Following the divorce she decided she wanted to experience a culture that values taking pleasure in life. Because she wants to learn Italian, for no other reason other than the sound of it being spoken is music to her ears, her first stop is Rome. She spends 4 months in Italy, most of it in Rome, relishing in all the beauty that it has to offer through art, language, people and mostly food. To this, I can relate.
So many moments while reading this book remind me of why I loved Paris as much as I did. Europeans seem to understand that one path to G*d is to relish in all that is enjoyable of the physical world. It's in the architecture. It's in the art. It's in the music, the food, the language, the people. I've come to understand now that the reason these things are so moving is because the creation of these things has come directly from G*d through the people creating them. The artists, musicians, chefs, and architects find inspiration and then create beauty doing something they love and, as a by-product, foster a society capable of appreciating it. There is a certain "wholeness" to the experience that fills you up and satiates at every level.
We all have (or should have) those special moments in our life when all is right and good with-in and with-out and the beauty of a place or experience brings you that moment of peace and joy that can not be described as anything other than holy. For me, one of these moments occurred on our honeymoon, feeling totally in love with my new husband and exploring a new place together. One late afternoon in May while exploring Yosemite National Park we drove the Tioga Pass. At the time, I did not have the experience or words to adequately capture that experience. The quiet of the long, uninhabited road winding through the
mountains panoramic view after exquisite panoramic view of snow capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, and waterfalls. The sun setting gave everything a changing palette of colors; reds, oranges, blues, purples as day settled into dusk. It was Magestic. It was Him. It was a glimpse at how gloriously this world was created and all that beauty was given to me to reflect back at me all the peace and beauty I was feeling inside being a happy newlywed. I was given that moment at a time when I could most appreciate it, and therein lies the wisdom of All-That-Is.
The same internal feeling of peace was within me when I was in Paris. Now I know, nothing could be more different from mountain tops and rolling vistas than churches and old buildings but the beauty was of the same caliber. The only difference was that man was the artist instead of nature, but clearly G*d was working here too. This time the art came through man's hands instead of his own. The awe it inspired, for me, was much the same. The humans that create these works of art from the paintings to the architecture of the Louvre, to the caramel mille fuille (which while eating it can only be described as a transcendent experience) are able to do this because when in the act of creating the artists are free of their own "stuff." The insufferable mind chatter, the emotional turmoil, and the social trivialness of everyday life. When all that stuff is momentarily silenced and we do whatever it is that makes us able to turn all the noise off, that is when we know we are doing divine work. When we are answering our calling. That is when beauty comes through in what is created and it is perceived as such when received by others.
If Europeans understand and appreciate the value of pleasure and joy, what does that mean for our immature culture? Where capitalism is the name of the game and nothing is as important as the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Joy is stripped from the equation. For example, someone finds a plant in some remote forest that cures an ailment. Instead of finding a way to grow the plant to serve the needs of people in a way that honors the environment, the people it is to help, and the plant in its Wholeness as given, containing both the active chemicals and the intangible Is-ness of its being, our culture values stripping it down to its chemical components. We determine which component is the most active on the worst symptom of the ailment and then mass produce it in a laboratory with the ultimate endgame of making money, usually polluting or raping the environment at some or multiple points in the process. The intent is not pure. It is not in truly in service to others, and therefore not in service to G*d or ourselves. Much of this work is done by overworked, underpaid employees who do not bring joy and love to their work but by people who just need to keep running in the hamster wheel in service of the all mighty dollar, and usually most of that dollar is going to someone else. And this happens not just in medicine, but in the food industry as well if we consider the industrial fractionation of mass produced, chemical ridden, genetically modified corn and soy. Food isn't presented in Wholeness in our society, created with love from Fruits of the Earth. It is largely mass produced for the ultimate goal of the financial gain of few. Sure the research as been done to know exactly which nutrients our bodies should use to operate on a mechanical level and then we think we feed ourselves well with "isolated soy protein" shakes and bars. With beakless chickens fed corn waste product wallowing in their own feces and never seeing daylight. All generously laden with a dose of high fructose corn syrup, of course. We've removed the beauty. We've removed nature and that which can be created from nature. We've removed the pleasure at every step on the path. We've removed joy. We've also removed that which feeds our life force and explains why we have a society of malnourished, yet obese, people suffering all manner of disease. It's all so very utilitarian here where very little is done purely for the beauty and love and pleasure of doing or experiencing and with the goal of being of service to others as well as our own spirit.
Because, I have to say when sitting in a park in Paris, in front of a fountain, surrounded by old stone buildings adorn with statues, terraces dripping with flowers of every color, eating the best tasting, freshest food, and basking in the sunshine under the blue sky (with the love of my life of course), I felt every bit as close to G*d as I did on that mountain top. The beauty of both places was enough to move me to tears. Of Joy.
Next: Part 2 India- The Pursuit of Divinity