It’s fair to say women in the Western world are increasingly confused, frustrated and unhappy, when a book about throwing aside convention and heading off on a journey of self discovery has more than five million copies in print.
Eat, pray, love: one woman’s search for everything, by Elizabeth Gilbert, was first published in 2006 and has since gone to be one of the most talked (and blogged) about books of recent years.
After a bitter divorce, volatile love affair and a general realisation at how miserable, stressed and unhappy she’d become, thirty-something Liz Gilbert sets out on a journey for the three things missing in her life: pleasure, devotion and balance.
A seasoned traveler, the New Yorker decides the answers to each lie, respectively, in Italy, India and Indonesia.
Her journey, told in a journal format (although structured as 109 “beads” to reflect the Indian string of prayer beads known as japa malas), is a deeply personal account of self discovery.
But – aside from some metaphysical moments in India – it’s not overly self indulgent, nor is it instructive. Gilbert writes with a raw honesty and self deprecating humour that makes her writing engaging, intelligent and funny.
She has a wonderful turn of phrase, and is unashamed to talk about her failings and her deepening hunger for spirituality.
Gilbert does find her pleasure, devotion and balance, but it took a year out of her life and break from a “normal” routine”. Fortunately, it seems, her circumstances enabled her to continue a life less ordinary beyond the pages of the book. Not all of us have the means, or courage, to do so.
I suspect it’s easier to find stillness away from the pressures of every day life, so it seems the key to finding and maintaining “balance”, you need to change your life – and sustain that change.
I don’t care how serene and balanced you are, if you go back into an office environment with a hundred emails a day, endless phone calls, staff to supervise, issues to manage, tight deadlines and personality pressures, you’re going to slip back into old habits.
Surely even Ghandi wouldn’t cope in the modern office environment?
(Just before uploading this post, I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s website, on which she quotes a friend as saying: “To change your life, the important thing is not necessarily to travel; the important thing is to SHIFT” (as in shifting your perspective) – which makes sense.)
But back to the book … the Italy and Bali experiences have a heavier focus on Gilbert’s relationship with others (in the context of her self-discovery), while India is much more focused on her relationship with herself and dealing with her past.
The Italy section resonated most with me (looking for stillness and balance while indulging in fabulous food and wine, surrounded by history and passionate people with a more relaxed outlook on life), which probably says much about where I am in my journey!
The great thing about reading a book like Eat, pray love, is that it makes you question your own faith. It prompts you think a little deeper about who you are, how you relate to the world and what's really important in life. It certainly left me craving stillness, and wanting to grab my husband and run away for a year to get away from all the pressure (which, yes, I generally bring upon myself).
For readers not inclined to self analysis, Eat, pray love probably seems like a self-indulgent, post modernistic self-love fest, but anyone who’s even remotely stopped and thought about who they are and what they believe, will probably find something to think about.
I’m guessing quite a few people reading this post have read this book. What was your take on it? What sorts of things did it make you think about?