I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, in simplest terms, I loved it – but it’s complicated love. I bought the book right before my Disney cruise, hoping to spend time rekindling my romance with the written word. I haven’t read much lately that didn’t have to do with essays, stories, poems, and even a graphic memoir – all for school. For work. Pleasure reading has been nonexistent. I think the last reading I did just because was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and even that book I will be using in my classes. I started reading Isabel Allende’s The Sum of my Days, in Spanish, but that is sitting now in my bookshelf, the Tinkerbell bookmark sitting about one-third of the way, collecting dust. It’s not happening.
So I decided to indoctrinate myself into my summer “vacation” with a memoir (my genre of choice) that could balance between chick-lit and seriousness, romance and truth, dreams and reality, humor and spirituality. I think I’ve hit the mark with Eat, Pray, Love.
I had received numerous, mixed reviews from friends who’ve read it (and a somewhat Sparks Notes report from a student) and I was intrigued. But I hadn’t really read what it was about. Not really. I envisioned a plot similar to that of Under the Tuscan Sun, only transcending three countries.
My reading journey began a few days before we left for Cape Canaveral; I just couldn’t wait to start reading. And I was disappointed – at first. I started reading, expecting a literary fluency akin to Madeleine Blais’s Uphill Walkers, and I was disappointed. The language was okay. The writing was at times clichéd. At one point I felt I was reading my students’ papers. It was a disaster.
But so was Gilbert’s life at that point. I think there was a correlation. During the time she spent in Italy, in pursuit of culinary pleasures, the writing was superficial and basic. But there was humor, and her story surrounded me, transported me, and soon I was forgetting about whether the metaphor was silly or whether her description was basic, and I was immersed in her experience. When I finished the first third of the book, aboard the Disney Wonder in the Bahamas, I was sad to say good-bye to Italy. I love Italy, and my desire to learn Italian intensified.
And then Gilbert took me to an ashram in India, a place I have never thought of visiting – ever. I actually have very limited knowledge of Eastern meditation and religions. And when I say very limited, I literally mean very, very limited. I know of Hinduism and Buddhism, but that’s it and on the surface level. Gilbert’s account in this ashram in a remote village of India, and her explanations of spirituality, captivated me more than the pleasure of eating pasta in the many historic Italian cities and towns. It left me yearning and wanting that spiritual peace. And her way of making sense of the diversity of religion and how it’s all the same – and how in that ashram, people of all religions were there in order to get closer to their Gods (Christian, Jewish, Muslim – it didn’t matter) – it made sense to me. Actually, a lot of what she said during her spiritual journey made sense to me. Not all, but a good amount. We’re all in this search for divinity, for spiritual and religious belonging, whether we want to admit it or not. We need something, and what we call that something varies. We are so focused on our location in the map of society that we become lodged on this canvas, without realizing that it’s not flat, but round, ever existing, ever changing, ever merging into itself. We have the freedom to move – yet we don’t. It’s an interesting concept. This section also made me think of the juxtaposition of those two terms we sometimes use interchangeably: religion and spirituality. They’re not interchangeable. They’re different. One can be uber religious and not find spiritual peace. Crazy concept, I know, but think about it. We all know someone who prays every day, attends religious services all the time, and proclaims to be “holier than thou” but at closer inspection, the spiritual storm that exists in this person’s heart is tumultuous and it’s seen in actions, in words, in subtle hints that alert us to the true spiritual nature of this person. He is not at peace with himself, his life. She is not at one with her creator, whoever that creator is for her. Different words for the same thing – this is what I took from Gilbert’s experience in the Ashram in India. Let go and let God is what I learned at an Emmaus retreat. Let go and let God, in different words, is what Gilbert learned in the second section of the book.
And her writing was changing skins, just as she was changing, rising through meditation from her worldly suffering to the divine.
The concept of “same-same,” as her Balinese Medicine Man, Ketut, says it, is brought to the center in the third and final section of Eat, Pray, Love. In Indonesia, Gilbert attempts to find balance in her life. After four months in Italy searching for pleasure (non-carnal pleasure as she’s on self-imposed celibacy), and after four months in India searching for spirituality, she arrives in Bali equipped with some newfound confidence and ease of being with and by herself. She sets off at figuring out how to combine pleasure and spirituality, and in doing so, stumbles on love.
Her writing style towards the end is different, or maybe I was so engrossed with the story that I forgave. Maybe there was a purpose – write for the masses with humor, especially for women who are hurting – and the style is overlooked. In reading reviews, I saw some call her writing a form of whining, and at times, I agreed. But I think it was needed. When we’re so neck-deep in our own pit of sorrow, it’s hard not to whine. In the beginning of her book, Gilbert was in that place. The wallowing, self-pity, snot-inducing place. By the end of the book, she wasn’t, and her ascension to that place of contentment becomes evident in her writing. It was well done, I think.
In another post, when I have some more quiet time, I’ll point out a few passages I absolutely loved – especially one in which Richard from Texas explains his theory about soul mates to Gilbert. It’s definitely one of those things that make you pause and ponder.
So now I want to read Committed which, lucky for me, was recently published. It starts where Eat, Pray, Love left off, and I can’t wait. I’m also looking forward to the movie, starring Julia Roberts, that’s due out this summer.