This book is an autobiography of Elizabeth's crisis of...herself, really. She seems to be buzzing along enjoying some of the best things in life until, for reasons she respectfully refrains mentioning, she wants out of her marriage. She meets a new man, who is both very good and very bad for her all at the same time. After being destroyed through the divorce settlement, Elizabeth decides that a trek around the globe will let her find all that she needs in order to find balance and peace in her life.
She has begun to seek God with everything that she has, and struggles with the balance between devotion and experiencing life's pleasures. For this reason, she goes to Italy for 4 months and devotes herself only to the pleasure of good culture, company, and food. In Italy she meets many interesting people, eats food that sounds so delicious I think I gained some weight just by reading about it, and she also learns some very interesting things about herself and all that she really wants (and doesn't want) in life.
After leaving Italy, she spends 4 months in India. There she spends her time in an ashram (meditation temple), where she meets more interesting people, and learns all about the disciplines of meditation. At the beginning of the trip, she breaks down after 14 minutes of intense meditation. At the end, she can sit for hours meditating on her view of God and how she perceives His love for her.
Speaking of her view of God.... She believes that Jesus was "a great teacher of peace" (pg. 14), but does not believe that He is the only path to God. I do believe that. I believe Jesus is the son of God, that He lived a perfect life and died in my place (and that of every other sinner) so that I would have eternal life of peace and love in His presence.
Though I disagree with Elizabeth on this point, I have been deeply touched and inspired by some of her observations regarding religion. First off, she actively devotes herself to seeking God, and on meditating on God's love for her. When is the last time I did that? I like how she defines praying as speaking to God, and meditating as listening to Him. When was the last time I pursued and set aside time just to listen to Him?
She leaves Italy, and goes on to Indonesia for 4 months to round out her year of traveling. In Indonesia she meets more very interesting people, of course, one of whom she decides she is ready to fall in love with.
For one thing, on pg. 206 she writes "Be very careful...not to get too obsessed with the repetition of religious rituals just for its own sake." Too many churches, and believers, are obsessed with the repetition of religious rituals. These are wasting valuable time we have so little of on this earth.
People long to have something to believe in. Even if they are skeptic, the longer they live and the more life they experience, they long to have something to believe in. What do people see in my life that indicates what and who I believe in? Would they ever ask me?
Elizabeth believes she has to find her own peace in this life. I believe that God freely gives it to those who believe in Him, love Him, and ask for it. On the last page (334) she closes with these words: "In the end...maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices." Am I living a life of gratitude, both to my fellow humans and to God?
You cannot possibly make it through this book without thinking deeply about so many elements in life, including faith, family, and friends. And whether you disagree with her or not, it's always good to examine your beliefs.
You also cannot make it through this book without wanting to travel. She embeds lots of history about each country, nuances about its culture, and characteristics of its people in each section. Even if I am never able to make it to Italy, India, or Indonesia, I surely hope that I can stop and appreciate whatever foreign countries I do visit with the open heart and perceptive mind that Elizabeth shows her readers.