Eat Pray Love: Elizabeth Gilbert on Finding Self-Love

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert about? Where did Elizabeth Gilbert go in the book, and what lessons did she learn along the way?

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia. On her journey, Elizabeth Gilbert learned about herself, love, and her connection with her spirituality.

Read more about Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, and what she learned from traveling the world.

Eat Pray Love: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Moving Memoir

Elizabeth Gilbert was 30 years old when she realized her life was headed in the wrong direction. She was married to a man she loved dearly, but they wanted different things. He wanted a family, and she wanted to explore her independence. For the next four years, Gilbert moved through the emotional struggles of ending one life and beginning another. In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her story of survival and transformation when all seemed lost. It is the story of her journey from darkness into the light.

Losing Everything in New York

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert begins as a married woman. For nearly two months, Gilbert snuck out of bed each night in her home in Upstate New York that she shared with her husband. She hid in the bathroom, feeling ashamed, confused, and guilty about wanting to be free of her marriage. One night, she became so overwhelmed that she cried and prayed for the first time in her life. She asked God for help and a sign of what to do. Suddenly, she heard a voice. It sounded like her voice but also different. The voice told her to go to bed and rest. She would need it for what was to come. 

Seven months later, Gilbert separated from her husband. She wanted the divorce to be amicable, but her husband was too hurt. He refused all settlement offers and held her hostage in the marriage for years. Gilbert was confused, alone, and saddened by her husband’s hatred of her, but her spirits were lifted by a new love—David. 

Gilbert fell hard and fast for David. Her husband had taken both their house and apartment in the city, so she moved into David’s Manhattan apartment right away. Their love was passionate and playful, but things changed after 9/11. The stress of her divorce and the attack on her city was too much for Gilbert, and she became needy. The more she needed David’s love, the more he withheld it. 

Seeking Solace

After her first breakup with David, Gilbert fell into a deep depression. She became suicidal and started taking antidepressants. The only thing that helped was her newfound interest in an Indian Yogi Guru. She started to learn about meditation and decided she wanted to visit this Guru’s Ashram one day. 

During this time in Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert also started learning Italian. She’d always wanted to, and now seemed as good a time as ever. She found so much joy speaking the sensual Italian words and phrases, she wondered what immersing herself in the culture might do for her. She also visited Bali during this time on assignment for a magazine. While there, she met a medicine man who read her palm. He said she didn’t need to worry so much. She would lose everything, including all her money, but she would get it all back. He also said she would come back to visit him again and teach him English. 

When Gilbert returned home, she hatched a plan. She would visit Italy, India, and Indonesia over the course of a year to find pleasure in life and a spiritual awakening. She saw the common letter “I” as an auspicious sign. Her husband finally agreed to a settlement, in which he took all of her money, but she was free. Her book publisher gave her an advance to write about her year-long journey. The medicine man was right—her life was looking up already. 

Eat Pray Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert Explores The Pleasures of Italy

Next in Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert heads to Italy. After her divorce was finalized, Gilbert left everything behind, including her on-again-off-again relationship with David, to go to Italy. She landed in Rome and moved into a studio, where she would stay for four months. She signed up for language classes and started language exchange lessons with a young man named Giovanni. 

Life in Rome was beautiful the first couple of weeks. Gilbert’s only desire while in Italy was to experience as much pleasure as possible, and her sole mission was to eat the best food she could find. Gilbert struggled at first to let go of her New England sensibilities that life was about hard work. The beauty of doing nothing, or bel far niente in Italian, went against her natural instincts. But this trip was about learning to enjoy life, so she worked hard to find the simple pleasures and appreciate them thoroughly. 

Gilbert’s pleasure-seeking was thwarted, however, after only 10 days. She was walking home, admiring the architecture and open displays of love, when she was hit with the sinking sensations of loneliness and depression. She’d stopped taking her antidepressants because she was finding such joy in Italy, but she realized she was not yet healed from the emotional traumas of her past. 

When Gilbert got home, guided by her loneliness and depression, she crawled under her covers in despair. Suddenly, her life seemed frivolous and sad. She didn’t know what she was doing and felt like a failure for her past relationships. She pulled out a small notebook and wrote a message asking for help. This notebook was where she had been communicating with the same voice from that night on the bathroom floor. Like always, the voice guided her to write a response. The message told her that she was loved, that she was not alone, and that she would always be taken care of. Gilbert felt her anxiety slip away and decided not to start her medication again. 

Finding Her Place in the World

While in Italy, Gilbert took many side trips to other regions of the country. She traveled through Parma, Bologna, and Montepulciano to taste the wonderful food and wine famous in those areas. She and a friend traveled to Naples to eat the best pizza in the world. Gilbert couldn’t believe how good the pizza was. Eating it was an other-worldly experience. She caught sight of herself in the window and almost didn’t recognize herself. True, she’d gained weight on her tour of eating. But mostly, the person reflected back looked happy. She hadn’t seen that person in a long time. 

On the way back to Rome, Gilbert realized not knowing where she stood with David was threatening her growth. She knew she had to officially end things with him. Part of her still longed for him, but she knew they made each other miserable. It wasn’t the right match. She wrote him a letter breaking things off, and he responded in agreement. It was the right decision, but it still broke her heart. 

Gilbert loved Rome, but it never quite felt like her city. When she told a friend about this, he said every city has a word. If you don’t encompass that word, you don’t belong in the city. Rome’s word was “sex,” which explained why Gilbert didn’t fit it. She’d taken a vow of celibacy for the duration of her trip to heal and figure out who she was. She didn’t know what her word was, but she’d experienced so much pleasure and opened up her heart to so much joy in Italy, she was certain it was no longer “depression.” For now, that was enough. She would continue seeking her word once she got to India.

Eat Pray Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert Finds Enlightenment in India

Gilbert arrived at her Guru’s Ashram the night before New Year’s Eve. She was eager to start her journey through meditation and connect with God. Her first day, she meditated with the other residents for hours to welcome in the new year. She chanted and sang all night, finding energy in her prayers, and welcomed a new beginning for the world and herself. Italy became a distant memory. 

At first, Gilbert struggled with her meditative practice. She’d always struggled back home and hoped being at the Ashram would help. But she couldn’t turn off her mind enough to concentrate. Every morning while she meditated, she became distracted by thoughts of sorrow, struggle, frustration, and failure. Her thoughts were critical, and she felt trapped in a downward spiral. She’d open her eyes and spend the rest of the hour staring at the other residents meditating successfully, which made her feel worse. 

But help was on the way. It took the form of a man named Richard from Texas. Richard and Gilbert became friends quickly. He even nicknamed her “Groceries” for her insatiable appetite. Richard became a spiritual guide for Gilbert. He helped her see that she was allowing her thoughts to rule her. Her ego was afraid of her transformation and was trying to stop her from achieving it. Gilbert took this lesson to heart and was able to stop giving her thoughts emotional power. She was finally able to meditate, and she grew closer to God. 

The Last Hurdle

Even though Gilbert found success meditating, she still felt stuck in her sorrow regarding her divorce and David. Richard helped her with David. He told her to give her heart time to heal in this spiritual place without disruption. David was likely her soul mate, but that only meant he was supposed to come into her life to help her grow. If not for David, Gilbert wouldn’t have searched for a transformative experience, and she wouldn’t be at the Ashram. She should thank David for his important role and move on. God would step in and fill the space with love. 

Another resident, a poet from New Zealand, helped her with her husband. Gilbert wanted to be forgiven and set free from the guilt of hurting him. She wanted to talk to her ex-husband so he would stop hating her. But her friend showed her that she could find forgiveness and freedom even if her husband wasn’t there. He took her to the roof of one of the buildings and told her to pray. Gilbert prayed that she and her husband could find a way to forgive and move forward with love. She beckoned her ex-husband’s spirit and engaged in a metaphysical conversation with him. When it was over, Gilbert knew the pain and hate had been laid to rest. She was free. 

Gilbert still didn’t know who she was on her own or what her word was. She continued to practice meditation and grew stronger in her ability to quiet her mind. Then, one day, she had a deep experience with God. She slipped into turiya, the fourth dimension of consciousness, and realized that God was inside her. God was love, and that love lived in her soul. She didn’t have to fear losing it. As long as she opened her heart to God, she would embody pure love. 

By the time Gilbert left the Ashram, she was balanced and at peace in her heart. She’d found a place to put her demons and surrounded them with love. She didn’t need to run from anything anymore. Every ounce of her was part of God’s love. She also found her word while reading a Yogic text. The word was antevasin, which roughly meant someone who lives on the border of two worlds. That was who she was now. She existed on the border of her past and future. There were so many more levels of discovery to encounter, and she would keep moving forward, learning more along the way, and following the path of her heart forever. 

The Socialite of Indonesia

Gilbert landed in Bali with no plan or knowledge of how to find the medicine man she met two years before. But Bali was a major tourist destination, so getting around as a Westerner was easy. She found a hotel in a town called Ubud, which she believed was close to where the medicine man lived. The front desk attendant knew Ketut Liyer, the medicine man, and agreed to take her there. Gilbert thought it would take weeks to locate this man. She should have known God would provide. 

Ketut didn’t remember Gilbert right away, and she despaired that she’d misjudged the importance of their last meeting. But when she reminded him that she was the writer from New York, he perked up. He didn’t recognize her at first because she looked so different. Before, she was old and sad. Now, she was young and beautiful. He invited her to visit him every day. He would teach her Balinese meditation, and she would teach him English. 

Gilbert and Ketut grew close over the next few weeks. He taught her the meditation practice of sitting and smiling, allowing the smile to reach inside and consume her full body. She did her best to teach him English, but she realized that what he wanted most was her company. Ketut spent every day healing or blessing nearly 100 people who came to his compound. He rarely left and enjoyed seeing the world through Gilbert’s eyes. 

One day, Gilbert was hit by a truck and cut her leg. The wound became infected, but Ketut wouldn’t heal it. He told her to find a doctor. She was surprised, but in hindsight, she saw that there was a larger plan in his refusal. The doctor Gilbert found was a female healer named Wayan, and their lives became intertwined. 

Living With Purpose

Gilbert learned that Wayan was poor and struggling to make a life for her, her daughter, and two orphan children she’d taken in. She’d divorced an abusive husband and was cast out of the compound to fend for herself. Gilbert wanted to do something to help her new friend. She organized a fundraiser among her friends and family in America and raised enough money to help Wayan build a house. 

This gesture was significant, but so was the gift Wayan gave Gilbert. Wayan could see that Gilbert was devoid of love and started praying that she would find romance again. Within days, Gilbert met a man named Felipe. Felipe was a 52-year-old Brazilian who’d come to Bali years before to get over his divorce. Gilbert felt an instant connection to him, and they became close. 

Gilbert resisted his attempts at affection at first. She’d come this far in her celibacy and spiritual journey and didn’t want to threaten her progress by opening her heart to a man again. But she could see that Felipe was a different kind of man. He was an adventurer like her and already had grown children. He wanted nothing from her other than to love her, and she eventually let him. Their relationship blossomed, and she fell in love with him, as well. 

Gilbert’s time in Bali was coming to an end, and there were a few loose strings to tie up. First, Wayan still had not bought land for her house. Gilbert became anxious, knowing the people in America were expecting to hear good news, so she and Felipe threw themselves into the task of helping Wayan secure a property. This process brought them closer together. Wayan finally found a property, and Felipe and Gilbert were free to take a trip before she left. 

Gilbert took Felipe to an island she’d visited after meeting Ketut two years before. She’d spent several days on this island in silence trying to gain control of her pain. She learned that she could acknowledge all her sorrow, anger, and shame and send them away with love. That was the first time she understood the capacity of love in her heart and the first time she felt the presence of God. 

That night was also the first time she communicated with the voice in her notebook. The voice told her the same thing it did in Rome—she would always be loved and protected. That notebook and voice would save Gilbert’s life many times over the next two years. Now, she knew whose voice it was. It was the voice of who she was now—her new balanced and happy voice calling her forth to her transformation. 

Taking Felipe to the island was her way of celebrating her union with that voice. She was ready for whatever life held for her now. And she and Felipe would find a way to be together in that life. Her journey to enlightenment was complete, but her life was just beginning. 

Eat Pray Love: Elizabeth Gilbert on Finding Self-Love

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  • Why Elizabeth Gilbert needed to divorce her husband
  • How she was able to find joy again in Italy
  • How Gilbert was able to find balance with Felipe

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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