I seem to have been reading Eat, Pray, Love a very long time. That is because I only read short sections each morning. I’d read quite a lot about the book on a number of blogs and some people loved it and others didn’t and for a while I resisted reading it. Then a few months ago I found it sitting on the shelf in my local library and thought I’d have a look at 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’m glad I finally did read this book as in the end I found it very entertaining.
She travelled to Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Indonesia (Love) spending four months in each place, searching for pleasure in Italy, mainly through food, God in India at an ashram, and balance in Indonesia.
I’ve written a bit about her time in Italy here and this was my favourite section of the book. Whatever Elizabeth Gilbert does it seems as though she throws herself into it 100% - so in Italy she put on weight, eating pizza and gelato. Well not just those two Italian basics, but loads of delicious sounding food. It made me feel happy just reading about her happiness in eating soft-boiled eggs, asparagus, olives, goat’s cheese and salmon, followed by a fresh peach. By the end of her stay in Italy I wasn’t surprised that none of the clothes she brought with her fitted - I found the same after two weeks! Needless to say I enjoyed reading “Eat” and it made me want to visit Italy again.
On to India, where it was back to intense, emotional experiences; much soul-searching and naval- gazing too. (I also wrote a bit about this section here.)I have practised Yoga so I was looking forward to reading of her time in an ashram, but soon decided that I’m glad I was never tempted to spend time in one myself. Elizabeth Gilbert was hoping for “a dazzling encounter with God, maybe some blue lightning or a prophetic vision”, but for a while this eluded her. I was amused when I read that she wrote that she’d been talking too much, not just at the ashram but all her life, so she decided she didn’t want “to waste the greatest spiritual opportunity of her life by being all social and chatty the whole time.” She was going to become known as “That Quiet Girl”! Her hopes were dashed when she was asked to be “Key Hostess", looking after people coming to the ashram on retreat.
But it was during these retreats that she had her “dazzling encounter” with God. Elizabeth writes about God as though she’s writing to a penfriend or is talking to a friend at the end of a telephone. She also writes about it in abstract terms – she “stepped through time“ and “entered the void”; she
“was the void … the void was God, which means that I was inside God. But not in a gross, physical way – not like I was Liz Gilbert stuck inside a chunk of God’s thigh muscle. I was just part of God. In addition to being God. I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe.” (p209)
My interpretation of this is that Elizabeth was experiencing a state of “oneness”, where she was not aware of the limits of her own being. She says that it wasn’t hallucinogenic or exiting or euphoric, even though she states "it was heaven"; maybe she is saying that she slowed down and experienced calm and tranquillity, a sort of blend of Christianity and Buddhism perhaps. At the beginning of the book Elizabeth writes that she is "culturally, though not theologically" a Christian, which goes some way to explaining her experience of "being God". She explains her position thus:
“… while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do, I can’t swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only path to God. Strictly speaking then, I cannot call myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on this with grace and open-mindedness.”(p14)
In the final section of the book she travelled on to Bali in Indonesia where she had first met Ketut, the medicine man, who resembles Yoda from Star Wars. I have to admire Elizabeth Gilbert’s confidence in travelling alone without even any idea of where she is going to live, and what she is going to do. She arrived in Bali not knowing Ketut’s address or even the name of his village and when she did find it at first he did not recognise her. Life in Bali is very different from her time in India, much more relaxed and Ketut’s methods of meditation were much less intense than those at the ashram.
Along the way she also made friends with Wayan, a poverty stricken woman healer and spent the mornings with her “laughing and eating”, the afternoons with Ketut “talking and drinking coffee” and the evenings relaxing in her garden, either by herself or with another friend, Yudhi who came over and played his guitar. She decided to raise money from friends in America to buy Wayan a house and this nearly ended in disaster when Wayan kept finding more and more difficulties with purchasing land and said she needed more money. Fortunately Elizabeth had met a charming Brazilian man, with whom she fell in love and he explained that that is the way of life for people there – to try to get the most money they can out of visitors.
So, it all ended happily as Elizabeth sailed
“to this pretty little tropical island with my Brazilian lover. Which is – I admit it!- an almost ludicrously fairy-tale ending to this story, like the page out of a housewife’s dream. … Yet what keeps me from dissolving right now into a complete fairy-tale shimmer is this solid truth, a truth which has veritably built my bones over the last few years – I was not rescued by a prince: I was the administrator of my own rescue.” (p 344)
I found an on-line video of Elizabeth Gilbert talking about this book at http://www.learnoutloud.com/Free-Audio-Video/Social-Sciences/Cultural-Criticism/Authors@Google-Elizabeth-Gilbert/25150