Elizabeth Gilbert Discusses Spirituality in America
Her most recent book is the #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," about the year she spent traveling the world alone after a difficult divorce. Anne Lamott called Eat, Pray, Love "wise, jaunty, human, ethereal, heartbreaking." The book has been a worldwide success, now published in over thirty languages with over 7 million copies in print. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2006, and chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best ten nonfiction books of the year. In 2008, Elizabeth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, by Time Magazine.
In addition to writing books, Elizabeth has worked steadily as a journalist. Throughout much of the 1990’s she was on staff at SPIN Magazine, where – with humor and pathos – she chronicled diverse individuals and subcultures, covering everything from rodeo's Buckle Bunnies (reprinted in The KGB Bar Reader) to China’s headlong construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In 1999, Elizabeth began working for GQ magazine, where her profiles of extraordinary men – from singers Hank Williams III and Tom Waits (reprinted in The Tom Waits Reader) to quadriplegic athlete Jim Maclaren – earned her three National Magazine Award Nominations, as well as repeated appearances in the “Best American” magazine writing anthologies. She has also written for such publications as The New York Times Magazine, Real Simple, Allure, Travel and Leisure and O, the Oprah Magazine (where her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" was excerpted in March, 2006.) She has been a contributor to the Public Radio show "This American Life", and -- perhaps most proudly -- has several times shown up at John Hodgman's Little Gray Book Lecture Series, most notably during Lecture Four on the subject "Hints for Public Singing."
Question: Are Americans suffering from an over-abundance of spiritual practices?
Gilbert: There is a danger, I think. Look, we’re a young country, you know. And the more you travel out of America, the more you see that, right? There’re so much that’s great about youth. There’re so much that’s great about the youngness of America. There’s a certain energy here. There’s a certain willingness to try stuff. There’s a certain ambition, an eagerness, and excitement. I mean, I had friends during the Obama campaign who called me from Europe and said, I cannot even imagine what it would feel like to actually believe in things like hope, to believe in… to believe that a politician can change things, to actually have… They were envious, you know, of this huge enthusiasm that was sweeping across America. That was really real, you know, and really passionate and really fresh in a way, you know. That doesn’t exist everywhere, you know. The downside of that youth and that enthusiasm and that freshness is a certain shallowness, a certain inability to stick to, you know, one path, a certain longing to drink out of every well. You know, certainly the new age movement has a lot of that in there where you’re kind of like cherry picking… like, I want a dream catcher and I want a crystal and I want something tantric and I want, you know, the chakras and I also want to go to mass and I also… And… I’m not necessarily against that because I think there’s… You know, I think, certainly the willingness to experiment… There’s something very beautiful about that. And there’s something wonderful about a culture that permits you to do that. That doesn’t say there is one church, there is one belief, there is, you know, one dogma and everybody must march and lock step. But, you know, it does get… it does get a little goofy. I’ve been guilty of it myself so I have to say it with a measure of compassion and affection because, you know, I could easily have been accused of every single piece of flakiness that I sometimes judge, you know, when I see that out there. But its part of who we are. And consumerism and a profit margin is also a part of who we are, you know. So you get things in America like competitive yoga, which, you know, I still can never hear without laughing. Maybe the idea of going to a yoga competition does seem like… Maybe the point is being somewhat missed. But… I don’t know, you know. I don’t know what experiences the people in the yoga competition are having. I don’t know what they’re… You know, I don’t know enough about what their internal world is. It could be just a big breakthrough for them, winning first place in the meditation price. I don’t know but it’s… it’s… I don’t know. To me, I still feel like the benefits of that kind of freedom, the benefits of the excitement that people in this country are willing to feel about things outweigh the goofiness that, sometimes, a little too easy to be snide about.
Question: What does spirituality mean to you?
Gilbert: Well… Look, something happened to me but even saying that, kind of puts it in a little bit too passive of a voice, you know. I set out to… I set out looking for something very specific. And through a pretty rigorous search and a pretty rigorous set of practices, I got that thing that I wanted, which to put it really simply and perhaps oversimply is a certain calmness, you know. It’s… Life is an extremely agitating event, you know. And I vibrate at a slightly higher frequency than is necessarily healthy, you know, than I always have. I’ve always been kind of anxious. I’ve always been super motive. I feel things harder than is good for me. Indecision has been part of my life, you know. And I could see, after a certain age, how that was destructive not only to myself but to people around me. And… You know, I just think you get to a point where you don’t want to be in other people’s way. You know, you don’t want to be taking up… You don’t want to be taking up other people’s space and energy to sort of take care of you. And I longed to be a different kind of person. You know, I longed to be just a little more at ease, a little more relaxed, and a little more wise, you know, because it seems to me that wisdom is the beginning of serenity, you know. And, you know, aside from people who are very heavily medicated, the calmest people that I know tend to, also, be the wisest, who are quickest, you know, or most instinctively, able to put things into perspective, that takes away the urgency of the moment. And there’re practices that you can do to get there, you know. And those practices, you know, as my friend Richard from Texas always says, the shit works, you know, those practices work. And people do it in different ways and they do it… they do it in different places. But I think that the end result and desire was always the same, you want peace, you know, if not in the world, then, at least, within your own mind. This is not to say that I glide to the world now on a sort of cushion of serenity at all times because I am, you know, exactly as capable of anybody else at experiencing road rage and sidewalk rage and customer service representative, putting you on hold rage, and all the other sorts of rages and jealousies and frustrations and self-pity. I mean, all these things are not foreign to me, you know, but I’ve just… I don’t know. It’s like there’s an engine that works within me, now, that much, much, much more efficiently processes all of that. And I… You know, I’m believing now that that’s a direct result of the work that I did for a whole bunch of years, you know, trying to get to that place. And when I find myself kind of spinning out of orbit, you know, there’s like a tether, you know, that I braided, you know, myself from my own beliefs and my own studies and this work, you know. And that tether sort of pulls me back and reminds me, do you really want to go, you really want to make a big production out of this, or would it be better for you and everybody around you if you just found a way to accept what’s going on. And that’s just made life very much more pleasant. And I feel like my… You know, if I can define my spiritual practice today, it is the maintenance of that. It is doing whatever is necessary to keep that healthy and to keep that system working. And you have to be a little bit nimble and a little flexible to kind of figure out what each day requires in order to keep that going.
Question: What practices help you maintain spirituality?
Gilber: I find, to be perfectly honest, a lot of it has to do with napping, you know. I just think… You know, I’m alarmed by reports of how little sleep Americans are getting anymore. You know, even in the last 10 years, people are getting, on average, you know, an hour to 2 hours less sleep a day. It’s making people really frazzled and really fragile and I just… I kind of feel like, you know, if there’s a new religion that needs to be founded, it’s a religion about, like, naps. You know, something happens when you take a nap. You go into another state. You know, your pulse goes down. Your blood pressure goes down. It’s a kind of meditation… kind of lose meditation. And I do a lot of it. It seems to help, seems to make me more pleasant for people around me. I would prescribe it to anybody. I think every nation that has any civility incorporates napping into their day in a kind of official way. So… You know, rest, rest. I say no to a lot of things that’s become a kind of active spiritual practice for me. I turned down a lot of things, not just professional invitations but personal invitations and social invitations. I think saying no is something we’re really bad at in this culture. I spent years not saying no to anything because I was afraid that if I said no to people, they wouldn’t like me as much and they will be disappointed. And I’ve learned in my old age that when you say no to people, they don’t like you as much and they’re disappointed. Nonetheless, you know, there are times that it has to be done in order to protect whatever small sanctity of serenity you have build up in your life. It’s inhumane, the pace at which people live in this society. And when I came back from traveling for “Eat, Pray, Love”, I was truly sort of jaw droppingly shocked to see it a new… from fresh eyes and to see the amount of stress and the amount of work that we have, somehow, decided is normal. And it is so warped. And, you know, fear is that we’ve exported that, you know, and we’re sort of exporting that idea all over the world all the time and sort of spreading it like a virus. And it’s just… There is no… There is absolutely no way you can defend it as healthy, normal, safe, or wise. And yet, it’s really hard to resist. And you have to push really hard against it, you know. And I don’t always succeed. You know, I find myself at the end of my rope all the time, I’m like, how did I end up… how did I end up with a 14-hour day today, like… you know, how did I let that happen. And so, there’s a sort of vigilance against that that I would really strongly argue as part of, like, the main spiritual practice in my life right now.
Elizabeth Gilbert says there is a danger in America of having too many choices.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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