The price of happiness: A round-the-world airline ticket?

“What did you think of ‘Eat, Pray, Love'?” is an unavoidable question when you’re a meditation teacher. My personal response? On the one hand, extremely glad to see meditation, one of the themes of the book, given such tremendously wide exposure via a personality with whom many people easily relate. (Oprah devoted an entire show to the author Elizabeth Gilbert, and they spent several minutes discussing her practice—which if you’re wondering, is different from Vedic meditation.)

On the other hand, the incessant chattiness of the book drove me to distraction. Irony of ironies: in meditation, we learn to pay no attention to the meaning of thoughts as they arise. In this book, we’re forced to get a replay of every wisp of content passing through the author’s mind. Some reviewers called Gilbert’s voice, and its constant monologue, “irresistible”; I confess that by page 200 I deemed it just a little “aggravating.” (And just wait until it’s paired with Julia Roberts’ “irresistible” grin in the upcoming movie version!)

What’s most interesting about the book, though, is the debate it’s inspired in the blogosphere, between those readers who call Gilbert’s journey—one that takes her through the dark night of the soul and out the other side to tropical sunsets—“self-indulgent” and “self-absorbed” and those who say it’s inspirational, triggering their own inner voice to whisper, “Could my life be better than this?” This thread on Amazon gets quite impassioned.

Love it or resist it, 'Eat, Pray, Love' is hugely significant for generating such lively conversation about whether, and how much, each one of us deserve happiness. For that, I raise my hat and give profound thanks to Gilbert--a one-woman catalyst sparking rumblings of change amongst so many. Yet I’d love to know how many of its fans have found a way to their own meditation practice. Does the author’s year-long odyssey around the globe subtly reinforce the idea, so dominant in our culture, that true peace and quiet is acquired only by escaping to other, “more peaceful,” or even “more spiritual” locations (whatever that means)? Do readers become armchair travelers on one woman’s exotic pilgrimage—then dub her self-realization out of reach for themselves? I hope not. The point of meditation is that the meditator need not go anywhere drastic or change her or his whole life to experience peace, fortitude, and joy: the direction is, sit down on the sofa and let the senses turn within. We don’t want to be waiting until we can organize that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Bali to acquire the bliss that is our birthright!