I’m a latecomer to the Eat, Pray, Love party. I bought the book five or six years ago, but didn’t connect with it at the time, so it sat on my shelf (or, more recently, in a box in a storage facility), unread. This is not unusual for me; I’ve often bought books and not read them until later—sometime years later. I’ve come to believe that I read books when it’s the right time for me to read them, and this was certainly the case with Eat, Pray, Love.
Anyway, I began following Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook a few months ago, while I was in my limbo period at my mom’s, waiting for the house in NC to become available. I think someone re-posted a quote/status update of hers that I liked one day, and when I realized she had a page, I thought, “Why not?”
As I read more of her posts, I decided that I rather liked Liz, and suddenly I very much wanted to read her book, so I resolved to do so when I finally got to the new house. Once I’d unearthed it from the mountain of book boxes, I read a bit at a time, which allowed me to mull over things that Liz or ‘Richard from Texas’ or some other person in the book said that struck me. Several times, I found myself wanting to post whole passages from the book here on pathwriter, but kept thinking, maybe later.
Then I read Chapter 69. The tears welled, and a lump rose in my throat, and I knew this was the passage I had to post.
At this point in the book, Liz is at the end of a four-month stay in an ashram in India. Her time there has brought inner changes that the more seasoned ashram residents warn her will only truly be revealed once she is back in the “real” world. (I’ll bet. A measly 10-day retreat shifted things for me; I can only imagine what four months would do.) Which brings us to the passage:
By the way, I found my word.
I found it in the library, of course, bookworm that I am. I’d been wondering about my word ever since that afternoon back in Rome when my Italian friend had told me that Rome’s word is SEX, and had asked what mine was. I didn’t know the answer then, but kind of figured my word would show up eventually, and that I’d recognize it when I saw it.
So I saw it during my last week at the Ashram. I was reading through an old text about Yoga, when I found a description of ancient spiritual seekers. A Sanskrit word appeared in the paragraph: 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. He was a border-dweller. He lived in sight of both worlds, but he looked toward the unknown. And he was a scholar.
When I read this description of the antevasin, I got so excited I gave a little bark of recognition. That’s my word, baby! In the modern age, of course, that image of an unexplored forest would have to be figurative, and the border would have to be figurative, too. But you can still live there. You can still live on that shimmering line between your old thinking and your new understanding, always in a state of learning. In the figurative sense, this is a border that is always moving—as you advance forward in your studies and realizations, that mysterious forest of the unknown always stays a few a feet ahead of you, so you have to travel light in order to keep following it. You have to stay mobile, movable, supple. Slippery, even. Which is funny, because just the day before, my friend, the poet/plumber from New Zealand had left the Ashram, and on his way out the door, he’d handed me a friendly little good-bye poem about my journey. I remembered this verse:
Elizabeth, betwixt and between
Italian phrases and Bali dreams
Elizabeth, between and betwixt
Sometimes as slippery as a fish
I’ve spent so much time these last years wondering what I’m supposed to be. A wife? A mother? A lover? A celibate? An Italian? A glutton? A traveler? An artist? A Yogi? But I’m not any of these things, at least not completely. And I’m not Crazy Aunt Liz, either. I’m just a slippery antevasin—betwixt and between—a student on the ever-shifting border near the wonderful, scary forest of the new.
As I read the description of antevasin, I had the same reaction as Liz: That’s me! That’s my word!
I, too, have lived my life poised on the fringe, never really being on the outside, but never really fitting in. Even when I appeared to others to be a part of a group, I always felt somehow not...as in, not whatever-it-was-that-I-was-expected-to-be. It’s only now, in hindsight, that I see that this sense of being a “border-dweller” has been with me all along.
I’m not sure what to do with this realization yet. I guess it makes me feel a little less crazy for feeling, well…a little crazy at times. I’ve felt the pull towards the unknown that Liz talks about—a pull that I consistently fail to be able to explain or articulate, even to myself. I’ve experienced the border moving just out of reach, again and again…especially the last two or three years. I, too, have spent a lot of time these last few years wondering what I’m supposed to be. And I’ve wondered if I’ll ever really feel settled or at home. With the discovery of antevasin, the border has shifted yet again, but this time, it seems I am tasked not with figuring out how and where I fit in, but instead with coming to terms with the fact that I don’t—and that maybe I’m not supposed to.