Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert Discusses Her Spiritual Journey

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Elizabeth Gilbert argues that spiritual self-discovery doesn't have to happen through travel.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Her most recent book is the #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," about the year she spent traveling the world alone after a difficult divorce. Anne Lamott called Eat, Pray, Love "wise, jaunty, human, ethereal, heartbreaking." The book has been a worldwide success, now published in over thirty languages with over 7 million copies in print. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2006, and chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best ten nonfiction books of the year. In 2008, Elizabeth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, by Time Magazine.

In addition to writing books, Elizabeth has worked steadily as a journalist. Throughout much of the 1990’s she was on staff at SPIN Magazine, where – with humor and pathos – she chronicled diverse individuals and subcultures, covering everything from rodeo's Buckle Bunnies (reprinted in The KGB Bar Reader) to China’s headlong construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In 1999, Elizabeth began working for GQ magazine, where her profiles of extraordinary men – from singers Hank Williams III and Tom Waits (reprinted in The Tom Waits Reader) to quadriplegic athlete Jim Maclaren – earned her three National Magazine Award Nominations, as well as repeated appearances in the “Best American” magazine writing anthologies. She has also written for such publications as The New York Times Magazine, Real Simple, Allure, Travel and Leisure and O, the Oprah Magazine (where her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" was excerpted in March, 2006.) She has been a contributor to the Public Radio show "This American Life", and -- perhaps most proudly -- has several times shown up at John Hodgman's Little Gray Book Lecture Series, most notably during Lecture Four on the subject "Hints for Public Singing."


Question: Is spiritual enlightenment a privilege?

Gilbert:    Well… I mean, I think if spiritual enlightenment was also open to the rich, the rich would be, hopefully, a lot better people than they are so I don’t think they’re necessarily linked.  But I think… You know, I have people ask me, a lot of the time, questions along the lines of, you know, how can I possibly… I can’t afford to do what you did, I can’t afford to go and take a year off from my work for my family, for my obligations from the contracts, the social contracts that I have with people or the illness that I’m taking care of or, you know, whatever the things are that hold people into the places where they’re staying, you know.  And I can’t afford to do that in anyway, in any definition of the word afford, you know, so how can I have the experiences that you had.  And I think it will be insulting for me to walk around, telling people that they could do that, you know.  Because the reality is that even in my life, which has been a life that’s… I got a lot of freedom, I don’t have children, I’ve been lucky enough to have a career that facilitates travel, you know, healthy.  Even in my life, there was only one moment when I could’ve done that and it was that year.  I couldn’t do it now, you know.  I’m way too entrenched in the lives of people around me to do it again and… you know.  And I have one of the freest schedules of anybody on earth, you know.  So it’s… And I also don’t think everybody should do that, you know.  I have a friend… One of my favorite moments before I left on this trip, this editor, friend of mine, in New York said to me, “Wow.  You’re going to an ashram performance to meditate.”  There’s a part of me that’s so wishes that I wanted to do that but I really, really have no desire for it whatsoever.  You know, he’s going to find his way in a different path.  But I do think there are people who long for that.  And all I can think of is that, you know, if the only people who had spiritual enlightenment available to them are those who can afford a plane ticket to India, the world will be an even more unfair place than it already is.  And the example that I always think of is this friend of mine from high school, actually he was my prom date, who is in prison now as my mom predicted at the time.  But anyway, he’s having the spiritual experience of a lifetime because he’s using that time to focus on meditation and contemplation and self-transformation.  And he’s in an eight-by-eight foot room where every minute of his day is sort of organized by other people.  I would argue that it’s probably easier to find time to meditate in prison than it is if you have 2 little kids at home, you know, and, also, sort of holding down a job and struggling with a lot of other issues.  But I have to believe because it would work to much my understanding of humanity that questions of divinity are available to anybody and that the entrance to those questions are everywhere.  And certainly, evidence shows that.  You know, people have transcended religious experiences in refugee camps.  They have them in traffic jams.  They have them during war.  They have them at their offices.  You know, these invitations arrive in people’s lives wherever they are.  And I was lucky enough, for a lot of reasons, to be able to carve out this huge period of time to go to this very special place and do this work in a really organized way.  But my spiritual practice is today.  You know, my life in New Jersey are nothing compared to a lot of people I knew who have much busier lives than me, who insist on making time for this.  You know, they wake up at 4:00 in the morning and they hold that time sacred.  And they work at it and they meditate and they didn’t have any of the advantages that I have.  And they are way, way, way closer to the destination that I was seeking, merely on the count of the fact that they’re demanding it whether they live in Queens or, you know, Indiana.