Thursday, November 6, 2008

#14 - "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'm not even sure where I first heard about Eat Pray Love (2006) by Elizabeth Gilbert. It's a "#1 New York Times Bestseller" so I'm sure I've seen it around in stores and bookstores. And I remember my mom mentioning it. But then my father, who prefers buying books to using libraries, bought the book on one of his many trips to Costco. I think at the time he didn't realize quite what it was that he was buying, because evidenced by the pristine condition of the book, he hasn't read a page of it. But far be it from me to ignore a brand new book just sitting on my parents' bookshelf all ignored and unread. So, entranced by the beauty of the pretty cover and the newness, I started in.

Eat Pray Love is the story of the 34 year-old author when she spends a year in Italy, India, and Indonesia as she tries to recover from a brutal divorce and subsequent depression. She first spends four months in Rome, Italy seeking pleasure by eating all the tasty morsels Italy has to offer. Then she spends four more months in an Ashram in Italy, devoting herself to meditation and prayer in an effort to find transcendence, God, etc. Finally, the last four months she spends in Bali, a small Hindu island in Indonesia where her plan was to find a balance between pleasure and devotion in her life.

I like reading real stories about people, what their lives are like, how they make it through difficult circumstances, what makes them keep going, and what made them who they are today. Gilbert's accounts of her circumstances and her travels were honestly and bravely told. She talks about her depression, the pain of her divorce, and how long the guilt, remorse, and sadness followed her. I also enjoyed her insights into the culture of the countries she was visiting. My favorite parts of the book are when Gilbert talks about the stories of the people she meets along the way. Her new friends are vividly portrayed and immediately likeable and generally unforgettable, whether that includes Giovanni or Luca Spaghetti in Italy; Richard from Texas in India, or Wayan, Felipe, Ketut, or Yudhi in Bali.

The hardest part of the book for me to wade through was the second section, the part where she details her trip to the Ashram in India and her four months spent in prayer and devotion. Although I am a fan of yoga and enjoy "shavasana", I have almost no knowledge of the true spiritual aspects of yoga and have never tried "real" meditation. Thus, Gilbert's explanation of her guru, the Ashram and its purpose and workings, and her quest for God were all new to me. Being so ignorant, I was actually very interested in learning what the Ashram was like, but I also found it difficult to follow her on her quest for a "relationship with God" when I personally don't believe in God. Long explanations of her meditations and how she was feeling closer to God, or wrapped up in God, or she had some kind of breakthrough were hard for my skeptical brain to accept. I have great respect for the power of the human brain, so when someone says they found peace and felt as one with God, it makes me think they might have been successful in transforming their subconscious as they meditated. It doesn't make me believe in God. Even though I am a very introspective person, I also tend to be very practical. Apparently, I don't have a lot of patience when it comes to the spiritual. I appreciate the necessity of being aware of your feelings and working through them, but "opening up your heart" and shifting your loneliness from your head to your heart, or asking God to protect you or to help you doesn't do anything for me and I get tired of reading about it. I'm big on independence and facing life's problems as best you can. An imaginary friend may be comforting if you can truly believe in him, but faking it could not bring any kind of comfort to me.

One of the hardest sentences for me to buy was when Gilbert was describing a real breakthrough she had in meditation where she said she got "pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely." Really? my skeptical self asked. Then why don't you share the answers to all the universe with your readers? I do not doubt she was having true and meaningful experiences and far be it from me to declare what is and is not God, especially when I was not there, but my connection to her story diminished during this section of the book. However, I enjoyed Gilbert's insight into the countries that she visited and the touching way she shared her experiences and the people she met along the way.

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