Schmacko's Reviews > Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
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's review
Mar 21, 2009

really liked it
Read in March, 2009

Imagine the entire world is actually a huge party in a large house.

There’s a group gathered in the kitchen around the wine; all of these people believe their specific spiritual path is right and everyone else’s is wrong – dangerous and even damnable. In the dining room around the punch bowl are people who utilize Empirical thought and science to “prove” that any spiritual belief is a bunch of romantic, mind-controlling hooey.

Wandering around the rest of the house, exploring closets, relaxing in the back yard, are two very tiny groups of people. Of these refugees, one small group believes that any religious searching or spiritual metaphor is essentially OK, but wants some modicum of privacy and sensibility to prevail. The other small tribe is running from closet to medicine cabinet to spare bedroom to basement; they are actually rushing from belief to belief cobbling together a religion of their own invention. Later, as the party’s winding down, these same people will pontificate the wonders they have found in crystals and macrobiotics, Tarot and tree-hugging, past-life regression and UFO worship.

No one at the party is totally right. No one is totally sober.

Maybe things aren’t as simple as this party metaphor. The truth is, the religious seeker of today could quite possibly be creating the major religions of tomorrow. These Rune-and-yoga-and-yogurt combinations may someday be the next Mormonism or the next Scientology. Or maybe they are the next Moonies or the Kool-Aide drinkers in Jonestown. Really, any belief does have the long-term opportunity to become Catholicism (which is also supremely weird - with its plenary indulgences, secret societies, and repetitive rituals spookily based on cannibalism [!?!?!:]).

Elizabeth Gilbert was on a spiritual quest, one of those people running from room to room at a party. She just went through a messy divorce (which I am happy to report Gilbert accurate describes as at least half her fault. It’s obvious she was lying to herself and her husband throughout the marriage about what she wanted out of life.) Then, she had a terrible rebound relationship marked with emotional vacillation and navel-gazing. Neither of these events is especially good for getting in touch with God.

Only after Elizabeth Gilbert decides to spend a year traveling does her life seem to start having direction; only then does Gilbert seem to really be doing what she truly wants to do. She chooses to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia. There she learns to eat, pray and love as the book title outlines.

Italy is easy to take. Gilbert’s natural humor and love of life shines through. The scenery is rapturously described, as is the food. Interspersed in this tale are her lingering problems with the divorce and the rebound relationship. But these small tangents don’t bog down the joy too much. The problem is that hedonism can only take one so far.

That’s when Gilbert goes to study in an Ashram in India; the place is under the tutelage of a famous guru. Now, depending on how you feel about meditation and yoga, you my like or hate this section and the rest of the book. If the term “guru” reminds you of all those overpaid shysters of the 1970s, you might squirm a little – or a lot. If you think your form of Islam or Christianity or Zoroastrianism is the ONLY path to God, you’ll be ready to call a jihad on poor Elizabeth Gilbert. Me, I was half-fascinated; half-amazed at how simply she bought everything in a way I never could.

Later, Gilbert goes to Indonesia to study meditation with a small folk medicine man no one knows, and the book goes a bit deeper into cloudy, mystical, magical territory. Gilbert drinks folk medicine that I’d only take out of gustatory curiosity, on a dare to myself. She learns to “smile from her liver” as she meditates. Yep, it gets a little more foreign. The thread of common sense Gilbert at first gives to us in the book becomes very long and very thin, but it never quite breaks, thankfully.

As the story develops, I came to understand that Elizabeth Gilbert believes far-fetched and elaborate tales way more than I ever could. She gives out cash and work. She learns a bit about human dishonesty, but she is so trusting and open that she still does what she does without remorse. Gilbert a generous and likeable person, if a bit kooky; I am just not like that open (or gullible or gracious – pick your word).

Also, Gilbert does at first apologize a scant bit for her less-than-familiar spiritual experiences, knowing these are foreign to most of us. But then she delves into these same beliefs for pages and pages, throwing off metaphors and similes without little regard as to whether we understand them or not.

I constantly imagined Gilbert telling me her tales at a party. (And Gilbert is such a good, genial writer that the book feels like a monologue given at a party.) She’s blathering on and on about aligning chakra, drinking herbal remedies and circulating her breathing that she never quite notices that my left eyebrow stays firmly cocked in skepticism, though I am amused and intrigued.

This is OK. Every person has their own path to take, and mine isn’t any better or purer than Gilbert’s, just different. Maybe I just like my spiritual exploration with a little more Empiricism - or at least a tertiary tie to psychology or sociology. Maybe, I’d like the seeker to say a little more often, “This is MY metaphor. This is what works for ME.”

Still, if I ran into Glbert at that party, I’d report later that I met a fascinating person I’d like to get to know better. And maybe we’d even be friends over time (because friendship always takes time for me, unlike Gilbert). However, at this point in my life, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be drinking ground-up grass clippings to cure ennui or kissing the feet of a self-proclaimed guru. So Gilbert’s and my paths would naturally at some point diverge.

Which is also OK.

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