“Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.” -Eat Pray Love
I began reading with an idea of what was about to happen. Of course, I had seen the movie, but it had been years, and we all know how movies just love to leave out the important little-but-big details. I instead relied on the writers of Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, who briefly mentioned bits and pieces of Liz’s story in order to give background on their own. I knew there would be a moment where she was crying on the bathroom floor. I knew she would pick herself back up. I knew she would eat loads of carbs in Italy and practice yoga in India. I knew she would, at some point, fall in love again, but this time in Bali. I knew, and eagerly awaited the moment she would utter the word she loved dearly: attraversiamo.
Liz’s description of how she mapped out her novel was intriguing. 108 sections, three countries, 36 perfect entries, structured like the 108 beads on the japa mala, a string of prayer beads popularly used throughout India by Hindus and Buddhists. Japa malas were later introduced in Europe as rosaries. In an effort to not butcher her perfect description, I will quote Gilbert directly on her decision to structure the book thus: “The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of Eastern Philosophers, the number 108 is held to be most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes, And three, of course, it the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can plainly see. Being as this whole book is about my efforts to find balance, I have decided to structure it like a japa mala, dividing my story into 108 tales, or beads.”
It was diametrically appealing to read a book with such decisive order, rooted in religion. After reading about why Liz was crazy enough to do what she did, but this time from her own words, I was ready to experience what she experienced–which I really, truly did. Gilbert’s prose flowed beautifully, her descriptions of European ruins and charming towns displacing me from my queen sized bed overflowing with pillows. I could smell the fresh mozzarella sizzling on her pizza in Naples, I could feel the gelato freezing in my hand, but gently melting the longer I held it. I could see the light moving over my skin as the warm Bali sun beat down, warming me from the inside out.
Liz Gilbert is one heck of a writer.
I tried to not let the judgment of Liz leaving her husband cloud my mind. Whatever she needed to do had already been done. I could not change that, but if I read through her journey with distaste, I would not experience what she wanted me to. I knew, just as she did, that I had to let go.
I let go. I crossed the street; I let myself be whisked away into the dreamlike state of reading of another’s travels. After having studied French for seven years, I felt the ravenous need to let a foreign language roll off my tongue, just for fun. I felt inspired to tackle a French novel, Madame Bovary, which I had been meaning to read. I agreed with everything Liz felt about learning Italian. It was luxurious to walk beside her as her knowledge and confidence in her linguistics grew. I thought, maybe, I could do what she did. I could have an immersed conversation at a market, albeit in France, about asparagus. I wouldn’t have to quickly stammer je ne comprends pas so that I could match my conversational partner. I knew I had to become fluent. So, now I’m working on that.
I related less to her travels in India, other than wistful thinking of one day being able to experience that peace and those connections she made at her Ashram. I’m not positive if I could handle that amount of quiet, but it was inspiring nevertheless. And do not even get me started on Richard from Texas. My word, that man was wise. I can practically hear his drawl in my head as I flipped through the pages: “You’re on your way, Groceries. You’ve done it.” Surprisingly, I felt closer to God after reading Eat Pray Love. The way Liz prayed was so personal, so easy. It was a conversation with God, and I had never thought of prayer in that way. She said she knew God was within her, and somehow just reading through her realizations was comfort enough.
As peaceful as India was to read through, the lives that Gilbert changed while she was in Bali seem to be the most important aspect of her novel. Ketut, Wayan, Tutti–everyone. The selfishness that had sparked Liz’s wanderlust had manifested in her, perhaps during all those hours she spent in silent meditation, and morphed into humility. She was no longer on this journey purely for herself, and that is the most tangible aspect of this novel that I saw again and again in the responses in E.P.L. Made Me Do It.
“…a very smart editorial decision.”
Gilbert respectfully decided to give her sacred places leave by emitting their names. As much as my 21st-century itch to Google search her Guru or to see for myself her Ashram and where she spent so many days of her journey, I realize that seeing these places and these people is not the point. Knowing the names of the locations does not make her experiences any more real; likewise, knowing the names of the people she met does not make them any more human. It might have been a desperate hope for privacy in a very intimate memoir, but nonetheless, a very smart editorial decision.
I felt as if I had gone on a journey myself, just by reading this novel. I felt calm after finishing it. Sure, in the end, she found love again and consequently learned very important lessons about love, but that is just a gift of the selflessness she achieved. She found the love and the light within her–she found God within her– and rewarded herself. That’s the secret Liz is showing readers.
It’s within you. Go find it. Go find it in Italy, in India, in Indonesia. There might just be a little Yoda-like Indonesian medicine man waiting for you to show up on his porch.