Reconciling with Elizabeth Gilbert

I have finally finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

Looking at the work as a whole, I am filled with a different opinion of the beginning of her story. Gilbert’s whininess and over-dramatization of her failing marriage serves more as a mirror into the soul of so many women who struggle with being wholly accountable for their lives. Perhaps much like Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel Dorian Grey, we are meant to see a reflection of ourselves in the rawest, most unflattering form, seeing in detailed imperfection the selfish and sinful nature that we all carry. Italy and the flash-backs of how her journey started, contrast sharply with the women that Gilbert becomes at the end of the year. A women who is more confident, gives more freely, and is at peace with her faith.

There is a moment at the Ashram where Gilbert must make a choice to be still, completely unmoving, and she says:

“Instead of slapping and griping, what if I sat through the discomfort, just for one hour of my long life?”

It is at this point that I really started to like her – see her as more vulnerable and honest rather than privileged and a complainer. Her travels in Italy were very clearly just an extension of the life of denial she led in New York, rather than a productive respite. Gilbert was still not acknowledging her biggest personal struggle, which was her own attitude, an attitude that lacked deep personal substance, hiding behind cleverness and charm.

The Lebanese American poet, artist, and writer, Kahlil Gibran once wrote:

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”

Although Gilbert’s opportunity to travel the world in search of balance is totally unrealistic for the average women, once you step outside the sensationalism and truly listen to her words and see them for what they are – universal life lessons – then it is much easier to enjoy her journey and apply what you can to your own way of thinking.

Her views on religion and God resonated loudly with my own struggles to reconcile the God of my youth with the God of my adulthood. This spiritual season of my life is like a pebble thrown into a pond, each ripple a different opinion of my faith reaching further and further out into the world. I have spent years being uncomfortable in my skin solely because I didn’t seem to fit a mold presented to me by my organized religious views. My favorite conclusion Gilbert made in regards to this struggle is that we are who we are by design. Finally a voiced opinion supporting the truest form of unconditional love.

“We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality…To know God, you need only to renounce one thing – your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character.”

If Italy was about over indulgence, self-gratification, and the pursuit of pleasure while India was about sacrifice, spiritual submergence, and personal contentment then Indonesia was about finding the balance of all these things. It is hard to imagine that life could be fulfilling enough if we only focused on one of our human desires. There is an obvious need to be able to experience moments of selfishness as much as find opportunities of complete sacrifice for someone else. To understand contentment, we have to also know loss. Life truly is a circle of emotion and experiences that continue to rotate around us from birth to death. A continuous journey forcing us to reconcile ourselves with the world – some sooner than others.

“I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen.”

However, all that being said, as a reader I must still be careful not to get too absorbed into the fairy-tale like ending of this story. Although it appears that Gilbert’s journey resulted in exactly what she had set out to do, “find herself”, the reality is that there are many unresolved issues in most of our lives. It wouldn’t be so hard to fnd contentment in life if it could always get wrapped up just as neatly without any loose ends. Isn’t true contentment the ability to not only accept, but live peacefully with, the life that we have created? Flaws and all?

I am thankful that I finished reading Gilbert’s memoir, otherwise I would have had an opinion of her based on the point in which her life was falling apart – a fragment of the women as a whole. There are nuggets of great advice, cultural appreciation and spiritual understanding that I will certainly apply to my own life.

2 thoughts on “Reconciling with Elizabeth Gilbert

  1. I appreciate this perspective and your openness to finishing the book.

    I really loved this book. I think because I related to her in every stage of her journey – distraught and selfish to spiritual growth and personal understanding. Her path was familiar (though my path has been less expensive). And her honesty was refreshing.

    Are you going to read the follow-up on marriage? Curious to know what you think of her in the more recent stage of her life. (I haven’t read it yet.)

    1. Thanks! I am planning on reading her follow-up book after I finish the book The Wednesday Sister’s by Meg Waite Clayton (loving it so for too!). Keep a look out.

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