Through Italy, India, and Indonesia, I went.
Rarely do I reread a book. But as I was in my year of travel, curiosity, and growth, one book kept coming back to my forefront: Eat Pray Love. In this memoir, Elizabeth Gilbert travels to three countries to pursue pleasure, devotion, and balance.
Here is the Amazon summary:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love touched the world and changed countless lives, inspiring and empowering millions of readers to search for their own best selves. Now, this beloved and iconic book returns in a beautiful 10th anniversary edition, complete with an updated introduction from the author, to launch a whole new generation of fans.
In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
What can I say? This book just spoke to me. It spoke to me when I read it at 16 and it spoke to me again at 24. Although her writing can get a little too transcendent for my taste, I found Gilbert’s book extremely relatable.
Here are some of her sections that I liked best:
…traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves.
Like Gilbert, I love to travel. If the trips to 9 countries and seven states over the last year isn’t a testament to that fact, I am not sure what is. Travel can be grueling and confusing and tiring and hard, but I really feel that it is the best self-education anyone can get. What I mean by that is if you want to learn about yourself, go on a trip by yourself. It doesn’t have to be extreme like Gilbert’s year-long, multi-country journey, you can just go to a new city, even for a day, and see what you get up to. Also, if you want to see how well you really get along with someone, go on a vacation with them. When I found myself fighting with my now-ex-boyfriend our first night in Italy together, I shouldn’t have been surprised when we broke up a month later.
Maybe this next section had something to do with it?
Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one… Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. But as Luca Spaghetti pointed out, we seem to like it… Of course, we inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don’t really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of the sad American stereotype – the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but who cannot relax.
If anyone knows this to be true, it is me. Even during my year of “retirement,” I never once slowed down. I traipsed all around North American and Europe with never more than two-weeks in between trips. I started a website, read tons of books, got into graduate school, wrote for two publications, moved to a new state, and jumped out of a plane. I know how to be busy. I am good at being busy. Doing nothing…now that is a foreign concept.
Maybe the key to learning to do nothing begins with teaching yourself to say nothing? According to Gilbert’s Yogic master Swamiji, “silence is the only true religion.” During her first attempt at silence, Gilbert found this:
I was still humming with language. My organs and muscles of speech – brain, throat, chest, back of the neck – vibrated with the residual effects of talking long after I’d stopped making sounds.
Gilbert persisted, however, because silence teaches this,
Learning how to discipline your speech is a way of preventing your energies from spilling out of you through the rupture of your mouth, exhausting you and filling the world with words, words, words instead of serenity, peace, and bliss.
This is something I have been working on. Not necessarily silence – Lord knows that is a long way off for me – but condensing my speech. For those of you that know me personally, I’m sure you would agree that my stories can get a little long winded (five bucks says my boyfriend is reading this and nodding his head). Perhaps my talkative nature is why I love to write. I get to say all that I want, but with the key time to edit and proofread before publishing. It is thinking before speaking at a whole new level and, in someways, it is my step toward silence because it allows me to process my thoughts and start a conversation without uttering a single word.
Speaking of words:
Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be – that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there.
Interesting thought, huh? In this section, Gilbert goes on to explain that New York’s word would be achieve, LA’s would be succeed, Stockholm’s conform, Naples’ fight, and Rome’s sex. I’m still pretty new to Eugene, Oregon, but I think the word here could be funk, followed closely by a rapidly-said GoDucks. Portland’s wants its word to be weird, but I think fresh is more appropriate.
So, what is my word? At first I thought explore or happiness or pursuit, but then I realized my word is passion. I mean, isn’t that what this blog is? Exploring the world and pursuing my happiness to find what I am passionate about? With a word like passion, maybe Paris is the city for me?
Whether if the desire is to learn Italian, go skydiving, or travel the world for a year, one thing that Gilbert and I have both learned is this:
Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.
Eat Pray Love is a great example of understanding that your life is what you make of it. It requires action, thought and effort (and a little luck doesn’t hurt either). So take some time – perhaps silently – and think about what your word is, where you want that word to take you, and what is holding you back from achieving that goal. Maybe, like Gilbert, your are hung up on a past love and, if that is the case, follow Richard from Texas’ advice:
“But I love him.”
“So love him.”
“But I miss him.”
“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, and then drop it…If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, and open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed.
When you clear out the space you harbor for other, you leave room for yourself.
“The Bhagavad Gita – that ancient Indian Yogic text – says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly that to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
So read this book. Feel inspired to learn how to eat, pray, and love. Feel inspired to find your word. Feel inspired to discover your imperfect and unique self.
What is your word? Let us know below.