reclaiming eat, pray, love

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The book (and movie version of) Eat Pray Love arrived at a critical juncture in my life: like its author/narrator, I felt the need to flee from my life. Interestingly enough, the movie convinced me to stay in my marriage a while longer and try to figure out how not to lose myself in mothering three young boys.

The staying turned out to be temporary. What I ended up finding instead, just like Liz, looked something like balance: independence (divorce) along with a deeper connection with my kids. I’m extremely grateful for the kind of love that’s been possible since I’ve felt more able to be myself.

Critics (and society) wasted no time shaming those of us who enjoyed and were moved by Eat, Pray, Love. This article, for example, called it both “an insufferable memoir by a privileged woman with first-world problems” and “the trifecta of chick-lit porn: pasta, spiritual awakening and marriage to a sexy Brazilian she met in Bali.”

And I understand that criticism. I also insist the story/journey has merit: not traveling to Italy, India and Bali, necessarily, but eating, praying and loving my way through my own life.

At no time have I been thinking of it that way, of course. Until I found my Eat, Pray, Love poster on a recent cleaning spree, I would have said that post-separation/divorce in 2011, I have simply been pursuing health, happiness and pleasure by getting to know myself better and figuring out what my heart, body and spirit crave.

Overall, it’s been lovely. It’s nourished me thoroughly.

Lately, however, it’s felt a little out of control in ways I don’t really have words for. I do think that part of the agitation I’ve been feeling comes from failure to be disciplined, inability to see a path or progress and a tendency to go to extremes. It’s not that I want to reign anything in, but I do want to be more aware and purposeful.

So finding that poster gave me an idea: look at the three experiences (eat, pray, love) as a useful organizing principle for that effort.

Don’t worry; this blog isn’t turning into an account of what Eat, Pray, Love made me do  (I’ll be getting back to writing about writing soon, too), but I do want to document some of the likely adventures and misadventures in my move toward being more intentional.

Here are some thoughts I’m going to use to guide me (definitely *not* making these changes all at once; the list is aspirational):

Ways to feed/nourish by body –>

  • Embrace being vegan/vegetarian-ish. Purists, don’t @ me! I’ve wasted a lot of time feeling shame/guilt about not being a full-time vegetarian or vegan. But here’s what I find works for me in terms of health, energy and conscience: at home, I cook vegan (whole foods, plant based / #WFPB) 90% of the time. When I’m at restaurants, I allow dairy (in moderation), fish and the occasional order of chicken wings. When I’m at your house, I eat what you serve, making any meat that’s offered a small portion of my meal. I am not planning to change this. Now, however, I’m giving myself permission to fall outside of any particular way of eating (WOE).
  • Be all about intense flavor.  I’ve learned a great deal about cooking in the last several years, and thanks to my fiancee, I’ve also been more comfortable with experimenting in the kitchen. Next, I want to gain more knowledge about sauces and spices and be more playful with intense flavors. (Bonus points if these flavors are vegan and oil-free!)
  • Change my relationship with alcohol. No more 6-packs. (Or fewer 6-packs.) I’m tired of drinking just to drink. Aim now for quality instead of quantity. Enjoy really good bottles of wine and creative cocktails. (Don’t call me late to the craft cocktail revolution; I’ve been enjoying small-batch, local, flavorful spirits at places like Albany’s Speakeasy 518. I just haven’t brought them into my kitchen yet.)

Ways to focus and explore meaning –>

  • Make art. In addition to writing and publishing poetry, I will return to sketching, collage and painting.
  • Create space/time for meditation and yoga. Nothing fancy here: just time on the cushion/mat with the primitive skills/knowledge I already have.
  • Examine how I spend my money. Yes to finding — and eliminating — places where I’m wasting money. But one thousand times yes to breaking the kind of spending habit that’s solely about acquiring more “stuff.” Interrogate the retail therapy instinct.

Ways to pay attention, express gratitude, deepen connection, etc.  –>

  • Set aside more time for family and friends. Life is getting in the way, as they say. And I’m craving hearty laughter and intimate conversation that’s only possible face-to-face or in long-form correspondence.
  • Delight in the evolving relationships with my sons and my fiancee. As my oldest son approached, entered and completed his first year of college, I had a lot of fear about losing my connection with him. As my younger two sons make their way through their high school years, I’ve also had a lot of fear about the necessary distance that journey creates between parents and kids.  Instead of fear, I’m going to choose wonder and amazement. I’m going to choose faith. Leap-and-the-net-will-appear faith. Ditto for romance. I’m nearly six years into a relationship and happily engaged. I continue to be surprised each time the connection deepens… and already having been through a divorce, I continue to fear that it will be difficult to cohabitate when that time comes. (It is not lost on me that these fears are two sides of the same coin: despairing about space and protecting space. Worth exploring!)
  • Find a balance between challenging my body and resting. With exercise (cardio and strength training), I tend toward fits and spurts. I rest for weeks, and I go at it for weeks. Turns out: that’s not balance. It just stalls progress. I want to establish a rhythm that provides a better result: increased strength, better endurance, higher energy, etc. In other words, I need to commit to 3-5 workouts a week and rest throughout the week instead of days at a time.
  • Believe in magic. Unabashedly. I tend to get embarrassed about my interest in ritual, tarot, spirits, planets, etc. I need to explore this more to fully understand what I need from this, but it feels like it belongs on the list.

I’m not sure I have the categories right. I’ll fine tune that along the way. It’s just the early framework for the exploration of what’s really possible in this new life. And isn’t it always possible to make life feel new again? There’s incredible power in reshaping, reframing, redirecting.

Along those lines, I’m also going to explore the following — and growing list of — boundaries:

  • Avoid news in the car.
  • Avoid social media after 7 p.m.

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