Eat Pray Love – if books could be soul mates

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay,  hard one for me. This is probably how actors feel when they act in remakes of their favorite actors’ movies…or singers when they perform on a Beatles number…

But I’m going to take a cue from the book and practice Parla Come Mangi‘ – literally, ‘speak the way you eat”.  It’s a reminder – when you’re making a big deal out of explaining something, searching for the right words – to keep your language as simple and direct, just lay it on the table.

Let me say it right off the bat then, I loved this book from the first page to the last, so this is a biased opinion…in fact, if books could be soul mates, this is it, I can cuddle up to it on a cold night and everything.

If you haven’t heard of it already, this is the Julia Roberts about-to-be big motion picture (with the gorgeous, Javier Bardem as the male protagonist, loud applause for the casting team every body…)

Memoir of author Elizabeth Gilbert, it is a travelogue tracing the year she chose to travel to three countries in her “search for everything”. Italy, where else would you go for pleasure? India, for peace…ok this is seriously debatable…and Indonesia, Bali to find a balance between the two.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what did this woman lose that had her hopping around three countries searching for it. In fact, the plot does sound chic-flicky  – with a divorce and painful love affair leading to her journey into self-discovery. But here is why I think the book was a worldwide bestseller, even with the men (yes, unhhuh, I do know men who have not only read it, but also admitted to have enjoyed it)…

In endurance sports, there is an expression called “hitting the wall”.  A condition in which a runner or cyclist simply runs out of energy to go any further. Sportsmen, who have learnt the art of breaking that wall, survive; others fall by the wayside.

I think in life too, we reach a point when we sometimes simply hit a wall. Eat Pray Love is about learning the art of breaking that wall. My take – when we are born, we learn how to live on the job. We fall, we stand, learn, grudge, complain…we stumble upon life accidentally. But there does come a point, with different circumstances for everyone that makes us stop and just ponder. Is there another way for us to happen to life instead of life happening to us? One that we choose instead of accidentally stumbling upon?

The book helped me recognize that it doesn’t take a tragedy to realize this; as we grow older, we build our inventory of daily disappointments, frustrations and patterns. That inventory needs occasional purging, for the future to truly rush in. But that’s easier said than done.  Sometimes we can’t help but haul our past around for decades even. Gilbert takes an unusual route to purge hers. Not a spiritual one of abstinence, but a meticulously thought through 3-pronged strategy: eating, praying and making love happen.

There are many lessons that struck a chord from her journey and that I love the book for…I discovered that happiness is a consequence of consistent personal effort, about the healing powers of pizza,  accepting embarrassing facts about one-self, that solitude can impact our mind in ways nothing else can, the beauty of doing nothing (this is truly an art btw, from recent personal experience), that you can choose your thoughts (shocking), that eventually, good and bad, both pass… the humor in tragedy…(I have tried to cover all of these in a collection of my favorite quotes from the book. Click here to browse these)

But the one thing, that stands out as a the reason for my love of the book is summarized in the following quote:

“We do spiritual ceremonies to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”

How wonderful, I think that thought is. I’m not sure if I can think of myself as a poet, but somehow I love the idea of being my own plumber. Remodeling and upgrading myself whenever need be, fixing the nuts and bolts, in some cases maybe loosening them a little.

No matter what life deals us, I have come to believe that these self-created rituals sort of become our duty then. To enjoy life, is to let go.  This can be scary. For me, changing residences, cities, relationships, careers, jobs, all become a tad more challenging because I tend to look back for too long. I am a hyper-thinker, examining everything way too much, past, present and future. So when Gilbert sits at lunch and asks God “Look–I understand that an unexamined life is not worth living, but do you think I could someday have an unexamined lunch?” I totally get what she means.

But what if we can truly accept, that what happens has to happen. Or let me change that paradigm a little…that what happened was never not going to happen, it changes perspective. When I examined my own life vis-à-vis this, I thought that’s true, I was never not going to be on this  break, never not working where I am, never not dated who I did, never not found friends that I did. That makes you think, if everything, pleasant and unpleasant, was happening anyway, then letting go becomes a lot easier. Does that make sense?

Our own rituals help us accept what was never not going to happen and welcome more of what has to happen. I know people who don’t wait for catastrophic events to indulge in this, they just go annually to Vipasana camps…the intensive meditation yoga camps that put you through rigorous schedule of work and prayer, disallowing any communication or speech for ten days (you can see why this could never be my ritual; I mean, I’m on my first alone-holiday and I decided to start a blog).

Gilbert identified travel across three countries in search of peace as her ritual.  The chapters trace her experience in Italy where she explores the sheer pleasure of food and nothingness. In India, with the guidance of her formal Guru, and informal Guru in a friend, (called Richard from Texas), she creates many other smaller rituals for her personal healing. In Indonesia, amongst other prophesies, she learns how to “smile from her liver” from medicine man Ketut, who teaches her “everything he knows” about life. And finally, yes, discovers love again, this time in a whole different light.

A great entertainer, this one will make you laugh, nod and grudgingly accept that you too may have harbored regrets, disappointments, could-haves and would-haves for too long.  And if you have, there is so much you may have missed out on, so much that couldn’t get in because it was houseful and a lot was yet to get out. So, fun times really…time to find your own ritual…where would you go if you had one year off?

These are my personal comments and ruminations. For a formal review, please visit New York Times Review.

Also I have changed my mind about my next post. I am putting the post on the movie “Up in the Air” as promised in my first post, on hold. I recently discovered the glorious difference between a tourist and a traveller and am itching to share that…till then, do visit This and That, for a collection of Eat Pray Love quotes. Please feel free to share your favorite ones and a completely different view on the book too, particularly look forward to the critics.


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