“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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