Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I used to read compulsively. I'd have a stack of textbooks and stack of "fun" books, and as I studied quantum mechanics or glycolysis, I'd take frequent study breaks to read my "fun" books - books on Christianity, on yoga anatomy, on yoga philosophy, novels, myths, Asian American studies, biographies...you name it. I realized this was a way of distracting myself, in a way - of escaping and making the present moment (studying things I don't really like) more bearable. I thought this was superior to using food, computer games, shopping, or TV to distract myself. Sure, it sounds a bit more scholarly or intellectual to be escaping into books, but isn't it a distraction all the same? It is a way of avoiding the present moment, and keeping from acknowledging what I am really experiencing.

What makes books like "Eat, Pray, Love" so successful? It's a great adventure story - one can easily live vicariously through Elizabeth Gilbert as she hops from one continent to the next on her own journey. It's a great way to avoid journeys of our own, both the joys and hardships of finding our own paths. It is safe and easy to read a book like that, whereas truly setting off on an adventure or questioning whether we are living honestly can be unsettling and difficult and depressing (at times).

I realized that escapism, or borrowing and imitating others, are no longer options for me. The word "vipassanā" (a word in Pali, the language of the Buddha) means to see things as they really are, insight into the nature of reality. To truly practice meditation means to not use meditation or yoga as "drugs," forms of dulling the senses and escaping from reality into an unreal "happy place."

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