Elizabeth Gilbert and My Journey to God
It is my contention that we cannot flourish as a human being without being on a spiritual pilgrimage. The question then becomes, how do I enter into that pilgrimage? This beautiful essay from Muslim artist Sophia Khan provides wisdom for the road.
It has been said that there are as many paths to God as there are breaths in this world. Living in a world where I am exposed to many different ideas around religion and spirituality has provided a beautiful backdrop for my own explorations into deepening my connection with God, and for my search for meaning. Such inspiration can sometimes come from sources where we do not expect to, or are not necessarily seeking to, find them. As it turned out, one of my most profound experience around my faith, came about from the writings of Elizabeth Gilbert.
There is a part of Gilbert’s journey in Eat Pray Love that doesn’t get spoken about much, if at all. However, it is the very moment when the start of Gilbert’s miraculous journey across three countries and to her self begins. It takes place, quite simply, on her bathroom floor. It is the scene near the beginning of the memoir, where Gilbert kneels as she cries and prays to God for an answer to what she should do regarding all the turmoil and confusion around her life and marriage at the time.
The answer she receives, is a simple, Go back to bed, Liz. There is much beauty to the simplicity of that answer, which my story will circle around to.
One of the things that I loved most about Eat Pray Love, is that it shows us that through surviving deep turmoil and loss, one often emerges more enriched, reaching a state of abundance and fulfillment that could never be predicted from the beginning of the journey it took to get there. It’s a message that gave me hope, when I was in the midst of confusion, chaos, and hurt.
But it isn’t enough to just have suffered in life. We all do at some point. And it isn’t enough even to simply want more fulfillment and happiness in one’s life. Gilbert’s story attests that contentment is very closely aligned with how one goes about seeking it. And to me, that beginning scene of Gilbert on her bathroom floor seemed to point directly to how one can tap into achieving that. There was something wonderfully profound, authentic, and life altering in that moment of connection between her and God, that I felt went beyond what was written, and that I desperately yearned to know more about.
At the time, I was not necessarily in the same predicament in life as Gilbert. I was simply trying to connect with God on a deeper, more personal level, and trying to find answers during trying times. I was also trying to know God better. I had been raised with an Islamic upbringing, and was taught to pray and ask of God regularly, but somehow Gilbert was able to achieve something the very first time she prayed that I felt I had not been able to achieve all throughout my life.
What was the magic formula, I wondered, in how she asked of God, that if I could mimic, I too might begin a journey that promised the inner and outer treasures that Gilbert was able to find? How could I, maybe try and pray to God the way that she did, to ask of God the way that she did, so that my journey too could be one filled with beautiful encounters, awakenings, and miracles, that all lead to a place more genuine, expansive, and enriching than where I was at the time?
I thought about meeting Gilbert at one of her book readings and asking her to share more about that moment which she described so beautifully in her memoir. I had even attended her book reading in DC, but somehow asking something so very personal and esoteric seemed out of place in a crowded room, even if it were face to face.
I also thought about writing to Gilbert. But I wondered what the right way would be to ask something that could potentially be so life transforming for me. I would have to offer something in return, wouldn’t I? Perhaps I’ll make a painting for her to go along with my letter. Or a poem. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of not receiving an answer, even though that was possible. I just couldn’t find the right way to frame my question. However, inside of me, I somehow knew that I would find an answer. I just wasn’t sure where to look.
Several months after this quest began, I began to develop an interest in meditation. I related to Gilbert’s initial difficulties with a particular spiritual exercise involving chanting hymns, which she practiced during her time in India. She alleviated it by focusing her mind on something specific which would symbolize the concept of love-her nephew Nick whose light was fraught with much difficulty.
I myself found that my mind rested better, when it in fact had something to be at rest with, and so I began to meditate using visualization techniques. One day I decided to try a new visualization where I was guided to tap into my inner wisdom by meeting my future self. I was lead through the meditation to visualize this person, how they look and where they live, and was guided towards having a conversation with them.
With eyes closed in my studio chair, and with an eagerness calmed by the sense of tranquility I felt in the presence of this future self, I began. I asked about the things that currently ailed me, how my life was fraught with much confusion at the moment, and how I needed a sign that things would soon be better and fall into place. I carried gratitude for the present as well, as I understood the importance of asking from a place of thankfulness rather than a place of lack.
The answer slowly morphed into being. I asked my future self what is it that I needed and I first heard, Trust that I am worthy. Then, Trust that it will happen. And finally, the answer that was so simple, yet had been elusive for so long, Trust that God loves me.
One day this came full circle, and I realized that this was that one magic ingredient in Gilbert’s prayer that I had been seeking. She trusted and acted upon what she received, however simple the guidance was. The answer that came, when she asked of God, wasn’t to go to Italy, India, and Indonesia. It was simply to go back to bed. Because at that moment, at that time in her life, that is what she needed. With this awakening, I too, like Gilbert, began to trust that things happen in life at the time that we are ready for them and in the manner that is best for us. And sometimes that means a small step is the best step we can take for ourselves.
I realized that if I simply trust the nature of what I ask for; if I trust there is an answer and that I am capable of receiving it, then the relationship between myself and God can be the rewarding, nurturing, and uplifting one that it is meant to, for my life’s journey. That is actually the biggest motivation one can find for positive thinking, because if we are not in a state of being content and hopeful, we are simply not able to see or embrace anything wonderfully miraculous that would want to come our way. For someone who had spent a great deal of time being pessimistic, this moved a mountain within me. It was through grasping this that the decisions I made in life began to come with much more ease, and intuition became my friend rather than a strange nuisance. I embraced all of my experiences be they good or bad, and honored each of them for what they gifted me. I simply became more aware of what my experiences gifted me. Trust became the cornerstone of my outlook on life, and my relationship with God.
I realized that the essence of belief, and of manifesting beautiful change in life, was to simply trust in it. For me, that meant having faith in God; that there was a being above and beyond who was creating abundance in my life, so long as I too did my part. The key is to do each step with belief, hope, optimism, and an unshakable sense of trust in the divine and in the journey that he blesses us with.
Sophia Khan is a Designer and Artist, who has taught and practiced Architecture and Historic Preservation. Her paintings are inspired by everyday beauty, her travels, and the Architecture of Italy and the Islamic world.