Eat, Pray, Love? Or Drink, Smoke, Pass Out

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Drink Smoke Pass Out by Judith Lucy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If self-deprecation wasn't Judith Lucy's stock in trade, I'd understand her employing it for this book.  After all, she is talking about things which require ironical quotes around them - things like "soul," "energy," "consciousness."  Things that can make you feel like a right dickhead talking about them, especially (and still) in Australia.

Apart from pretty stuff we might post on Facebook, it's not like we have very easily recognised cultural containers for easy discussion about the spiritual aspect to life.  Like so many things it has been commodified, flattened out to be just one more ... thing.  One more choice for a flaky selection of the community.

Still, I love to try to talk about it.  But my blog provides ample posts as evidence for the difficulty of pulling it off without sounding like a bit of a nong.  And so I really understand Judith Lucy's desire to write around this area and the angst it must have caused her in doing so.  Every time I go back and read anything I've written that tries to name a spiritual experience, I cringe.  I feel pulled in two directions because I identify again with what I've tried to describe about that beautiful and mysterious space, while at the same time part of me is desperate to hit the delete key so nobody else reads this totally sappy drivel.  There is never a writing space that you can feel as vulnerable with as this - or as easily misunderstood.

Spirituality is a little like being in love.  When you're in it, you're swimming in it and it's the world.  And those people who are looking in on your pool thinking you're deluded - well, they're just jealous because their skin's dry, right?  And yet when you're out of that space and in a more mundane one - an hour later while you're cooking dinner or sitting in traffic - it's quite easy to believe that that space is really just a dumb and wanky mirage.

Which is why I so enjoyed Judith's book and the way she pokes fun at spirituality and at herself.  There's something about her self-deprecation that makes the book even more lovely.

I'm very grateful to my mind.  It's helped me put on pants and write the odd joke, but it can also be a bit like Mickey Rourke's face - an inexplicable, disturbing mess.

It's Judith's crazy monkey-mind, the death of her parents and the refusal of career, relationships, the bottle and the bong to provide fulfilling answers that set her to wondering about some of those bigger questions.

As part of Judith Lucy's Spiritual Journey she went on a Buddhist meditation retreat.  The schedule makes you gulp - 10 hours of meditation for 10 days, no talking, reading, writing, yoga or music.

Day four was a nightmare.  It was like all my negative thoughts got together and had a huge party.  I knew I had some self-loathing issues, but this was like watching my mental dialogue under a microscope, while stoned on some hydroponic grass. It was so relentless that I remember thinking it was futile to even imagine I could change my life.  Why not just go back to wiping myself out, if this was the alternative?  It was just my usual string of personal abuse (you're stupid, you're ugly and - one of my father's favourite lines - why can't you be more like Tina Arena?), but I had nothing to distract me from these thoughts and it made me feel completely helpless.  If my negative mind and I had been engaged in some sort of battle, it had definitely won.  I really couldn't see how things would ever improve, and yet the next day was completely different.  The thoughts were still there but they didn't bother me anymore.  I could sit back and watch them come and go and not get involved, and I actually started to experience tiny breaks in the relentless flow.

The title of this book is a parody of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, a book that graces my bookshelves, and some of which I loved, some of which was awfully tedious and not a little pretentious, the author having my own same tendency to sometimes take herself just a little bit too seriously.  But what I got from Eat, Pray, Love is ultimately what I got from Drink, Smoke, Pass Out, and with a hell of a lot more fun, only a little less sugary sweet, with a shitload more swear words and references to dicks and brutal, blatant honesty, all in Judith's particularly endearing and irreverent style.  This book is fun.

The piece of this book that I loved the most was at the end, and I hesitate to include it here because it was so lovely coming upon it myself.  Judith hesitated to include it because she didn't want you to think she was a crackpot or tripping on acid, but it sums up what I loved most about this book - the fact that we are all mental in rather more than one way, struggling to hold our shit together, making it up as we go along.  The culture in which we are forced to live cast us in the harshest light one to another.  We are pitted like enemies against each other and against ourselves but still, despite all of that, there is this space that we all experience at times, when we are totally here, and maybe even feel like we're bumping up against something else, a space which I think cultures previous to ours and closer to the ground knew more intimately than we:

"... it probably lasted about two hours.  I was completely there.  It felt like my senses were all on overdrive - I could feel every little breeze, hear every tiny noise and I was simply drunk on what my eyes were seeing.  Every plant or flower, every ray of light that bounced off a surface was just amazing.  I felt like I was moving in slow motion.  At one point, I passed through a street market and felt completely connected to every person there.  Some classical music was playing and it felt like everyone was engaged in some giant choreographed number, where we were all doing exactly what we were meant to be doing.  That feeling continued when I saw people walking in the park and when I picked up a ball to hand it back to a father who was playing with his little girl.  Everything felt exactly right.  We were all part of something much larger, and it was perfect.  I've never felt such a feeling of wellbeing.  I've never felt such pure happiness.  It did feel like a drug, and towards the end of it, I panicked ...  It was so different from anything that I'd felt before and I think I worried that if it didn't end, I would somehow not get back to my old life.  It's nuts, but it was like I thought I'd be locked in the Narnia wardrobe forever.  I haven't experienced anything like it since and I still can't really explain it.  Okay, now someone can call an ambulance."

What I love about this book is she is so real.  There's no ethereal sitting up in the skies having your shit together.  As Judith says herself:

I'm not living in a cave in the Himalayas, I'm single and I still drink (sometimes I still drink a lot).  But I am less fucked up, and I thought, why not share a story that's sort of about spirituality, but doesn't take itself too seriously, and has no eating, less praying and loving, and a lot more drinking, smoking and passing out, because if my tale didn't have those elements, it would just be a pamphlet.

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