The conundrum of the eat-pray-lovers

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Staring at posters

There are people here who pray as they eat. Palms upturned beatifically, and beaming orgasmically with every bite. These people aren’t Balinese but a different breed of Ubudian — the spiritual seekers, here to find themselves in what has become a magnet for the esoteric.

You see these people in the bounty of health food restaurants that scatter the town — Alchemy, Kafe, Clear — poised crossed legged before their superfood-laden plate. Perhaps there’s a crystal around their neck, a yoga mat beside them, and The Power of Now in hand.

I find it hard not to scoff.

And yet, in many ways, I am one of these people. I don’t pray before my food, but I practice yoga, I read the spiritual books, I go to myriad workshops and I adore the healthy cuisine. I even own a crystal, but mostly because I think it’s pretty.

So why the urge to scoff? Perhaps it comes back to my culture and an inherent British disdain for overt spirituality — something that is much more the domain of the USA. In England, we’re prone to embarrassment at displays of the inner path.

Culture can not be the sole culprit as there are plenty of British cultural norms I don’t adhere to. Ultimately, the ones that stick are the elements that have, for whatever reason, shaped and placed a puzzle piece in my worldview. If that puzzle piece jars, it’s up to me to work out why, and ultimately accept or try to fix it.

Notice board in Ubud, bali

When it comes to this urge to scoff, I know in my heart that I see nothing wrong, embarrassing or laughable about giving thanks for food. In fact, I find far more problem with the opposite — not giving a second thought to where our meals come from and the journey they took to our plate. I try my best to eat responsibly and, when I remember, I take a moment before each meal to quietly thank the universe for that gift. It’s a practical, and I find helpful, exercise in gratitude.

And yet, when I see someone do that overtly, it causes sharp accusations of inauthenticity to rise within me. I somehow think they are doing it ‘for show’ or are lost in the New Age. It strikes a chord of discomfort that I haven’t yet understood. Rather than see the act of thanks in itself, I spin a story of who that person may be, laden with stereotypes and unfair extrapolations from my own experience. It’s little to do with the other person and much to do with how I see myself — or rather, how I don’t.

The lure to judge

I’m here in Ubud on a journey to better know myself and what I want to do in life. When I see someone do something that challenges me, my general reaction is to wonder why they are doing that, how they believe it, and to ultimately question whether or not that behaviour or activity would be right for me. Oftentimes that is complicated by my preconceived notions of the ‘why’, which leads to that ugly urge to scoff.

It both fascinates and repels me when people appear to have found their way. I feel both a longing for, and a deep scepticism for what they have. My heart and mind are open but neither is easily satisfied. I know that, just as different food choices suit different bodies, different ways of living suit different hearts and minds so I’m not looking for a definitive answer. But I am looking for my answer in the here and now.

Noticeboard and motorbike in Ubud

Ubud is full of people and things that challenge me. The praying is simply a detail. In this town, ‘energy’ is the buzzword, and every notice board is filled with promises of secrets to a better life — from ecstatic dancing to crystal bed healing and craniosacral therapy. Look into any of these ideas on Google, and you’ll find people who swear by it and people who tear it to pieces. My mind swims with options and ideas, and there’s a temptation to err on the side of scepticism and simply eschew it all.

An experiment

To scoff is the easy option — a reaction based on fear that keeps everything packaged neatly into right and wrong. Even if something isn’t right for me, there is rarely the need to belittle another’s path (unless it’s harmful). That judgement is made even worse when deriding something you’ve never tried yourself, or at least attempted to understand.

So rather than sit and scoff, or not scoff and say it’s not right for me, I’m going to try these things. I’ll go to workshops that have titles that make me grimace, I’ll dance, I’ll sing and I’ll try therapies that challenge me. ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’ will be my mantra, and I’ll report back on my experiences on the blog. Perhaps I’ll find things I love, perhaps I’ll hate it all, but by exploring, I will hopefully come out on the other side with a better idea of who I am. Either way, I will always resist the scoff.

What do you think? Is this something you struggle with? Are you one of the people who pray? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

25 thoughts on “The conundrum of the eat-pray-lovers”

  1. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I too find myself skeptical of these overt displays, and this was especially true when we were in Ubud ourselves. I don’t even know how many times I murmured some sarcastic remark to Dan or called people out for just being ‘Eat Pray Love wannabes’. Of course I know I am far too judgmental. I think your experiment is a wonderful idea, and a great call to action for others. Look forward to reading more.

    • I think the biggest danger is tarring everyone with the same brush. There will be some people who are coming from a ‘Look at me’ angle but there are also people coming from a ‘I genuinely want to be a better person’ angle. It’s hard to know which one’s ruling so I’m trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Easier said than done, of course!

  2. I agree with Naomi – can definitely see elements of Pai culture in this – and it’s similar up in McLeod Ganj in India, too 🙂 but I love the idea of challenging yourself to take part in all those things that make you cringe slightly. It’ll certainly improve your acceptance of those things!

  3. LOVE this idea. Props to you for choosing to push your boundaries – that takes strength!

    Can’t wait to see what you write about. And to get to Ubud for myself!!

    (still think this all seems verrrrry much like Pai 😉

    • When my friend came to visit, I think every second sentence from his mouth was: “This reminds me of Pai”. Such a shame we won’t be crossing paths.

  4. Well, you’ll have no shortage of new things to try! I can totally relate and what is it in us that feels the need to find fault? That is a worthwhile inquiry. Can’t wait to hear about your experiences!

  5. Hey Victoria!

    Great post. I am so jealous that you are in Bali!! I love it there. You should try to visit Lembongan & Gili Meno too.

    Being British myself I know exactly what you mean about scoffing. Travelling really changed that for me.

    Ubud has a twin in England too: Glastonbury. We were in the town last month before the festival and I have never seen so many crystal shops. It was a refreshing change from the identikit high streets that you normally see.

    Take care
    Paul

  6. I had a similar experience my first two months in Ubud – A conundrum of being too much of a hippie for square town (my old corporate attorney life) and too much of a square for hippie town. It is true that it is hard not to judge, particularly with things that I don’t understand. I too have tried meditation, sound healing, and more, at least so that I have the experience myself. I don’t think I came here to “find myself.” I am pretty comfortable with who I am and the life I have chosen. I am here to practice yoga, get healthy, and learn. I am curious to hear about your experiences after you finish your stay in Ubud.

  7. I’m so glad that I’m not the only one out there having these thoughts. I am VERY British in the sense that nothing should be too overt and yet I, like you, have become awakened to spirituality over the last couple of years and now seek to find new things that challenge and change me.

    I think having the right amount of scepticism but forging ahead for yourself is the best way to do it. As you say, go ahead and try these new things you have already ‘scorned’ because you never know how you’ll feel or react to it. After all, life starts at the end of your comfort zone right?! 🙂

    • Nice to hear from you Toni. You’re definitely not alone! I’ve spoken to lots of people who feel the same. In fact, I went to a very challenging workshop today (more on that later) and half the participants were as nervous as me. I love that quote. I think it hold a lot of truth.

  8. 🙂 I’ve been on the path to spirituality for a long time thanks to my mom. Yet while in theory I understand the concepts being taught, I have rarely ‘experienced’ the levitation, or Shiva awakening inside of me, or the 100s of other experiences everyone else seems to go through. I don’t get visions, I don’t see things…nada. But perhaps the change is evident in my daily routine. I don’t know. That hasn’t made me a skeptic necessarily. I just know that there is something to be said for the practice of yoga, meditation, and the divine and I’m eager to discover it. That is my journey so far. Judgement is so easy…I have to consciously tell myself to walk away from judgement without feeling. It’s tough! But feels lighter…better than being negative and ridiculing others.. It just serves as a gossip topic when with friends and I have to consciously stop that.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It’s great to hear from people with similar thoughts. The gossipping is a tricky one. It can be so tempting but ultimately makes me feel rubbish. My main aim, currently is mindfulness. That much, I can 100% see the benefit of. It’s the more esoteric stuff that challenges me, but I’m enjoying the exploration!

  9. I couldn’t help but scoff at this post 😉

    Seriously though, scoffers gonna scoff. When in high school I was anxious about what classmates would think about my writing, my English teacher said, “Who cares what other people think? They’re gonna grow up, have fat wives, and be accountants.” You’re finding your own way, that’s what matters.

    Similarly (and this was hard for me to realize), who cares what I think, whether I praise or scoff. Why should they? Other people’s way is theirs to walk, mine is mine. There’s room for everyone. Even scoffers.

    I’m thinking of founding heavy metal tai chi. Anyone interested?

    • Heavy metal tai chi – I’d have to try that one! You’re right, there may be room for scoffers, but I’d really like not to be one of them!

  10. It is difficult not to scoff. I too struggle with this tendency constantly, in general. As far as praying is concerned, I don’t, but I practise responsible eating like u said. Respecting the food on the plate is what counts for me.
    What u say is sound–that you will try those theories urself and then judge. But I am afraid that’ll be highly subjective. Sometimes it’s just blind faith n in that case scoffing is misdirected. It’s like scoffing at an illiterate person who believes that the sun is a god. The only case which deserves contempt is insincerity n show off which equal to ppl making a spectacle of doing charity coz they wanna look good and now i think i have deviated from the topic.

    • You’re right, my view will certainly be subjective. I’ve found, as time goes on with the series, that I am only judging things in terms of whether or not they are right for me, rather than whether or not they are right for everyone else.
      I agree wholeheartedly that scoffing at blind faith is certainly misdirected. It’s something I tend to look upon with envy rather than contempt (also not particularly useful).
      When I started this series, I wasn’t sure where it would take me, but as it progresses, I’m starting to notice patterns and threads, and it’s developing into a whole theory on therapies. I’ll be sharing more on that soon. One thing is for sure though, I don’t think, even in cases of insincerity, that scoffing is a useful response.
      Thanks for your comments Nishi, and always feel free to deviate from the topic!

  11. this is great! such a fantastic article! I couldn’t agree more! I tend to think im rather open minded but yet even I find myself soffing things. Now after reading this I think, i should be ashamed! Great artilce of self truths… can’t wait to read more on this new things you try – maybe you should try openly praying for food for a week

    • Thanks Rebecca. So pleased you enjoyed it. That’s a good idea to try openly praying for a week. I’ll be back in London for a bit soon — it’d be particularly challenging to try it there!

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  13. wow.. I absolutely understand where you’re coming from with this post. In spite of myself, I, too, find myself judgemental in those types of situations and I think trying it yourself and looking inward is a fantastic way to find out just what these practices are all about. I do think I believe more of the “everything in moderation” motto but hey, if something works for someone, go for it!

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