16 May 2009

eat, pray, love

I saw Elizabeth Gilbert's excellent Ted video on creativity and finally decided to read her book on journeying through Italy, India and Indonesia in search of "everything."

Which brings me to another good reason to borrow books from a library: you aren't as affected by the hype. And I just came across the amazon reviews, which were harsh. Yikes. (I always wonder about people who have such horrible things to say about others.) So, I'm just glad I was able to read the book with no expectations.

Now, onto the book: it's the story of a woman in her early 30s who 'had it all'-- a successful career, a husband, a home in the suburbs-- and decided she didn't want to go the traditional route of being settled and having babies. To get over her messy and long divorce, she sets off in search of delicious food and pleasure in Italy, spiritual meaning in India and a way to balance the two in Indonesia.

In Italy, she easily befriends people right and left, and her friends back home tease her for her "No Carb Left Behind" tour of Italy. While learning Italian and immersing herself in Italian culture, she delights in a fan's impassioned swearing at a soccer game and the post-game cream puffs at a neighborhood bakery.

In one conversation, she and her friend, Giulio, discuss the culture of a city and how it can often be encapsulated in just one word. For Rome, Giulio says it's SEX; for the Vatican, POWER; for New York City, ACHIEVE; for Los Angeles, SUCCEED; and so on. So, the logical follow-up question is, what's your word? An interesting one to ponder.

When hitting tough times, she develops some creative coping methods. One, with the help of a friend, is to write a petition to God (in her case, for her husband to allow their divorce to go through) and then imagine anyone and everyone (from family and friends to figures like Mother Teresa and Gandhi) signing it.

Another is writing in a notebook and having a conversation with -- yourself. She literally writes something like, "I need help," and in a little while, the better, stronger part of herself responds, "I'm here." I could see this being nothing short of a miracle for someone who felt completely alone in the world.

In India, she goes to live in an Ashram, but instead of quiet contemplation, she again cultivates an active social life. Richard from Texas, who nicknames the author Groceries, becomes her straight-shooting, real-life yogi as she struggles to meditate and pray and find her center. When she claims most people can't see her control issues when they first meet her, he laughs and says Ray Charles could see her control issues.

Gilbert is a talker, and once Richard from Texas goes home, she decides she's going to be the quietest girl people have ever seen. Of course, she is then invited to become the welcome wagon of the Ashram. The universe has a great sense of humor, no? And she remembers her Guru's words, "God dwells within you, as you." Just as you are.

In Indonesia, she again connects with an interesting cast of characters, including a medicine man, a young Indonesian man recently deported from New York and a healer woman. But I've already gone on too long, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that it was a fun read. I'm glad I'm not dealing with all the drama she went through. And as for the Love portion of the title, well, I guess you'll just have to read it to find out how it all ends.

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