Antevasin: Living on the Border of Two Worlds

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does antevasin mean? What did this word mean to Elizabeth Gilbert in her study of yoga?

Antevasin translates to “someone who lives on the border of two worlds.” In her search to find her word, Elizabeth wondered if this was hers as she prepared to leave the ashram and take her next steps.

Learn more about how Elizabeth discovered and lived “antevasin” in Eat Pray Love.

Antevasin: Moving Forward

Other retreat groups came and went during Gilbert’s last weeks at the Ashram. She continued her duties diligently and experienced turiya a few more times. These experiences changed her to the point that the retreat attendants said she was a stabilizing, peaceful, and spiritual force for them. She had to laugh. In accepting herself as a talker, she’d become the quiet girl. 

The scorching summer months were approaching quickly, and the Ashram would soon empty out. Each day, Gilbert said goodbye to friends she’d made during her months there. There was a melancholy feeling in the air, but it was also bittersweet. 

During her last week, she found more time to be alone. She was okay with being alone now and could sit in silence for many hours. Her meditative sessions swung between the overwhelming energy of the blue light and quiet calm. Either was fine. She no longer fought the sensations. Now, when thoughts came, she accepted them and moved on. She was so used to the ways of her mind now, there was no need to be confused or affected by it. 

On one of her last nights, Gilbert couldn’t sleep. She crawled out of bed and went for a walk. In the garden, she could smell the sweetness of nature. She felt the warm breeze on her skin. It hit her so completely in that moment where she was—India! Like a fledgling learning to fly, she took off through the meadow and frolicked in the moonlight. She hugged a eucalyptus tree and kissed it with love. She saw God in everything around her and knew her prayers had been answered. She was pure joy. 

It was likely no coincidence, then, that Gilbert found her word shortly before she left the Ashram. She was reading a Yoga text and came across the word antevasin. Translated, this word means “someone who lives on the border of two worlds.” 

In ancient times, it was a literal translation regarding someone leaving the city to dwell at the boundary of the unknown forest. In modern times, it describes the figurative border between your old self and your new self. You never fully cross-over into the new self. You stay at the boundary, learning and moving forward. But there is always more to learn, so the new self keeps moving too. The journey never ends. 

As soon as Gilbert saw this word, she knew it was hers. She’d always questioned who she was or who she was supposed to be. What was her role? A wife? A lover? An overeater of pasta? A lost soul? Now she knew she was all of those things and none of them completely. She was a student of life. And she would remain at the boundary of learning as she moved forward through the unknown.

Learning to Let Go in a State of Antevasin

While reflecting on her conversation with Richard, Gilbert remembered a moment when she was 9 years old. She had a true existential crisis about turning 10. Something about transitioning from single digits to double digits exposed the reality of mortality to her young mind. She was taken by the realization that time moved too fast, and soon, she and everyone she knew would be dead. 

Nothing had happened to spawn that realization. No one had died or said anything about death to her. She just felt panicked and helpless about aging and what that meant for her life. She believed that moment was what caused her to seek adventure in life. To try to have as many loves as possible. To visit as many places as possible. To eat as much pasta as possible. To take complete control over her life so that no moment was wasted. 

If she could have lived eight lives at once, she would have so she could experience everything there was in the world. But trying to live eight lives as one person spun her life into a frenzy. The only way this pace of life could end was in destruction. For her, that destruction came in the form of crying out for help on a bathroom floor at 30 years old. 

Gilbert realized she couldn’t take any of her past actions back. The only thing she could do now was try to find peace and contentment in life. That was why she’d come to the Ashram. She’d been chasing time her whole life and struggling because she could never catch it. Time was always a step ahead of her. But she started to understand that the purpose of life was not to catch time. Her mission was to sit, be patient, and let life unfold as it would. The only place she needed to put the energy used to micromanage life was in her pursuit of God. 

The next morning, Gilbert sat in meditation and took in the usual thoughts. What she found alarmed her. The intruding thoughts she believed were so powerful and oppressive were really not that interesting. They ping-ponged between longing for love and remaining in control. These mundane thoughts held her back from finding God, so she asked for a different lens by which to see her thoughts. Rather than seeing them as failures, could she not see them as human?

At first, she tried not to judge her thoughts. But her mind wouldn’t relent. She kept thinking about all of her mistakes and how she was no good at meditating. Then, from some deep unknown place inside, a different voice arose. It roared like a lion in the jungle. It bared its teeth and stood tall, showing how much more powerful her love was than all the hate. Gilbert’s mind settled, and she heard nothing but a powerful, grounding silence. For the first time since arriving, she felt she could talk to God. 

Carving Her Own Path to God: Antevasin Helps Elizabeth Move On

Gilbert’s conversation with Richard gave her a new perspective on her practice. Before she started her mantra, she told her mind not to worry. She wasn’t trying to kill it, just open it to love. She also decided to try a new mantra that felt less frustrating. This new mantra was a repetition of the words Ham-sa, or “I am That.” In the Yogi traditions, this mantra is the most natural one given to all by God at birth. It simply means that God is within every breath. If you are breathing, you are one with God. 

During her practice, whenever thoughts came into her mind, Gilbert politely asked them to go play somewhere else. After a while, she fell asleep. (Gilbert notes that “falling asleep” may not actually mean falling asleep. She isn’t sure what happens in those moments, whether it is true sleep or a different state of consciousness.) 

After some time, Gilbert “woke up” and felt a blue pulsing energy inside. It was strong and overwhelming, but it was also wonderful. She acknowledged the power of the feeling and felt it magnify. She closed her eyes and tried to sit with it, but it grew with such force, she couldn’t handle it. She opened her eyes and said she wasn’t ready for that kind of power yet. The energy left within seconds. This was all a part of her discovering her word: antevasin.

This sort of energetic experience has different names in different religious and spiritual realms. For instance, in Christianity, it’s referred to as the Holy Spirit. In Yogic tradition, it’s called kundalini shakti and is imagined as a snake coiled at the base of the spine that is released by your Guru. The snake transcends through the seven chakras until it opens the skull to receive God. It’s a dangerous force to play with on your own, which is why a Guru is suggested for deep practice. 

For two nights following her experience with kundalini shakti, Gilbert dreamed of snakes. She woke up in a sweat, and her mind flew into a fit of anxiety. Her thoughts traveled back to her divorce and the pain experienced with David. And once again, she ached from her broken heart. She was angry to be experiencing this unraveling again. 

After this dream one night, she fell back asleep and dreamed of a dog threatening to kill her. She woke with a start, shaking and crying. She was afraid of waking her roommates, so she hid in the bathroom. The irony didn’t escape her. Once again, she was on a bathroom floor praying for help. When that didn’t work, she pulled out her notebook and asked for help. Like before, the voice guided her hand to write a response. The voice reminded her that she was not alone and was loved. A long exhale of relief followed. 

The Gift of a Broken Heart

Despite the reassurance of the voice the night before, Gilbert struggled the next day, as well as with the antevasin meaning and what it meant to her. She couldn’t stop the anguished thoughts about David. And she couldn’t get over her anger at having to relive those feelings again. Meditating was nearly impossible. She was angsty and snippy with everyone who crossed her path. 

Gilbert tried to avoid everyone that day, but Richard caught up to her at dinner. He could tell something was wrong. Gilbert tried to ignore his questions, but before she knew it, she was opening up. She confessed about the dreams, her nights in the bathroom, and her lingering and detrimental feelings for David. She’d been working to get over him for almost a year, and she thought she had. So why this relapse?

Richard suggested she give it six more months. And if that didn’t work, she should give it another six months and continue doing so until she was truly healed. She was in a beautiful place full of God and grace, and she wasn’t there by accident. He counseled her to try to let go and let her emotions work themselves out. One day, she would look back on this time and realize that she was lucky to be there during her time of mourning. And she would be able to understand how her life had changed. 

Gilbert didn’t want to hear any of that. She kept insisting that David was her soul mate. That she really loved him. That she missed him. That she still wished they could be together. To this, Richard responded that David may have been her soul mate, but that didn’t mean what she thought. Soul mates were people who held your life up and helped you understand what you wanted and how to change. They came into your life for a reason. When that reason was fulfilled, it was time for them to go. This was another part of the antevasin meaning.

Richard told her that David was needed to help her leave her marriage. His purpose was to diminish her ego and break her heart wide open. And he was her pathway to her finding her Guru. Without David, she wouldn’t have been desperate enough to seek help. She wouldn’t have recognized a need for transcendence. He did his job, and it was time for him to go. Her need to cling to hope for reconciliation was fear of being alone and facing her truths. If she let the space David filled become empty, God would fill it with light and love. 

Gilbert heard every word, but it didn’t help. She wanted an exact date for when her pain would end. She wanted to circle it on her calendar. Richard laughed and said she was a control freak. Gilbert raged against this categorization at first, but then she realized he was right. She just never realized it was so obvious to the outside world. On her journey to finding the antevasin meaning, Gilbert had found a new path forward.

Antevasin: Living on the Border of Two Worlds

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" at Shortform.

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  • Why Elizabeth Gilbert needed to divorce her husband
  • How she was able to find joy again in Italy
  • How Gilbert was able to find balance with Felipe

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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