February 28, 2010

A Tale of self-discovery, yoga, culture and spirituality: Elizabeth Gillbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love”

Reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “eat, pray, love” stirred in me many delights and yearnings. I loved it through and through.

Elizabeth Gilbert paints us a world of joy, bittersweet sorrow, and entertainment that I still find overwhelmingly beautiful. It is not often that I can identify so much with the personality of an author and the yearnings of her search. I hardly have anything in common with her situation: She is divorced, lives in NYC, and travels alone to 3 countries in one year of her life. I love her guts. I love that, as a woman,  she can so boldly state that she did not wish to have children and that she was still unhappy with a great man in her marriage and her fancy apartment in New York. I absolutely admire that she can unapologetically say she cannot find happiness in her seemingly perfect life – oddly enough, this was her own picture of perfect life, not pressures of society or friends.

At the age of 34, she decides to give up everything she has built in pursuit of the longing of her heart, even as elusive as it may be.  She defies cultural notions that we should be happy if we are married to a good person and that the maternal instinct should kick in right around 30 for a healthy, normal woman.  When Gilbert’s bouts of depression become intolerable, she sets off for her year of journeys to 3 countries whose names start with an I – suiting her mission to self-actualization even more perfectly if you care to put significance into small coincidences – Italy, India, and Indonesia.

Elizabeth’s prose is unique and poetic; I was engrossed in her world.  Some of her passages read like a symphony, music to my ears. Elizabeth gave me Italy better than any guidebook or travel journal.  She writes with subtlety about her experiences and is herself surprised by the enormous joy she is reaping from it all – watching Italian boys play football in the streets,  choosing her gelato flavors carefully, thoroughly enjoying every bite of her food, taking Italian lessons, and engrossing in life as it unfolds under the Italian sun in the form of daily routine for the average Italian.

Elizabeth’s struggles in the Ashram in India are one of my most favorite sections.  The experience of Ashram by itself would provide difficult enough for anyone taking on a journey of self-discovery, but particularly for Elizabeth freshly off her indolent, carefree days in Italy. The atmosphere and environment of Italy and India and the nature of her journey in each could not be more in contrast.  While in the Ashram, she struggles to adjust.  Sitting in meditation for hours. Waking up at the wee hours of the morning to sit in this silence for what seems like eternity. Doing yoga for a while before returning to silence and to more meditation. The discipline, the sacrifices of instant pleasures for the sake of a higher pursuit. These make up some of the core messages of Elizabeth’s story.

It is in reading others’ journeys that we can identify with their struggles as if we were traversing through them ourselves. Elizabeth Gilbert’s “eat, pray, love” is a best-seller but unlike many best-sellers, it is truly a unique and touching memoir. I commend her for doing such a fantastic job in writing the book, and more importantly, in pursuing that for which her heart yearned without hesitation or apology.

Note: This book review first appeared on Prolific Living in September 2007. You can see the full version here.

About the Author: Farnoosh is a new columnist at Elephant Journal. She created her own blog, Prolific Living, with a vision of embodying the essence of vitality by living a prolific life by conscious eating, voracious reading, diligent yoga, constant traveling, insatiable appreciation of the arts and by imparting that experience to its beloved readers, you!

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