Three Words I Learned From Eat, Pray, Love

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!

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  • http://www.caramandart.com cara mandart

    My word is “If You Don’t laugh, You”ll Cry” (find irony & humor where you can, laugh every single day even if you cry on that very same day! )

  • http://christinekane.com/blog Christine Kane

    I, too, have a hard time nailing down just one word. And I don’t know if we’re really supposed to – especially if we’re always changing!

    One present moment practice I would recommend would be stopping here and there in your day to choose the one word that describes THAT moment. Check in with your deep wise self and find that word or that energy. That can really reveal if you are in alignment with your intention and where you DO want to be!

    Great post Theresa!

  • http://www.EtiquetteForEveryday.com Kelly Frager

    Theresa,
    I didn’t even finish the book because I didn’t like/relate to the character and her quest. Yet you have made me see some most excellent points (ESPECIALLY the concept of enjoying doing nothing!) through your well-written blog. Thank you. I’m so proud of you!

  • http://daniellesthinkwell.blogspot.com Danielle Cumberland

    Hi, Theresa. I’m a friend of Kelly Frager. She sent me here to read your blog and I’m grateful she did. I have neither read Eat, Pray, Love nor seen the movie yet, but I wanted to zero in on the idea of seva, as it applied to motherhood. I remind myself that all the chores and work I contribute to the family is my ministry. Every shirt I turn right-side-out for the laundry, every chicken breast I pound to an even thickness, every gallon of milk I have to purchase – again – is a loving act of service to my family. It’s not just the “stuff” I have to do to keep this machine going; reminding myself of that daily pays dividends of peace with my station in life.

    • http://www.writetohealth.com Theresa

      Hi, Danielle. Thanks for the comment. And you are a better mother than I am – I leave the shirts inside out:-)

  • http://www.thatawkwardage.com Gail Kent

    Theresa — What a lovely meditation on Eat, Pray, Love. I did love the book. The movie was nice, but only a flirtation comparatively. I know that the book — and Liz — have been criticized as whiney and unsympathetic because she had the money and the option to travel the world to find herself, but I think we each must find our path however we can and through whatever means we are afforded. It is equally brave for her to launch on an around-the-world trip, and for you — or me — to look for our way while navigating children, spouses, pets, houses and businesses. Even though my life has become considerably “smaller” since my children are grown, I work from home and I have a disabled husband, I still see it as an exciting journey that offers much to learn every moment. I’m working on these three concepts that you mentioned — they’re great ones for all women!

  • Melody

    I loved the way you captured some important thoughts from Liz Gilbert’s book. Last summer I listened to it while walking and found it very entertaining. Your words made me more reflective about it. My words right now as Grace starts middle school and Elizabeth enters 3rd grade are: listen and wait before jumping into new things.

  • http://www.creativelyfit.com Whitney Ferre

    My word is INSPIRE. My first thought was that it was too bold of a word, like I was taking to much credit, but then I remembered the origin of the word. It means “spirit within”. I have always been an idealist–not “practical” or “realistic”. I like to leave room for miracles. I like to look at my world through the lens that includes “spirit”. I get frustrated in situations that don’t include spirit–like bookkeeping! :) This is so great to read today. One, because my goal today (new moon is good for setting new patterns in your life) is to embrace the financial side of my biz AND because focusing on this word INSPIRE helps me to remember, as I struggle to balance numbers, that inspiration is the foundation of my work–I want to leave my clients feeling inspired. Thanks, Theresa! YOU inspire me!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a78b51de970b Melinda Velez

    Hi there! I didn’t read the book but I did see the movie. Kudos to Theresa.. for pointing these special nuggets out in this article. There were aspects of Elizabeth’s character that I did relate to. As a single woman in the corporate world and last 7 years as a Christian single woman trying to survive in this ‘fallen’ world. I have been turned off by some christian women who are either living in a holy bubble or because they have had the blessing of a full home, don’t understand the women out there who – may have had careers they were consumed with and made mistakes in their past.. who hasn’t? Less judging and more compassion – I think we need to broaden our world here – in order to recognize how to reach out to others in compassion – as Jesus would have!

    I know what it is to stand in front of a storage unit like Elizabelth did in the movie and look at what you have left. I know what it is to be at the end of your rope – and kneel alone and ask God “what do I do?”.

    I would love nothing more than to travel again – Loved her experiences in Italy and you have to give the character credit for what she was trying to accomplish in her heart and mind – about life and her choices. She put her learned compassion to work in the scene when she writes to her friends about that woman with children in need of a home. It was a thought provoking movie for sure.

    PS: Javier Bardem didn’t hurt the eyes either (lol) :-)

    PSS: I just wrote about the whole “planning” thing that as woman we do very well or sometimes too well to our disadvantage. Feel free to read “God’s plan and Chocolate Chip cookie dough”

    http://blu-wingsofgrace.typepad.com/my-blog/2010/09/gods-plan-and-chocolate-cookie-dough.html

    • http://www.theresaceniccola.com/ Theresa Ceniccola

      less judging and more compassion – great, Melinda! 

  • Cindy

    My word for the most part i guess would be “floater” i’m too aware of the fact that nothing is set. Things and people change frequently. I’m only grounded because of my children. And wonder what i’ll do when all i have is myself. I pray that i can still be spiritual when all that i’ve thought i’m here for is gone. Maybe become a missionary and leave an impression, make a dent so to speak. leaving room for miracles is a feeling until now i have been unable to express. Thank you :)

  • Kaiti

    I think my word is pizza. :)

  • Andreac G

    my word is wanderlust. a great desire to travel the world and know the people and why you are here in the world

  • mery

    my word is ” attraverso l altro lato” it means through the other side i picked it from the movie i love the movie grazie !

  • Michelle

    My word is courage. Everything in my life has taken a great deal of courage and as I now face fears again, I remind myself that I have always had courage. That I still have it. I will be happy, and self loving, and most of all hold my decisions with courage.

    • http://www.theresaceniccola.com/ Theresa Ceniccola

      Courage is a great word, Michelle! I love that you remind yourself you already have courage – it’s not something you need to search for – you have it inside. So powerful! Thanks for sharing.