Liz Gilbert, author of the mega best-seller "Eat, Pray, Love," is so wildly popular that her followers have sometimes been referred to as the "cult of Liz."
That "cult" has some pretty high-profile members, including Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton and upcoming movie.
In addition to celebrities, there are the average readers, more than five million of them, mostly women, who bought Gilbert's book.
"Eat, Pray, Love" is a memoir about a spiritual journey Gilbert took after a nasty divorce, which included praying, meditating and achieving spiritual transcendence in India. But while many look at Gilbert as something of a guru, she admits that she no longer practices some of what she so richly describes in her book.
ABC News' Dan Harris spoke with Gilbert recently.
Harris: Do you still meditate?
Liz Gilbert: Sometimes, and badly. I think if people want a meditation teacher they should certainly look to somebody other than me.
Harris: There's an amazing scene in your book where you talk about being "pulled into the wormhole of the divine" where you talk about sitting in "God's palm." Why would you not want to go back there?
Gilbert: Because I'm not a monk. It was really clear to me, even in that moment, that if you want this all of the time, this extremely poignant and pungent esoteric experience, this must be what you dedicate your life to, and now you know how. I don't belong in a monastery, you know. I belong in the world. I'm a stuff doer. I'm not a monk.
Although Gilbert is not as strict in her practices as she once was, she does believe the techniques she used to achieve inner peace in India continue to help her today and can help others, "create space for themselves."
Gilbert: I also think it's important that we not lie to people and tell them that they can do that [meditate] at least 24 hours a day.
Harris: But you can do it 10 minutes a day.
Positive Thoughts Don't Necessarily Mean Positive Outcome
Gilbert: Ten minutes a day isn't bad. Ten minutes a week isn't bad. Let us not kid ourselves. I'm very wary of anyone who comes along with a message and says, "It's very easy. All you have to do is read my book and take my seminar, and change your manner of thinking and
That directly contradicts other self-help books such as "The Secret," which often appears next to hers on store shelves. "The Secret" tells readers they can attract whatever they want, through their thoughts.
Gilbert: I think if that was necessarily true, then none of us would ever have lost a beloved one to cancer. There would be no death, there would be no suffering, there would be no injustice. [That philosophy] leaves out the reality of human suffering. Any philosophy that leaves out the reality of human suffering and the reality of random capricious failure, random capricious disaster, and it does sometimes, I think have the unintended effect of making the victims be blamed. When people read the book they get that first wave of euphoria where they think, "oh I want to change my attitude. I want to change my life," then two weeks later, surprise, surprise, their life is still the same. Then they only feel worse about themselves.
Harris: Because it's another failure.
Gilbert: Yeah. They've now brought this on themselves.
So how does Gilbert feel about Oprah, who helped, "Eat, Pray, Love" become a phenomenon, dedicating two hour-long shows to "The Secret?"
Gilbert: I won't hear a word spoken against Oprah Winfrey. I really won't. Not just because she obviously helped me enormously, but I think she is an agent of good, and I think she has helped a great deal of people. But I think there is stupidity everywhere. I think we run a risk [because] we love to make categories, to look at trends and say, "self-help is good, self-help is bad." There are self-help books that are beneficial to people and there are self-help books that are written by opportunistic idiots who do nothing.
Still True: Help Yourself Before You Help Others
Despite that, Gilbert rejects the argument made by critics that self-help simply makes people selfish.
Gilbert: I remember a monk in India telling me about seeing one of his masters: A young girl came to him and she was a mess and said, "All I want to do is help people. That's all I want to do." The guy just took her hands and said you're useless to anybody until you get yourself together. I know that in my own life. I was useless to anyone until I got myself together. It's a community service to get yourself together.
Harris: A community service?
Gilbert: I agree. I submit that it is. When I was walking through New York City sobbing, crying, jagged, sleep deprived, stressed out, anxious, I don't know who I was assisting.
While Gilbert is not nearly as diligent in her spiritual practice these days, she is happily married and living in New Jersey. She stands firm in the belief that there is a kind of daily, dirt-under-the-nails divinity to being settled and happy.
Gilbert: There is great divinity, but it's the linoleum, fluorescent divinity, you know what I mean? It's not the sort of on the top of a mountain, incense, dimly lit, very holy divinity. It's very, as you said, dirt-under-your's-nails divinity.
Gilbert's new book, "Committed," chronicling her struggle and ultimate embrace of the institution of marriage was released Jan. 5.