I could repeatedly binge-read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s the author’s life-changing journey after a horrible betrayal that led to her divorce. She quits her high-paying job and takes off for Italy, India, and Bali to discover wisdom, serenity, and inner peace. With every page turn, your eyes see the sights of these alluring destinations as she covers thousands of miles in search of self-fulfillment and contentment.
In Bali, she meets the old toothless medicine man named Ketut. He is ethereal and calm, existing in a womb of utter serenity. He is simple yet eccentric with his fortune cookie type riddles. He asks deep questions. She globetrots to find the answers. He is the village Obi Wan and those around him believe that he has sacred answers to the intangible mysteries. In the movie, he cajoles her with “I’m going to teach you everything I know.” After all, who wouldn’t want to learn some amazing secret that could redefine our lives and give us newer depth into our purpose and presence?
After the book was released, seekers, journalists, and the curious traveled to Bali to meet the original Ketut. Perhaps they wanted to validate the existence of the book’s celebrity. Perhaps they wanted to glean a personalized nugget of wisdom, a message from the vast universal realm. Or, maybe they wanted to debunk the secrets of the sage. For ten years, from the book’s release until his passing in 2016, Ketut’s village became a place of intrigue for those desiring to retrace Elizabeth’s footprints.
All of this focus on Ketut begs an important question: Of all of the characters, why are readers so intrigued with Ketut? There were plenty of characters in the book that were just as eccentric, like brash Richard from Texas, or just as riddled, like the toxic rebound boyfriend David. Yet somehow, Ketut is the magnet, the one looked at out of the corner of our eye, the one we most often wonder about as the story progresses. Elizabeth specifically returns to Ketut for one last piece of insight before she flies home to the United States.
One of the beautiful things about Ketut is that he reminds us that we all have a sage in our lives. Perhaps they are not toothless medicine men hidden in quaint unpretentious villages. But chances are there has been someone who always offered a loving and peaceful answer to one of your life’s most probing questions. These wellsprings of advice are eagerly sought when we endure droughts of wisdom, when our minds are so clouded with the what-ifs and self-deprecation that we cannot see straight. And somehow, just being in their presence, hearing the tone of their voice and the words that they speak is an assurance that everything will be okay, that we are okay, that we are enough. They offer a delicious teacup of unconditional acceptance as we summon the courage to open our eyes to something new and meaningful.
One of the greatest gifts that we can give ourselves is permission to open our eyes, to enter into a hallowed space where we can pause to reflect and rethink. We check our bags of prideful obligation and lovingly accept our imperfection by and through a perfect presence. It can be a beach, a place of worship, a mountainside, a closet, or in the car. In those moments, we reclaim our truths.
Ketut told Elizabeth “I will teach you everything I know.” Yet the only lesson he ever actually taught her was how to allow herself permission to open her eyes to the possibility that the abundance she sought already existed. She already knew the answers. She just had to have permission to embrace them.
As the plane touched down on American soil, vision, clarity, and wisdom were her most precious souvenirs.