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The search for meaning begins at home


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertAs the end of the year approaches, thousands of Australians will embark on exchange programs, gap years, working holidays and overseas pilgrimages. In the chaos of a globalised world, we hope 'going away' will grant fulfillment and purpose. We scatter ourselves, searching for extra-ordinary moments.

But 'home', perhaps, offers different treasure: an experience of the self, embodied in community.

In the film and novel Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert travels to the ends of the earth to find herself. Her home town fails her, drains her of life, and Gilbert seeks renewal through escape. She travels to Rome and gorges herself with pizza and wine. Gilbert's purpose is locked away in far-off lands.

As a society, we dream of the romanticised escape. A workmate tells me of her plans to move to England indefinitely. There, she tells me, things will fall into place. There are more jobs over there, more opportunities, more of a chance to discover who she is and what she is to do with her life. 'Things aren't good over here,' she tells me, referring to relationship problems and job difficulties.

I am constantly presented with tales of adventure, various means of escaping the quandaries of the world. Yet talking to my globalised workmates makes me wonder whether 'escape' is the best solution. Italian pizza and Indian ashrams add threads of colour to life's routine, but with these as our focus we can ignore the depth of the local experience.

Just as communities cannot exist without people who are grounded in the local life of the region, we need our communities for solidity of self.

Home need not be the site of failed dreams, as suggested in Eat Pray Love. I look to my grandparents, whose identities were formed and flourished in the same community. Their values were nurtured by the elders. Grandparents ground us. As we grow , our grandparents and elders offer wisdom that no overseas pilgrimage will provide: local wisdom.

The workforce today demands flexibility and adaptability. Yet amid the inevitability of external change, local communities offer us strength and consistency of values. 

The local experience is core to the spirituality of many Indigenous Australians. I recently spent time in Nganmarriyanga, a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory, where I was greeted by a child. 'This is the country of my mother,' she told me.

Central to the community was pride for the land that bore the footsteps of their ancestors. Solutions to community issues were sought, not elsewhere, but within the mystery of the land and the wisdom of the elders.

Miriam Rose Ungenmerr speaks of Dadirri, an inner, still awareness that draws us closer into our present place of being. 'Our Aboriginal way has taught us to be still and wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course — like the seasons.'

Life need not be a monotonous and narrow-minded pursuit. There is no need to hijack our overseas dreams and invest our energy into roast dinners and bread-and-butter custards. But our homes, our communities and our experience of the local is an alternative we forget.

The ordinary has a certain stigma attached, which is manifested in films such as Eat Pray Love. Travel has its place. Eat Pray Love reveals the beauty of Roman cafes and Balinese retreats, places of colour, life and wisdom. But the essence of our identities can be found locally, in the land of our upbringing.

Ashleigh GreenAshleigh Green is a media and communications student at the University of Sydney who is passionate about the ethical issues surrounding new media. 

Topic tags: Ashleigh Green, Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, travel, Nganmarriyanga



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Existing comments

I suspect that if we dont know ourselves before we set off to different climes then we dont have much hope of finding our essence in a foreign place Getting to know the self begins at birth with the first family, the extended family and the community One gets to be aware of who one is and where one fits. Often help is needed to see life from many points of view, respecting the perceptions of those around one and getting to understand how the world works for each and every individual Travel then broadens ones perceptions and deepens ones understandings of the wider world Conselling is a very important part of learning about ourselves in relation to others and too often we dont face our own reality before looking for it somewhere else I found Eat Pray Love boring and quite unrealistic .....couldnt finish it and wished shed found a counsellor

GAJ | 22 December 2010  

Very interesting article. Travel definitely does have its place.. It helps to widen ones imagination, it illustrates that there is more to the world than what you see in your backyard.

Tara | 06 January 2011  

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