Many of you may have read or heard of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat Pray Love, about her journey of self-reflection that took her on an epic tour of Italy (to eat), India (to pray), and Bali (to love), following a dark night of the soul when she realized that she no longer wanted to be married. The book was later made into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
The book garnered a lot of attention and became a bestseller. As happens with art, some people adored it and others condemned it. While the book was published several years ago, it still provokes a strong reaction when mentioned. I began to wonder why.
“Write what you know,” they say. Most writers delve into their inner worlds and personal stories in order to convey their yearning, seeking, and learned wisdom. It is almost impossible to write anything without leaving a little bit of yourself within the words.
Many men have written about their own inner journeys without question — the privilege of having your story accepted at face value.
But for women, our inner journeys can be questioned as being frivolous, unearned, or selfish. Our jobs are to take care of others, not to take care of ourselves — and if we’re going to do be selfish like that, at least have the dignity to not write about it or expect other people to read it!
At best, if we are deemed “likeable” and “relatable,” the sharing of our own insights can be helpful to others (and we always have to be helpful!) because our stories can help people feel less alone.
I, too, often fall into this trap of perspective. When I first read Eat Pray Love myself, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. While I was a huge proponent of self-awareness and had a great interest in figuring out what made me tick, my own reflection was largely a self-involved process spurned on by a desperate need to overcome a sense of lack, a poorly developed identity, and the depression that stemmed from it. Reading about someone else’s journey was interesting, but hardly relatable for me.
In discussing the book with my friends, the conversations reflected the polarizing attitude of the larger audience: either we loved it or we hated it. The reasons for loving it stemmed from the engaging story and writing, or relating to the enjoyment of travel, or a desire for a similar quest. The reasons for hating it stemmed from a frustration at the privilege of being able to take a trip like that in the first place, to an annoyance that a self-involved and tone-deaf story gets so much attention. “White woman gets depressed by divorce and takes a year off” — woo, so interesting!
I wasn’t sure what people exactly found so off-putting. I realized that, yes, Ms. Gilbert was privileged in a way that some people aren’t. She was white, middle-class (even though she supported herself by being a waitress while writing on the side, and worked hard at it), and she had a nice publishing advance that allowed her to pay for the trip. And, yes, most people don’t have that luxury; they have to show up for their work shifts every day, take care of their families, and they barely have the funds to pay for necessities let alone years of therapy or spiritual quests.
People got angry at Ms. Gilbert for this privilege of being able to navel-gaze in several luxurious destinations and having her book become a bestseller on top of it.
It seems as though the message then got muddled into a belief that “Self-reflection and introspection is a luxury of the privileged and is a waste of time for anyone who is just trying to survive and live a normal life.”
We get defensive when we can’t relate to someone else’s story. We get put off when we make assumptions about whether someone is likeable or not. We get jealous of other people’s journeys through suffering when we think they have it easier than us. We compare our struggles and laugh off the ones that don’t come close.
Instead of learning from another person’s perspective and finding our commonalities, we push them away and denigrate their experience. We also fail to delve deeper into what is driving our reactions.
If we begin to believe that self-reflection and awareness are only the luxuries of the privileged, after all of one’s basic needs have been met, then growth becomes an unreachable goal and we get stuck in our pain.
In the end, Eat Pray Love was not about Ms. Gilbert’s travel experience, financial backing, and relationship issues. Those were hers.
But the insight process and the development of self-awareness are universal gifts — available to all who seek them.Insight isn't privileged. It doesn't require lots of money or travel. It just needs curiosity. Click To Tweet
Insight doesn’t require you to drop everything and travel to an ashram or a retreat. You can do it right where you’re sitting.
Insight isn’t privileged. Pain is not privileged. Self-awareness isn’t privileged. We all have equal access to our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, actions, responses, habits, motivations.
Insight can be found anywhere, by anyone, at any time.
Insight can be a quick question: “Why did I react that way?” “What am I feeling right now?” “Where are my thoughts focused right now?”
Insight doesn’t have to be the last stage on top of the hierarchy of needs pyramid. You can develop insight at any stage, and in fact you can only progress through the stages by using insight.
Insight doesn’t require money or major resources. It requires attention and curiosity.
Insight doesn’t require you to give up caring for others and become a narcissist. It is asking you to know yourself, so that you can give without conditions and have the energy to do so.
Insight knows that while everything may seem attractive or easy on the outside, the inside reveals the real turmoil and churning going on.
Insight is really the quest for self-knowledge and self-love. And these are free.
You don’t need to write or read a book about it. But you do have to travel your own inner journey. What title would you give yours?
Keep shining the insight light,