Eat Pray Love

Bruno Torfs 2
Image: Sculpture by Bruno Torfs from Sculpture Garden, Marysville, Australia.

(posted from Australia)

Elizabeth Gilbert’s extraordinary Eat Pray Love is a funny, poignant, brutally candid diary of a year in the author’s life following the painful ending of her marriage and an equally painful subsequent affair. Through insights and learning about herself, Ms Gilbert allows us to learn about ourselves, and about the nature of our species.

The diary covers three sequential four-month pilgrimmages, to Italy to discover pleasure (Eat), to an Indian ashram to discover spirituality (Pray), and to Bali to discover how to balance the two (Love).

More than anything, the voyage is one of self-discovery and self-realization:

David and I met because he was performing in a play based on short stories I’d written. He was playing a character I’d invented, which is somewhat telling. In desperate love, it’s always like this, isn’t it? In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place…

David’s sudden emotional back-stepping probably would’ve been a catastrophe for me even under the best of circumstances, given that I am the planet’s most affectionate life-form (something like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle)…I had become addicted to David…It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose…of thunderous love and roiling excitement…When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but who now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore — despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free)…

[Describing her depression:] When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost…Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore…

I have boundary issues with men…I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything…my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog…everything…I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.

Sound like someone you know, or suddenly know now?

Ms Gilbert’s tale is a long, terrible, wonderful, personal story, and she is a master raconteur of small anecdotes and incidents with profound meaning:

“To find the balance you want,” [the ancient Balinese medicine man] Ketut spoke through his translator, “this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it’s like you have four legs instead of two. That way you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead.”…

When [my sister] Catherine told me about [a neighbour’s terrible personal tragedy] I could only say, shocked, “Dear God that family needs grace”. She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles“, and then proceeded to organize the entire neighbourhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.

She intersperses her self-reflections and anecdotes with perceptive insights into Western culture: “Generally speaking, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure…Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one…Americans don’t really know how to do nothing.” Her description of Italian men’s post-football-game rituals is side-splitting. And she describes Yoga in an astonishing and refreshing way, as grappling with

…the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment…Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul yourself away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek instead a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise.

Faith, she says, is “walking face-first and full speed into the dark”. Our destiny, she asserts, is focusing attention on things we can control and accepting and adapting to those we cannot: “I can decide how I spend my time, who I interact with, who I share my body and life and money and energy with…And most of all, I can choose my thoughts… the same way [I] can select the clothes [I’m] going to wear…If you want to control things in your life…work on the mind…Drop everything else but that…Every time a diminishing thought arises, I repeat the vow. I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.

She describes her moment of Zen, of communion with God, painstakingly and passionately. Then, as she describes the balance she finds in Bali, she reports with astonishment: “I have so much free time, you could measure it in metric tons”. And finally, in retrospect, she says, of her bliss:

What keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years — I was not rescued by a prince; I was the administrator of my own rescue…

I have become…liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself.

Her journey represents the journey of all of us, to get rid of the gunk that prevents us from being, simply, naturally, ourselves. It is my belief that wild creatures do not need to make this journey. They know who they are, and they live in that “eternal presence” without the need to unlearn and relearn and achieve self-mastery to do so. We have moved out of that world, into our heads, and our “spiritual” journeys are all, to some extent, in search of that way home to that place where we are our authentic selves, where we belong.

It takes both great courage and exceptional self-awareness for an author to reveal herself so honestly that the reader can learn from her mistakes and her struggles. For that reason alone this book is a remarkable accomplishment, a profound and purely unselfish autobiography. Forget the self-help books — read this wonderful story and become, by association, a better, more focused, more aware, more directed, moreself-knowing, more sensuous, spiritual and loving person.

Category: Being Human
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5 Responses to Eat Pray Love

  1. Michelle P. says:

    It is a remarkable story of a life within a year huh?I enjoyed it very much and did learn a lot, about myself no less.The bit about being a cross between a Golden Retriever and a barnacle? Oh yeah! I so relate to that! :) But for me, this is a story of Freedom. Freedom to be ones self and not the self society or other individuals demand or expect.I have always given away my power to others because I am conditioned to believe that this is the “Golden Rule” of Life. But in essence its not. We give more when we are secure in our own identity and freedom and can say Yes and NO, with wisdom and grace.

  2. I gave this book to a close friend for Christmas. After she read it she told me that it ranked up there with the Bible for her in terms of its spiritual impact on her life. Without a doubt, if I was on a desert island and could have only one book, “Eat, Pray, Love” would be the one I’d take. My husband was actually the person who brought it to me–he heard Elizabeth Gilbert being interviewed on NPR and actually made a detour on his way home to get it for me. You have to love a man who would do that.

  3. Pearl says:

    She navigated her life material well, revealing and raw and yet poetic selection and positive energy without being pollyanna while pushing herself physically and spiritually into interesting places.

  4. janet karel says:

    Having just finished EPL, I still am in utter joy this beautiful woman so brave and so willing, has shared with us her deepest depths and outrageous highs in this amazing and wildly entertaining journey wrapped in a book.Her style of writing could not have been more engaging, she pulled me in from word one. Her weave of story & travel telling was magical. I know this book will be in my life always. She has remarkably made such a difference for many many many people all over the world, not to mention she makes it feel like all these people are all in the same room! A real gem of great great talent.

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