Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Eat Pray Love

For years I have heard many reputable things about Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat Pray Love. A few years ago I actually read the first couple pages, then, sadly put it down, not yet being in a place, or age, where I could connect with the book. This week came time for me to try again. Eat Pray Love is Gilbert's irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life. Her sensuous and audacious spiritual odyssey is as deeply pleasurable as it is enlightening.

Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want: a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She was plagued with the despair of a tough divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.

To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world all alone. Eat Pray Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. Indulging in Italy's buffet of delights; the world's best pizza, free-flowing wine and dashing conversation partners, Gilbert consumes la dolce vita as spiritual succor. 'I came to Italy pinched and thin,' she writes, but soon fills out in waist and soul. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration, emulating the ways of yogis, while struggling to still her churning mind. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man, and also fell in love the best way, unexpectedly.

Eat Pray Love is an intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery. It is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. "It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection." This is a line from Bhagavad Gita, ancient Indian Yogic text, that has continued to resound in my mind. What better way to go through life than stumbling yet laughing, clumsy yet excited, knowing that you are pursuing what truly makes you happy. That is perhaps the greatest lesson that was solidified through this book: do what makes you smile and thankful for life.

As each week, and book passes I begin to discover similarities between, people and subjects. I find it quite interesting, and love making the connections, ultimately finding a balance of what works for me. A few weeks ago I read The Happiness Project, one woman's journey to become happier through little and simple things she could do at home, for she could not leave her family for a year of self-realization through traveling. Gilbert's methodical travelogue of soul-searching and self-discovery is on the other end of that same spectrum. The Happiness Project and Eat Pray Love both come down to the same thing, happiness, they just get there in their own custom way. I love that I can take things from both of these books and personal journeys, and adapt them to fit my life.

"Yoga is the effort to experience one's divinity personally and then to hold on to that experience forever. Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying over the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even mindedness will the true nature of the world, and yourself, be revealed to you. true yogis, from their seat of equipoise, see all this world as an equal manifestation of God's creative energy-man, women, children, turnips, bedbugs, coral: it's all God in disguise. But the yogis believe a human life is a very special opportunity, because only in a human form and only with a human mind can God-realization ever occur. The turnips, the bedbugs, the coral- they never get a chance to find out who they really are. But we do have that chance."

Reading this book was like hearing the substantive journey recounted firsthand from a friend. It was brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight, filled with sorrow and a great sense of humor, told with wit and colloquial exuberance. Gilbert sustains a chatty, fully engaging conspiratorial tone, in the year's cultural and emotional tapestry, conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor, as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression. She is a captivating storyteller with a gift for enlivening metaphors, making it so easy to laugh and cry as she recounts her nervy and outlandish experiences, and profiles the extraordinary people she meets.

The first night I sat down with this books it was raining outside. I love everything about the rain, I suppose I always have. I have pictures of me growing up splashing in puddles and dancing in the streets with my bright yellow rubber boots on. The sound, the smell, the newness of the world around me after it subsides, I find it all so refreshing. Needless to say, I grabbed a blanket and opened the windows as far as they would go. It was the absolute perfect moment to begin a book about personal happiness. I Admit that I lucked out being able to start off Eat Pray Love amidst one of my favorite weather circumstances, but my tip is to find a place where you can connect with nature and beauty, even in a small way, while reading this book. Find a bench in a sweet and voluptuous garden, or a patch of grass and shade amongst sturdy everlasting trees. Wiggle your toes in the sand of a calm beach or sit by your favorite fountain or landmark, whatever and wherever it is, just read this book there. It will be that much more meaningful, and will probably make a much deeper and everlasting impression.

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