I’ve read ol’ Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert twice now: the first time I read it, which was 10 years ago, I FRIGGEN HATED IT. The second time, which finished it yesterday, I LOVED IT. I have to put my emotions in capitals because this book got me right in the feels in two completely different ways.
The first time I read the book, I was not happy. I was in a job I couldn’t stand, I felt as though I never had enough money, and I was stressed to the max about parenting, since I could not attend all the school events they held every second week (seriously, do they think we stay home all day watching Dr Phil?). Basically, life was pretty crappy, I had a fabulous eye-twitch, and my motivational motto was “you just gotta get through another day”.
From that mindset, all I saw in Eat Pray Love was exactly what I didn’t want to see. It starts off a little dark, describing the tremendous amount of suffering Elizabeth had been going through in a deep depression and in a marriage she no longer wanted to be in. I was fine with it at that point. But then, quite rudely, the book evolves to capture her joyful curiosity, optimism, and strength.
What. A. Bitch.
When I read the book back then, feeling like crap, naturally all I saw was crap. Ooey gooey girly crap. “Ohh look at me, I’m so freakin’ happy! I’m Elizabeth Gilbert! I make friends wherever I go, I’m quirkier than you, probably smarter than you, too. I’m certainly skinnier than you. I have adventures, I find God, then I grab me a sexy Brazilian partner with the libido of a teenage boy and the sensibilities of a grown man. Yep, life’s pretty sweet for me. How you doin’?”
I didn’t acknowledge my jealousy back then, towards this woman I’ve never even met, but looking back it seems pretty obvious – and anger is always just a masking emotion for something deeper, isn’t it?
Ten years on, in a different mindset, it’s not surprising that my view of the book the second time around has changed. Now, I see the book as the story of a remarkably heart-driven woman on a spiritual journey, bravely sharing a large chunk of her soul to the world with incredible beauty and authenticity.
There isn’t even much of the ‘oeey gooeyness’ I initially found so annoying.
But that’s what we do, isn’t it? When we hold a belief system that everything is good, we tend to see more good things. When we hold a belief system that the world is crappy, we prove ourselves right and end up living in a world where everything – including the books we read – are indeed crappy. We create our own private heaven or hell and see everything from within that lens.
Ironically, one of the significant characters in the book, the old medicine man Ketut, speaks to Elizabeth (he calls her ‘Liss’) about that very same topic. He tells Elizabeth he’s been to both heaven and hell, and this conversation follows:
“What’s it like in hell?”
“Same like heaven,” he said.
He saw my confusion and tried to explain. “Universe is a circle, Liss.”
I still wasn’t sure I understood. He said, “to up, to down – all same, at end.”
I remembered an old Christian mystic notion: As above, so below. I asked, “Then how can you tell the difference between heaven and hell?”
“Because of how you go, heaven you go up, through seven happy places. This is why it better for you to go up, Liss.” He laughed.
I asked, “You mean, you might as well spend your life going upward, through the happy places, since heaven and hell – the destinations – are the same anyway?”
“Same same,” he said. “Same in end, so better to be happy on journey.”