Have you ever dissuaded yourself from reading a book because you found it to be too popular? For me, this is where my hesitancy lie when I was considering Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Despite near universal praise for this story, the premise of a woman going on a journey to find god seemed like a tired concept to me as I stumbled upon the title over a decade after its original release. I am relieved, however, that I overcame this state of indecision and ultimately decided to read the memoir, because I found it to be worth much of the praise that it received.
On the outside, Elizabeth Gilbert seems to have it all – a successful career, husband, house, and bright future. However, on the inside, Gilbert is harboring deep existential uncertainty. Over the course of about two years Gilbert ends her failing marriage, has an intense but tumultuous relationship with her friend David, and decides to put her belongings in storage and travel for a year. As a framework for her travels, Gilbert chooses three countries to visit for four months each. In Italy, she hopes to study Italian and enjoy the cuisine, in India, she aims to study mediation and seek spiritual enlightenment from a guru, and in Indonesia, she seeks to find balance in her life through a Balinese medicine man.
At its core, Gilbert’s journey is a spiritual one. The word god (both ‘God’ and ‘god’) can be found roughly 352 times in the 352 pages of the book. This book is not about any particular religion, rather about spirituality and a connection to a higher power in the universe. As a rigid, New Englander, the mention of ‘god’ tends to put me on edge, which was another reason for my trepidation, when deciding whether to read this book. However, I found Gilbert’s journey to be positively insightful. The way that she describes her feeling of presence when she makes a spiritual connection has seriously made me consider seeking out a mediation retreat for myself.
Aside from the spiritual aspect, Gilbert’s journey is also about connecting with one’s true self. Through the book, Gilbert has moments in which she will ask herself ‘what do you want, Liz?’ and she will answer herself. Through this internal dialogue, Gilbert stops questioning herself and tries to live according to her own values and desires. This leads her to study Italian for the sake of learning Italian, extending her stay at the Indian ashram (place of hermitage for her spiritual practice) by 10 whole weeks instead of exploring the rest of the country, and allowing herself to take a Brazilian lover in Indonesia after one and a half years of celibacy. This true acceptance of herself is something that she, apparently, lacked before her journey. Before the trip, Gilbert describes how she considered having a child because she was thirty and this is what thirty-year-olds are supposed to want, even though deep down she cringed at the thought of pregnancy. On her journey, she sheds the shackles of such expectations and does not find herself questioning whether someone like her ‘is supposed to’ be something or ‘should’ be doing anything at all. Rather, she now trusts her heart to be her guide.
If you like to travel, you will find something to enjoy in Eat, Pray, Love. A trip to Italy has never been on my bucket list, but Gilbert’s descriptions of the bustling capital, Neapolitan pizza, and rustic countryside have piqued my interest in this Mediterranean locale. Also, if you are interested in exploring spirituality, Gilbert’s stay at the ashram will certainly give you some fascinating tidbits to consider. But, at the end of the day, if nothing more, Eat, Pray, Love is a beautiful story with a diverse and endearing cast of characters and intriguing plot lines that are as good as fiction (perhaps, this is why the book spawned a successful film!).
If you are looking for a book about travel, spirituality, or self-discovery, I highly recommend that you give Eat, Pray, Love a try.