"Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
"Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the 'monkey mind' - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined."
Yeah, yeah I know what you're thinking. What the hell is HE doing reading THIS book? Let me just say that it was given to me by a friend, and that it was sitting in my living room for almost two years before I finally picked it up and read it.
My reasons for breaking my silent, two-year boycott of this book? For one thing, I saw the movie for the first time recently. For another thing, I'm going to Bali in two days, and was interested to know what the author had to say about that part of Indonesia.
In case you're unfamiliar with either the book or the movie, Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir detailing Elizabeth Gilbert's search for spiritual fulfillment in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Italy and its famous cuisine forms the "Eat" section of the book, the author's time in an Indian ashram forms the "Pray" chapters, and her time in Bali forms the "Love" part at the end.
As you might expect, it's all very New Age-y and charged with enough estrogen to fuel several missions to extrasolar planets. It's also about as far from my usual reading choices as you can get. I can remember the craze for this book when it came out, but owning as I do a functioning, heterosexual penis I figured - along with most other guys - that Eat, Pray, Love just wasn't for me.
After reading it, however, I have to say that the book's a lot better than the movie. The movie is a more conventional relationship film, whereas the book is more of a search for spiritual truth. I'm not saying that the spiritualism put forward in Eat, Pray, Love isn't without certain inconsistencies. I'm not saying that it isn't superficial in some respects. But I think that on the whole the book is more consistent than the movie, and that it does have certain depths that the movie never ventures into.
Yet there is a glaring presence in this book that's never quite acknowledged, and that presence is MONEY. The author gives a fairly straightforward account of her personal/spiritual struggles in New York, but fails to recognize that her "spiritual journey" wasn't just spiritual but also monetary in nature. It costs a lot of MONEY to live in Italy, India, and Indonesia for four months each, and even aside from this fact there's the reality that this book is, in itself, a product and a source of financial gain for the person writing it.
So, egocentric comparisons to medieval nuns and Indian holy men aside, one has to acknowledge the fact that her spiritual awakening wasn't just achieved through meditation and prayer, but also through the use of MONEY. This, and the goal of writing it may not have been altogether altruistic. I have, in other words, no doubt that she was thinking more about MONEY and less about spiritual problems when she signed her book deal in the first place.
And then there's the easier criticism: that the author is just picking and choosing elements of different (Eastern) religions, and warping them to conform to conclusions she's already arrived at, long before writing this book. This is one of the reasons that Eastern religions are so attractive to Western people, because you can pick and choose, because you are unconstrained by the sociocultural medium in which these religions truly live and breathe. It's often easier to claim to be a Buddhist when you don't live in a primarily Buddhist society, just as it's often easier to claim you're a Christian when all of the people around you are Buddhists. In such a situation you are largely free of the orthopraxic demands such religions make, and even matters of orthodoxy can be taken in a more academic light, distanced from matters of life and death, hell and heaven.
But, you may be wondering, aren't I overthinking Eat, Pray, Love? Maybe I am. But in the face of a book that speaks so often about God and the life worth living, I feel the need to point these things out. After all, the easy answers might be the ones we want to hear, but they aren't necessarily the ones we need to hear.
Elizabeth Gilbert, I think, knows that such is the case already. Equivocation, however, would have probably made her next set of travel plans that much more difficult to achieve - and pay for.
And we wouldn't want that now, would we?
Some Other Movies From 2010
"What Money Can't Buy" by Michael Sandel (2012)
Two Books I Read During Winter Break
"Home Below Hell's Canyon" by Grace Jordan (1954)