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.
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.
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.