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Friday, June 10, 2011

Movie/Book Review: "Eat, Pray, Love" (or, how I became a crazy chanting hippie)

I know I am SO late to the party with this one, but it always amazes me when a book crosses my path at exactly the right time in my life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these are my favorite books of all time – just that somehow, my decision to read that particular work of literature lined up so perfectly with something major I was going through at the same time, that while the changes in my life opened my eyes to this book in a new way, the book in turn gave me a deeper understanding of my life.

This has only happened a few times – first, with Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time in college when I was struggling with where religion and faith fit into my life; second with The Time Traveler’s Wife right after Ben and I started dating, when for the first time ever I understood what it meant to have a love so deep and strong that you feel like your souls are permanently connected; and right now with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

The fact that these are the books that have touched me so deeply just drives home the truth that keeping an open mind is imperative if you want to be really moved by something. Both The Time Traveler’s Wife and Eat, Pray, Love were books I didn’t really plan on or look forward to reading – it was the sort of thing I kind of regarded them as “popular” lit and not really worthy of my precious few fun-reading hours, but I kept hearing over and over again how good they were and finally threw up my hands and went “OK FINE I’LL READ IT GEEZ.” And then I did (reluctantly). And was surprised. They still aren’t my favorite works of literature – that particular honor goes to some combo of Hugo, Rushdie, Dostoevsky and J.K.Rowling – but they are and always will be special because, at the time I read them, I felt like they were speaking to me personally, trying to teach me something about myself.

I only read Eat, Pray, Love because of the movie. I’m almost ashamed to say that but it’s true. I can’t sleep on planes, so on the way back from Turkey I kept myself entertained by watching terrible plane movies – mostly bollywood comedies, but also the Eat Pray Love adaptation starring Julia Roberts. Unfortunately it was around that time on the flight that my headphones broke and I couldn’t understand half of what anyone was saying. I kind of forgot about it for a few months, until early May, right around the time I moved, when I saw my sister’s copy of the movie sitting on my parents’ coffee table and thought to myself, “hey, I would kind of like to know what was going on in that movie.” So I borrowed it – and was not too impressed. With the exception of the scene where Julia Roberts first arrives in India, which basically transported me back to Dehli because that is EXACTLY what it feels like to ride a taxi through an Indian city, I felt like the movie was kind of meh. I told my sister, who suggested that I read the book because, as she said, most of what is great about the book is in Liz Gilbert’s writing style and sense of humor, which really is not captured in the film. So I took her at her word and picked up a copy at my local used bookstore.

Eat, Pray, Love is not popular because it is (as I sort of expected it to be) a commercialized, overly cheesy, glorified self-help manual for disenchanted soccer moms. It is popular because it is a good book – funny, insightful, honest and thought-provoking. Ms. Gilbert does not presume, with this memoir, to instruct others on how to live their lives or to tell anyone how to walk down their own spiritual path. It is simply her (extremely well-written and engaging) personal account of how she found herself again after some very difficult life changes.

And also, I think her book is quite brave in its honesty. But isn’t it just a book about travel and yoga? Everyone practices yoga, there’s nothing ground-breaking here. Yeah, a lot of people practice yoga… but a lot of them are also really uncomfortable with the deep-diving, self-exploratory, chanting, meditating, spiritual side of yoga. Unfortunately, this spiritual meditation mumbo-jumbo is sort of the point.

I used to be skeptical, too – don’t get me wrong, I loved the centered, clear-minded feeling I had walking out of class, but all that stuff with Shiva and mantras and the subtle body and whatnot was just not for me, I thought. And then, I decided to do the Anusara Immersion. At first, my reaction was just what I expected - the tattvas totally confused me, the meditation and chanting were unnerving, and all of this talk about “flowing with grace” and “celebrating the heart” gave me the uncomfortable feeling that at any second we would all break into a never-ending rendition of Kumbayah. And then, something happened. I got it. I can’t really put what happened in my brain into words, but somehow, I just got it, and this whole philosophy and life suddenly seemed so beautiful and so right. And kumbayah didn't seem like such a bad thing anymore.

I realized how cheesy this all sounded, so I decided to not talk about it too much with my non-yoga friends, for fear that they’d have me locked up in a room with padded walls. One night though, it came up in conversation with my dad when I realized that a lot of his post-surgery hip-stretches were basically Yoga asanas, and I started teaching him some new poses, and brought up the whole thing about aligning with grace and your universal blue print.

“Yeah,” he said, “but just think of the physical benefits! It’s such great strength and flexibility training!” So I tried explaining how it’s about something way deeper than that, and he kept bringing it back to STRETCHING and GREAT WORKOUT and things that former college football players are generally more comfortable with. He smiled and kept his cool, but I could tell he was barely containing the fear that his Economist-reading, music-history-loving, business-conversation-having daughter was turning into some crazy chanting voodoo hippie. It’s funny, because I’m pretty sure that underneath his fiscally conservative, rational exterior, my dad is one of the most yogic people I know, he just doesn’t realize it (see my entry on his hip surgery for more info).

Back to the whole point – and I apologize that this is turning into more of an essay than a blog entry – Ms. Gilbert does not shy away from spirituality. She writes about her experience with dreams, meditation, kundalini shakti and spiritual revelation, in a very personal and honest way, and also in a way that makes it all seem totally normal. I think in retrospect, what bothered me about the movie was that it glossed over the more gritty, less-relatable parts of the book – the ones that deal with spirits and God and stuff. One of my favorite passages, that reminds me so much of Anusara, comes at the end of chapter 60:
“So I stood up and did a handstand on my Guru’s roof, to celebrate the notion of
liberation. I felt the dusty tiles under my hands. I felt my
strength and balance. I felt the easy night breeze on the palms of my
feet. This kind of thing – a spontaneous handstand – isn’t something a
disembodied cool blue soul can do, but a human being can do it. We have
hands; we can stand on them if we want to. That’s our privilege.
That’s the joy of a mortal body. And that’s why God needs us.
Because God loves feeling things through our hands.”
I have never been through a terrible, gut-wrenching divorce like Ms. Gilbert has… but this book speaks to me because I feel like we are discovering the power of all this hippie meditation stuff together. I understand that path, because I am walking it in my own way. I’m not saying this book is for everyone – but it is definitely for me, right now.

6 comments:

  1. The story does begin with a divorce, but the true life of the story remains in Liz's discovery of herself. Liz's process of discovering that a hunger lies within her to seek and find peace with herself evolves fluidly through food, travel, religion and finally her self discovery. Eat, Pray, Love has many great life lessons throughout each of Elizabeth's journeys. My favorite part of her discovery rests in Bali. I am actually working on my blog, searching the net for news on upcoming movies, and watching Eat, Pray, Love online all at the same time with my DISHONLINE.COM access. This is available to everyone with their subscription to DISH Network. For more information on how your subscription stacks up to DISH Network travel over to BestTVforMe.com.

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  2. Must be an enjoyable read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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  3. Thanks for the comment Rohit - I hope you like the book!

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