Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love: An Inspirational Memoir, without being Preachy

Eat, Pray, Love: By Elizabeth Gilbert

334 Pages, Penguin Group, $13.12

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” That is just one of the many meaningful quotes from Elizabeth Gilberts bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. The book can be summed up by the title alone. Each word, “eat,” “pray,” and “love,” represents three stages in the authors journey, a journey that all of us take in life. The theme of the book is that we should all strip down our lives to the basics, because after all, the simplest of things is where our happiness lies. We are all on a journey to happiness, or at least we want to be, but many of us do not know where to start. This book helps us to create a road map to internal happiness.

The author tells a story of her life where she is overworked, underappreciated and void of fulfillment. She wants to feel alive instead of just being awake in a nine to five world. First, she travels to Italy. Italy is a nation which symbolically represents the “Eat” portion of the title, thus it being first in the title and her first destination. Italians are known for their food made with passion and how generous they are with their food and hospitality. She goes there on a mission to get away from it all, but doesn’t expect to find so much comfort in a foreign land beyond its tourist attractions. She encounters people who have more of an effect on her than anyone had previously in her life. She learns here that all that matters is things that make you happy. Leisure in this nation is held to a higher regard than overworked and underpaid America. Here she appreciates how people don’t just eat, but they indulge.

Gilbert narrates eccentrically in a way that is comical and profound in unison. She describes Messina, Italy, as "a scary and suspicious Sicilian port town that seems to howl from behind barricaded doors, 'It's not my fault that I'm ugly! I've been earthquaked and carpet-bombed and raped by the Mafia, too!” You get a real sense of her inner subconscious in way that is refreshing and multidimensional. For her, it was more than a culture shock but it was like an awakening of a world that has always existed for her, yet she never thought to wake up to it. In Italy, she gradually liberates herself, a lot of the time unaware, and allows herself to indulge so much so that she no longer worries about her waistline. Her journey begins one course at a time.

The culprit behind her spontaneous desire for self discovery enveloped from a contentious divorce, a volatile rebound romance and a bout of depression. At 34, she went out on a whim to spend a year traveling in Italy, India and Indonesia. "I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well," she writes. "I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two."

After the, “art of pleasure” in Italy and gaining 23 Italian pounds, it was off to India where she would enter more spiritual journey. Here in India, she finds it a quieter setting. She meditates, or at least attempts to, and spends her days in deep reflection. Her assignment given was to scrub the temple floors and it was a way to humble herself and to get closer to humility. The Hindu religion dictates here that, “discontentment is only due to the notion that our entire egos constitute our entire whole nature.” Gilbert is certainly discontent and the mediation does not initially save her from this feeling until a strong willed Texan named Richard greets her with a raw nature that initially rubs her the wrong way. He immediately notices her amateurish ways when it comes to “spirituality” and coaches her without her even asking. Gilbert is stressed over a lost love and all of the other wrongs in her life. Richard instructs her to simply let go. He helps her to see beyond everything on the outside that is wrong and look inward for peace and harmony with what she wants in life. He nicknames her “Groceries,” a name that fits her flustered personality where she can’t seem to let go of anything, constantly carrying her baggage on her shoulders where everyone can see it. She has been scaring love and serenity away from herself for her entire adult life and now it is time to let go. India is her prayer, the “pray” in the title and here she finds a greater peace.

“I got to thinking about how much time I spend in my life crashing around like a great gasping fish, either squirming away from some uncomfortable distress or flopping hungrily toward ever more pleasure,” writes Gilbert of her reflection in India.

It was hard for Gilbert to leave Richard but she had to go to her third destination, after all, the publisher was financing her voyages to the three nations. The third destination was Bali, a nation in Indonesia. Now she would learn about and surrender to “love.” This is the hardest journey to take for her, this is the last destination and the final test.

“The Balinese are global masters of balance,” she writes, “the people for whom the maintenance of perfect equilibrium is an art, a science and a religion.” In Bali, she reconnects with Ketut, a medicine man she met two years earlier, and they develop a profound relationship. Gilbert also meets a medicine woman who proves to be a very important person in her own emotional education as she tries to “hold steady in this chaotic world.” Ketut was something like a prophet where he told her two years earlier that she would return two years later. His very presence seems to bring her peace and she trusts him.

In Bali, Gilbert discovers love in all of its forms; Family, friends and romance. The book has a pleasant ending but it is surely not an ending at all for Gilbert whose journey is no doubt continuing like all of ours is. She leaves us to answer our own questions rather than providing one for us.

The novel for me was a breath of fresh air among all of the other novels labeled “self help,” “inspirational” or “spiritual” because it does all of that without the prescriptions and sermons. She is comical and off beat, she tells it like it is, sometimes awkwardly and other times poetically. It is a book that is a must read for anyone who questions where their life is going and what might fulfill them. It is a book that everyone can relate to because it ponders on issues that are universal such as God, Self Awareness and your position in all of it. I love how the book is broken apart and how it is not too overwhelming of a read. I enjoyed the characters that surrounded her and instead of distracting the reader, the compliment the main character, some may be even being an extension of the main character. The book is real, sort of a reality show only in novel form. The movement of the book ebbs and flows and soothes the reader rather than crashing over the readers head.

Other Reactions

It is hard to score the internet and actually find negative reviews of any of Gilberts work, especially, Eat, Pray, Love. About.com is littered with positive reviews from readers who were truly moved by a book that was inspirational without being preachy.