I started reading my favourite book again this weekend. As cliched as it may be, it truly is my favourite book that I have brought with me everywhere I go. It really is a biography, I guess, about Elizabeth Gilbert (who is she?), a women in her 30’s that is finding herself in a restricting North American environment. As her personal life crumbles, her marriage, her overall well-being, she seeks a release and takes a year to travel to Italy, India, and Bali. She spends four months in each country, she eats (nurtures herself, eats again) prays (practices daily yoga at an Ashram, meditates, fasts, forgives) and loves (finding spiritual love with others and more importantly, herself).
In the last few years that I have owned the book, I find myself connecting with it hugely. Not so much in a way that I idolize her actions or want to follow her path of leaving my surroundings and family for a year of personal discovery, but in a way that makes me feel better about things in my life. When this book came out, it was irritating to see the mass following of the book, or as I like to call it, the Oprah- crazed- fan following. Oprah featured the book, and had Elizabeth Gilbert come onto her show. Most of the audience members, who happen to be wives and mothers, suddenly wanted to do exactly what Elizabeth had done, without really, should I say, getting the “point” of her story. Although the story is one that entails escape from hardships, and escape from pain that surrounds your life, Eat, Pray, Love’s intentions is not some sort of uniform recipe for personal fulfillment. It was a recipe for Elizabeth’s fulfillment, but not everyone’s. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth refused to reveal the name of the Ashram she practiced and lived at, in order to protect the privacy of the place. It was kind of sad to see her story to fulfillment become some sort of female-dominated commercial success. I found out recently that she was actually given a grant before she went to these places, which means that it is possible that certain struggles, like her crumbling marriage, and affair could have been slightly exaggerated. Exaggerated or not, it still is a meaningful story.
Another thing that really bothers me is when people have said in response to her situation, “At least she is healthy” or “At least she didn’t have a terminal disease”. I understand the need to compare her situation to make it not look as bad, but I think that is most insulting because it is impossible for someone, who may be struggling with depression or struggles, to know what it is like to be sick or close to death. It is all relative. Yes, we can take joy in be thankful for health, family, and friends, but that in no way diminishes pain we feel from something that has hurt us. Therefore , there really is no point to put your struggle in comparison with another’s struggle, because no matter what, you will have to face it and it won’t go anywhere. By someone saying, “at least your not sick”, that will not erase the pain you have in your life.
After escaping the chains of grueling divorce settlements, fighting, and depression, her first place is Italy. She always wanted to learn Italian and live in Italy. So she does it. She rents out a flat, eats pizza, and cries. She makes friends, but comes home alone every night, possibly the more difficult parts. She learns to write to herself and talk to herself. She gets in tune with the woman inside of her, that is alive and well. The most heart-wrenching part is when she documents a letter (one of many) she wrote to herself when she was verging suicide:
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long. I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it — I will love you through that as well.(….) I am strong than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me. (p. 54).
Later she writes, “Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognize yourself as a friend”.
I was taken by the notion of getting in tune with the person inside of you, and letting them speak, and letting them be your friend. How come I have never done this before? I ignore that girl’s voice inside of me all the time. You may disagree at times, and struggle with conflicting intentions (e.g., what you want versus, what he/she wants) but its true, you have to listen to yourself, even if you don’t want to.
When Elizabeth is in India, this is perhaps the most moving part of the book. She finds a Guru, who is not to be mistaken as some sort of life coach, but instead an individual, who drifts in and out of her life. When she was living in NYC, she happened to meet him briefly in a line of people who were followers of him. Her friend had coaxed her to go. When she found him again in India, he remembered her name. After spending most of her days washing temple floors, eating little, she finds herself loving herself again. Through meditation, her haunts come up, her ex-husband, her family everything. One evening, she climbs the onto the roof of the Ashram and had a set of “Instructions for Freedom” that was written by a friend in the Ashram. As she was on the roof, she started laughing and smiling as she went through the instructions, but then took them into heart. She located the one thing that had been hurting her, and that was seeking forgiveness from her ex-husband, who she had left abruptly for a variety of reasons. She then had a conversation with him, not actually with him, but to him from her, even though he was far away. She said what she had to say to him. This part grabs me every time. I think that one of the greatest struggles that most people have are being able to say something to someone who is far away from you. You can do it, even though they won’t hear it. Just expressing your thoughts and words is enough. After she was done her conversation with her husband, they parted ways with forgiveness and contentment between the two. My favourite part is when she does a handstand on the roof to express her strength and liberation. It’s bittersweet really.
Elizabeth’s final trip to Bali, is a part of the book, that I can’t read yet. I have read it but at this time, it is too difficult for me and I’m just not there yet.
As much as her story is one of escape of issues, running away, and finding herself, I argue that the same can be done for yourself, without going away to another country. I would love to move away to Paris now, study there, learn French, and start a new chapter in my life, but I can’t. Not sure that I should. Even if I could, should I do that? I can apply to study there, but I cannot impulsively pick up and leave. Instead, I have to find my own “Paris” in my own apartment, in the work I do, at the grocery store, the coffee I drink, and in my relationships with people. In many ways, I believe that is Elizabeth’s point in her story. Yes, she physically escaped her problems, but you can do the same thing, find self-repair and fulfillment in front of you.
I am so scared that I won’t be able to find it, and that I will only find true release and renewal when I physically leave where I live for another place, another city, possibly another country, but I am going to have some faith right now, that I will. If it be through talking for hours and hours through tears with close friends across the ocean, then that is what it is. If it be letting people cook for me, then that is what it is. If it be re-connecting with old friends, forgiving others, downloading new music and changing my bedroom, it is what it is. If it be sharing sharing a bottle of red wine with my friend till 3 am, celebrating her first review, it is what it is. If it be going home, and hugging my mom, then it is what it is.
There is no better escape than becoming closer with the things around you.