Eat, Pray, Love and India and the Quest

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Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

The biggest question of our time is not do you believe in god; or is global warming real; it’s where do stand on Eat, Pray, Love? The book about Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to find “everything” in Italy, India and Bali is a publishing phenomenon: it was an international bestseller with more than seven million copies sold worldwide; and in 2008, Time Magazine named Gilbert one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Today, July 18, is Elizabeth Gilbert’s birthday. She is 41. And I want to salute her.

 I can’t honestly say that I LOVED the book — there are better books about westerners in India (see my post Another top 10 Books about India) and I question whether Gilbert was on a “real” spiritual quest as she had a book advance, which means it could be argued that she was doing research — but I appreciate it. For one thing, it unearthed an enormous audience for the kind of writing I do: personal narrative / spiritual quest / travelogue. For another, it’s immensely popular AND about going to an ashram in India, which is almost an oxymoron (though that is changing).

And I defend Gilbert and the people who charge her with “self-absorbed narcissism” on the grounds that she did what she needed to do to recover from her divorce, heal herself and become productive and creative. Through her journey of self-recovery and self-discovery, and her ability to share it through her writing, she has inspired thousands, perhaps millions, of people.

In my books, that is not something to sneeze at.

Swami Brahmdev, Aurovalley Ashram, India

The idea of a soul quest or journey of self-discovery is not new. “Know thyself” was written above the entrance to the Delphi Oracle in ancient Greece. It has a long history and is highly respected.  My teacher in India, Swami Brahmdev of Aurovalley Ashram, says the purpose of life is to know ourselves; to experience life, to learn, to change and to grow. There are many intelligent, respectable, highly spiritual, non-narcissistic people who think discovering ourselves is what we were put on earth to do!

So not only am I NOT against personal journeys of self-discovery … I, too, went on a personal journey to recover from loss. I wrote about it on my post, What it means to breathe, dream, go. Over the span of a few short years I lost both my parents (my Mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart failure and I found her body; my Father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I held his hand while he died); my fiancé left me (with an expensive wedding dress hanging in the closet); my sister married and moved out of town; we lost our family cottage; and I broke my elbow, which seriously affected my yoga practise.

It felt like a river of loss was sweeping through my life and by the end of it, I was exhausted from hanging onto the bank. I threw my faith into yoga to recover from depression and during yoga teacher training decided to go to India for six months. It felt like I was letting go; it felt counter-intuitive; and I was scared. But I felt compelled. I felt I HAD to go to India to save my life.

Me, at Aurovalley Ashram, India, 2010

Me, at Aurovalley Ashram, India, 2010

In my case, I didn’t have a book advance and I went only to India (and oddly I was there the same year as Gilbert). It was a spiritual quest in the sense that I had no idea what would happen – even if I would live through it!

In fact, I fell in love with India and I fell in love with Ajay (my partner) and his wonderful family; and now I make part of my living sharing my love for India through my writing.

Going to India not only saved my life – it gave me a whole new life, a new man, a new family and a new home. I now consider India my second home.

So I “get” Elizabeth Gilbert. And I am encouraged by people who find success in the creative and/or spiritual fields. Happy birthday Elizabeth!

P.S. Here is Elizabeth Gilbert giving a very inspiring TED talk about creativity and being an artist.


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