“It was never really about eating pizza in Italy or meditating in India or falling in love in Bali. It wasn’t about travel or spirituality or divorce. No, Eat Pray Love was about what happens when one human being realizes that her life doesn’t have to look like this anymore…”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It (Introduction)

Ten years after its publication, Eat Pray Love remains one of the great sensations of the 21st century. Elizabeth Gilbert’s blockbuster memoir of feeding her life’s hunger and unraveling the complex distance between fear and soul is a book that captivated readers worldwide and inspired a legion of fans. Each of us who opened the book were invited to join Liz in her quest for fullness as she sought to better understand the rhythm of her own soul.

We journeyed with her from a debilitating heartbreak to an overseas adventure that was filled with wit, sorrow, and compassion. In Italy, we found the pleasures of life – that perfect pizza that was worth a trip across Napoli’s most lethal intersection – even as we cried with Liz on the bathroom floor, mourning the loss of what was safe even though it didn’t serve us. In India, we met the unforgettable Richard from Texas and learned the hard-won lesson of valuing our unique experience. We wrestled with stillness and with our fears of what might lie on the other side of silence. We braved the malevolent ocean of all the things we didn’t know, and we came out weatherworn, but having glimpsed peace, as in Liz’s experience of transcendence in meditation. And in Indonesia, we reconnected with our passion under the strangely wonderful and unpredictable guidance of medicine man Ketut. We met Wayan, a colorful source of friendship, and her inspiring daughter Tutti; and we met Felipe, the unlikely Brazilian soul mate (whom we all probably imagined to look like Javier Bardem well before the film adaptation came into being).

What makes Liz Gilbert’s public account of her personal journey resonate with such an extremely diverse audience is a puzzle which even Liz herself has given up trying to solve, but she suspects, as I do, that the broad appeal of Eat Pray Love has less to do with eating, praying, and loving and everything to do with a 21st century reintroduction to the concept of self-realization. It’s an awakening to the idea that adventure and soul-stirring surprises still wait for us in our increasingly predictable digital age; that we can actually say no to feeling stuck in a life being lived half-heartedly and take the leap of faith to pursue our greatest happiness. In many ways, Eat Pray Love speaks of permission to say yes to ourselves. Yes to our pleasure, our peace, and our passion, not as we’ve been told it should look – marriage, parenthood, career success – but as it is defined by the quiet, beautiful voice of the authentic soul.

My favorite line of Eat, Pray, Love is Liz’s advice that “you must participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings.” I think the book’s greatest appeal is that it offers itself as an invitation to bring that idea into your own way of living – to get creative and dream up how a life full of manifested blessings might look, and then to take the radical action of choosing that life, and choosing to see it even in the moments that inevitably take us to our knees.

In celebration of a decade of inspiration comes Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, an anthology of forty-seven stories from men and women across the world who have been motivated by Liz’s journey to say yes to their own souls. There are stories of spirituality, loss, hunger, adventure, love, divorce, motherhood, and identity; what connects them is the very indefinable thing that makes Eat Pray Love so special. Each story is the case of a person, feeling lost in some area of their life, finding that their soul is offering them the answer to the question they didn’t know how to ask.

It’s my belief that much of what separates Eat Pray Love from so many other self-discovery memoirs is Liz’s narrative voice, the honesty and vulnerability and humor with which she approaches the story. Her combination of deep insight and luminous hopefulness holds a certain charm for many readers; to see her speak in person is a way of experiencing how her essence is truly a spark of joy meeting compassion. The writers, artists, dreamers, creatives, and magic-makers who shared their stories in Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It are clearly not just students of that wonderful book, but of the special pull in Liz’s writing style; each in turn offers their hard-won truth in poignant and colorful prose that in total creates the effect of sitting down to coffee and an intimate conversation with nearly fifty vibrant souls.

For this and many other reasons, reading the widely different experiences of each contributor is a rather extraordinary adventure of its own. The different accounts show how people were motivated not to step directly into the path of Liz’s footprints, but to see their lives in a new perspective under the light of Liz’s story. One woman wrestles with her role as a mother; a man leaves seminary in pursuit of God’s place in his life as a gay man; a woman’s heartbreak leads her to embark on the adventure of a childhood promise. The stories here are about something more fluid than the three categorical topics of Eat Pray Love – they’re about the human hunger for connection to God or to others through the ultimate connection to oneself. And it’s that captivating spirit that makes the stories in Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It so remarkable, even necessary. In many ways, here is food for the soul for anyone who longs for the excitement of connection, of wonder, of hope.

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“This is the only life I have and I never step out of it
except to follow a character down the alleys of a novel
or when love makes me want to remove my clothes
and sail classical records off a cliff.”
from One Life to Live by Billy Collins (Questions About Angels)

Billy Collins is a New York-born, California-educated poet, and his work combines the best of both coasts. Distinctly American in their narrative style, Collins’s poems evoke wit, wonder, and whimsy from the simplistic. In his way of lyrically illuminating the magical of the everyday, Collins teaches his reader how to reach back and grasp the open-hearted experience of youth, and how to search for it in small moments of our disillusioned grown-up lives. His fourth collection, Questions About Angels, was first published in 1991, and in the twenty-plus years since it first became available, the collection has lost neither its power of observation, its relevancy, nor its ability to charm a new generation.

“It is raining so hard and the Jazz on the radio
is playing so loud, you almost feel like surrendering
to the wish that somebody up there actually likes you
or at least was keeping an eye on your solitude.”
from Putti in the Night by Billy Collins (Questions About Angels)

Like his contemporary, Mary Oliver, Collins likes to skirt the rules with nary a sideglance. He cheekily embarks on his own experience of the poetic art, utilizing the form to explore themes of nature, religion, youthfulness, imagination, and life. In his efforts he creates poems like First Reader, which spins a charming image of the commonplace into something necessary and profound, while poems like Purity and Cliché energetically use writing as a theme.

Collins teaches us to look at life with this same cheerful, mischievous curiosity. As the children in First Reader we are “forgetting how to look, learning how to read” and perhaps here is Collins’s best advice, not only on reading but also on life. In poems like The Hunt Collins is at his most playful as he conjures a whimsical image of Noah Webster and cohorts scouring the countryside for a new word (“It is a small noun about the size of a mouse,/ one that will seldom be used by anyone”). Other poems, such as Reading Myself to Sleep and Forgetfulness are warm – even empathetic – odes to books, a subject Collins writes about beautifully.

The titular poem begins the second part of the collection, in which Collins shares the only poems in the book that hint at the more spiritual leanings that the title poem suggests. Questions About Angels asks the staggering question: “If an angel delivered the mail would he arrive/ in a blind rush of wings or would he just assume / the appearance of the regular mailman and / whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?” Such are the gentle reminders from Collins to always, always be curious, and to never close ourselves off from wonder.

“Then he makes three circles around himself,
flattening his ancient memory of tall grass
before dropping his weight with a sigh on the floor.”
from Dog by Billy Collins (Questions About Angels)

For all his delightful phrasing, Collins is best enjoyed for his gift as a storyteller, whether writing about the First Geniuses of the prehistoric era or the observations of the moon over winter trees on a night drive, or instructing some future painter on how to go about his portrait (it is presumed, posthumously). Collins has a true and vivacious talent for conjuring the most intricate and enchanting details with the language of the everyday.

With the last two parts of the collection – especially the final – Collins turns a little more fully inward, and his work becomes a little more vulnerable in places, piercing and revealing. Writing about love, especially, the jovial energy of his other work quietly fades and his lyricism touches the reader’s heart. This is especially true for poems like Night Sand with its imagery of the subject healing himself beneath his shell armor like an armadillo after a love’s fatal blow, “ready to burrow deep or curl himself into a ball / which will shelter his soft head / soft feet / and tail from the heavy rhythmic blows.” Even poems like Metamorphosis take on a particularly profound air as the narrator longs for Kafka to write him “into something new”.

“Ah, to awaken as the NYPL.
I would pass the days observing old men in raincoats
as they mounted the ponderous steps between the lions,
carrying wild and scribbled notes inside their pockets.
I would stare over Fifth Avenue with a perfectly straight face.”
from Metamorphosis by Billy Collins (Questions About Angels)

Perhaps my favorite from the collection is the one simply titled Wolf, which begins with the perfectly natural lines, “A wolf is reading a book of fairy tales. / The moon hangs over the forest, a lamp.” The reader is so captivated by Collins’s fantastical idea that there’s no room to predict that the poem will end with the revelation that we’ve met this particular wolf before; it’s a magical example of the curiosity that’s so unique to Collins: a method of weaving a few commonplace words into something that will wake us up, that will allow us to shed the layers of our years and finally be old enough to believe in magic once again. Here is a poet so steeped in the wisdom of classicism but especially powerful for his childlike awareness. His gift to readers is a collection entirely accessible to newer poetry enthusiasts and lifelong fans alike; it’s the experience we hoped as children that books and poetry and fairy tales would be.

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“Society wants you to speed up, to produce, to seek material wealth. In a system that requires never-ending growth (at the cost of limited natural resources), to slow down seems anti-progress in nature. Who are you if you are not trying to ‘get somewhere’? Who are you if you are not actively working toward something? As a wanderer, you’re not subject to the narrative forced on you by society. You do not fall prey to trends that have nothing to do with your talents and desires. You do not strive to conform, but instead follow the life that springs from inside. You walk your own path. In this sense, you’re truly free.”
from Keri Smith’s The Wander Society

Walt Whitman wrote to “dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.” Henry David Thoreau wrote of his wish to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” Such profound thinkers, whose ideas feel utterly radical in our technology-driven, fast-paced society, are the totem figures of The Wander Society, a secret “anti-“society and the mysterious subject of Keri Smith’s new book. The Wander Society is the brainchild of no-one-knows-whom, stumbled upon by Smith through clues left in an old Walt Whitman volume: a sideways lightning bolt, a Latin slogan, the vague and enchanting words, “W.W. will show you the way.”


“The more we follow our intuitive urges, the more we are inhabiting the life we are meant to lead, the life that will fulfill our innermost desires.”

Something of an uncollected collective, The Wander Society offers itself as a solitary meeting place, a point of universal connection for anyone inspired to pursue a life of simplicity, fulfillment, and knowledge. With such suggested members throughout history as Virginia Woolf, Søren Kierkegaard, and Thich Nhat Hanh, the society mandates only a capacity for curiosity and a reverence for the natural world in order to join. The result of one’s wandering – whether exploring the world around us, foraging through woods and taking new notice of city streets, maybe even venturing into the wilds of the self – is to touch on a transcendent connectedness to life, an enlightenment of sorts that was best described by Thoreau when he expressed his wish to “not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” This is echoed on a somewhat more soul-searching note by Mary Oliver in her poem When Death Comes: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement.”


“How little do we need to lead a life that feeds our soul? What if we altered our value system so that priority was placed on soul-enhancing endeavors such as skill building, self-sufficiency, exploration, research, mind-expanding tasks? Imagine how different our society would be if we placed priority on these things instead of wealth creation, technology, and material acquisition.”
from Keri Smith’s The Wander Society

Still, The Wander Society remains a mystery wrapped in a riddle and peppered with enigmas: wanderers announce their anonymous presence by leaving vaguely direct evidence in the public places where they’ve wandered. A sideways lightning bolt scratched into a telephone pole; a sticker of the beloved W.W.; a box of pamphlets, zines, and newspapers printed by members of the society; a wander badge; one of many coded symbols known only to fellow wanderers; perhaps even a few illuminating scribbles in an old volume of poetry. Many of these things are explained in Smith’s book through how-tos and indexes; also available to aspiring wanderers are a selection of assignments that will take the reader out into the natural world with the objective of creating – painting, journaling, recording, photographing, or otherwise documenting what new things they discover there.


“Wanderers believe in the ability to exist and flourish wherever they are, using what they have.”

While Smith gathers what she has discovered of the invisible Wander Society, the unanswerable questions of “who” and “why” begin to lose their importance. Planted, instead, is the seed of an inspiring and creative way of life: one tied not to technology and societal norms, but rather married to the more romantic notions of morality, curiosity, and discovery. Ideals that feel as though they have slipped unnoticed off the surface of our culture as our collective awareness has abandoned them. As such, the precepts of The Wander Society begin to create in its members a sense of nostalgia for a time one never lived, a lifestyle at once simpler and infinitely more abundant.


Smith’s book is a manifesto of sorts, for the daydreamers and the soulful creatives – the wanderers of the world – and in this compendium of curiosities she offers readers challenges and opportunities to expand their awareness, to find both creative play and soul-work in the simple art of walking, of seeing the world through newer and younger and more joyful eyes, of “encouraging our own wild nature”, of wandering through their city or town or even their own imagination. The wanderers are everywhere, they say; and everywhere is precisely their destination.

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The kind folks at Penguin are offering a copy of The Wander Society to one US-based reader – and you might even find a W.W. sticker or two. For more of a glimpse inside the book, check out editor Meg Leder’s piece on the Penguin blog.
Good luck!

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Despite a lasting reputation for both the dark and delusional, Edgar Allan Poe could – on occasion – handle love with a gentle touch. This is evidenced in a letter he wrote to his once-fiance, poet Sarah Helen Whitman. She was a Transcendentalist, he was a Romantic. They met first through their love of words, when she composed a Valentine for him on the occasion of a holiday party (which he didn’t attend). Upon hearing her poem, he replied with a poem of his own; thus began a correspondence that sparked a courtship.

I have already told you that some few casual words spoken of you by — —, were the first in which I had ever heard your name mentioned. She alluded to what she called your “eccentricities,” and hinted at your sorrows. Her description of the former strangely arrested – her allusion to the latter enchained and riveted my attention.

She had referred to thoughts, sentiments, traits, moods, which I knew to be my own, but which, until that moment, I had believed to be my own solely – unshared by any human being. A profound sympathy took immediate possession of my soul. I cannot better explain to you what I felt than by saying that your unknown heart seemed to pass into my bosom – there to dwell for ever – while mine, I thought, was translated into your own.

From that hour I loved you. Since that period I have never seen nor heard your name without a shiver, half of delight, half of anxiety. – The impression left upon my mind was that you were still a wife, and it is only within the last few months that I have been undeceived in this respect.

For this reason I shunned your presence and even the city in which you lived. You may remember that once when I passed through Providence with Mrs. Osgood I positively refused to accompany her to your house, and even provoked her into a quarrel by the obstinacy and seeming unreasonableness of my refusal. I dared neither go nor say why I could not. I dared not speak of you – much less see you. For years your name never passed my lips, while my soul drank in, with a delirious thirst, all that was uttered in my presence respecting you.

While much of their relationship appears complicated and inscrutable, this letter of Poe’s to “Helen” is a wonderful glimpse at the writer in love. There are elements of his iconic penchant for “madness” in language that speaks of superstition and “a spirit far sterner – far more reckless than despair”. His passion expounds as he writes, from his cordial and controlled opening passage to the disjointed final paragraph, giving insight into how his own faculties operated around his emotions.

Judge, then, with what wondering, unbelieving joy, I received, in your well-known MS., the Valentine which first gave me to see that you knew me to exist.

The idea of what men call Fate lost then in my eyes its character of futility. I felt that nothing hereafter was to be doubted, and lost myself for many weeks in one continuous, delicious dream, where all was a vivid, yet indistinct bliss. –

Immediately after reading the Valentine, I wished to contrive some mode of acknowledging – without wounding you by seeming directly to acknowledge – my sense – oh, my keen – my exulting – my ecstatic sense of the honour you had conferred on me. To accomplish as I wished it, precisely what I wished, seemed impossible, however; and I was on the point of abandoning the idea, when my eyes fell upon a volume of my own poems; and then the lines I had written, in my passionate boyhood, to the first purely ideal love of my soul – to the Helen Stannard of whom I told you – flashed upon my recollection. I turned to them. They expressed all – all that I would have said to you – so fully – so accurately and so exclusively, that a thrill of intense superstition ran at once through my frame. Read the verses and then take into consideration the peculiar need I had, at the moment, for just so seemingly an unattainable mode of communication with you as they afforded. Think of the absolute appositeness with which they fulfilled that need – expressing not only all that I would have said of your person, but all that I most wishes to assure you, in the lines commencing –

On desperate seas long wont to roam.

The lines he references are from his poem To Helen, which he had sent her as his response to her Valentine’s Day dedication. And while Poe’s admiration for Whitman was clearly acute, the couple never married. Poe broke his promise of sobriety to her in the days before their wedding, severing the terms of their engagement, as it were.

Think of the rare agreement of name, and you will no longer wonder that to one accustomed as I am to the Calculus of Probabilities, they wore an air of positive miracle… I yielded at once to an overwhelming sense of Fatality. From that hour I have never been able to shake from my soul the belief that my Destiny, for good or for evil, either here or hereafter, is in some measure interwoven with your own.

Of course I did not expect, on your part, any acknowledgement of the printed lines “To Helen”; and yet, without confessing it even to myself, I experienced an indefinable sense of sorrow in your silence. At length, when I thought you had time fully to forget me (if, indeed, you had ever really remembered) I sent you the anonymous lines in MS. I wrote, first, through a pining, burning desire to communicate with you in some way – even if you remained in ignorance of your correspondent. The mere thought that your dear fingers would press – your sweet eyes dwell upon the characters which I had penned – characters which had welled out upon the paper from the depths of so devout a love – filled my soul with a rapture, which seemed, then, all sufficient for my human nature. It then appeared to me that merely this one thought involved so much of bliss that here on earth I could have no right ever to repine – no room for discontent. If ever, then, I dared to picture for myself a richer happiness, it was always connected with your image in Heaven. But there was yet another idea which impelled me to send you those lines: – I said to myself the sentiment – the holy passion which glows in my bosom for her, is of Heaven, heavenly, and has no taint of the earth. Thus then must lie in the recesses of her own pure bosom, at least the germ of a reciprocal love, and if this be indeed so, she will need no earthly due – she will instinctively feel who is her correspondent – In this case, then, I may hope for some faint token at least, giving me to understand that the source of the poem is known as its sentiment comprehended even if disapproved.

Oh, God! – how long – how long I waited in vain – hoping against hope – until, at length, I became possessed with a spirit far sterner – far more reckless than despair – I explained to you – but without detailing the vital influence they wrought upon my fortune – the singular additional, yet seemingly trivial fatality by which you happened to address your anonymous stanzas to Fordham instead of New York – by which my aunt happened to get notice of their being in the West Farm post-office. But I have not yet told you that your lines reached me in Richmond on the very day in which I was about to enter on a course which would have borne me far, far away from you, sweet, sweet Helen, and from this divine dream of your love.

Although Whitman and Poe separated within a year of their initial acquaintance, in his letters Poe seems utterly assured of his devotion to Whitman, writing in a separate letter, “it is the most spiritual love that I speak, even if I speak it from the depths of the most passionate of hearts.” Though their relationship was not, ultimately, meant to be, it did result in a beautiful and ever thoughtful piece of writing that speaks to the complex, passionate spirit of Poe himself.

Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd

January 28, 2016

“The most significant gifts are often the ones most easily overlooked. Small everyday blessings: words, health, muse, laughter, memories, books, family, friends, second chances, warm fireplaces, and all the footprints scattered through our days.” Sue Monk Kidd, Firstlight Before becoming an international sensation and household name at the age of fifty-four with the publication of […]

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Drop the Storyline: Pema Chodron on Learning to Stay with Difficult Emotions

December 11, 2015

“Deep down in the human spirit there is a reservoir of courage. It’s always available, always waiting to be discovered.” So writes Pema Chodron in the epilogue of her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, a collection of wisdom gained from her Buddhist teachers. It is, as Pema is known […]

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C.S. Lewis and His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society

October 9, 2015

“So I am finding him still at this stage, and I expect still to be finding him when I’m 80, as a welcome and at the same time endearingly infuriating interlocutor. I can never quite let him go…” Malcolm Guite, Yearning for a Far-Off Country (C.S. Lewis and His Circle) Although C.S. Lewis was the […]

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Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

September 22, 2015

“I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days. It’s such a gangster move, because hardly anybody ever dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist. So say it. Be […]

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