Eat, Pray, Love – Relate?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love gained a lot of recognition when it came out, becoming a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Now that the movie is here, it is gaining even more of a following. But until this week, I was one of the apparent few that had not made the adventure with Gilbert through Italy, India and Indonesia.

I’m not sure what I expected. Her beautifully written words and detailed descriptions are exactly what I anticipated finding after reading her reviews. Humor and honesty flow over every page. I picture her anxiousness, her joy, her heartbreak and her hope. But, it took me a long time to really like her. I know that depression and anxiety can be debilitating and cause huge personality shifts, ruining relationships and the ability to see outside ourselves. I am not glossing over the fact that Gilbert struggled a great deal with both of these, but she seemed a little…dare I say it…whiny and selfish. Divorce is ugly. It is never friendly – if two people could maneuver in a respectful way, communicate clearly and learn to compromise – then they probably wouldn’t be getting a divorce. Perhaps the real struggle wasn’t about a marriage ending, but the fact that the marriage should never have happened. Perhaps her depression and anxiety stemmed from guilt of entering into a life-long committment that she could not sustain in the first place.

One of my favorite song-lyrics comes from Feist’s song Let it Die.

“The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending so much as the start
The tragedy starts from the very first spark
Losing your mind for the sake of your heart
The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending so much as the start”

To be fair, I have not actually finished this book. Presently I am still half-way through India, and enjoying this experience a great deal. Elizabeth Gilbert started to become more likeable towards the end of her Italy travels. She redeemed herself in these words:

“I don’t want to insult anyone by drawing too much of a comparison between myself and the long-suffering Sicilian people. The tragedies in my life have been of a personal and largely self-created nature, not epically oppressive. I went through a divorce and a depression, not a few centuries of murderous tyranny. I had a crisis of identity, but I also had the resources (financial, artistic and emotional) with which to try to work it out.”

It was good to see her admit that some of the drama in her life was self-inflicted. I believe that true healing can only happen when we become accountable. There has to be a change in perspective that allows us to see that we have some control of our lives, and that we are ultimately responsible for the choices that we make. But I was then puzzled by her next statement:

“Still, I will say that the same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine – namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one’s humanity. I believe this is what Goethe meant by saying that you have to come here, to Sicily, in order to understand Italy. And I suppose this is what I instinctively felt when I decided that I needed to come here, to Italy, in order to understand myself.”

There is a danger of confusing the appreciation of pleasure with self-indulgence, isn’t there? I mean, we see it all the time. Families who are financially struggling to the point of almost losing their homes, their transportation and their children and yet continue to do things like pay for cable, get their hair and nails done, eat at restaurants. There is a confusion between “wants” and “needs” because, as a society, we start feeling entitled. I’m not blinding making a statement. I’ve been there. I remember barely being able to pay for groceries, but thinking “I need to get my hair done because it is the only thing that really makes me feel good about myself.”

I know that I still struggle with recognizing “wants” versus “needs” and I would be lying to say that I do not still over indulge or do things purely because they make me feel good, but at this point in my life, I hope that I have a greater appreciation for the beauty in life rather than just in myself. Experiencing art, culture, religion, music and personal beliefs gives all of us more depth, allows us to have a greater world view and perspective, hopefully helps us to be more sympathetic to the people around us and less focused on the things that we feel we are “missing” or “entitled”. Less focused on ourselves.

Although there have been moments of shaking my head and thinking, “What average woman could afford to find herself on a world tour?” it has been enjoyable to learn about other cultures and beliefs. There have been some moments of insight and personal growth through Gilbert’s words, enough that I will continue reading and finish this journey.

9 thoughts on “Eat, Pray, Love – Relate?

  1. That’s great your reading this, and I’m exactly where you are in the book! I’m liking it so far, but agree with your insights as well. It’s definitely keeping me entertained though! I’m excited to see where India will end up and how much “meditating” she’ll actually accomplish. Well, time to turn a couple pages…

  2. Hey Emi…Does “finding oneself” always entail far away travels or is it really the time spent alone and in deep thought that makes us take such an introspective look at ourselves? I find that people who spend so much time and money on finding themselves rarely have to go that far. There is true and intact beauty to be found around the corner from your space if you just look for it.

    I read her book and found her to be way to “whiny”…I have to admit that I sometimes find myself to be just as “whiny” as well. And when I do, I remember that it isn’t the travels to far and away places that helps to center us. It is ourselves and our willingness and committment to look deep inside of our souls to find our true north.

    Keep up the great writing….I can’t wait to read some more.

    Love you!

  3. I’m with you. I found this book whiny and sensational. Let’s face it. She didn’t do a lot of eating in Italy except for pizza and a few gelato. She went to learn to speak Italian. So, why not call the book “Speak, Pray, Love”? Because Food sells. Gilbert knows that and she had the contract to write this before she took on her adventure. Like you, my favorite was India. Having family members who live in an ashram, I could totally relate. Since you’re not done, I won’t talk about Indonesia but suffice it to say when I put this book next to another memoir type like Bird by Bird or Glass Castles, I’ll never recommend it.

  4. I have read the book and enjoyed thoroughly bc I felt I could relate to it from the point of view of “this was my past… BUT THIS IS MY PRESENT, live in it every moment of it…n the journey she went through helped me realize that. I loved her book and every woman from all ages that has read it love it too.

  5. Oh, I’m so glad you took this on! I am only halfway through the book (starting late too) and I hope that I start to like her more. I think she is a brilliant writer and her experience is one for the, well, books, but I have a hard time fully relating. When I hit my emotional disaster, I was married with two kids. I needed to eat, pray and love my way out of it, but I couldn’t leave. It took her a year to work her way through it, and for me it was seven years (of research and application and a lot of hard work) My book- which I am sure will never be a movie, is just about done. I am so glad to know I am not the only one who doesn’t swoon at the mention of this title.

  6. A nice review. Myself, I couldn’t make it through this book. I read it recently as part of my book club and I found her too whiney, and a too many similies… it really started to drive me crazy. At my book club one of the other ladies listened to it on audiobook and it was Gilbert reading, and she loved it – but she thought if she had to read it she wouldn’t get through it either. My final review was it’s not the right time in my life for this book and I might like it more a little later. Her TED Talk though is awesome.

  7. I’ve read the book and loved Italy and India. I think the selfishness is honest and, as a reader, are meant to see it. India brings a lot of growth for her, and I came to realize a lot of the things that irritated me as a reader, irritate her as she moves to a better place. I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but I hope you will post after finishing the book. I’m curious to see your take on the ending.

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