Ketut Liyer: Medicine Man Starts and Ends Liz’s Journey

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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Who is Ketut Liyer? What is his role in the book Eat Pray Love?

Ketut Liyer is a medicine man in Bali and an important figure in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love. Ketut Liyer is partly responsible for sparking Elizabeth’s journey to find herself.

Read more about Eat Pray Love and Ketut Liyer.

Eat Pray Love: Ketut Liyer

While in Indonesia, the residents of the retreat visited a ninth-generation medicine man named Ketut Liyer. He was a small, jolly, aging man with more gums than teeth. Each resident was allowed to ask one question. Gilbert’s head flooded with requests about easing the burden of her divorce and making David fall back in love for her. But she knew those requests were low and shameful. This was a real opportunity to gain some mystical guidance, and she didn’t want to waste it on boy trouble. 

So when her turn came, she told Eat Pray Love’s Ketut she wanted to devote her life to God without losing the comforts and joys she’d grown accustomed to. Ketut drew her a picture of a figure standing on four legs in prayer. The figure was headless. A bouquet of wild plants and flowers sprouted from the neck. A smiley face replaced the heart. 

Ketut said Gilbert must become that figure to find the balance between God and life. She must find grounded stability, as if she stood on four legs. She must stop looking for God with her mind but feel Him with her heart. After this, he read Gilbert’s palm. 

Old Friends Reunited

Ketut’s compound was traditional for Balinese families. Stone walls, a courtyard, a temple, and various small homes scattered about. As soon as Gilbert and Mario entered the compound, they saw Ketut sitting on his front porch. Mario introduced her as a “girl from America,” to which Ketut reached out his hand and said it was nice to meet her. Gilbert was crushed.

Ketut explained that he didn’t recognize her because she looked like a different person. She was a sad, ugly person before. But now, she was happy and beautiful. He remembered that she was in a bad divorce and had too much worry and sorrow. She was old then. He was so happy to see her looking young again. 

The English lesson started immediately. He pulled out a series of letters from art collectors around the world, people who were fans of his drawings and paintings. She read each one to him, feeling purposeful and validated. Ketut then told her that he’d remarried. He was happy, but he was also drained of his spiritual light. Shortly after Gilbert’s first visit, there was a terrorist bombing. Western tourists stopped visiting Bali as a result, which meant they stopped visiting Ketut Liyer. 

Before Gilbert left, he told her to come every day for their lessons. He said 3 months should be enough time to teach her everything he knew about reaching God through meditation. He also predicted that she would get married in Bali soon. It was a passing thought, and Gilbert didn’t pay it much attention. She promised to come. 

The Final Journey Begins

The next day, Gilbert bought a bicycle so she’d be able to ride to the compound on her own. She didn’t know what to expect from her visits with Ketut, but she didn’t care. She was just happy to have found him. 

Gilbert arrived at the compound to find Ketut in session with a Balinese family. Their baby was teething and crying uncontrollably. Those kinds of visits made up most of Ketut’s business. He helped heal the sick and blessed marital unions and newborn babies. On any given day, he could have 100 visitors. He did this work for a fee, but he also did it for free. It was his duty as a healer to help whoever needed it. 

Gilbert watched as Ketut prescribed a solution to rub on the baby’s gums and another to dispel the demon tormenting the child. He said a prayer over a bowl of water, infusing it with his mystical powers, and gave some to the baby to drink. He gave the rest of the water to the parents before they left. For his service, he received the equivalent of a quarter. 

Ketut and Gilbert sat on his porch talking after the family was gone. A few more visitors came and went. Then, they were finally alone and able to start the lessons. His first lesson in Balinese meditation was simple—sit silently and smile. 

Gilbert thought the task sounded too easy, but after the difficulty she’d encountered during her Yoga meditation, she was ready for easy. Ketut said she needed to smile with her face and mind to clear out the bad energy and bring in the good. He said to let the smile reach deep inside her and to stay relaxed. Being too serious about this practice could make her sick. 

A Brief History of Ketut Liyer

Gilbert learned about Ketut and how he became a medicine man. Ketut was the ninth generation of medicine men in his family. But when he was a young man, he didn’t want to be one. He didn’t want to study that hard and had dreams of being a painter. 

A wealthy American commissioned a large painting from Ketut. The pay would be enough to lift Ketut out of poverty. He worked day and night on the painting, often by oil lamp. During one night session, the oil lamp exploded and started a fire. Ketut burned his arm and developed an infection. The doctors wanted to amputate the arm to save his life. Before the procedure, Ketut went back home for a night. 

That night, Ketut had a dream. His father and ancestors spoke to him through this dream and gave him the remedy for his arm. The remedy worked and healed his arm completely. That experience helped him realize the power of medicine men. He started his studies and became the man Gilbert knew. He still painted, but only in his spare time or as a remedy for his patients.

Gilbert doesn’t know how old Ketut is. Neither does Ketut. He thought he was maybe 65, but he wasn’t sure. He mentioned being an adult during WWII, and he said he burned his arm sometime around 1920. Gilbert reasoned he was somewhere between 65 and 105 years old. 

Gilbert saw Ketut as an eccentric old king. He ate one modest meal and drank one cup of coffee with sugar a day. He exuded patience and calm, which seemed to linger throughout the compound. None of the people Gilbert witnessed waiting to see him showed any signs of despair regardless of how long they had to wait, not even the children. 

Gilbert wasn’t sure how she fit into this man’s life. She wasn’t helping him with his English that much, and she felt guilty for taking up his time after a long day of healing people. But she soon realized he liked having her around as company. He’d never left Bali and rarely left his compound. Gilbert’s stories of her travels and the state of the world fascinated him. 

Ketut Liyer: Medicine Man Starts and Ends Liz’s Journey

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Eat Pray Love summary :

  • 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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