Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Questions for Book Tour Fourteen: Eat, Pray, Love

Group 1

1. Gilbert had many beautiful sentiments/ideas. What was your favorite and why?

2. At the start of the book, the author states that she will not go into the details of her divorce. Could you accept this and move on to the rest of the book, or did this lack of explanation influence your opinion of the entire book?

3. When my IRL (in real life) book club discussed this we had widely differing opinions on the tone of the book. Some thought it was "all about me, poor, poor me!" and "whiny" while others saw Gilbert's self-focus in as a fascinating journey to becoming a better person. What would you say?

4. In the end, is Gilbert a better person? Why/why not?

5. Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual crisis was brought to a head by a failing marriage and the dawning realization that her desires were not nearly on the same track as some seemingly powerful, external expectations about how her life should unfold. What defining 'disasters' have triggered you to course-correct your life? Did the crisis(es) sneak up on you or did you see it (them) coming, but deny it for a while? What expectations did it force you to challenge -- either your own or external ones? How hard was that for you personally (as in, are you the kind of temperament that is naturally rebellious? Or not so much? Do you have a hard time letting go of control? Or are you at ease with improv on a grand, spiritual level?)

6. "... in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at very least, inconvenience) to those around me. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all of your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people." Have you reached a place ... or can you at least envision a peaceful time ... where/when you feel that the 'disaster', the 'crisis' is ultimately redefined as a more or less positive, creative force in your life? How have your challenges made you smarter?

7. Do you believe in reincarnation and that a soul chooses its lessons before each lifetime? Or do you believe it's all just random challenge? Do you believe you are doing a good job dealing with the cards you've been dealt? What do you think your challenges are trying to teach you about the big picture that other people might miss ...that you might have missed if your life didn't take these turns?

8. In Elizabeth's journey, she meets several characters ... Richard (who calls her 'Groceries') and Ketut and Italy itself ... who see her 'from outside of the frame,' who offer her valuable, catalytic perspective and they help her to penetrate her misery. Who are the characters in your own life that have performed/perform this role for you? What have they helped you to understand? ... Sometimes perspective can come from a book, rather than a person IRL ... so if it was a book that gave you this gift, which one(s)?

9. In chapter 13, the author talks about what type of traveler she is and other traveling personalities. What type of traveler are you? Does it vary based on the trip or do you approach every trip the same way?

10. On pages 94-95, Elizabeth discusses the continuity of and our positioning in our family as it relates to fertility/childbearing and the idea of finding purpose and the feeling of "being relevant" if we choose to not have children or are not able to. Does your infertility struggle affect your perception of your position in your family hierarchy? Why or why not? Has this affected your involvement with family events? If so, how?

11. Have you had a breakdown like Elizabeth Gilbert's scene on the bathroom floor (near the beginning of the book)? How did you come out of your crisis? Did you adjust yourself to the situation, did you change your situation, or did you find a third alternative?

12. Which of the three settings (along with associated activities -- eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?

13. There are many, many angles to take on this book and the questions that may lead from it, the more obvious being of the spiritual nature. But one bit that caught my attention was in chapter 50 when Liz is told by her friend, the counselor, that “There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And who’s in charge?” I’ve thought about this a great deal, and thought about it not so much on a global level but in how it pertains to my relationships. I can see similarities in many ways – can you?

14. Elizabeth Gilbert writes that "when you're lost in the woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize you are lost. For the longest time you can convince yourself that you've just wandered a few feet off the path...then night falls again and again and you still have no idea where you are, and it's time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off path that you don't even know from which direction the sun rises anymore." Have you had a similar experience and if so, when did you come to realize you were lost and how did you find your way back?

15. The author writes that hard as it was she is "choosing happiness over suffering" and "making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises" but still laments the loss of her lover...
Have you ever found living with suffering to be more familiar, more comfortable than making a change even if you knew (rationally) that change would be better in the long run. Has inertia prevented you from making a difficult decision or instituting change?

16. In one passage, Gilbert describes the typical life experience: "first you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, they you are a grandparent--at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is and you know where to sit at the reunion...watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem--you're the person who created all this...If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well." If you're an infertile person, possibly or definitively unable to have children, how did this passage make you feel? What emotions or conflicts did it evoke?

17. Gilbert talks about finding herself again and feeling a glimmer of happiness when she started studying Italian, "a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt--this is not selfishness, but obligation."
After living through a dark time, what was it that brought you a glimmer of happiness? How hard was it to hang onto?

18. In the Ashram, Richard points out to Elizabeth that "nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin' her way." He counsels her to "let go" or she'll "make herself sick" and "toss and turn forever, beatin' on yourself for being such a fiasco in life." Are you a control freak and, if so, how do you manage when life doesn't go your way?

19. In a follow up discussion, Richard suggests that "if you want to control your life so bad, work on the mind because if you can't learn to master your thinking, you're in deep trouble forever." Gilbert notes that it's about "admitting to the existence of negative thoughts, understanding where they came from and why they arrived and then--with great forgiveness and fortitude--dismissing them." She goes on to point out that it takes practice and constant vigilance to do so..."it's a sacrifice to let them go...it's a loss of old habits, comforting old grudges and familiar vignettes." Did these passages resonate for you in any way? If so, how?

Group 2

1. “Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can't even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I'm aiming for, how will it ever occur?" -Eat, Pray, Love (p. 177). I've found it easy to just get caught up in praying/hoping for a baby, a baby, a baby. But I can sometimes lose myself in this, and have had to learn to approach my prayers with a broader goal. How do you approach personal transformation in terms of your infertility journey, specifically in terms of your spirituality or emotional/psychological growth?

2. During her sojourn at the Ashram, Gilbert speaks of the fight with herself to find her meditative path. Personally, I have lost touch with the spiritual side of myself, so this kind of intrigues me. I wanted to know (if you are willing to share): How important is spirituality in your journey through if?

3. While I don’t believe infertility can be cured by positive thinking, do you think the impact it has on out life could be minimized if we learned to control our thoughts like she talks about in chapter 58?

4. What is the word that defines your city? workplace? home? yourself? Why?

5. Which of the three sections of the book -- Eat (Italy), Pray (India) or Love (Indonesia) -- could you most relate to & why?

6. As Elizabeth Gilbert is writing her letter to G-d about divorce, she begins saying names of individuals who 'signed it'. She says, "I became filled with a grand sense of protection surrounded by the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls." As you blog about IF, parenting, life, and love; in what ways do you feel protected? How in your journey has 'the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls' guided you? Who are those mighty souls?

7. On page 92 of the book, the author says "Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reason not to have children are the same either, though. Nor all those reason necessarily selfish." In the IF community we are bound by the same desire - to have a child, our child, and endure much physical, psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial, duress to achieve that. What are/were your reasons? Do you think they were selfish, unselfish or a combination of both?

8. The author, because of personal traumas, decides to go on a spiritual/emotional journey. Have you ever gone through such a journey because of a personal trauma? And what did you learn about yourself?

9. The author learns Italian for the pure love of it (no real practical reason). Have you wanted to learn something just for the pure sake of the knowledge? Did you pursue it and how did it make you feel once you had done it?

10. In chapter 25, on page 75, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how “the Augusteum in Rome warns (us) not to get attached to any obsolete ideas of who (we are), what (we) represent, whom (we) belong to or what function (we) may once have intended to serve.” Through our struggles with infertility and/or loss many of us have had to revisit our ideas about what our life would be like and who we thought we were supposed to be. How have your ideas about your identity and purpose in life changed since your began your journey to have a child(ren)? Have you been able to make peace with your new found identity and/or purpose if it doesn’t embody the dream you originally had for yourself at this point in your life as an adult and/or parent?

11. In Chapter 60, the plumber/poet from New Zealand gives Liz some Instructions for Freedom. #7: "Let your intention be freedom from useless suffering. Then, let go." To what extent has any suffering you've experienced in response to your own struggles (such as infertility, loss, illness) been inevitable? Natural but unhelpful? Useless? Does the suffering serve any purpose for you? Is that purpose enough to justify ongoing suffering?

12. One of the criticisms frequently leveled at this book is that it is "self-absorbed" and that its author is "selfish." Interestingly, these same labels have also been applied to infertiles, particularly those of us who blog about our infertility. Do you think this criticism is warranted in either case (i.e., by the book/author and by infertiles/infertility bloggers)? Do you think being an infertile and a blogger influenced your reaction to the book? In what ways?

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