The 'Me' ProjectWriting

Thinking, Watching, Learning… self help and personal beliefs

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ is featured in the Guardian this week as the UK release of the film looms. The article summarises the book and the resulting merchandise and marvels at the number of people who have ‘followed’ the book.

In many ways self-help books are part personal experiences and part instruction manuals for life. It is hard to imagine someone who is completely happy and has is fully content with life standing in the self-help department of Waterstone’s pondering the self-help titles. However, this throws out the problematic theory that no one is completely happy with life.

‘Eat, Love, Pray’ is, erm, OK. It’s a nice story of a woman who goes on a ‘journey’ (obviously, from the first pages, this will be a physical and spiritual journey). It presents a diagram for those of us who would like to go somewhere to find ourselves and eat some nice food along the way. Oh. And learn to meditate.

I am particularly pleased that mediation practice is included in the book as there is a leaning in the UK towards construing spiritual meaning on the word ‘meditate’ (which means to think). Meditation, although essentially a non-spiritual and inherent possible capacity of consciousness, can, ironically, be used in any spiritual practice (hence the word ‘pray’ in Gilbert’s title) and this resistance to it points to a hierarchical structure that would perhaps prefer people not to think, but to follow?

Anyhow, I do not wish to go on the journey that extends self-help into the realms of religion today, that’s for a completely different blog post. But ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ did raise a slight wonderment, for me, of how and why so many people marvel at Gilbert’s journey to self.

The book has been a kind of Zeitgeist lately for me, as a friend mentioned that she had read it just the other weeks and only managed twenty pages before ejecting it to the charity shop. My writer’s forum were not best pleased with it, and other women I know have frowned when I have quizzed them, saying they have never heard of it. So just where is the book gaining so many devotees? Clearly not in the thinking, working, multi-tasking world of women.

Or maybe that’s the point. Those women may already be living the Eat, Pray, Love dream, already fairly happy with their lives and with no desire to visit Italy or India on a pseudo-spiritual journey because they have their own personal spirituality right there, at home. The kind of living that doesn’t need an map, a soul GPS or a spiritual satnav because it just is. The kind of living that already involves ‘doing’ and ‘being’ and certainly ‘loving’ to a point where life is brimming.

The thinking, watching, doing and being in life is in the everyday value of what we already have; the quest for a physical journey to change something smacks of displacement. After all, when you get back, will everything have changed, or will you have? And could you have not changed right there, at home, without the attendant gapyearesque paraphernalia? Self-help and personal development is personal and about the self; it isn’t positioned and situated, attended by beads and bangles or flashed up on a movie screen. Those thinking, watching, learning light-bulb moments of the soul can be experienced anywhere, and right alongside your everyday life.

I was browsing a Facebook friend’s pictures from a recent holiday in India the other day when I found, amongst the holiday snaps, a set of amazing pictures from Ladakh. I spent a moment wishing I could make that journey and be there, amongst the spirituality that was obvious by the aritfacts and tone of the place. But did I need to be amongst artifacts, in purpose-built building, following rituals and instructions?

Then I remembered that it is already in my heart, and I didn’t even have to leave home. It begins with me.