I Finally Read Eat, Pray, Love
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
And the most disappointing thing about the book is the way Liz Gilbert seems to suggest that in finding Felipe she’s completed her process of self-discovery. At the end of the book she writes, “I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me - I mean, this happy and balanced me, who is now dozing on the deck of this small Indonesian fishing boat - who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years…. And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor…”
Nothing in the last section of Eat, Pray, Love makes it seem that Gilbert is fully actualized. She’s nestled under the wing of a lover who “said I seemed terribly young but also open and excited and relieved to be recognized and so tired of being brave.” It is unsettling to think that the prize for all of Gilbert’s searching is that she no longer has to be brave.
Perhaps my impression of Felipe is tainted because we know now that the relationship hasn't lasted, but he does not come across well in the story. He seems subtly pushy. Despite saying he would not pressure her into a romance with him (“Of course Felipe said that he understood, and that I should do whatever’s best for me, and that he hoped I would forgive him for bringing up the question in the first place.”), he’s relentless in his blandishments. And Gilbert capitulates.
It doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine that her life with Felipe would follow a similar pattern as her experience with her first husband where she contributed to making a life with him that overlooked her authentic needs. As she says of her first marriage, “I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life - so why did I feel like none of it resembled me?”
Although I haven’t seen Liz Gilbert’s natal chart, she has the chameleon’s ability to blend and merge that someone with lots of 12th house planets often has. She writes, “Some time after I'd left my husband, I was at a party and a guy I barely knew said to me, ‘You know, you seem like a completely different person, now that you're with this new boyfriend. You used to look like your husband, but now you look like David. You even dress like him and talk like him.’”
That line reminded me so much of Julia Roberts’ character in Runaway Bride.
I have lots of 12th house planets, too, so, in the middle of this Julia Roberts scene when my mother turned to me and said, “This is you, Lelia,” I took it to heart and committed to my preference for eggs over easy.
The section of the book that most resonated for me was the first part set in Italy where Gilbert is learning about herself by finding out what pleasure means for her. Many reviewers criticize her self-indulgence, but I think there are times when we’re lost or adrift and the joys of life can be guideposts for us, especially when one has been living so far outside of those guideposts. Identifying what pleases us can be a breadcrumb trail back to ourselves. As Gilbert writes, “I have collected myself of late - through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures - into somebody more intact.”
Barbara Sher writes about the empowering self-awareness made possible when we pay attention to what we like. “The pleasure you feel when you see a subtle color, or dance to your favorite music, or read a certain kind of book is like a bell being rung by your gifts saying, ‘Here we are!’”
And then in India, Gilbert builds on what she’s learned through pleasure, learning to embrace herself without clinging to her own agenda. During her most blissful meditation as she “hovered in this magnificent ether of union” she begins to grasp after permanence. “Just those two little words - I want - and I began to slide back to earth.” Grasping out of fear and a sense of separation increases separation. But in becoming a Key Hostess she learns that embodying her Self fully allows her to be an instrument of divinity. Determined to become “the quiet girl in the back of the temple,” Gilbert decided to give up her social butterfly self, only to be assigned the role of Key Hostess at the ashram, a job that requires her to be “social and bubbly and smiling all the time.” She is made for this role, she says. “I am so equipped to help.” It’s an important turning point in the book as she learns that in embracing her authentic pleasures, her true nature, she can become a divine instrument. As her guru’s guru says, “God dwells within you, as you.”
And then, it seems to me, she gives this divine instrument - her Self - to Felipe, wrapping up herself and her book with a happily-ever-after fairy tale ending. I can’t remember which literary critic wrote that Jane Austen’s heroines dwindle into wifehood but that is a fitting description for the end of this book as well. Not that being a wife or partner or girlfriend is bad, but to have that be presented as the treasure at the end of Gilbert’s rainbow seems like such a capitulation.
When she finds her word - antevasin - she describes herself as having “to stay mobile, movable, supple. Slippery even.” And she is mobile and supple, molding herself into the shape of a bon vivant in Italy and a spiritual seeker in India and a girlfriend in Indonesia. But she seems to forget, in believing that she’s arrived at self-actualization at the book’s end, the other part of the definition of antevasin: “the one who lives at the border...In a figurative sense, this is a border that is always moving - as you advance forward in your studies and realizations, that mysterious forest of the unknown always stays a few feet ahead of you, so you have to travel light in order to keep following it.” ("Travel light" could be a mantra for the 12th house, also called The House of Loss.)
Books end and, as a reader, I tend to enjoy a satisfying conclusion. I realize that’s what Gilbert is trying to give us (and maybe herself) - the period at the end of the sentence that gives that sentence meaning. But her life went on and it seems to have offered a whole lot more opportunity for self-discovery and growth, as it should. I wish, at the end of the book, she had kept the door open to the possibility and potential of an unpredictable future rather than suggesting that she had found a permanent life raft of peace and contentment with Felipe.