By: Elizabeth Gilbert
I read a book recently that was apparently appealing to enough people that it was made into a film. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is the story of a woman who goes through a spiritual transformation, certainly not a new theme but definitely an appealing one in this day and age. To accomplish her lofty goal, she travels the world for an entire year and does spiritual things, like learn how to enjoy her own company in Italy by teaching herself how to enjoy simple pleasures guilt free, visiting an Ashram in India to learn devotion then ultimately finding a way to become comfortable enough with herself in Bali that she could feel free enough to love someone without all those pesky co-dependency issues. All that is fine and good and hundreds of people can relate to her plight. Awakening one day, and I don’t just mean getting up in the morning, I mean having an epiphany, a big realization that you have become a round peg trying to force yourself into the square hole that your life has become.
She has been through a bad marriage, “bad” being a relative term here, but despite the divorce being a little messy, incredible good fortune seems to rain down upon this woman. And despite the fact that she has an umbrella made out of money she doesn’t stop whining at the onset of the film, actually sobbing, about her suffering. Again, the term “relative” pops into my head, suffering is also a relative term based on the person and how much they have had to suffer in their lives, clearly, her experience in this area has been limited and perhaps that is why she feels it necessary to go to such extremes to attempt to alleviate said suffering.
I don’t mean to diminish her suffering, one’s suffering is variable and the variables number in the tens of thousands. It isn’t as though one person’s suffering is more valid than another’s, as I said, it’s all relative, and one thing I found that I personally could not relate to was this woman’s idea of suffering. Plus, I was jealous. I wished I could have gone to Italy to alleviate my suffering. I would likely even enjoy visiting an Ashram and who wouldn’t want to go and chill in Bali for a while? As soon as the jealousy wore off however, and the feeling that this whole book was about this woman’s personal pity party, I really began to enjoy the book and the writing, which is spectacular.
Although this was a work of non-fiction, I thought of Elizabeth, or “Liz” as a relatable character. The way she depicts her fly by the seat of her pants method for travel was totally relatable to me. She talks about how it’s easy for her to make friends and how she is easy to travel with, I have been told the same. My travelling experiences are very different from hers but the way in which we travel, that is where the similarities are. She has a passion for travel that rivals my own which made her character likable to me. What I cannot relate to is the concept of having to travel so far in the physical world to have a spiritual quest. Her entire issue ends up being about discovering the divine within herself so why all the world travel?
Liz had to go to Italy, India and Indonesia to do what many are able to do in their own back yard, have a spiritual journey. One of the most potent spiritual experiences, an epiphany if you will, that “Liz” has in the book happens during meditation at her Guru’s Ashram. Does that type of epiphany need an Ashram? I’m not certain that anyone will ever be able to convince me that a physical journey is necessary to have a spiritual one. Nor will I be convinced that going to a specific place to seek a spiritual experience and having one is more valid because travel was involved. In most cases spiritual epiphanies involve recognizing the fact that the divine is within and present in all life, so why should it matter if you’re recognizing that simple truth while gazing at a flower in your own backyard or a lotus blossom in the Ashrams pond?
The book also brought up the question of the “need” for a Guru. No two people achieve enlightenment the same way even if they follow the same spiritual philosophy and have much in common. Elizabeth Gilbert had to eat in Italy to really taste the food, pray in India to truly feel devotion and love herself in Bali before she could fall in love with another. The book is very well written and entertaining and I like the characters and concepts. Mostly, it left me feeling grateful to be eating, praying and loving all in the comfort of my own backyard. Why not truly taste, feel empowered by devotion and experience love every day no matter the location?