I’m going to bypass the defense of the book because I trust that you know that just because something gets put on Oprah’s book list or turned into another cheesy Julia Roberts movie doesn’t make it unworthy of one’s time. That’s all BS and I’m not falling into it. Instead I will launch straight into why this book changed my life.
I personally believe that non-fiction books, specifically ones of such a personal nature, have to connect with you on a personal level in order to be worthwhile. Reading this book this year, I have no doubt, is what made its impact on me as large as it was and I am sure that if I had read it at a different point in my life I wouldn’t have reacted to it as much as I did. I am significantly younger than Ms. Gilbert and yet I am struggling with very similar issues: the scaffolding of my life seems to have imploded on me and my best laid plans are not working out. Like her, this sent me into a significant depression, one which I have never experienced on that level before. Also like her, I find myself seeking something- a source of knowledge that can point me back to the right path.
My personal journey, needless to say, is quite different. And short of winning the lottery I’m pretty sure that I won’t be taking a year off to tour Rome, an ashram in India and a pacific island to find the answers. But since Gilbert acknowledges that a sizable book advance was what allowed her to do all that I can forgive that her journey seems like such a departure from real life.
Besides, what matters here are her thoughts and that’s what I connected with. So many of her thoughts, which are so intricately and beautifully described, seemed as if they had been pulled directly from my mind. Well, pulled and then polished with her uncanny ability to turn a simple description into a line of poetry. For example, when describing her capacity to manifest an endless sea of unhealthy thoughts from her inherent feeling of guilt she says “I do a lot with guilt. Kind of like the way women do a lot with beige.” There it is- simple, funny, charming. A soul crushing personal defect summed up so succinctly that you have to smile.
There is nothing foreign about her cynicism, her self hatred, her desperation for something beyond herself and her feelings of stupidity when a simple truth becomes clear to her. Most illustrative was her description of the work she did in meditation- the conversations she had with herself, the harsh truths she faced, the dependence she had on the guides who pushed her forward. Her story was not one of someone who found all the answers but rather someone who was lead to them simply because she was smart enough to listen. And she tells it in a way that was so memorable that I embraced every word like a hug from an old friend.
Her language, more than anything else, has made connecting with her thoughts so easy and, for me, unavoidable. Her statements are, more often than not, fluid. Comfortable. She has an ability to weave words like a fine tapestry. My copy is filled with highlighted sentences- mostly meaningful “Ah-hah!” moments, but many just because I loved the way they sounded. Like “All of us are swaying like kelp in the dark sea current of night.” The book is filled with observations like that- delicious little morsels that pack a lot of flavor into a small helping. And you really need that when discussing seriously tough subject matter like, oh you know- the search for God.
If I were to try to isolate each specific idea, passage, description, or thought that I truly loved about this book I would end up writing a whole other book. But I must make mention of one thing- the last thought that closes out this story of hers. It is the idea that the aware, spiritual, self-loving, mature and capable being she becomes at the end of her long journey is the same person who pulled the younger, destroyed, self-hating, broken and hopeless woman she was through all those years of hard work and change. That she herself was nurturing herself to grow.
She describes it thus: “And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor, and maybe it was this me who whispered lovingly into that desperate girl’s ear, “Go back to bed, Liz…” Knowing already that everything would be OK, that everything would eventually bring us together here.” That idea was more meaningful to me than anything else she said.
All in all, I have no doubt that this book meant what it did to me because I am me- at this point in my life, struggling with what I’m struggling with, seeking what I’m seeking. This book was a loving embrace with whispered words of comfort and wisdom that I will think of often when life is difficult. And regardless of what it means to anyone else it means the world to me. And I’m so grateful for it. I will be re-reading my dog-eared, overly highlighted, scribbled in copy many times more, I have no doubt.