Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love - The Complexities of the Heart

So I'm normally not one for Hollywood movies, but the other night my mom, my friend, and myself went to watch Eat, Pray, Love after a light mexican meal and several margaritas. It was a regular ol' Girls' Night Out. I really enjoyed the book, so even though the movie stars one of my least-favorite actresses, I decided to go.

Yes, the movie was cheesy and overwrought, with Miss Julia finding beautiful, perfectly furnished quarters to stay in in picturesque towns crawling with cute orphans, crotchety but wise grandmothers, dashing Italians, monkeys, and cows. Yes, she learns perfect Italian in a matter of months, finds a beautiful best friend almost immediately,  and, even though she jokes about gaining weight in Italy, it's clear she never actually does. Yes, she ends up finding, finally, a man who can love her for herself and - literally - motors away into the sunset with him on a boat,  to some small picturesque island off of Bali. OK. I can suspend my disbelief for this one movie, because besides the normal Hollywood claptrap, there were some genuinely touching things about the film that have stayed with me.

In one of the first scenes, she's talking with a Balinesian medicine man and he gives her a picture of a figure with four legs and eyes in its chest. The four legs, he explains, remind us to stay grounded and balanced. The eyes in the chest remind us not to think from our heads, but from our hearts. Even in the moment, in the theater, during the scene, I found this last part to be eye-opening. As soon as he said that, I shifted my consciousness to my chest, and it was like some screen had been pulled from my eyes. The next morning, I spent most of my meditation with my consciousness in my heart, and even though there's a situation in my life that I've almost literally been ruminating about for two years, my heart was steady and solid and loving, and the ins and outs, rights and wrongs of that situation weren't important. I've recently been haunted by an image of my own heart, seeing it as scarred and twisted as the back of an old boat-propellor-torn Manatee from a Florida swamp. I can see it, clear as day. But when I actually went to my heart and saw the world from it, my heart was whole, clean, strong, and juicy. Nothing had damaged it. The world seemed exactly as it was, and I only felt a calm goodwill towards myself and everything else. Try it. Right now. Even if you don't believe me.

In another scene, the lone American in the ashram, a gruff Texan with a dark past, tells our heroine, when she misses her boyfriend, to send him light and love and to let it go. As someone who clings incessantly to people, places, and memories, this seemed a particularly empathetic and kind way to deal with the kind of pain that comes from missing something we have known that is now gone. When we send light and love, we acknowledge the importance of a memory, person, or feeling without needing to go to it. Far from just distracting ourselves from the pain of the missing, we go into it, acknowledge it, and use its energy to send out light - an act which not only helps us, but helps the whole world (at least that's what I believe.) I have used this technique before, and even written about it, but sometimes I forget to use it, and this scene reminded me.

The Texan also tells Liz that if she could just get these men out of her head, and all the guilt and recrimination about them,  that the Universe would rush in and would fill her with love. (At this point, my mom leaned over to me and said "Oh, that's just crap!") But that touched me, too. I loved the image of the vacuum created by letting go of all of this complicated stuff in our minds being filled with a radiant, Universal light.

In the movie, Liz leaves a troubled relationship to travel the world for a year. Before she makes the decision to go on her trip, yet knows she's profoundly unhappy in her relationship, her boyfriend holds her to him and says, essentially, "Let's accept what we have here, let's build a future together and accept that we are miserable but that we're happy to not be apart." This sounds ridiculous on the face of it, I know, but in the world of the heart, it makes a kind of sense and I've been in that situation more often than I'd like to admit. I have not seen this kind of situation reflected in any movie or acknowledged as tenderly. I've always thought there was something broken in me that I've considered making this deal in my own life. I teared up at the reflection of these two peoples' pain in a situation that worked for neither of them, but where their love of each other - and dependence on each other and the dreams they held for the relationship - keeps them tied to one another even when they might be happier with someone else. Later in the movie, after spending time at the ashram, Liz writes him an e-mail telling him that they both deserve better than they had when they were together. Again, I was moved by the portrayal of the pain that these decisions - even when they're right, and all parties know it - can cause. Even - maybe even especially - a right decision can be heart-wrenching and sad. I know it, and can relate to the difficulty in walking away, and the sadness of being without a person you love, even knowing you weren't right together.  I thought this situation in the movie was handled in a sweet, profound way that I don't often see. Most often, we're told to "just get over it", with no acknowledgment about how complicated the heart is.

I have no naivete about Hollywood or moviemakers or what's important to them. I don' t believe there's any film company in all of L.A. that wants the best for us. But somehow, in the case of this movie, some true things came through the glitz and the gloss, things I'm still thinking about and digesting several days later.

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