Putting aside what would appear on the surface to be the American dream (a husband, a house, and a successful career), Elizabeth Gilbert takes readers on her journey searching to balance the enjoyment of worldly pleasures with a strong spiritual devotion. Eat, Pray, Love chronicles a year’s worth of indulgences, meditations, and personal discoveries divided amongst travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia.
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting when I began reading Eat, Pray, Love, but I guess I thought I might be able to relate to Liz, have her journey help me with my own personal struggles for finding myself, for calming the ever raging storm of anxiety and unease I feel when I think about things greater than myself (no, not that I’m egocentric, but the LARGE things about life like defining success, finding God, and even time running out). With all the hoopla surrounding the book AND the movie, I checked it out from the library (thank goodness I didn’t spend money on it) with the belief it would be well-worth my time. It would be dishonest to say I didn’t gain anything from reading the book, but I must say I couldn’t even devote my full attention to finishing the book. After the first section, it was a painful chore to turn each page. It was all I could do to briefly skim over the final third of the book, hoping for something exceptional to redeem the book. No such luck.
Imagine reading the journal of the chattiest person you know. And not the friendly, interesting storytelling that makes an hour fly by—the dull, droning buzz that stretches each second of a ticking clock into a loud clatter, feeling as though an hour has gone by only to discover it’s barely been 2 minutes. I couldn’t help but feel as though I were gasping for air below writing plagued with complex, unnecessary descriptions and over-elaboration. 331 pages later, the sweet relief came in the form of turning the last page, knowing my suffering had ended.
To be fair, the book was not a complete loss. Gilbert presents a beautiful, honest story with a strong voice filled with humorous self-depreciation. I frequently laughed out loud (during the first third, at least) and found myself marking interesting tidbits of history and culture that helped put each part of the journey into context. The highest praise I can give Eat, Pray, Love stems from the times I found myself in complete awe of Gilbert’s articulation of such profound insight into humanity.
Quotes that affected me:
“Culturally, though not theologically, I’m a Christian” (14).
How common is this in society today? We are born into customs and traditions, expectations and beliefs that describe our cultural lives, but do not begin to touch on our divine inclinations.
“In the end, what I have come to believe about God is simple. It’s like this—I used to have this really great dog. She came from the pound. She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, “What kind of dog is that?” I would always give the same answer: “She’s a brown dog.” Similarly, when the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God” (14).
I love this! Such a simple answer that does not attempt to categorize or define such a complex issue.
“Hello, God. How are you? I’m Lzx. It’s nice to meet you.” That’s right—I was speaking to the creator of the universe as though we’d just been introduced at a cocktail party. But we work with what we know in this life, and these are the words I always use at the beginning of a relationship” (15)
Speaking to God with humility and near-embarrassment rather than filled with prideful expectation flips what many think they know about talking with God completely upside down. It is not a relationship with great expectation to be held at a high level of grandeous, but rather a comfortable partnership in which both parties are trading turns talking and listening.
“In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place” (18).
How often relationships encounter this road bump, even relationships between family members, between friends, sometimes between pets and their owners. As the relationship grows, expectations and beliefs are formed, misguiding us through perceptions that are not true reflections of who someone is, but rather who we have shaped them to be in our minds. In order for relationships to be sustained, we must overcome this and learn to accept and appreciate people for who they truly are, not who we wish them to be.
“I want to have a lasting experience of God…But I don’t want to be a monk, or totally give up worldly pleasures. I guess what I want is to learn to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God” (26)
Seems this is a common struggle for individuals of all religions and faiths.
“There’s a power struggle going on across Europe these days…cities competing against each other to see who shall emerge as the great twenty-first-century European metropolis. Will it be London? Paris? Berlin? Zurich? Maybe Brussels, center of the young union? They all strive to outdo one another culturally, architecturally, politically, fiscally. But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed, exuding and air like: Hey—do whatever you want, but I’m still Rome. I am inspired by the regal self-assurance of this town ,so grounded and rounded, so amused and monumental, knowing that she is held securely in the palm of history. I would like to be like Rome when I am an old lady” (72)
In today’s rat race, it is often difficult not to compare ourselves to one another, to quiet the yearning of our minds to have more than our neighbor, be better than our neighbor, do more than our neighbor. Contentment and happiness requires us to accept ourselves, to be confident in who we are and what we will become.
“The Bhagavad Gita—that ancient Indian Yogic text—says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection” (95)
At some point, everyone must realize that happiness comes from being content with who you are rather than constantly trying to change yourself to fit how you think society wants you to be. (As a friend of mine would say, “You can paint a grizzly bear white and place him in the arctic, but he still isn’t a polar bear.” Or something along those lines.)
“Different schools of thought over the centuries have found different explanations for man’s apparently inherently flawed state. Taoists call it imbalance, Buddhism calls it ignorance, Islam blames our misery on rebellion against God, and the Judeo Christian tradition attributes all of our suffering to original sin. Freudians say that unhappiness is the inevitable result of the clash between our natural drives and civilization’s needs. The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We’re miserable because we think we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace” (122)
“Just as there exists in writing a literal truth and a poetic truth, there also exists in a human being a literal anatomy and a poetic anatomy. One, you can see; one, you cannot. One is made of bones and teeth and flesh; the other is made of energy and memory and faith. But they are both equally true” (144).
“People think a soul-mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it” (149).
“Time—when pursued like a bandit—will behave like one…At some point you have to stop because it won’t. You have to admit that you can’t catch it. That you’re not supposed to catch it” (155).
“Destiny, I feel, is also a relationship—a play between divine grace and willful self-effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands, and your actions will show measurable consequence. Man is neither entirely a puppet of the gods, nor is he entirely the captain of his own destiny, he’s a little of both. We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses—one foot is on the horse called “fate,” the other on the horse called “free will.” And the question you have to ask every day is—which horse is which?” (177)