When I first read Eat, Pray, Love last year I admit I had very little sympathy for Elizabeth Gilbert. I couldn’t relate to her journey – at least not all of it. I was painfully familiar with her story of depression, emotional eating and spiritual quest, but I didn’t have all the relationship baggage she was carrying. So, my first reaction to her decision to travel the world in search of herself was judgmental – she was running away! Perhaps there was a bit of envy as well. I couldn’t imagine having the luxury of leaving my friends, family and responsibilities behind to find happiness in a strange land.
I had my own troubles at the time I read the book. I would have liked to flee from my life for a while. But if I were to find happiness, I’d have to do it somewhere between the football field and dance class. I’d have to conquer my own demons eating Teddy Grahams straight from the box, not pizza from Naples. And I’d have to find the God that dwells within me as I meditated over my laundry basket. Finally, in a house of five people and no medicine man, I would have to learn to love myself without losing myself. And, I didn’t have a book advance to make it all a bit easier. Bitter? Yes, a bit.
But as I traveled with Liz to Italy, India and Indonesia, I began to appreciate her courage. She devoted an awareness to her happiness that many of us never allow ourselves to explore. Through her journey, I learned many lessons that I am grateful she shared with the world.
My Three Favorite Words:
Liz learned many new words on her odyssey – and her appreciation for language and meaning was inspirational. Here are my new favorite words (and the remarkable concepts they convey), thanks to the extraordinary family Elizabeth Gilbert discovered in Italy, India and Indonesia:
Il bel far niente (dolce far niente) – This Italian phrase translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Talk about a foreign concept! I have no idea when I have enjoyed the pleasure of doing absolutely nothing. According to Liz’s friend Luca Spaghetti, “the beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement.” So now I know where I have gone wrong all these years – I am always too busy doing something! I resolve to work on this. See, even that statement that I will “work on doing nothing” sounds way too active. I’m not very good at the practice of il bel far niente. Maybe I should go to Italy.
Seva – This Hindu word means “selfless service.” While living at the Ashram in India, Liz was expected to contribute to the community with several hours a day of devotional work. Now here is a familiar concept to me. Laundry, grocery shopping, packing lunches, paying bills…I’m fairly certain I contribute to the overall operation of my family with more than my fair share of seva. But I never really consider it service. In fact, I use words like “job” or “chore” or “task.” Perhaps if I view these activities as devotional work or service, I may find them more rewarding. I am going to try this shift in lexicon and let you know if it works!
Pretty Power – Liz’s Balinese healer Ketut told her she has “pretty power.” He instructed her to practice “smiling from liver” and promised it would make her a beautiful woman. This concept struck me as one of the most profound lessons in Elizabeth Gilbert’s story. The notion that the power to be beautiful comes from deep within ourselves. I think I’ve always accepted this truth intellectually, but when it comes to putting it into practice, I fall short. It’s one thing to “know” that beauty resides on the inside, but it’s another thing to live that truth. To release all insecurities and imperfections of the physical world and allow your inner smile to surface. I want to have pretty power! I think I will practice smiling from my liver.
What is Your Word?
When Liz was in Rome, she learned that every city has a word. A single word that describes the city. She attempted to choose a word that described herself, but nothing seemed to fit. It’s not easy to pick a word to portray your life. To represent who you are – not what you do. Should you pick something that describes who you are now? Or who you want to be? If I had to pick a word to describe my life today, it would be “balance.” Every day I wake up with the intention to be a grace-filled mother, a loving wife, a strong and healthy athlete, a compassionate friend, a creative writer, or a wise businesswoman. Some days I just want to be myself. I guess I have more in common with Elizabeth Gilbert than I thought.
What is your word? I’d love to hear from you!