Pleasure, Happiness, and Travel

Jan 25, 2010

Galicia, Spain

“….Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.Ours is an entertainment seeking-nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one….This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype- the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax…But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to…nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favorite fountain? And then to do it again the next day?”

The above quote is from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love, which got me through the second half of my travels.  In her deeply emotional and personal writing, Gilbert made a lot of statements that I identified with and a few of which I shared above. I do very fervently believe that “Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure.”  Despite my embarking on a month of travel “for pleasure,” I admit that at times it was hard to completely forget my responsibilities and wonder exactly what I was going to do when I got home.  I can’t think of anything worse than lying on one of the world’s most beuatiful beaches in Costa Rica when “the worries” start to set in, and suddenly I can’t appreciate my current pleasures because my mind feels so dependent on having every future detailed in my life figured out.

And then I realized that maybe it didn’t have to be that way.

We didn’t know where we were sleeping that night, and I was freezing cold, but I was also in Germany, with two of my best friends and a steaming cup of hot chocolate.  How could I not choose to be happy?

My two main pleasure reading books for my trip were Eat, Pray, Love and The Power of Now.  I couldn’t have chosen more appropriate books

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” -Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

“Be present as the watcher of your mind — of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react. Notice also how often your attention is in the past or future. Don’t judge or analyze what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don’t make a personal problem out of them. You will then feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still, observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the silent watcher.“  -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Elizabeth Gilbert and Eckhart Tolle have their fair share of critics.  A NPR feature reported a man who considered Eat, Pray, Love “chick-lit crap,” which I could understand because Gilbert is very forthright (and hormonal) with her emotions in her writing, which could drive a man insane.  My friend who began reading The Power of Now after I had finished it couldn’t get past the first chapter because his theories and observations were “too out there,” which I could understand.  Some of Tolle’s points seemed a little hokey to me too.  At the same time, both authors had their good points.  I think Tolle is absolutely right that too many people aren’t really alive in the sense that they are too caught up in the past or future, and are thus unable to live in the now.  I am more than guilty of that.  Gilbert has a similar revelation when she is studying yoga and meditation in India, and at one point makes the declaration that happiness is earned and requires work to maintain.

Perhaps I am speaking to a minority, and I am one of few who has this problem of living in the past and future, and not realizing that one needs to work to find happiness.  If you’ve already figured all of that out, congratulations, and keep it up.  If you haven’t, then I hope that these points are as enlightening to you as they were to me when I first realized them.

Namaste.

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