A Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert - Author of Eat, Pray, Love
Aug 02, 2010 10:26PM
Elizabeth “Liz” Gilbert’s story of her year-long odyssey of self-rediscovery via sojourns in Italy, India and Indonesia, after divorcing herself from her former way of life, struck a nerve with millions of women around the world through her bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, available in 40 languages. Now, actress Julia Roberts renders the universal truth embodied in Gilbert’s personal journey accessible to an even broader audience with this summer’s release of a film based on the book.
“It’s the way that [Liz] wrote this book,” says Roberts. “It’s like a bell that just keeps ringing.” Gilbert believes her message resonates because it’s about trying to figure out who we are in relationship to those around us and how we get over our greatest disappointments and try again.
In the end, Gilbert does get in tune with herself and coincidentally, finds true love, which is further explored in her latest chronicle, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. It’s her go at unraveling the mysteries of marriage.
How are you different after Eat, Pray, Love?
I think the main difference is this relationship that I forged with myself in all those months spent alone, particularly in India; in those long, tedious, difficult, emotionally painful hours sitting in the meditation chamber, trying to find some sort of center in all that maelstrom of thought and confusion and worry and anxiety and resentment and that whole soup that I was bathed in before I left [home].
And to watch the evolution over time, over those months, and see myself go from somebody who quite literally could not spend five minutes in silence in her own company without crawling out of her own skin to somebody who could sit for four or five consecutive hours and be undisturbed by my own existence on Earth—it seems like a simple thing, but isn’t.
In that silence and stillness, I met this other voice that I never had before, which is this older part of me—this calm, sedate, affectionate, forgiving, wise soul that watches my comings and goings and my spastic fears and desires and anger, and all the stuff that pulls on me, and intercepts me before I get dragged too far away from myself.
And she just says, very sweetly and with a kind of amusement, ‘Do you really want to go through this again? Because if you do, I’ll do it with you. But, maybe we don’t want to do this again. Maybe we want to actually remember what we learned and do a different thing.’
How did you integrate what you learned from your trips into your daily life?
For me, all the spiritual lessons that I learned would mean nothing if they didn’t have a practical application. So I was eager, after my four months in the ashram, to come back home and put it into practice. I mostly use it in trying to arrange my life so that it is as unstressful as possible. I push every day against forces that say you have to go faster, be more effective, be more productive, you have to constantly outdo yourself, you have to constantly outdo your neighbor—all of the stuff that creates an incredibly productive society, but also a very neurotic one.
I have these new policies toward my life, like I will not accelerate when I see the yellow light. I’ll say no to things that I used to instinctively say yes to, invitations that are wonderful, but I know will actually make me more tired the next day, more stressed. It’s like protecting this wonderful little match that I lit in India. And I feel my job now is to cup my hand around it and make sure that the shearing winds of capitalism and industrialism and competition don’t blow it out, and that my own anxiety doesn’t blow it out.
Given what you’ve been through, what is God for you today?
I sort of do have an answer. It’s something from the Gnostics, which said that God is the perfection which absorbs. I think that’s the loveliest and simplest and least politically controversial possible definition of divinity—that we are not perfect as humans, and yet we have access to a perfection that’s beyond us that we can become absorbed in, sometimes just for five minutes, sometimes for a whole year, sometimes if you’re really a blessed saint, forever.
Suddenly, there’s just this crack of a doorway into that divine perfection where you remember for a minute that you’re more than this. It’s available to you always. It’s your right to find that and it’s your right to shape your life as much as you can to where you can access that as much as possible.
How can a broken heart lead to a fuller heart?
There’s a line from Leonard Cohen, he has this wonderful song that says; “There’s a crack in everything—that’s where the light gets in.” And I think that’s probably the best encapsulation of how a broken heart can lead to a bigger heart. The light causes the expansion.
There’s also this wonderful adage that says, “You can’t push out darkness. You can only bring in light.” If you’re in a closet and it’s black, there’s no way to sweep darkness out. The only thing you can do is ignite, illuminate somehow. And the only way to get into a darkened, miserable heart is to break it.
I had kind of given up on love, but hadn’t given up on myself. That’s what I did on this journey—I said, “I’m going to marry my own life and make that wonderful, even if it means that I don’t have this experience of intimacy that everybody wants.” And of course, because the universe loves to be ironic, I found the intimacy that everybody wants. So whatever the lesson is that comes from that—if it brings hope, let there be hope.
Source: Adapted from Beliefnet.com.