Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ever since I saw a short review of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love on Sarah Walker Cleaveland's blog, I have wanted to read it. I finally got around to it recently, and I'm so glad I finally did - an excellent, moving, thought-provoking book.

The book follows Gilbert on a year-long personal quest for - God, love, understanding, clarity, hope, etc. - through stops in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Her style is narrative story-telling, and the book reads like a novel. I found Gilbert's longing, questing to experience God and to have a sense of self-worth compelling. She doesn't write from a church-goer perspective, and I imagine her spiritual journey is similar to others who find themselves seeking God outside the boundaries of organized religion today (although I wish everyone took their spiritual journeys, in or out of the Church, as seriously as Gilbert takes hers).

Some excerpts:
"The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I'm going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment . . . The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We're miserable because we think that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality . . . We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character . . . expressed in this exasperated line from the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus: 'You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.'" (122)

"The other problem with all this swinging through the vines of though it that you are never where you are. You are always digging in the past or poking at the future, but rarely do you rest in this moment . . . If you're looking for union with the divine, this kind of backward/forward whirling is a problem. There's a reason they call God a presence - because God is right here, right now. In the present is the only place to find [God] , and now is the only time." (132)

"This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down . . . If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God." (187)

Quoting her guru: "God dwells within you, as you." (191)

"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." (260)

"[Zen Buddhists] say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins . . . But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well - the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void . . . In this respect . . . it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it is born." (329)

It's really a beautiful book, and I definitely plan on reading some of Gilbert's other work.
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