So You Thought You Knew Elizabeth Gilbert – A Book Review
I read Eat Pray Love after Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage to Nunes had ended, but I still felt a lot like I did when I was a kid and saw that one of the “big girls” had what I wanted. This time it was Gilbert’s persona: her endearing qualities, her ability to craft sentences that practically had me drooling, and the fact that she had a seemingly perfect story that makes everyone think, I have to read this!
But after I finished reading it, I did and I didn’t want to write a review.
I wanted to because one of the members of Books Everyone Should Read to Know Thyself (& Others) listed it, but I didn’t want to for a couple of reasons. On one hand, I had lots of questions, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of addressing them without anything substantial to back my views. On the other, I would basically be saying the same thing that I share in my book Critical Revelations in the Realm of Contemporary Spirituality. In a discovery process that involved picking up a collection of random books from the library one day, I have been able to see that many “spiritual” concepts are based on or maintained by people’s unique personality traits, which in turn can also impede people from being open to other ideas. Of course, some aspects of those “spiritual” concepts have value, but they are too limited and therefore misleading.
I started reading through Eat Pray Love a second time to see if I could find something that would help and some of Gilbert’s writing started to seem artificial. I wondered, Is it okay to pump up our stories like that, to make them bigger than life with simile and metaphor that expands the reader’s perception of events in ways that are completely unrelated to the story?
While that’s an important question, I wanted to find out a little more about Gilbert before I made a decision about my focus.
As I scanned her Wikipedia page, I saw an article Gilbert wrote in 2015 for The New York Times called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” The quote that was included stunned me.
Gilbert said, “Seduction was never a casual sport for me; it was more like a heist, adrenalizing and urgent. I would plan the heist for months, scouting out the target, looking for unguarded entries. Then I would break into his deepest vault, steal all his emotional currency and spend it on myself.”
I Googled the article and read, among other things, that Gilbert admitted that for years she had been a liar and a cheat, someone who even seduced men who were already in relationships.
In the article, Gilbert said, “I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances…. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality.
If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different.
…over time (and it wouldn’t take long), his unquenchable infatuation for me would fade, as his attention returned to everyday matters. As soon as I could, then, I would start seducing somebody else, by turning myself into an entirely different woman…. In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down.”
I suddenly realized that she couldn’t have been genuinely brokenhearted over the love affair she shared in Eat Pray Love. While Gilbert perhaps rightfully believed that she was going on a journey “to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude,” she had been a predator for years. If any man had written the words above, the entire world would know about it.
I believed Gilbert when she said she had an “ingrained sense of Puritan guilt and came from a long line of super conscientious people.” I believed that she was thoughtful and overwhelmed, simply a shameless flirt who was considerate enough to spare an unsullied young man from her busted-up self, who would offer prayers to readers that they never have to endure a divorce in New York, who was filled with a sense of duty and genuinely wondered if “giving herself to a man again” would ruin things for her.
But the words in Eat Pray Love were lies of omission and exaggeration that generate sympathy Gilbert doesn’t deserve. She describes her situation as “loss upon loss” that she could hardly bear, that she was a naive, innocent victim of this thing called love, but in 2015 she tells us that she was actually cold, calculating, and heartless.
The first sentence of her confession says, “It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband.” In Eat Pray Love. Gilbert says, “I dove out of my marriage and into David’s arms exactly they way a cartoon circus performer dives off a platform and into a cup of water, vanishing completely.” How could she think her relationship with David was going to be true love after what she had been doing?
People are so mesmerized by Gilbert’s very evident literary talent and apparently her claim that she and Nunes had sworn eternal love, she was given the opportunity to publish Committed merely four years later. But shouldn’t someone need to be in a relationship at least ten years, if not thirty to forty, to get a book published about being in a committed relationship?
In my humble opinion, Eat Pray Love is not a book people should read to get to know themselves and others better. While Gilbert had a variety of experiences that are new to many people, there are lots of other books about Italy, India, meditation and yoga.
To my surprise, though, as I was working on this review, someone in one of my Facebook groups shared a video called “Alan Watts on Carl Jung.” Watts says that Carl Jung discouraged Westerners from seeking experiences like meditation and yoga. Watts also believes that it is important to exercise a good deal of discrimination and caution in adopting Eastern ideas, that it can even be dangerous, so I hope you will check out the video.
Before I read The New York Times article I had lots of questions and the article added to them. Here are a few if you are interested in sharing your thoughts. I would love to hear your questions, as well.
1) Do you consider yourself to be religious, spiritual, or neither?
2.) Did you know anything about Gilbert before you read Eat Pray Love?
3.) Why did you read Eat Pray Love? Did the words, pray or love, influence you or was it something else?
4.) How do you feel about her description of wanting to have a ménage à trois with two young men she refers to as boys, Giovanni, who was in his 20s, and his brother? Are thoughts like this okay as long as people just fantasize about them and don’t follow through? Would you have continued reading if she had?
5.) How do you feel about the way she talks about drug use, which includes her description of her addiction to David and her experience of waking up as “feeling disoriented, kind of stoned”? 
What do you think now about the fact that she blamed David for her addiction to him claiming that he had fostered it because “he was something of a man-fatale”? Or that she spends over three-quarters of the book pining over him?
6.) How do you feel now about Gilbert calling David her soul mate? Do you agree with Richard’s claim that our soul mate may just pop in and out of our lives briefly to show us something, that the term, soulmate, doesn’t mean you will spend your lives together?
7.) Her feelings seem to convey that she thinks it is surprising to even consider praying to God when she supposedly has reached rock bottom. Then, she says, when I pray, I pray to God, I don’t use any of these other names. She says, in fact, “Culturally, I am a Christian…but I don’t believe in the one defining message of Christianity: that Jesus is the only way.” Finally, she explains just what she means by God, “so people can decide just how offended they need to get.”
Did it make you happy to think that something finally caused her life to shift to see that she needed to turn to God? Did you find it unusual that she would think that a lot of people would be offended by that? And if you were offended, did you keep reading?
8.) She skips the “entire argument” about whether or not God exists, then tells us that she “(wondered) if I would see now some Great Being who had taken my weeping away,” but instead finds herself in a “little pocket of silence–a silence so rare that she didn’t want to breathe for fear of scaring it off.”
Is silence an important part of your life? Is there really such a thing as “a rare kind of silence”?
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in silence but most of the time my mind is active, so I don’t think about it as really being silent. When we hear people say, “Take a moment of silence,” most people are thinking personal thoughts about the situation, but I assume the silence Gilbert mentions is the kind described in spiritual belief systems as a complete quieting of the mind. Why do some people think that a blank mind has some kind of “spiritual” relevance?
9.) Gilbert describes her experiences as “religious conversations,” “an open and exploratory dialogue that would, ultimately, bring me very close to God, indeed.”
Have you ever had an open and exploratory dialogue with God? Are you willing to share your experiences?
10.) Do you think the physical sensations that people experience during meditation are actually a connection to God? Could they possibly just be a phenomenon that occurs from being in a near-sleep state or from lack of movement, etc.? Do you think her descriptions of those sensations confirm her comment that she was experiencing an “open and exploratory dialogue with God”?
11.) Gilbert uses the terms religious and spiritual interchangeably throughout the book. Do you think they are the same? If not, do you think religion is compatible with spirituality? Why?
12.) How do you feel about her using the prayer bead concept for her book? Does it seem valid or like she shoehorned her story into it, stopping the story at just enough chapters to make it fit?
13.) Did you learn anything from the book that has been helpful?
My answer to question #1 is neither.
I was raised in the christian faith, but I finally gave up on it sometime in 1997. Then, in 1998, I experienced an event that made me start to question everything I had been led to believe about God. Since nothing more happened for years, I thought, “Maybe this is how God works. Maybe everyone has one really astonishing experience that makes them feel pretty certain God exists, but then nothing else ever happens so you continue to wonder.” Still, since I had heard about the concept of spirituality, I started to read about other people’s experiences.
I had been writing about my life since 1995 and when a second astonishing event occurred in 2002 in a writing workshop I began to think something I never thought I would: that God was supporting me. The two events actually gave me enough courage to leave a terrible marriage. I had a premonition about the exact time that I needed to leave, and within days of our move, another remarkable event occurred that benefited my oldest daughter.
Over the next ten years, as I struggled to extricate myself from my marriage and make ends meet, I kept writing about my life. I read about one “spiritual” concept after another, but they didn’t align with what I was experiencing. In the past year and a half I have finally found that my experiences and beliefs align closely with Carl Jung’s.
Gilbert says that most people have dust-caked eyes, but some people are naturally clear eyed and some just have a little dust in their eyes, and they might, with the “right master,” be taught to see more clearly.
From the discoveries I made that led me to write Critical Revelations, I understand why Gilbert and many others would think this. But if we get to know who people are, if we can see that some people feel that the present moment is really important while others care more about focusing on the future, if we can see that some people are willing to ask hard questions while others recoil from any kind of conflict, etc., we can see why some people believe all of the things that are shared in “spiritual” circles, why some people believe some of it, and why some people will never believe any of it.
Don’t you think that if meditation truly was the way to connect with God that everyone would know how to do it and place a priority on it? And why, if Gilbert really understood “how strong God’s love is,” did she need to bother with things like the Gurugita or Vipassana? She even says, “The devout of this world perform their rituals without any guarantee that anything good will come of it.”
And why does she continue to talk about the dark hole that is still inside her when she has experienced the pulsing soft blue electrical energy and is walking around like a warrior queen? This is one place where I really felt like I was being subjected to theatrics. And even though some random dude may have helped her create a ceremony to let go, she suddenly thinks this concept rules out everything else about God. She says, “the rules of transcendence insist that you will not advance even one inch closer to divinity as long as you cling to even one last seductive thread of blame, that you might as well hang it up and kiss God goodbye if you really need to blame someone else for your own limitations.”
I am here to tell you that this is not true. God showed up in my life without asking anything of me. My experiences have never caused me any kind of fear, including the kind Gilbert describes as going into silence deep into our own minds and souls where nothing is known, where anything can happen. What the monk says to Gilbert is also not true. Our minds are not limited to hearing only “clanging bells and noise and argument.” I have experienced premonitions and have been directed in ways that have enabled me to watch astonishing events unfold in front of me.
My experiences have shown me that I should never try to define God, that anyone who says they know God’s rules can’t possibly be telling the truth. God has shown up where I am. It just took a desire to know God, patience, and a commitment to being who I am, not allowing other people to tell me to do things that I don’t believe are right for me.
Some of you might think it’s pointless to share information like this when Gilbert has sold over ten million books, but there are lots of books, including the Bible, that have sold as many copies or more, and people continue to share their thoughts about them. If you are interested in learning about life or God, the most important thing to remember is to never take one perspective as the final word.
Note: I talked to a friend about this book and she said that it is not possible for someone to attain the “ultimate union with God” by reaching a state where the energy of their brain is pooled into the center in what Yogis “have always described” as a small, cool, blue pearl of light. A brain scan like that could not belong to someone who is alive.
1) “Elizabeth Gilbert.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Gilbert.
2) Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” 24 June 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/confessions-of-a-seduction-addict.html.
3) Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Penguin Books, 2006. 8.
4) Ibid; 62.
5) Ibid; 269.
6) Ibid; 7.
7) Gilbert, Elizabeth. “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” 24 June 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/magazine/confessions-of-a-seduction-addict.html.
8) Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Penguin Books, 2006. 18.
9) MindPodNe. “Alan Watts on Carl Jung.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Oct. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr_20uEVOiE.
10) Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Penguin Books, 2006. 34.
11) Ibid; 20.
12) Ibid; 149.
13) Ibid; 12.
14) Ibid; 13.
15) Ibid; 13-14.
16) Ibid; 15.
17) Ibid; 16.
19) Ibid; 155
20) Ibid; 159, 161, 172.
21) Ibid; 175.
22) Ibid; 142, 145, 159, 182.
23) Ibid; 186.
24) Ibid; 195.
25) Ibid; 141.
26) Ibid; 145.
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