Part 3: Elizabeth Gilbert, by most Western societal standards, should be content, if not overjoyed at the life she finds herself living at the beginning of her book, Eat, Pray, Love. She is a successful writer, married to a good man, and recently purchased a large house in suburbia. She has a large group of friends and strong ties to her family. However, despite these factors working in her favor, Liz is rather miserable. Her displeasure plays a significant role in falling apart of her marriage, as she and her husband “had the eyes of refugees,” as they reached their breaking point (12). After the divorce, Liz decides to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of the contentment that she has been lacking for years. However, what she learns is that the answers to her troubles are not tangible things that could be found in foreign lands, but instead, the answer has everything to do with herself and her mindset.
Liz is lucky enough, especially in India, to meet people who offer great advise as to how she can break out of her depression. She is carrying with her a great deal of guilt over her perceived responsibility for her damaged relationship with her ex-husband and their eventual divorce. Recognizing this weight that constantly bears down on Liz, Richard from Texas stresses that she has “gotta learn how to let go…Otherwise [she’s] gonna make [herself] sick. Never gonna have a good night’s sleep again. [She’ll] just toss and turn forever, beatin’ on [herself] for being such a fiasco in life” (151). Richard’s simple advise to “just let go” underscores the fact that Liz’s problems have less to do with her surroundings and more to do with her mentality and her approach to life. She forced herself to assume a great deal of responsibility for her separation in order to expedite the divorce process, and as a result she has never quite been able to overcome this sense of culpability. However, getting past this depression does not necessarily require a change of scenery (although this certainly helped Liz in this process). Instead, it required a conscious decision to no longer be upset about her past, and to figuratively drop the weights that have been weighing her down and preventing her from moving on from her heartbreak.
Richard is not the only person at the Ashram to advise Liz similarly. The plumber/poet from New Zealand shares with her his instructions for the freedom that Liz desperately seeks. There are ten steps to freedom, according to the plumber/poet, all much easier said than done. However, in steps two through eight, a common theme is apparent: just let go. In order to truly be free, Liz must let go of things that were once beautiful in favor of new things to take their place, of need to have control over her life and her existence, of the day as it becomes night, and again, of the overwhelming guilt that she has carried with her for so long (185). Liz’s unhappiness stems from her inability to move on from the negative events in her past. As a result, these memories have simply been perpetuated all the way up to her time in India. In order to be truly happy, Richard and the plumber instruct Liz, she needs to first allow herself to be happy by looking ahead instead of constantly looking to her past and thinking about how things could have been different. Overall, while Liz’s travels allowed her to come in contact with people who were able to help her through difficult times, her happiness ultimately must come from within her rather than from her surroundings, and she is finally able to achieve this freedom thanks to her shift in mindset.