Elizabeth Gilbert’s title speaks of simple human needs and I really wanted to call this “Eat Poo, Love”. I can’t, because I like her book. It’s about the best Western-based introduction to Hinduism you can buy, not to mention it’s great true-life chick lit; beginning with unhappy marriage and bitter divorce and ending with finding twue wove, it deserves its best-seller status. Whatever one may think of her religious experiences Gilbert is no bimbo, between the lines she shows she’s read and thought deeper than Deepak Chopra 101.
Now Julia Roberts has made the film. I suppose I’ll see it at some point but I’m sorry Julia, you’re just not who I see in that role. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the religious stuff is squashed into something fairly shallow by its Hollywoodisation. Who am I kidding, the book is always better than the film. Apparently Julia’s nervous no-one will see it, poor thing.
Facebook chatting with famous Chicago actress friend Kara, she told me “This store near me is selling Indian things and Indonesian things with the Eat Pray Love tag – buy a journal, buy a meditation mat, just like the book! BLAH.” The irony wasn’t lost on me. I replied, “This movie is all about giving up material things and going to an ashram. So here, BUY SOME STUFF.”
The book is a good introduction to Hinduism because it gives a feel for what day-to-day life might be like for a (Western) Hindu, a religion I find quite hard to fathom given it’s huge age, diversity and – to be honest – weirdness. I respect the fact she hasn’t identified her guru or the ashram, I think there’s integrity in that. Her guru is a woman, surprisingly. How common is that in Hinduism, anyone know? Another good book on Hinduism is Huston Smith’s The World Religions, which is the first book that really got me inside the Hindu mindset.
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter where she probably had her trippiest experience. Much of her book is a little more mundane, so I wouldn’t want to misrepresent her.
As a reader and seeker, I always get frustrated at this moment in somebody else’ spiritual memoirs – that moment in which the soul excuses itself from time and place and merges with the infinite. … I don’t want to say that what I experienced that Thursday afternoon in India was indescribable, even though it was. I’ll try to explain anyway. Simply put, I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in the rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe completely. I left my body, I left my room, I left the planet, I stepped through time and entered the void. I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time. The void was a place of limitless peace and wisdom. The void was conscious and it was intelligent. The void was God, which means that I was inside God. But not in a gross, physical way – not like I was Liz Gilbert stuck inside a chunk of God’s thigh muscle. I just was part of God. In addition to being God, I was both a tiny piece of the universe and exactly the same size as the universe. (“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop,” wrote the sage Kabir – and I can personally attest now that this is true.)
It wasn’t hallucinogenic, what I was feeling. It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I’ve ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric.
I wondered, “Why have I been chasing happiness my whole life when bliss was here the entire time?”
I don’t know how long I hovered in this magnificent ether of union before I had a sudden urgent thought: “I want to hold on to this experience forever!” And that’s when I started to tumble out of it. Just those two little words – I want! – and I began to slide back to earth.
Eat, Pray, Love pages 208 – 210
How can you portray that in a film?
[Edit:] Thanks to Jon, who alerted me to Salon’s allegations about her Guru: “Accusations of financial misconduct, sex abuse scandals: The dark history of Elizabeth Gilbert’s yoga mentor”.
“What [readers of EPL] probably won’t know is that the unnamed guru is a hugely controversial figure who has disappeared from public view amid allegations of manipulation, financial misconduct and intimidation. And as that guru’s organization, the Siddha Yoga Dham of America (SYDA), has come under fire, her own guru … has been accused of sexual abuse, molestation and sexual intercourse with minor girls.”
It seems Liz probably attended an ashram of this Siddha Yoga organisation, and there is a website for those who feel abused by this group. I’ve also been keeping an eye on Guruphiliac for some time, but don’t know if it has anything on Eat, Pray, Love.
What do you think? Perhaps you consider her more of a “New Age” adherent, rather than Hindu? That would be a good thing to discuss in the comments.
We were talking about music as a gateway recently. Here’s another one you might find takes you there.
Jeff Buckley, covering of course, the masterful Leonard Cohen