It’s 3 a.m. and Elizabeth Gilbert is sobbing on the bathroom floor. She’s in her thirties, she has a husband, a house, they’re trying for a baby – and she doesn’t want any of it. A bitter divorce and a turbulent love affair later, she emerges battered and bewildered and realises it is time to pursue her own journey in search of three things she has been missing: pleasure, devotion and balance. So she travels to Rome, where she learns Italian from handsome, brown-eyed identical twins and gains twenty-five pounds, an ashram in India, where she finds that enlightenment entails getting up in the middle of the night to scrub the temple floor, and Bali where a toothless medicine man of indeterminate age offers her a new path to peace: simply sit still and smile. And slowly happiness begins to creep up on her.
For everything that’s been going on in my life lately: thinking about meditation and all that soul-searching stuff, planning for travelling – Bali included(!) – and then feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, Eat, Pray, Love turned out to be the book of the moment. It’s funny when that happens; when a book matches your current moods and interests so completely that it’s like it’s speaking directly to you.
I know I’m a bit late to the party, the book came out 9 years ago, and I know that the whole ‘divorced woman goes to find herself in Asia’ has become a bit of a cliché now, the punchline in jokes, but for what it’s worth I really enjoyed reading about Gilbert’s spiritual and physical journeys. And hey, as Gilbert proves, it’s never too late to find something you love!
It was certainly a brave thing to do – and I don’t mean just dropping everything to travel the world. I mean that Gilbert lays herself bare in her writing, discussing her own emotional and psychological depths with such an amazing degree of clarity. The woman really knows and understands herself, and there’s something so admirable about somebody who can be so open to change, and so willing to work for it. I loved her commitment to the cause, and I loved following her journey through Italy on a pursuit of pleasure, India on a pursuit of devotion, and Bali on a pursuit of balance, feeling as if I too had accomplished some kind of self-revelation through my reading of her experiences.
I’m not saying that it was all smiles and zen, however, and there were plenty of things which Gilbert and I disagreed on. As an atheist, I could not agree on her search for God through for meditation. For me, meditation has always been something godless, seeking for truth within yourself, rather than from some magical outward source. But that’s just me, and I understand that religion/meditation/God is whatever you make of it. It’s ok to believe different things and I think Gilbert tries to reflect that too.
There was also something overwhelmingly American about the book and I don’t think I could put my finger on it, apart from to say that it was American in the first place. I’ve read a lot of reviews calling Gilbert self-obsessed and narcissistic, and I do understand that to some people one woman’s search for peace and happiness is not the most important thing in the world (#firstworldproblems?). As one unimpressed reviewer has written, ‘Gilbert needs to go out and understand that the world doesn’t revolve around her’. Ouch.
But Gilbert’s not trying to change the whole world, she’s trying to change her own, and sometimes being wholeheartedly selfish and self-focussed is what it takes to be happy. And here’s where Gilbert and I share the same opinion. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I have written a blog post on it too, so to read Gilbert telling her readers how you should choose happiness everyday, how you should actively search for it, was something of a blessing.
Now I’m off to watch the film and dream of future Bali bliss. Stay happy, people.