“There must be a purpose
to my being here
I have to believe—
in time it will be clear.”
– Tara Anand
Elizabeth Gilbert’s iconic Eat Pray Love in many ways relates a familiar trajectory in in the landscape of journey memoirs.
It begins with a rapid revealing of an inner crisis for the protagonist which inspires a journey of self-discovery and ultimately, empowerment. This trajectory is so familiar to me, personally, that I stopped taking offense when told, by new friends amid Southeast Asian hammocks and coconut shakes during my months-long sabbatical from my life a decade ago, that I was so Eat Pray Love. I didn’t see it at the time. How could I? I was still in the murky depths, unable to see sky, light, or anything resembling clarity.
The journey that Tara Anand chronicles in her spellbinding memoir, Why the Lotus Blooms: Choosing to Stand Tall also navigates the murky terrain of the fall before the immersion and eventually, the rise—in fact, the title references the flower that serves as a well-known analogy in Buddhism of spiritual attainment that comes from humble, difficult (or “muddy”) beginnings.
However, unlike many other stories of this kind, Tara’s unfolds as almost the reverse trajectory.
She leaves her secure home in India’s Delhi on a spiritual retreat and her life is thrown off course when she meets a man seven years her junior with whom there is an instant and fiery connection. This connection forces her to face the problems waiting for her back home, and to make seemingly impossible choices.
Tara’s marriage, as she tells it, was rife with problems from the start, but which provided her with a way out of an even more troubled home life. The marriage also produced a beloved daughter she knows she cannot leave behind or live without. She worked as an executive in the corporate world before taking time off for her family, and knows this is where her financial security lies, but her heart is drawn to healing modalities and spiritual pursuits. She knows that leaving her marriage also means living a socially sanctioned life, and any notion of safety … she also knows that in not leaving her marriage, she is sacrificing the greatest thing of all: the possibility of coming into her true, authentic self.
The memoir is divided into three parts that mimic the journey of the mud-originated, sky-destined lotus and each chapter, prefaced with a heartfelt, foretelling poem, is named after an emotional tone or quality of choice, reflecting a deeply sensitive and contemplative soul on a journey that will not simply come to an end with one courageous act. For me, this is what is so utterly compelling about this book, that it renders explicit the agony involved in actually following through on the intuition-driven, bold choices one makes.
Tara does not make the angst-ridden choice to leave her marriage—and her comfortable standing in society behind, only to live happily ever after. As evidenced in the deeply-felt relating of the story, Tara is a reflective thinker, emotionally-inspired and spiritually attuned soul who weighs every single decision like it’s made of gold, and nothing falls out of the purview of her scrutiny, least of all herself and her own motivations. She is a true seeker of happiness, but also of meaning and life purpose. She commits every single day to showing up and doing the work of aligning her actions with her growing sense of self, and seeing if self and choice are still enmeshed.
Leaving comfort behind for the gaping open vistas of the unknown is a journey that everyone who actively seeks a spiritual path knows well.
Despite the often euphoric epiphanies that can arrive to inspire us to step onto the path, there is nothing comfortable about shaking loose a lifetime of conditioning, and attempting a new way of being.
There is nothing comfortable about feeling increasingly alienated from friends and loved ones, from noticing that your proverbial clothes do not fit anymore. There is little joy at the outset, knowing you might have to lose everything for something you do not and cannot yet know or understand.
Tara’s story exemplifies this so very well, as she explores nearly every facet imaginable—material, emotional, spiritual and philosophical—involved in the attempts to try on a new identity for size: her real, true self. One’s true self is not something you immediately recognize just because you have seen one of its first, sparkly bright manifestations, in Tara’s case, pure love with a new man. Finding one’s true self is a road fraught with the perils of doubt and confusion. I love Tara’s relentless appetite for self-inquiry, as well as her zesty passion for her spiritual pursuits—she details the wonderful relationship she has with her Guru, whom she calls G.
I also loved living the adventure of her post-separation life through her eyes as she travels the lengths and breadths of India, going from one retreat to the next in some of India’s holiest places, ever in search of peace of mind, as well as her ultimate discovery of Yoga—one of India’s great spiritual legacies.
I love that no matter how much Tara cares for everyone in her life, she makes the choice to stay true to the path she laid out for herself when she realized that being guided by spirit is who she truly is.
I love how in once sense, she doesn’t look back, but she doesn’t burn the bridge behind her—rather, she gathers what is near and dear to her as best she can, to bring them into the folds of her emerging self.
It feels there is something to mine on every page as one finds oneself ever by Tara’s side, but also rooting for everyone involved—including her estranged husband, which is a tribute to the compassion of a writer who knows we are all, ultimately, lotuses in the same pond, grasping from a place of darkness in hopes of finding our true light.
By Tammy Stone Takahashi
Originally published on The Tattooed Buddha