Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

#16 in my 2007 book challenge was Elizabeth Gilbert’s spiritual memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert is an engaging, believable narrator, and is direct about her own foibles, an essential ingredient to a good memoir. The book is by turns funny and sad as it details her bad divorce, worse rebound relationship, and the crushing depression that spurred her to plan a year abroad, with four months apiece in Italy, India, and Indonesia. I found the segment on India the most compelling. Throughout, her transformations–emotional, physical and spiritual–are related with clear and intelligent prose.

….when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt–this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight. (115)

I have two small reservations about the book. One, Gilbert used male pronouns to refer to God; I would have preferred gender neutrality. Two, Gilbert relates that she was raised in a Christian church and chose to study and practice Eastern religion as an adult.

I think this is a little like growing up in one small state in the US, then saying the whole country is terrible, and moving to Japan. Christianity is not a monolith. Even the various sects are so complex that they vary by church, and by individuals within each church. There is a long and interesting history of physical practices, meditation, and even feminism, WITHIN the broad umbrella that is Christianity. One need not leave the country, or even one’s church or sect, to learn about and practice them.

I am by no means discounting the value of Gilbert’s spiritual choices. I loved reading about them, and they have given me much to think about; I highly recommend this book. But one need not go East in search of meaning and unexplored territory. As Gilbert herself notes in the book, there are many paths up the mountain.

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