Transformation takes work. Ask a butterfly.
This is the point of Eat Pray Love. The work.
Yes, there are exotic locales. Yes, there are men who are easy on the eyes. Yes, there is delectable food.
But the thread running through the story is the work on self, the going within, the getting acquainted with the soul, the feeling of gut-wrenching feelings, the surrendering to what life brings in, the eventual opening of a heart.
Good grief. When critics reduce Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience as chronicled in Eat Pray Love – first the book, now the movie – to her grabbing a book advance and running off to foreign lands as some elitist jaunt, I have to wonder if they can read.
Anyone who has ever been to a foreign country has to know it can feel lonely at times, scary lonely. Overcoming that is part of the exhilaration of travel. You can bring as much money as you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to spend your time in a place of transformation. In Italy, India and Indonesia, Gilbert did, by learning Italian, partaking in beautifully prepared meals, forging life-long friendships, marveling at great works of art, digging in at an ashram, crying, devoting herself to meditation, scrubbing floors, making more friends, fine-tuning her meditation, exploring, discovering “the sweetness of doing nothing.”
I heard Gilbert tell an audience once that people should embrace their own journeys. She is clear this was her way, her path to self. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for others or that one must even get on a plane to go within. Hers began with the realization she didn’t want to be married, that the lovely home she thought she wanted didn’t feel right and that she didn’t want to have children. They were all “shoulds” for her. She had to get out.
One of the most prevalent criticisms of Gilbert’s story is that she had it all and gave it up. To this I simply say, how is it possible to have an intelligent conversation with someone who doesn’t understand why Gilbert left her marriage? She was miserable, guilt-ridden and driven to make a drastic change.
An especially memorable line in the film is, “Ruin is the road to transformation.” Think of the chrysalis, which is usually incapable of movement until it goes through metamorphosis. Gilbert pushed through. That there is what she describes in the book as “an almost ludicrously fairy-tale ending to this story” could not have been scripted. Had she set out on the trip to find a man, it would have changed the energy and nature of it and would have likely turned out very differently.
It is a love story, all right, but one about love of self, an often distraction-filled quest that many among us are not equipped to handle. Gilbert rose to the challenge with, yes, a book advance in hand. Lest we forget, she is a writer using her gift. The schadenfreude set might do well to remember that. These are the same people I would run across as a sports writer who would dismiss out of hand that professional athletes could ever have “real” problems because they are getting paid to “play a game.” That view completely obscures the day-in, day-out work the athlete puts in to earn a living. He is using his gift. Unquestionably, more people should think about using theirs.
Why does so much of our society express bitterness towards people who are using their talent in ways that transform and inspire? People, bring on some mudita. (It’s Sanskrit for reveling in the success of others. Maybe we can give it some much-needed traction). If the film isn’t your taste, then say that. No need to be vicious.
I recently heard Ryan Seacrest interviewing 50 Cent and he paused when 50 Cent expressed pleasure at others doing well in the same business. Seacrest essentially congratulated him for not having the “cynical” view. Kudos to Seacrest for stressing the point. This exchange was meaningful because they are both people who know the kind of work it takes to blossom fully in one’s gifts.
The standouts among us get that. Some kid in the projects who wants to be Michael Jordan would do well to focus on Jordan’s unrelenting work ethic as opposed to his fame, fortune and dazzle. It took a whole lot of polishing for that kind of life force to emerge and shine.
Watching Gilbert’s story unfold cinematically at the Ziegfeld Theatre on opening night, with Gilbert and her family and friends just two rows behind me, I had a thought: If this author was by her own account “weeping and trembling” the first two times she saw this film about her life, who am I to not embrace it as authentic and joyful? In the question-and-answer session before the movie, Gilbert said she had sent a letter to Julia Roberts – who plays her – and told her, “It’s yours now.” Roberts then translated her connection to Gilbert’s story into a moving portrayal.
Eat Pray Love is for the emotionally and spiritually aware, or perhaps, for those who want to be. It’s about seeing a butterfly and remembering those fabulous wings were bound very tightly before they broke free, fluttered and soared in all their splendor.