Eat, Pray, Love – 10 Years Later

Recently, I re-read Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert — which I had first read about 10 years ago, when I was in early college. Back then, Liz’s tale had seemed so irrelevant to my own life. Divorce, home ownership, a successful career. I was still trying figure out my major. What resonated with me, though, was her spiritual pursuit — her fierce desire to connect with happiness and God.

Now that I’ll be turning 30 in a few months, I see the book through a slightly different lens. While my writing career hasn’t had quite the  resounding success that Liz has had (note, you are reading this on a self-published blog), being closer to her Eat, Pray, Love age helps me identify more with her experiences. The dilemma of whether to have children, once so far on the horizon, is now breaking on my mental shores as friends have babies — or making the decision not to.

In college, I adored this book, and I still do. But I have to admit that I kept it in a drawer, not on my bookshelf. Visitors to my dorm had rolled their eyes more than once at the book. I admit, it’s not exactly what you would call great literature. (Although Liz is certainly capable of crafting that — her book published before Eat, Pray, Love was The Last American Man — a Finalist for the National Book Award in 2002.)

As much as I enjoy Eat, Pray, Love, I do see where the skeptics are coming from. Liz goes through emotional turmoil, but the internal battles quickly reach a resolution within a few pages. It seems she skims over the deeper parts of her battle, focusing instead on the rosy outcomes. Which, I think, is part of the appeal of the book. It’s relentlessly positive, making for a buoyant read that’s perfect for the beach.

The phrase, dolce far niente comes to mind. It’s an Italian phrase that Liz learned in Italy and means “the pleasure of doing anything.” As Americans, we often have trouble relaxing into sheer pleasure, without a feeling of guilt. Having Liz articulate this dilemma was pretty validating. Her book is a reminder that embracing dolce far niente is okay.

At the same time, the book sometimes dives so deeply into dolce far niente that it can feel a little insular. At one point, Liz feels guilty about lamenting about her “boy problems” back home. But, then she recalls how when her therapist friend had counseled Cambodian refugees (who had suffered terrible torture, crimes, and losses), they wanted to talk about ex-boyfriends. Liz says:

This is what we are like, collectively, as a species, this is our emotional landscape…. There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? and Who’s in charge? Everything else is somehow manageable.

I felt that this quick assessment flattened the terror that Cambodian refugees have endured. Yes, those questions are important, but to disregard the hardships endured as being “somehow manageable,” can come across as naive. With prose like this, it’s understandable that Eat, Pray, Love has found its way into the “priv-lit” genre.

The book is one part spiritual journey, one part escapist. Let us not forget our narrator is a  wealthy white woman whose bank account opens doors that most could never touch because of responsibilities back home. Still, there are lessons that Liz learns, which I benefited from vicariously. For example, her sense of God. She writes:

What I have come to believe about God is simple. It’s like this—I used to have this really great dog… She was a mixture of about ten different breeds, but seemed to have inherited the finest features of them all. She was brown. When people asked me, “What kind of dog is that?” I would always give the same answer: “She’s a brown dog.” Similarly, when the question is raised, “What kind of God do you believe in?” my answer is easy: “I believe in a magnificent God.” … I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light.

Initially, I wasn’t so sure about Liz’s spiritual cherry picking. Was that just another verbal package for cultural appropriation? The two concepts do straddle a fine line. The way I see it, cultural appropriation is when you take a minority’s cultural practices for your own use, without honoring the original context or meaning. Think: the image of Buddha used to sell a bag of popcorn.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 12.54.13 PM

If the image of Jesus were being used to sell chips, it would raise some eyebrows.

Liz’s spiritual cherry picking, by contrast, doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s an internal pursuit. Her God is her way of finding inner peace, whatever form it may take. In one particularly desperate moment, she looks inside herself for a sense of God, asking what to do. She then taps into a deeper sense of self that offers her guidance.

The experience she describes bring to mind the phrase, “namaste,” which loosely translates to “The God in me honors the God in you,” an acknowledgment that a piece of the divine rests within each of us, if we are willing to connect to it.

I enjoyed reading about Liz’s process, as well as her travels.

In spite of what cynics may say (including the cynic within me), this remains a book I greatly admire.

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic – by Elizabeth Gilbert

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 9.21.11 AM

When I read a book, I like to jot down the main takeaways. Writing them down helps me to fully understand them. To quote Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking.”

After I wrote down my takeaways for Big Magic, I noticed that there were seven of them. And those seven happened to correspond to the seven chakras of the body. And so that is how I will reflect on them here:

The Crown Chakra and Cosmic Ping Pong

The crown chakra (at the top of your head) symbolizes a connection with a force of life greater than ourselves.

When Liz (the author) described her earlier days as a writer and struggle to first become published, she explained how whenever she received a rejection letter on a story she had submitted, she would ricochet that energy right back into the world with another submission — as if she were playing a game of cosmic ping pong. I love the imagery of this metaphor. A rejection isn’t an ultimatum. It’s simply your intention being returned back to you, waiting to be sent back out into the world again.

The Third Eye Chakra and Dual Exploration

The third eye chakra is the center of insight and reflection. It represents clear vision and thought.

One technique for nurturing this chakra (discussed in this book) is “dual exploration.” Dual exploration is pursuing multiple channels of creative expression so as to clarify your thinking and vision in each of them.

As an example, when Einstein felt stuck when working on his physics theorems, he would play the violin as a form of relief. Transitioning yourself from a creative outlet when it becomes jammed gives that channel the opportunity to clear.

Eistein Playing the Violin

Eistein Playing the Violin

In my own life, I find that alternating between the work of my day job and my writing helps with both pursuits. They’re like two wheels of a bicycle, needing each other for support.

The Throat Chakra and Learning from Others

The throat, from which our speech flows, is tied to communication with others. Liz described how impacted she was by talking to a friend of hers who had more experience in life — being 90 years old. The nonagenarian explained how ten years ago, she had become fascinated by studying ancient Mesopotamia — and how life-changing it was for her. It’s inspiring to know that even at later stages in life, it’s possible to have experiences that can completely alter your outlook on life.

The Heart Chakra and Creativity as a Border Collie

The heart chakra represents openness — a quality that creativity craves.

Liz likens creativity to a border collie. A border collie is an energy-filled beast. It needs a purpose or task to pursue in order to feel fulfilled. Without a purpose or task, it becomes a self-destructive force.

Creativity is like a border collie

Creativity is like a border collie – if it can’t roam free, it will become destructive.

Thinking about creativity this way made me feel more validated in pursuing my own creative pursuits. Before, I saw it as self-indulgent, but now I recognize it as being a necessary outlet. Without an outlet, my creativity grows restless, much like a caged in dog.

The Solar Chakra and Embracing Challenge

The solar chakra (located by the naval) is where power resides.

Liz talks about how when her creativity was faced with a challenge, it helped to bring out facets of her abilities and power she wasn’t aware of before.

She describes how she had written a short story, scheduled to be published — only to be told that the word count had to be drastically reduced. Though Liz was initially jarred by this requirement, she later found that cutting down the length of the story helped her to cultivate a new stylistic way of writing.

The Sacral Chakra and Curiosity

The sacral chakra houses the most emotional elements of ourselves. When we are passionate about something, this is the chakra that gets activated.

Passion is a fun experience to have — and the lack of it can be disconcerting.

When I feel a lack of passion in a certain area of life, for me there is a sense of urgency to recover it. Yet, passion isn’t something you can generate by sheer will — it has to organically develop.

Liz suggests that instead of pursuing passion, a more natural path is to follow curiosity. IF we are curious about something, we should follow the trail it leaves. And who knows — it may eventually guide us towards that passion we crave.

The Root Chakra and Creative Liberation

The root chakra is associated with grounding and stability.

When we look to our creativity as a source of financial stability, an undue burden is placed on our creative stores.

Liz puts forth the idea that you shouldn’t look towards your creativity as being the only source of your financial stability. That would put great pressure on your creativity, and could ultimately be harmful.

This idea resonates with me. Having a relationship with creativity means providing for it as if it were your own child. You don’t expect it to earn its keep. It is yours to foster, nurture and cultivate – with no expectation that it return deliverables.

The Gen Z Effect – by Keldsen & Koulopoulos

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 12.01.40 PM

Generation Z is different. Most are using iPads before they can walk, and many will be running businesses before they can drive. I feel more of a generational divide between myself and someone ten years younger than someone three decades older. So what gives? (If kids even use that expression anymore.)

Well, this book sets forth an interesting thesis. The authors, Dan Keldsen and Thomas Koulopoulos, shed some light on Gen Z. They’re two big-time business consultants with a shared interest in the world’s youth, and a desire to understand them.

So first things first – what exactly is Gen Z? Well, according to the authors, defining them by birth date is gonna work. It’s a mindset, not an age.

But, if you must know – Gen Z’ers are general considered to have been born anytime between the late 1990s to the late 2000s. So anyone born between the 1998 release date of Mulan and 2008 release of Wall-E would be a Gen Z-er by the birth date metric.

Keldsen and Koulopoulos would argue, though, that it doesn’t matter what Disney movie came out the year you were born. As mentioned earlier, it’s all about mindset.

The Gen Z mindset transcends age, embracing the constant evolution of technology, social norms, and means of communication. Gen Z’ers aren’t locked into social hierarchies. They see any person as being a source of wisdom, regardless of age or status. PRogressive companies embrace this principle by employing “reverse mentoring” programs. In this arrangement, more season professionals are mentored by younger employees who are more in tune with the latest trends — and hence, can pass on that knowledge.

Gen Z’ers are also quick to embrace new concepts like “life hacking” or “remote work.” It doesn’t matter what age you are – you can adopt a Gen Z mentality by tuning into current trends and more efficient ways of getting work done and tasks accomplished.

This is a great read for a glimpse into what the coming future holds — and how to stay relevant as it unfolds.