Elizabeth Gilbert and the art of living

I have an appointment with Elizabeth Gilbert. It is possible that the stars have stabilized. Maybe it’s because we have a common publisher. The fact is that we chat under a garden umbrella on the vast lawns of his hotel in Jaipur and enjoy the warmth of the winter sun while drinking idlis and cups of smoked masala tea. A few days ago I met her at a literature festival in Jaipur. I was so impressed by Gilbert’s openness and extraordinary warmth that I felt I had to meet her again. So we’re here today and we’re talking about life, love, writing and femininity.

She drapes herself in a refined grey pashmina with embroidered blue peacocks everywhere. We’re women, we have to talk about shopping first. Isn’t it great? Alexandra (Bloomsbury) haggle for me, I’m very bad at haggling, Gilbert said in a conspiracy. She got a good deal, and now I hear myself asking for the contact details of a scarf salesman.

Internal storm

Gilbert is happy to be back in India after 17 years. There has always been some kind of disaster that prevented her from returning to the country that changed her life (as she wrote in Eat Pray Love). Illness, death and possibly even a lawsuit, she says. Then she ran into her old barber. When she said she was going to India in January for a women’s party outside Jodhpur, I told her this: Oh, I’m going too, Gilbert said. She asked if I was invited. No, I said no. I just heard from you.

Elizabeth Gilbert says that the more she grows, the more she loves her own company
Shivamm Paathak

It’s an enviable degree of spontaneity, I told him. She says she’s always been like this. She has such a slightly soothing aura that I wonder if she has ever had moments of doubt or fear. О ! Let me tell you that every day of my life I wake up with depression, fear and doubt and shame. My first thought when I wake up is panic, horror, depression or anxiety.

He’s a little tired in the morning. Put that extra energy away. Then meditate.

I can’t deny I’m not surprised to hear that. A few minutes in her presence and you start to worry that you’ll never be that cool. And then Gilbert seriously says she starts her day at 5 a.m. to see him walk by 10 a.m..

It is the fact that she has everything – her ups and downs, her joy and sorrow and everything in between – and that makes her what she is – a woman like a child, with the soul of an old mystic. If you listen to it, you’ll go away and you’ll understand life a little better.

I want to know how she stays grounded.

I train a lot, she says. The first thing I do in the morning is pray on my knees. Please help me get through this day. Help me navigate through this. Please remove my character flaws. Please, lead me to the faith. Get those feelings off me, please. Please help me.

Eat Pray Love has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and still surpasses all other Gilbert books.

His morning ritual includes dancing and then meditation. I call my restlessness when I meditate, and she also orders me to dance. Get a little tired. Put that extra energy away. Then meditate.

Grey, not blue

Our conversation is interrupted several times by the hotel staff, who have to discuss her agenda with her and ask her to sign books for her. She listens to them attentively and smiles heartily. It made me want to meet her again: that she intends to create a bond with the person standing in front of her. I’ll ask him. Why would I miss an opportunity to meet someone? She says. But I’m taking stock. I spend a lot of time alone. I’ve only been in Goa for 17 days without seeing anyone other than waitresses. The older I get, the more I love my own business.

When it comes to getting older, I ask Gilbert about what it’s like to be 50.

I’m so glad I’m 50. It takes a long time to become human. We are born without any information and we enter every culture, every family, every gender, every obstacle. And you control this thing, run by people who don’t know how to control it either. But I can feel it: God, it feels so good, finally!

Aging is the biggest game in town. It’s much better than the alternative, which is dying.

In an old society like ours, most women are afraid to grow old, while Gilbert declares himself happy. That’s unusual, isn’t it?

I’ve never met a woman whose life didn’t get better as she got older. I like being with myself. When I was 25 years old, I couldn’t support my own company anymore.

Elizabeth Gilbert rejects the idea that good writing stems from a deep inner sadness.

Elizabeth Gilbert rejects the idea that good writing comes from the deep inner sorrow of
Shivamm Paathak

Aging is the biggest game in town. First of all, it’s much better than the alternative of dying young. How many people I love. I had a friend who died of cancer at the age of 32, and I remember what she said to me: My greatest wish is to live and grow old.

But women tend to feel invisible as they get older, I stress this point. I have often heard my mother say how surprised she is when a young man comes into contact with her during a public session.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s message to everyone…

That’s what my mother says, Gilbert. Ever since she told me, I’ve been looking for gray women in this room. I know from my mother they’re the most interesting. You can’t control who you talk to, but you can control who you talk to.

Gilbert has a light touch. Even though she gives these life lessons, there is nothing to preach about her, not even from afar, and all you want to do is somehow osmotically absorb all of her great non-theological wisdom. For example, when she talks or writes about loss, as she did recently on Instagram in a moving article about her partner Raya, whom she lost two years ago to cancer. I ask her how she deals with her loss, because after the loss of my father a few years ago, I often wonder how I can lead a normal life, even though I find it difficult to accept his departure.

Elizabeth Gilbert says she writes like a drunk on a tight rope
Shivamm Paathak

That’s how I like to see it: no matter how privileged or genetically muted your life may have been, you are the offspring of survivors of hundreds and thousands of years. There is a woman (Kate Brestrup) who has written a beautiful book called Lord if you need me. She’s a minister working with the police. It is your job to knock on the door and announce the worst news of your life: the death of a family member. She says most people physically fall to the floor and scream and cry. But it doesn’t take longer than 15 minutes because the body can’t withstand the collapse. Then they ask really reasonable and sensible questions like What do we do now? she says.

So the brain starts concentrating on practical problems to distract us from the pain, I say. That’s right! This is Gilbert. We’re so quickly made to get used to the new reality. So I do what you do. I live in a new reality. It’s shocking, isn’t it? Because you really think you should be burned at the stake.

The Western idea of letting go is so inhuman. You let go of the body, but why would you let go of love?

Gilbert and Raya were best friends. She had been married to her husband for 12 years when Raya was diagnosed with cancer. For Gilbert, it changed everything.

I’d say five or six years before we became romantic, it became a full possession of my heart. I didn’t have the language to tell you who she was. I told you, I have a husband and Raya, my husband. It was hard to put it into words, she said. There is also something amazing in the human mind; there are things that have not yet been given to us. Even if they’re right in front of you.

Her husband, she says, wasn’t surprised. Everyone has understood how we feel. In that sense, Raya and I were the last to know.

Gilbert saw the spirit of the medium and kept Raya very close to him after his death to continue. I will do anything to put you out of your misery. This is my life. I’ll do anything. I’m persistent in this regard. I also think the Western idea of letting go is so inhuman. Look, you let go of the body, but why did you let go of love?

Writing practice

Gilbert wrote Raya the Girl City. Many of his other works were full of humour and vitality. She rejects the idea that good writing stems from a deep inner sadness, even though there are enough writers in this world who fetishize suffering. It is a very masculine and very European idea from the 19th century. In the 19th century, suffering is a badge of honour that proves that one is a serious person. I’m not interested in that mentality, she says.

Gilbert’s writing process is very intensive. She may spend years researching for the book, but to finish her manuscript from beginning to end, she stops her life for seven to eight weeks.

The author of the cover of this HT brunch, Shunali (right), communicates with Gilbert about a floating cup of masala tea.

The author of this cover, Shunali (right), communicates with Gilbert via Shivamm Paathak about floating masala teacups.

It’s easier for me to write fast. When I was in NYU, I went to a circus where I learned how to walk on a rope. So I’m freeing up my diary to browse these pages. I’m not stopping. Did you see anyone walking down the street drunk? If they stop, they’re gonna fall. So I write like a drunk on a rope, she laughs.

I tell her she has a chance to hibernate when she writes. Men and families can think about their next book somewhere in the world, but not all women can afford it.

Yes, because men usually have a woman at home who takes care of everything.

That means I need the wife of.

Yeah, you need a woman! I had a friend who started a business in New York many years ago and called his wife’s wife. The name tells you everything he was.

A nice personal message from Elizabeth Gilbert…

She wants to know about my children. I tell him that once I romanticize the idea of freedom, I’m afraid one day I’ll be an empty nest.

It’s going to be an exciting time. I’d say you don’t have to fill that void so quickly. Amazing and creative things can come out of this void if you have the courage to take your place.

Did I mention that your time with Elizabeth Gilbert means you’re getting smarter?

Biography of the author : Shunali is the author and great traveler, author of the book Love in the time of the flu. Follow her on the social networking sites @shunalishroff.

Join the conversation with #GilbertInBrunch