I am obsessed with literature. Beautiful words from Zora Neale Hurston, Pearl Cleage and other gifted scribes cause the weeping, but relatable experiences are responsible for the hurt. For the last month, I’ve cried as I’ve read writer and editor Elizabeth Gilbert’s spiritual memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. Most audiences are familiar with the film, which stars Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem; but after being mesmerized by their performances, I decided to read the experience from Gilbert’s perspective.
Eat, Pray, Love is an amazing recollection of her pilgrimage through Italy, India and Indonesia. After a bitter divorce, Gilbert sells the idea for the book to a publisher and begins searching for balance on foreign soils. She finds pleasure in Italy; connects with God in an Indian Ashram; and learns the art of equilibrium when she finds her king in Bali. Gilbert’s adventures are enlightening and full of lessons that resonate long after the last page is turned.
While meditating at the Ashram, Gilbert finds an ancient Sanskrit term that surmises her life: antevasin. “It means ‘one who lives at the border.’ In ancient times this was a literal description. It indicated a person who had left the bustling center of worldly life to go live at the edge of the forest where the spiritual masters dwelled. The antevasin was not one of the villagers anymore – not a householder with a conventional life. But neither was he yet a transcendent – not one of those sages who live deep in the unexplored woods, fully realized. The antevasin was an in-betweener. He was a border-dweller. He lived in sight of both worlds, but looked toward the unknown. And he was a scholar.” (Gilbert, 2007, p. 204)
Gilbert’s acceptance of antevasin as a descriptor for her life’s experiences immediately struck me. I read and reread this passage, hoping that its impact would diminish. It didn’t. I have existed for 23 years as an antevasin. From fashion to journalism to academia to weight loss to spiritual growth, I have never fully immersed into a world, religion or trade as Gilbert did on her voyage. I’ve always learned as much about a subject as possible without succumbing to it. I’ve always lived on the border as an in-betweener.
Right now that is manifesting in scholarship, but it’s always appearing somewhere. After losing 30 pounds and embracing a Weight Watchers lifestyle, I’ll slowly begin stopping for a McDouble on the way home from class and that will lead to a frosty from Wendy’s. I’ll report on fashion week, meet and connect with industry insiders and then decide that I’d much rather cover politics and gender inequalities than the latest Vera Wang collection.
This consistent indecisiveness has led to a struggle to develop a career trajectory. I imagine that I will have several professional rebirths because it is impossible for me to focus and master a specific trade. Reading Eat, Pray, Love has done little to quell the fear that I will evolve into Denise Huxtable. However, it has reminded me that an antevasin existence is freeing.
I have no fear of moving to Minnesota for three months or considering Ph.D. programs in Australia. I make decisions without consideration of consequences; though this is substantially risky, somewhere in my subconscious I know that fear can’t exist without my permission. I close the door on phobias. Being an antevasin means that it will always be difficult for me to develop research interests or commit to fashion reporting or diet for longer than three months, but at least I’m not alone.
Thanks for the solace Elizabeth Gilbert.