I borrowed my copy of Eat, Pray, Love from my mom’s best friend, Patty, who is always looking to read about different people’s experience with the divine. She gladly let me take her copy. She hated it when she read it. Elizabeth, her self pity, and (most especially) the money she had to take a year off from her normal life to eat pizza in Italy and wake up at 4 a.m. to meditate in India aggravated her too much for her to want to keep reading. This was what was in my mind as I folded over the cover and started reading: upper class woman with boy troubles searching for independence.
There are a lot of points that Patty made that I agree with after reading the first half, as Elizabeth hemmed and hawed about which country to go to, before eventually resigning with “My truth was exactly what I’d said to the medicine man in Bali—I wanted top experience both” (29). As Americans, we are taught to scorn the people that go see this time for only the self, who stop their lives and break up with the husbands and make decisions just because it feels right for them. But in the end, Gilbert presents an effective perspective in what homeland means, and what the search for one’s homeland embodies. In the end, every individual is their own advocate, and if the individual feels that they can connect with their core while living Italy, India, and Indonesia, then they should be allowed to go to all three places, and I should get over myself and refrain from rolling my eyes within each section.
This is the first work of literature in which Homeland is most explicitly defined not in terms of physical space. Thus far, homeland, or the purest sense of self, is not found in moments of happiness or in the midst of family reunions. Homeland is not embodied in photographs, or the blanket you slept with when you were in a kid. Instead, home is found in the place where Gilbert finds her self-authenticity. She shows this at the very beginning, while crying on the bathroom floor, in the complete state of vulnerability. It is here when she recognizes the distinctive parts of self, and the self she spent so much time ignoring during her marriage. She writes, “Then I heard a voice…it was merely my own voice, speaking within my own self” (16). She recognizes this inanimate force as the path she must follow and the direction that will lead her home.
She continues to search for this voice throughout her travels. However, the call only seems to come out with this strength during her times of loneliness and depression. We see it every time she thinks of David, when she passes lovers on the street, and after she breaks down in the car next to Giovanni. The challenge is to embrace the pain, to sit in it, to let it form around you until you know the way to push through it, step by step. By accepting all life throws at us into our lives we can make a home for ourselves, and by recognizing that the ground below us will always have a place for our feet, we can truly emerge in the world. Gilbert expands on this notion, writing, “The Bhagavad-Gita—that ancient Indian Yogic text—says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly that to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection. So now have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly (95). Growth is trusting yourself enough to make your own decisions, despite the pain they uncover, or the neat hems they tare apart.
Although Gilbert experiences these revelations throughout her time Italy, accepting the true pleasures in life, learning to learn, eating to eat, walking around without a destination—she doesn’t put her enlightenment into serious practice until she arrives in India. Here we see her struggle in prayer and silence. But the practice of meditation is an effective pathway to find homeland. In the end, we are our homes. We are the ones we wake up to in the morning, hang out with during the day, come home to at night. We hold our experience, love, and anguish within ourselves. We may live in many different places, meet many different people, but in the end, we can never escape ourselves. After sitting in the middle of mosquitoes Gilbert goes back to her room to find that the bites have healed. She writes. “It all goes away. Eventually, everything goes away” (174). This is the most challenging truth about homeland, despites one’s personal vision of it, the physical manifestation won’t last. We have to find the strength to hold on, even when we’re not sure exactly what we’re holding onto.