“‘Do I resemble a pig, then? Perhaps a buffalo?’” Elizabeth Gilbert asks the kind saleswoman in an Italian fashion store about her new jeans. “This is becoming good vocabulary practice. I’m also trying to get a smile out of the salesclerk, but she’s too intent on remaining professional. I try one more time: ‘Maybe I resemble a buffalo mozzarella?’ Okay, maybe, she concedes, smiling only slightly. Maybe you do look a little like a buffalo mozzarella…”
With this characteristic self-honesty, wit, and wisdom, Gilbert's memoir about her year-long spiritual journey, Eat, Pray, Love,takes us on a whirlwind journey across three countries—Italy, India, Indonesia. All start with the letter “I;” all are layovers on a journey of self-discovery for Gilbert as she deals with her recent divorce, depression, and a search for God.
In Italy, Gilbert seeks pleasure. Reeling from a brutal divorce, she decides that the best way to heal her soul is to surround it with beautiful things. She studies the poetic language of Italian, immerses herself in Rome’s cafes and fountains, and eats enormous amounts of pasta.
India is a stark contrast to days spent idly eating gelato along a cobblestone street in Rome. Gilbert stays at an Ashram, where she gets up every day at 3:00 a.m. to sing an hour-long hymn to God, and she spends hours in silent, still meditation, trying her best to quiet her thoughts as she strives for union with God.
And last, Indonesia is a fusion of the two, a search for the balance of worldly pleasure and divine transcendence. She also realizes that union with God is worth nothing if it doesn’t cause you to come back into the world and show it love.
Throughout the book Gilbert keeps up such a lively banter about herself, her surroundings and her own broken heart that the reader is carried away in waves of laughter, understanding, and tears, sometimes all in one page.
She is a delightful narrator for the stunning and often hilarious cast of characters she meets in each country. From Luca Spaghetti and his friends having a traditional American Thanksgiving in Italy to Ketut Liyer, the Indonesian medicine man who advises her to “smile in your liver,” Gilbert keeps up a lively commentary about each person. This includes Richard from Texas who gently lets her know, “Honey—Ray Charles could see your control issues.”
Each person allows Gilbert to see another side of herself, another image of the world drawn with tenderness and an acute attention to the important things in life.
Though the book is a hilarious and vivacious travel memoir through three countries, it is also a deep spiritual look at her own wounded heart.
Gilbert lays out her own picture of God clearly in the first couple chapters of the book. While her background is Protestant, she admits that she cannot be clearly defined as Christian, since she believes there are more paths to God than just one. Then she goes on to explain that to her, God is a name, an “equally adequate and inadequate description of the indescribable.”
In her view, God “abides very close to us indeed—much closer than we imagine, breathing right through our own hearts.” She admires the mystics of every religion who “voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love.” Gilbert goes on to do precisely that in the following chapters of her book, taking the readers on a worldwide journey through a torn and battered heart that finds peace and happiness in God.
Though this book is not a look at practicing traditional Christianity—Gilbert’s methods are often in stark contrast to our ideas of “church”—I found her search for God to be moving and profound on many levels. It was a broken soul searching for comfort, a lonely soul searching for belonging, a confused soul searching for meaning, and a human soul simply searching for the one who created it. This was the search that mirrors every single person on earth, regardless of religious background or upbringing.
I was struck with how so often we get caught up in the means to get to God—Gilbert called it the ‘transporting metaphor’—and we forget that in the end our goal is always the same. The Center of the Universe, union and communion with God, a closest relationship with the Source of unfailing love. As Gilbert asks, “Isn’t our individual longing for transcendence all just part of this larger human search for divinity? Don’t we each have the right to not stop seeking until we get as close to the source of wonder as possible?”
And this sentiment is why I found myself almost in tears at times as Gilbert explained her meditation experiences, her steps to God, her forward and backward leaps, her discoveries about her own selfish and silly soul, and how desperately in need of God she was.
Like a younger Anne Lamott on a world tour, Gilbert weaves her charming tale around humorous stories, revealing confessions, and deep truths. And even if I’m not a thirty-something recovering from a recent divorce, somehow her search for God was incredibly relevant to my own life.
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Gilbert recently read a portion of her book about her “nascent spiritual explorations” for an online bookclub.
Katrina Emery recently graduated from Union College with a Communications degree and is now living in Prague, Czech Republic, teaching English and seeing castles. She enjoys eating chocolate-covered gummy bears, making short films, traveling, reading and enjoying life.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert is available from Amazon.com.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/168