Friday, June 5, 2009

Eat, pray, love...

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?


BookPlease said...

When I started this book I didn't think I was going to like it. At first I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s style irritating, so chatty and verbose, but after I’d got beyond the sorry details of her marriage, divorce and disastrous relationship with the next man, and she took herself off to Italy I began to relax and enjoy the book.

I actually wrote several posts about it. I enjoyed the Italy section the most - the food, some of the the places she visited I'd also been to and it brought back lovely memories.

The India section was very interesting. I have practised Yoga so I was looking forward to reading of her time in an ashram, but whilst reading it I soon decided that I was glad I'd never been tempted to spend time in one myself. What I particularly liked about this section and the book as a whole was that she’s down to earth and open about her feelings.

In the final section I admired her confidence in travelling alone without even knowing where she was going to live in Bali, not knowing Ketut’s address or even the name of his village. I was amazed by her perseverance and determination - also her fortunate meeting and relationship with that charming Brazilian man - a fairy-tale ending!

Heather said...

I most enjoyed her growth in self confidence. It helps to make you realise that we can be so much more than what we think we can. To get out of our comfort zone can bring about the most amazing lifestyle change.

Anonymous said...

This book is sitting on my bedside table and has been for the last three months since my Mum handed it to me and told me I had to read it.

I don't know why, but I just haven't found the time to start it. Maybe I should... it seems like something I need to read.

Daniel said...

If I'm a guy, is it acceptable to say I've ordered the book via eBay and I'm waiting for it to arrive?If it is acceptable, the above sentence is true.
If it is not, well, erm, I'm obviously never going to read the book!
(I'll email my thoughts to you once I've read it Paula).

Paula Weston said...

Perfectly acceptable Daniel ... :)
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Bec said...

Hi Paula, after being away from Blogland for over 6 weeks now I'm doing a huge catch-up of my fav blogs - hence this very late comment. Just wanted to say I have just started this book (still in Italy at the moment), and am really enjoying it. Guess that means I fall into the category of people who are somewhat inclined to self analysis....just a bit :P Must admit I am liking the idea of the voice (or 'God') within...