So I started this blog with the intention of writing about books I liked. Then I realized that no one really cared what I thought about books but did care about what I was doing in England and were a little interested in what I was thinking, so I blogged about that. Now we’re back to books.
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is amazing. I loved reading it. This book was referenced pretty constantly in the American autobiography course I took this past Spring, but I never had time to read more than the first few pages. I liked it then, but couldn’t quite get back to it. A dear friend of mine has recently read it, though, and loved it, and that motivated me to really read it. So I did, and it’s great. A warning for people in my church book club: the last 50 pages or so might make a few of you uncomfortable. But I still loved it.
I have long been fascinated by the spiritual journey people who consciously seek out God take. I don’t honestly consider myself a seeker in that way. I feel like I’ve known God my whole life and that as the years progress, I just get to know Him to better and more thoroughly, like with any friendship. (Though, obviously, I’m a pretty terrible friend.) Or maybe, being an academic, meeting God like school to me. You complete one grade and then move on to the next, picking up more knowledge as you go. Kindergartners don’t need to worry about not knowing how to do calculus yet. When the time is right, they’ll get to learn it. I’m probably still in God Preschool, but I have confidence that eventually I’ll get to junior high. 🙂 I also feel that I’m very blessed to have started out in a family so familiar with God to begin with. I am way to lazy to have sought Him out on my own.
Anyway, with that in mind, I absolutely love reading well-written spiritual memoir. Girl Meets God is a favorite of mine, but I like Eat Pray Love for totally different reasons. Maybe it isn’t even fair to call it spiritual memoir. Maybe it’s a post-divorce memoir. Maybe it’s a travelogue. Whatever it is, Gilbert is able to lay all her mess on the table and then to reconstruct it into this lovely and true mosaic for her readers, to show how the mess has meaning. She’s a much braver writer than I could ever be. Also, as a composition teacher, I can’t help but admire the way she crafts a paragraph.
This book honestly speaks best for itself. It is divided into three places: Italy (“eat”), India (“pray”), and Indonesia/Bali (“love”). I am not including any quotes from the Italy section because 1. I loved the whole section and 2. The words don’t seem to stand as well out of context. I will agree with Gilbert, though, that Italian is a language that is only beautiful- la piu bella lingua nel mondo in truth. I loved reading about her time there because she included so much Italian. It was like becoming reacquainted with an old friend. Anyhow, just because I’m not including quotes from the Italy section doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome. It was.
Here are some other quotes:
p. 175 “The search for God is a reversal of the normal, mindane worldly order. In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim toward that which is difficult. You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up. . . . We all agree that it would be easier to sleep in , and many of us do, but for millennia there have been others who choose instead to get up before the sun and wash their faces and go to their prayers. And then fircely try to hold on to their devotional convictions throughout the lunacy of another day.”
p. 177 “Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mind. If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I’m aiming for, how will it ever occur? Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don’t have this, all your please and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift. . . . If I don’t feel sincere [when I pray], then I wills tay there on the floor until i do.. What worked yesterday doesn’t always work today. Prayers can become stale and drone into the boring and familiar if you let your attention stagnate. In making an effort to stay alert, I am assuming custodial responsibility for the maintenance of my own soul.”
p. 192 “We all seem to get this idea that, in order to be sacred, we have to make some massive, dramatic change of character, that we have to renounce our individuality. . . . Constantly [Swamiji] was teaching that austerity and renunciation — just for their own sake — are not what you need. To know God, you need only to renounce one thing — your sense of division from God. Otherwise, just stay as you were made, within your natural character.”
p. 207 “What I’m seeing in some of my friends, though, as they are aging, is a longing to have something to believe in. But this longing chages against any number of obstacles, including their intellect and common sense. Despite all their intellect, though, these people still live in a world that careens about in a series of wild and devastating and completely nonsensical lurches. Great and horrible experiences of either suffering or joy occur in the lives of all these people, just as with the rest of us, and these mega-experiences tend to make us long for a spiritual context in which to express either lament or gratitude, or to seek understanding. the problem is — what to worship, whom to pray to?”
p. 260 “She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will amybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and somethimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlylessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effot to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contenement. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.”
p. 271 “‘Why does suffering never end?’ Wayan asked. She wasn’t crying, merely posing a simple, unanswerable question. ‘why must everything be repeat and repeat, never finish, never resting? You work so hard one day, but the next day, you must only work again. You eat, but the next day, you are already hungry. You find love, then love go away. You are born with nothing — no watch, no T-shirt. You are young, then you are old. No matter how hard you work, you cannot stop getting old.'”
p. 276-7 “Only the young and stupid are confident about sex and romance. Do you think any of us know what we’re doing? Do you think there’s any way humans can love each other without complication? . . . It’s still two human beings trying to get along, so it’s going to become complicated. And love is always complicated. But still humans must try to love each other, darling. We must get our hearts broken soemtimes. This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
p. 286 “I have given myself away in love many times, merely for the sake of love. And I’ve given away the farm soemtimes in that process. If I am to truly become an autonomous woman, then I must take over that role of being my own guardian.”
p. 318 “The baby looked up, looked around, smiled. She wasn’t a god anymore. She didn’t seem to mind. She wasn’t fearful at all. She seemed thoroughly satisfied with every decision she had ever made.”
p. 325 “The Yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I’m a failure. . . I’m lonely . . . I’m a failure . . . I’m lonely. . .) and we become monuments to them. To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.”
p. 328 “I knew then that this is how God loves us all and receives us all . . . . Because if one broken and limited human being could experience even one such episode of absolute forgiveness and acceptance of her won self, then imagine — just imagine!– what God, in all His eternal compassion, can forgive and accept.”
p. 329 -30 “[The 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, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. 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, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born.
“I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. I think of everything I endured before getting ehre and wonder if it was me . . . who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years.”