Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: "Eat, Love, Pray" by Elizabeth Gilbert

My daughter gave me a copy of this book for Mother's Day, because she thought it might help me in my current situation. It was an inspired and kind gift from a daughter to her divorcing mother.

There is a huge gulf between a rich thirty-something woman recovering from a divorce by taking a year-long trip around the world and a recently divorced middle-aged woman who can't afford to go to the movies, but I found sufficient common ground in the experience of divorce and building a solo life to get past my annoyance about the unfairness of that. I'd have liked for Gilbert to end the story immediately before she took up with the totally perfect Brazilian lover.  I view that as a new beginning, not an ending, but maybe that's sour grapes on my part, too.

Even for those not recently divorced, it seems to me, this book could be entertaining and thought provoking. Gilbert's conversational prose is delightful: it's like having a long lunch with a girlfriend. Better still, there are plenty of little nuggets of absolute Truth to pocket for further reflection.

Every facet of the book supported the dialectic of sensual excess versus prayer and self-denial, resolving in a kind of equipoise. Gilbert emphasizes the food: gorging in Italy; vegetarian regimen in India; variety in Indonesia.  I particularly noticed her descriptions of her movement: constant motion in Italy, always walking or traveling from place to place; confinement and stillness in the ashram; a balance in Indonesia between moving (bike riding, dancing) and stillness (sitting on the medicine man's porch, meditating every day).

As I was reading the book, I shed some tears, laughed out loud a few times, and made notes in the margins. That adds up to a worthwhile reading experience for me. What was even better: I received one very special gift while reading the book: a whispered message from my own heart telling me I need to revisit Silence.

I spend many hours a day alone and not speaking aloud, but I am anything but silent.  As a writer, words are constantly running through my head. Story ideas and snippets of dialog bubble constantly in the back of my brain like first-graders waving their arms and begging to be called on next.  As a life-long diarist, I narrate my experiences as my way of processing them.  This past week, I got up the courage to read some of my journals from the past few years.  It was like watching a volcano prior to an eruption: incremental changes and signs that, in retrospect, can be seen leading inevitably toward cataclysm.  Read in order, it was a narrative of pain and denial, poured out in thousands of words.  Today, after the Vesuvius-like emotional eruption that changed everything about the landscape of my life, I know it is time for me to slow down and be quiet until the dust clears and I can start the process of building something new.

I've been moving too fast, and too much. I have been laboring under the illusion that now, after the worst is over, I will dust off and move on, without attending to my still-bleeding emotional wounds. Most of all I have been deluding myself into thinking that I can narrate my way forward.  My Soul knows better than that.  My new Path will emerge – as every important change in my life has done – from the interplay of words and silence. I need to add more silence in my life to achieve that balance.

The good thing about undergoing this experience at 55 instead of twenty years earlier is that I don't have to go scrub the floors of an ashram or visit a medicine man in Bali:  I already know what I need to do and I already know how to do it. But, sometimes it helps to have someone give me a nudge in the  direction of necessary adjustments.   Thanks, Liz.

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