We are born into a mystery. For some, the journey of life seems to provide a fairly steady comfort level, whatever may come. For others, there may be a subtle anxiety about life or death, or both, which may or may not change things. For yet others, there may be an unconscious quest moving toward deeper understanding. And for still others, there may be an all-out, conscious quest, or search for truth, directing every aspect of life.

Perhaps hidden somewhere within us all is what Elizabeth Gilbert, in the popular Eat, Pray, Love, calls “the itch, the mad and relentless urge to want to understand the workings of existence.”

She tells the story of the youth she met in India who had this “urge,” having left his family farm in Ireland to find inner peace through yoga in India. After he had returned home, he sat with his father, the lifelong farmer and man of few words, telling him about his spiritual discoveries. The father listened with mild interest, watching the hearth and the fire, smoking his pipe, as the son said excitedly, “Dad, this meditation stuff, it’s crucial for peace and serenity. It can really save your life. It teaches you how to quiet your mind.”

His father turned to him and said kindly, “I have a quiet mind already, son,” and then returned his gaze to the fire.

Who’s to know, really, whether the farmer—or anyone else—has somehow gotten to a “quiet mind”? This may be a universal goal, but its opposite—the Buddhist teaching that most of humanity has their eyes so caked shut with the dust of deception that they will never see truth no matter who tries to show it to them—seems to loom fairly large, as well. Perhaps the only thing we can know for sure is whether or not we ourselves have gotten to that cherished goal.

That’s why to truly understand this relentless urge, Gilbert says we have to “look for God, like a man with his head on fire looks for water.” In this light, the urge is a single-minded quest that nothing could deter us from.