eat, pray, love: how to have your cake and eat it too
by Jeanne McDonald
When a book has floated at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for over eight months, you assume itâ’s worth reading. But when you crack it open to discover that itâ’s both rapturous and riveting, it might even change your life.
In eat, pray, love: One Womanâ’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Penguin Books, 2006) Elizabeth Gilbert suffers a breakdown which pushes her close to suicide. To find meaning in her life, she abandons a successful career, her husband, and most of her possessions and embarks on a year-long spiritual journey.
In her introduction, Gilbert explains that she has structured her chapters like a japa mala, strings of beads worn by Yogis to stay focused during long meditations. Much like a rosary, the japa mala is â“held in one hand and fingered in a circleâ"one bead touched for every repetition of mantra.â” The necklace is strung with 108 beads because the number 108, says Gilbert, â“...is a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can plainly see.â”
That unexpected reference to a barstool in the midst of a discussion about prayerful meditation is typical of Gilbertâ’s proclivity for keeping one foot on earth while simultaneously searching for a higher power. The bits of irreverence sprinkled throughout the story remind the reader that even in Gilbertâ’s most spiritual moments, she is also a worldly, exuberant young woman.
Her journey begins in Rome, where, Gilbert admits, she does more eating than praying (she gains 23 pounds in four months), but after her initial excitement, she spirals back into devastating depression. So she opens her notebook and writes on the first blank page: â“I need your help.â” Then, after a time, a response comes, in her own handwriting: â“Iâ’m right here. What can I do for you?â”
We know, donâ’t we, that this is God responding to Gilbertâ’s plea, and in Gilbertâ’s voice. To validate her experience, she reminds us that â“St. Teresa called such divine internal voices â‘locutionsâ’â"words from the supernatural...translated into your own language and offering you heavenly consolation.â”
Ironically, one of the contacts Gilbert has made in Rome is a fellow namedâ"guess what?â"Luca Spaghetti, who teaches her a few things about the casual attitudes of Italians and instructs her in the practice of â“il bel far niente,â” translated as â“the beauty of doing nothing.â”
Itâ’s a far different story when Gilbert arrives at an ashram in India. The first morning prayers begin at 3:30 a.m. Gilbert begins to feel connected to God. But she longs for that direct, transcendent experience, which â“occurs in a meditative state, and is delivered through an energy source that fills the entire body with euphoric, electric light.â” Gilbert achieves that coveted state one afternoon while meditating. â“Simply put,â” she says, â“I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute. The void was a place of limitless peace and wisdom...The void was God...I was just a part of God.â”
Despite her desire to remain at the ashram, Gilbert departs for Indonesia as planned and arrives in Bali. Then, at a party, she meets Felipe, a mature and handsome Brazilian expatriate, and falls in love. After all the spiritual references in the first three quarters of the book, the reader is a little taken aback by the openness with which Gilbert talks about sex. But we have to remember that this is the woman who wants everything, and her experience makes the reader realize that, yes, we can have a life that includes both God and sex.
Gilbert defines faith as â“walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.â” Her reward is walking out of the dark and into the light, and, we hope, pulling some of us by the hand along with her.
All content © 2007 Metropulse .