, but I had enough bad experiences with it to last me a lifetime, long ago.

Yesterday I was browsing through a book called Party of One, which is all about being a loner. It discusses loners in religions, and people who lived as hermits. It discusses loners in all areas of our society, and basically says that being a loner isn't always a bad thing at all. I've always been a loner. I've never really liked groups, I don't make friends easily, and I have no problem doing things like going to the movies by myself. The first psychologist I saw was when I was in third grade, because my mother was afraid there was something wrong with me since I didn't have many friends at school. The psychologist asked me to draw a picture of a house, and I drew one without a roof, on purpose, to see what he would think of that and if he would say I was crazy. He thought I had a high IQ and there was probably something wrong with me.

I guess, in a way, I would like to believe in something greater than myself to which I could plea for help in my darkest moments. It's the logic that tells me no such thing exists that stops me from really believing in that. I guess if I was the kind of person who liked groups or churches or religion, I might have fewer worries. But maybe not. I think I'll keep going to the Alanon program, because, as they say there, you can "take what you like and leave the rest". I'll leave out the spirituality, and take what I have learned about codependency and detachment, and use that in my life to improve myself. I don't have to agree with everything the group stands for in order to get some use out of it.

And, if you're like most people, you would probably love Eat, Pray, Love, so go ahead and see it. Don't let me ruin it for you. I did like many aspects of it: the food in Italy, the sites in Italy, the gorgeous boyfriend in Bali, the Indian attire, the fact that she isn't afraid to leave behind a husband because she didn't have a happy marriage. It was just all the focus on meditation as some magical cure that I didn't get. I wonder sometimes if my mental health would improve if I could make myself meditate. I guess it would. But for whatever reason, my brain never slows down to a pace where I can feel it is empty of processing, and I never really feel comfortable sitting and breathing and trying not to think. Perhaps I should try it more often. It certainly works for other people I know, and I admire their ability to do it. But perhaps it's okay to just be myself and not try to fit into a mold of some kind. I don't know.

Incidentally, I know this post sounds incredibly cynical, and really, I don't mean to insult anyone who is religious or who meditates, or who travels the world to explore her self and write a book.


  1. Hi Jen,
    Thanks for your post and review of the movie, it is interesting hearing your views on support groups and their focus on higher powers. I've never been to one, but a friend, when I told him about my depression, said how I need to find my higher power, that it can be whatever I want, etc.

    But it just seems bogus to me. Maybe I'm simple-minded, but it always seems like there are two possibilities.

    1) There is a real god/higher power somewhere that will actually help me with my problems. In which case, I should probably figure out who/what that is, rather than just randomly choosing "Jesus", "love", "my AA group", or "chocolate".

    2) There is in fact no god/higher power, and pretending that there is one is a way of giving ourselves confidence to do things that we don't feel capable of doing ourselves. This is giving credit for the hard work we are doing to better ourselves to some nonexistent entity. That seems pretty terrible to me, intellectually dishonest and also somewhat cowardly.

    I think to really deal with problems, especially mental illnesses, we need to have facts and truth. And I really don't see how conjuring up higher powers helps with this.

  2. Great post! It's funny because I've felt very skeptical of Eat Pray Love and don't plan on seeing it. For me, traveling never solves the problem you have at home, because (1) you are always the same person no matter where you go, and (2) when you come home, the same problem is still there.

    It's great that you question what you believe and what people around you believe. I am a Christian and believe in God, but I struggle constantly with that faith. I am constantly questioning what I believe and why I believe it (eg. is it because of my parents and how I was raised or because it is real?) I never accept the easy answers and always ask questions and probe until the point where no one has any answers, which is never very popular. It's hard to be an individual that questions convention (in everything)but it's a good thing in my mind.

    Take care!

  3. Depressed, like I said before, I respect your beliefs and agree with a lot of what you have to say. I think people have a right to believe what they want.

    Sarah - thanks, I appreciate your comment.

    Jamie, I agree about that movie and the book. The idea that you can go away to have a year-long vacation and simply spend the entire time enjoying yourself and thinking about yourself, which will the cause all your responsibilities to fade away and all your dreams to come true is quite ridiculous. I also don't think it is possible for the average human to afford any such luxuries.

  4. Hi Jen,

    I really think that you should believe and do what makes you comfortable, so don't worry about the fact that you don't want to meditate and you don't believe in a Higher Power. Thank goodness or God, which ever fits for you, that we have diversity on this planet and that we have the right to choose what to believe and what not to believe. I'm glad that you are going to the Al-Anon meetings and learning about co-dependency. I still do think that when you are hurting some self help groups really help.

    Kate : )

  5. I loved the movie. And many of the people who have seen it, in my circle, did not. What I saw, and related to, was a woman seeking. I do meditate and it looks like Liz in the beginning when her mind was busy and the timer was not moving, even after years of practice. What I know today is that my days flow easier when I just try. I've put nature sounds on an iPod that sometimes help. And other tools but I still struggle. Regularly. And my God today is not the same god I was raised to know. Our relationship changes as years pass. I'm grateful to believe in a benevolent good. I know why folks knock on doors to tell others about their god. Not that I have any interest in doing this. And religion is not my cup of tea. Rules. Doctrine. Bleck. But I get it. I would not have made it this far with a non-compliant adult child without the God of my understanding.
    Whatever works for you. And if not-believing works for you then keep on that track. It is what I love about my God today. I don't need you to believe to make it ok for me to believe.
    So very grateful for you and your success with NAMI. Both have kept me going on some really tough days, you and NAMI.


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