two lessons I took from Eat Pray love (the movie)

Posted on October 4th, 2010

Everyone is going to see the movie, right. Even if you’re one of those people who says Elizabeth Gilbert should build a bridge. Grab her baggage. And trundle over it.


I saw an advanced preview of the film about two months ago. I really enjoyed it. It would be easy for me, with my scathing journalistic hat on, to go to town on the premise (when life gets tough, indulgently rack off for a year), but I’ll leave that to others…in particular the English who just LOVE to get snarky about anything self-helpy and American and sunny.

OK, so two things I took away from the movie that made me feel enrichened (which are just enactments of bits in the book…but it was good to see them played out again):

1. Smile in your liver

There’s a bit where Ketut (the Balinese guru) instructs Liz on her meditation, and suggests she backs off from the mantras and the strictures:

You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clear away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.

Yes, yes, yes! This works. Keep it simple and just smile. When you walk, when you’re driving and when you meditate (or, if you don’t meditate, when you rest a moment). I’d advise not worrying about good or bad energy. Just smile with every bit of yourself. I find smiling with my eyes when I’m meditating works all kinds of magic.

Try it.

2. Eat asparagus and boiled eggs and a peach on the floor in a sunbeam and read the newspaper

This is my favourite bit of all – when Liz lays out a “still life salad” of her favourite things – boiled eggs, asparagus, salmon, goats cheese, olives and a peach – on a beautiful plate and then eats it on the floor of her Roman apartment, in a sunbeam, with her fingers, while reading the newspaper. The movie captures the book version of this scene perfectly – it was EXACTLY how I pictured it in my mind’s eye.

The beauty of this scene is that it’s a grand, breakthrough moment – it’s when Liz gets mindful and calm and centred with food. She’s not gorging, or abstaining. She’s fully appreciating the prettiness of the food and honouring it. She finally “gets” food.

But more than that for me. It’s a moment when Liz works out what she likes. She likes eggs. And peaches. And sitting in the sun alone. And reading the paper. THIS is freedom when you’re a middle-class, white woman in this world. Knowing what you like. Being still enough to access your “you-ness” and to feel what makes you swell with completeness.

You don’t have to be cashed-up and indulged and living it up in Italy to make a still life salad. You can do it tonight. Start with a nice plate. Choose random things that you just like…they don’t have to go together. They don’t have to fit a story. Prepare them slowly and display them as you see fit. Then eat one by one.

On my plate: figs, tamari almonds, yellow squash, witlof, white anchovies. Yours?

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  • alana

    Love this article. I am SO looking forward to seeing the movie – I really, really loved the book and read it several times!

    On my plate would be – brie with pepper crackers, slices of pear, grapes, spinach, tomato and cucumber, chocolate covered almonds :)


  • salbra

    Great take on the book/movie Sarah. I read the book a few years ago – it had sat on my bedside table, and in the midst of a heart break, i picked it up and started to read. It was just what I needed, when I needed it. I even highlighted bits! (my next partner once found it and laughed at the highlights and dog ears – and I told him “don’t knock it baby – this helped you get where we are!”…)I remember the bit about being like a dog at a tip, licking an empty can and trying to get some goodness out of it! I finished it in the botanic gardens one day when life was looking up, and lovely. It was perfect for my “time” – yet when I my book club read it last year, the reviews were scathing, about the self indulgent-ness. I think sometimes as women, we get jealous of Elizabeth’s ability to head off for a year…no strings…. I think they key of the book – and the film, is to take out the little gems. The lovely little mindful moments, and the precious bits that Elizabeth chose to share with us. Star lights, still life, smiling, good food, and taking care of you.


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  • Kirk

    A really ripe brie, beetroot and apple relish, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh bread just out of the oven, some slivers of dark chocolate and a campari and blood orange juice!


  • Nat Kringoudis

    YES YES YES! Getting your ‘inner smile on’ achieves wondering things for the mind, body and soul. I love this. So simple and extremely effective.
    My plate would be almost the same! I would add one item. Yoghurt. Add yoghurt to this and its perfection in my eyes.
    Loving this. I can’t wait to see the flick.


  • mary

    OH I love that my mind can’t think of anything else at the moment but what I want on my still life plate….
    Strawberries, some brie, prawns, polski ogorki and a fine, tall crystal glass with sparkling mineral water infused with a slice of lime. Or, on a decadent day, swap the polski ogorki for dark chocolate and the mineral water for champagne. Anyone want to come to lunch?


  • cammy

    I agree, its so easy to be critical but I read the book and I liked it, I’ll definetly see the movie!

    on my plate I think I would have: Cheese, prawns, blueberries, rocket, avacado and pepper crackers.


  • cammy

    p.s and witlof!!!


  • Christine

    Frozen banana slices, freshly fried pillows of tofu with sweet chilli and satay sauce for dipping, baked beans and some green apple with peanut butter.


  • Hanna

    Fresh Granny Smith apple, very stinky French cheese, boiled eggs dipped in salt, grilled marinated lamb chops and sauteed English spinach, accompanied by red wine and follwed up after a significant pause with a cup of Earl Grey tea.


  • shanna

    nectarines, jalenpeno pimento cheese spread, italian bread, pecans, chamomile or chai tea, dark chocolate


  • Anj (@anjwrites)

    Looking forward to the movie now!

    On my plate: fresh sliced tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, slices of avocado (sea salt & pepper), slices of Braeburn apple with a Tbsp of melted natural peanut butter for dipping and a handful of pistachios.


  • ezmew

    plum sorbet, grana padano, fresh chillies, turkey

    -and i would try do share/trade with Hanna’s plate too (drool)


  • Mia

    I found the criticism of Liz kind of sad – I loved reading about somebody being proactive and positive about solving her problems. I found it really heartening and enlightening, especially how she always maintained it was HER journey, and that we all find our own path in life – this was just the way she went about it because as a writer, she is lucky enough to get paid to do such things. I especially enjoyed her movement away from prescription medication as a cure for her depression and embracing her passions (travelling, writing, eating, running about India in sandals kissing trees) instead. I wonder id the world wouldn’t be just a little nicer if we ALL embraced what truly makes us happy in such a way?

    Anyway, I digress. My plate would have some good quality cheese, prawns, some kind of potato maybe skordalia (Greek garlic, potato and olive oil dip served with bread or crackers,) tomatoes and onions and garlic sauteed with baby spinach, and of course good quality chocolate. Red wine to accompany. Delish!


  • Rachel

    God, you rock, Sarah.


  • Viola

    This polarising book came to me at just the right time, and I loved it. The possibility of change is what it offers most strongly, forget that she has means. In times of increasing disparity and disconnection, personal journeys are a source of hope that we can rediscover meaning.

    On my plate: A cold, cold mango, muscatels and manchego, a perfectly poached egg and chewy sourdough toast, succulent sashimi and a creme brulee.

    PS: Sweeping generalisations about the English? Really?


  • amber

    I, too, actually enjoyed reading the book even amidst all the negative reviews and strong criticism. I thought, “Why the hell not?” Why not go searching for the thing that is missing inside you and making you miserable, on edge, unsatisfied?

    Not all of us are journalists who are paid to trek through Italy, India, and Indonesia, but we can go on trips in our daily lives to learn about healthy indulgence, peace, and joy. Time is probably the most important thing here — it took Liz a long time to arrive at her conclusions. But she sought them. And she found them.

    On my plate… a wedge of camembert, marinated artichoke hearts, sourdough, organic butter, dark chocolate, local tomatoes dusted with salt and pepper, ripe apricots.


  • Stephanie

    Fully aware that I was not supposed to like the book, I did like it. The film I haven’t seen, simply because it felt redundant (to me), and I thought J Roberts a poor selection for the role. (But to each his or her own!!). I’ve found the criticism surrounding the book to be fairly ridiculous, and not a little bit reflective of the anger towards women that I think is so pervasive in anglo, western cultures. Here is a woman who managed to turn her writing talent into a contract to self-explore whilst being paid to do it. How dare she? I read the book not ever thinking that she was setting an example for me to follow, but rather thinking, “Gee, she is at times very lucid and at other times completely bumbling and naive (just like all the rest of us). Most of the time she seems willing to be pretty honest about her failings. Occasionally she has moments of genuine clarity (see your point 2, above). And she’s not a half-bad writer.”


  • Nicole

    cheese, cheese and more cheese. as in wandering around the queen vic markets in melbourne and picking out several that look good and i havent tried. dried fruit, peaches, grapes, basically just a plate full of cheese with a little fruit (lol im a little cheese deprived at the moment)


  • Lynnie

    I find it sad that a woman taking 1 year out of her possibly 80 year life to discover herself is seen by people as “self-indulgent”!. When did it become wrong to be self indulgent sometimes, especially at times of emotional upheavel. she had the means and inclination, and writing about her experience has helped countless others. when you are 20 and take a “gap”year you are exciting and adventorous, but when you are a mid 30’s woman and do the same you are selfish and spoilt??? We should never stop learning and having adventures.

    on my plate: perfect poached eggs on fresh rye toast with acovado, feta cheese, grapes, macaroni cheese, salmon and dark chocolate, with a beautiful stong coffee. They don’t go together, but I would be in heaven!


  • jeanette

    On my plate: Raspberries, chocolate mousse in a coloured glass dish, buttery sourdough toast with a rocket, pear and brie salad. To finish a LARGE flat white.


  • picardie.girl

    I disliked this book and stopped reading early on, for exactly that reason — I found her very whiny. But at another place and time in my life, I may enjoy it… you never know.
    I’ve thought about it a bit and I just can’t come up with my plate. I’m going to have to give myself a bit of quiet time to really reflect; I feel like I should be able to work out what my favourite foods are! I wonder if this is a result of being over-accommodating in life, or just not choosy, or from liking many things?


  • sadieclementine

    Love this article and your blog in general. Your postings always give me pause and think about how I could live more consciously.
    On my plate-smoked salmon, a scoop of avocado, tiny intense tomatoes, a chunk of thick crusted toothsome soft bread and a salad with assorted greens, raspberries, blueberries, nectarines, glazed spicy pecans and chunks of a good blue. Chunks of adulfo mango and a scoop of coconut gelato to follow. A big glass of bubbly would go with this quite nicely!


  • BridgetJane

    Thanx Sarah:) awesome as always…when I grow up I wanna b just like u! Haha

    Anyway.. I laughabout this book as I bought it for my mum over 2yrs ago now and she took no interest in it…I really wanted to read it but as she never got around to it, I felt bad diving in.. I laugh at how tuned our intuition is, as back then no one was talking about the book yet I was strongly drawn to it.. I have been meaning to buy it again, so guess what?! This rainy day I will! :) I am seeing the movie next wk at a movie charity night :)

    Now on my plate IS- organic black plunger coffee, fresh raw walnuts, cashews &almonds & a massive crunchy lady William apple from the farmers markets 😀 I have my “plate” every morning! It is actually my ‘morning ritual’ 😀

    This morning I am serving it as my feet soak in a peppermint and Epsom salt foot bath, with a gorgeous locally made vanilla candle burning as I read ir blog posts for the wk…divine 😀

    Oh! And for entree, I lay in bed listening to my daily hypnosis track with the pouring rain in the background…!

    Joy really does cost zilch and IS available here & now for us all 😀

    This now recovered stress-head perfectionist is SO pleased to have discovered the bliss of a slow, simple, peaceful life!

    Cheers to u Miss Sarah &everyone else 😉 enjoy ur plates xxxx


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  • Clarice

    While very few of my friends liked this book, I really did. I love the concept of “smile in your liver.” Honestly, I’m not someone who does yoga or meditates, but smiling in your liver is so simple. As a teacher, I use this idea to keep myself calm and grounded when things are getting a little wild at school. Great post. Thanks.


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  • Stacey

    I was really disheartened when people began to criticise Elizabeth Gilbert for just packing up her bags and leaving everything behind to travel for a year. What people don’t recognise was that she was embarking on a journey; her journey and who are we to criticise that? We are all on our own journey; learning, discovering and paving our way through the world. In fact, I’m sure out of the 6 million people who have read Eat, Pray, Love, 90% wish they had the courage to change their lives and start their own journeys. Or at least have the slightest sense of spirituality that Elizabeth possesses. I admire her for bravely writing her trials, tribulations, flaws and all in a book for the whole world to read. I believe she has influenced everyone who has read her novel to stop worrying about the trivial things we get upset over and start appreciating the beauty of life and all the things in it that make us happy.

    As for what would be on my “still life salad”: haloumi, sundried tomato, avocado and cream cheese sushi, strawberries, fruit and nut chocolate and green tea.


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