Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

#25 in my 2007 book challenge was Elizabeth Gilbert’s spiritual travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love. This was my second time reading it, since it was also book #16 for me this year.

Gilbert is smart, funny, and honest. She notes that she’s good at making friends, and it’s easy to see why. After a nasty divorce, a disastrous rebound relationship, and a deep depression, Gilbert goes abroad for a year. Her first four months are spent in Rome, practicing the language and enjoying the food. Next she goes to an ashram in India to practice meditation and mindfulness. Finally, she spends the rest of the year in Bali, where she seeks to integrate divine and earthly experiences into holistic joy.

I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it

This book made me hungry in my stomach for Rome. My searching soul perked up at the descriptions of the ashram in India. Though I’ve practiced yoga for seven years, I’d never before had the slightest urge to visit its country of origin. In the last 6 months, though, I’ve read this book twice, another book on India I loved, sat next to a man on an airline flight who gave me several tips about about traveling there, and have a friend there right now. I’m sensing a building Indian zeitgeist.

As before, the thing I disliked about the book was Gilbert’s use of religious terminology. She chooses to use He/Him to refer to God. She denies any belief in God’s sex, but the masculine pronoun only perpetuates the usual patriarchal stereotypes. (I’ve noted before that I think the American Heritage Dictionary has a nice note on the problems with “he”–scroll about halfway down the page to get to the AH entry.) She doesn’t wonder why Christianity is one of the few world religions that has a thunder god, but no fertility goddess. She uses the Christian designation for eras, BC/AD. These are widely known, but CE/BCE (Common Era, and Before Common Era) are more inclusive, and more correct, since the historic person Jesus didn’t get born in the year 0 anyway. She also uses the reductive and condescending term “Judeo-Christian”. This is problematic because it implies a cause/effect relationship that both oversimplifies the complex origins of Christianity, and wrongly implies that Christianity is a natural extension of Judaism.

It’s likely that I’m nitpicking because of my residual grad-school sensibilities, so these may not be things that would bother others. In spite of them, I highly recommend the book, and am eager to seek out her previous work.

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