It’s 3am, and Elizabeth Gilbert is sobbing on the bathroom floor. She’s in her thirties. She has a husband, a house, they’re trying for a baby- and she doesn’t want any of it. A bitter divorce and a turbulent love affair later, she emerges battered and bewildered and realises it is time to pursue her own journey in search of three things she has been missing: pleasure, devotion and balance. So she travels to Rome, where she learns Italian from handsome, brown-eyed identical twins and gain 25 pounds; to an Ashram in India, where she finds that enlightenment entails getting up in the middle of the night to scrub the temple floor and to Bali where a toothless medicine man of indeterminable age offers her a new path to peace: simply sit still and smile. And slowly happiness begins to creep up on her.
In the first of my Three’s a crowd – Travel with a mission reading theme, I have chosen Eat, Pray and Love as the first travel book with a mission of rediscovering pleasure, devotion and balance.
Eat, Pray, Love is a travelogue and an autobiography. Recovering from an ugly divorce and abysmal despair, Elizabeth, a writer, decided to get an advance from her publisher and spent a year travelling Italy, India and Indonesia (3I’s). With self deprecating humour, good background research and sharp observation, Elizabeth took us on a tour of the countries she visits and as a travel companion to her spiritual odyssey.
When I read a book I usually use a post-it note as a bookmark. When I read something that appeals to me or vocabulary that I don’t understand, I would mark the pages and write a little note on the post-it note. Occasionally, I’ll come across a book I make note so frequently that I thought I might as well have owned the book, so that I could read it whenever I want, ponder over what have been said over and over again, and serves as a ubiquitous personal encouragement at home. This is one such book.
I feel for her when she said: “I wanted to have a lasting experience of God,” I said. Sometimes I feel like I understand the divinity of the world, but I lose it because I get distracted by my petty desires and fears. I want to be with God all the time.”
There was one amazing incident when Liz was trying to untangle herself from an ugly divorce, and felt that the problem had weighed down too heavily on her but didn’t know how she could get out of it. Her friend Iva offered her a piece of advice… “Where did you get the idea that you aren’t allowed to petition the universe with prayer? You are part of this universe, Liz, you’re a constituent- you have every entitlement to participate in the action of the universe.” So Liz wrote a letter to God and told her what she wanted to happen. For every friends and family names that Liz mentioned, Iva said that they had endorsed her petition to the universe and it is signed. It went on to include famous personalities like Gandhi signed it, Clinton signed it.. at the end of it, Liz picked up a phone call and was told that her ex-husband agreed to the divorce settlement.
One day Giovanni and I taught each other idioms in English and Italian. We were talking the other evening about the phrases one uses when trying to comfort someone who is in distress. I told him in English we sometimes say, “I’ve been there.” This was unclear to him at first – I’ve been where?but I explained that deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone assure you that they themselves have stood at that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.
“so sadness is a place?” Giovanni asked.
“Sometimes people live there for years,” I said.
In return, Giovanni told me that empathising Italian says L’ho provato sulla mia pelle, which means “I have experienced that on my own skin.” Meaning, I have also been burned or scarred in this way and I know exactly what you’re going through.
Elizabeth writes with humour and honesty that you can’t help but laugh and empathise with her at the same time. Some examples refer to the conversation she had with depression and loneliness. A conversation with her mind trying to distract her from meditation at 3am in the morning, the beautiful Italian word of Atttraversiamo – let’s cross over, and many more.
Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one.
Destiny, I feel, is also a relationship – a play between divine grace and wilful self-effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands, and your actions will show measurable consequences. Man is neither entirely a puppet of God; nor it 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 everyday is-which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it’s not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?
Elizabeth is blessed with a kind heart, as she helped Wayan to buy a house so that her daughter and two other orphans have a roof over their head and Wayan could continue her medicinal practice in permanent location. At the end it seems Wayan is out to rip her off. Instead of threatening Wayan to return the money Elizabeth’s friend had donated, she understands the procrastination and manipulated Wayan into making a quick decision to settle for a house. I thought it was a commendable and benevolent thing to do.
I like the Italy experience because of the history and spiritual struggle that Elizabeth had shared with us. I like the India experience as Elizabeth settle down and devote her mind to the discipline of prayer and meditation. I like the Bali experience because of the fond memories while I was there, especially in the little town of Ubud and how Elizabeth’s life finally fall into place. In summary, Eat in Italy, Pray in India and Love in Bali.
For many years I have been living in a spiritual dearth. There are fleeting moments when I thought I understand fate and faith; and that I should come to terms with my destiny. Other times I have been disappointed with the outcome of my life that faith and hope had succumbed to abysmal despair.
This book spoke to me like an angel’s message convincing me of my ability to conquer whatever demons that had haunted me in my past and to rise from the despair that I had felt for a very long time. It is not only a delightful read on the three countries that Elizabeth had travelled, but she had brought her readers along with her in her search of spiritual fulfilment, devotion and balance, and finally love. It is not a self-help book with spiritual mumbo-jumbo inspires to convert, it is a witty and honest account of a depressed woman taking on a one-year long journey to find the beauty of life.
Verdict : 5/5
What I like about it:
It is a book that I wanted to have as my constant companion, Elizabeth’s journey inspires me to find pleasure, devotion and balance that is missing from my life. I probably can’t take a year off to spend time on my own, but I could at least proactively do something to make myself feel better about the future. Definitely a book I wanted to keep.
What I like least about it:
Too whiney and whinging on some parts, but it is minor compare to the inspirations and benefits I had derived from the book.