In taking my own sabbatical, I have become interested in other women’s experiences of taking a break from work.
I have to admit I wasn’t really interested in reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love when it was first published and was even less so when the Hollywood movie was released. I probably dismissed it as the self-indulgent musings of a person of privileged means, if I even thought of it at all.
However, as I was reading Reboot Your Life it was one of the suggested readings. So in the interests of research I thought I would take a look.
Eat Pray Love is the memoir of a woman who, having gone through a bitter divorce and an ill-fated love affair, decides to go in search of pleasure (in Italy), devotion (in India) and balance (in Indonesia).
While I am not so fortunate as to be able to spend all my sabbatical traveling the world, the themes of pleasure, devotion and balance really resonated with me and my journey.
For pleasure Elizabeth went to Italy. After all, what greater pleasure is there than food?
Her time in Italy was what the authors of Reboot Your Life call the reconnecting phase; a time to revitalize connections to people, places, activities and yourself. It would be easy to focus on Elizabeth’s positive, pleasurable experiences; learning to speak Italian, eating, making friends. But it wasn’t always easy as she left behind the issues and worries of her previous life. It was in this section that I found my favourite quote in the book;
“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognised yourself as a friend.”
For Elizabeth, pleasure was about finding herself again, perhaps even finding an element of happiness.
For me finding myself is about just being me, being true to myself, to be real. In my work life I have tended to adapt to the image of the company I was representing. In marketing an organisation I have adopted the company brand. Sometimes that has been easy and the organisation’s brand is some part of who I already am. Sometimes I have had to create a new image of myself. Now that I am not working, I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not, even a little bit. I am me. And it feels good, even pleasurable.
In seeking devotion, Elizabeth travelles to India and spends time in an ashram. Nearing the end of her stay she finds a connection with God. “I am suddenly transported through the portal of the universe and taken to the centre of God’s palm.” Another time she recalls feeling a ‘soft blue electrical energy’ and discusses how this energy has been described by devotees of many different religions.
This got me thinking. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists….. aren’t we all really seeking the same thing? Although I was bought up in a Christian culture and am now living in one based in Confucianism I have tended to avoid religion. The negative aspects of patriarchy, war, greed and sexual abuse have kept me away. But what if there is something deeper? I am now exploring my spirituality and learning more about the different world religions. (Perhaps a blog post for another time?)
Finally, Elizabeth travels to Bali seeking balance. She travels there on an invitation from a Balinese medicine man with almost no research or preparation. She doesn’t have a place to live, she doesn’t know anyone and when she arrives she finds out that the Indonesian visa rules only allow for a one month tourist visa when she had be planning to stay three to four months. (Something that totally freaks my compulsive planner and organizer self out!) However, within weeks the balance naturally falls into place.
“I can feel my own peace, and I love the swing of my days between easeful devotional practices and pleasures of beautiful landscape, dear friends and good food.”
For me, in seeking balance in my life I am trying to find that harmony between having a planned daily routine and taking each day and hour as it comes. To be open to opportunities as they arise and say “Yes!” without over thinking it.
In summary, despite my initial hesitation I enjoyed the book. I stand by my initial thoughts that her experience is somewhat self-indulgent and only possible for those with a privileged life. And the ending seemed to wrap up a bit too neatly. (Hello, Hollywood ending!) However, my take away was that her quest to find peace and happiness took her by surprise. Perhaps I can’t plan for this. I can try seeking it but there is no guarantee I will find it. The important thing is to be open to the possibility.
Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2006, eISBN 978 1 4088 0866 5