Aug. 12, 2010— -- When Remy Gervais turned 40, fresh on the heels of a painful divorce, four separate friends gave her copies of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir, "Eat Pray Love."
The message came through loud and clear: It was time for reinvention. But, Gervais said, "I couldn't afford a year-long exploration to reclaim me."
Gilbert's juggernaut, the Oprah-endorsed tome, subtitled "One Woman's Search for Everything in Italy, India and Indonesia," has lived on the New York Times bestseller list for 180-plus weeks. It chronicles Gilbert's year trying to heal from her divorce and find peace with herself.
With more than 9 million copies in print and the much-anticipated release of a major film starring Julia Roberts, directed by Ryan Murphy, of "Glee" fame, and produced by Brad Pitt, set to open nationwide Friday, everyone seems to want to eat, pray and love.
(Click here for information on a film screening and book signing with Gilbert in New York City)
"The vast majority of people are in the place where they would like to have a better relationship with pleasure and adventure, they would like to have a better relationship with the people around them. And they would like to have a better relationship with their own inner life," said Patton Sarley, CEO of the nonprofit Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.
"Eat Pray Love," he said, is "a doorway, an invitation to say, 'Hey let's remember who we really are, not what we imagine we must be.'"
Roberts, too, believes it's possible to experience transformation without traveling around the world.
"I do believe everything is right in front of you," the actress told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America."
"It's just about taking that time to examine your life and examine yourself and things that you want to have change and things that you want to nurture and keep them the way that they are. It's all right there. You don't really have to go anywhere."
Since most of us, as with Gervais, can't escape for a year to travel to the far reaches of the earth, "Good Morning America" has compiled some ideas to make it easier to search for your "everything," or at least a little something -- right from home.
The first section of Gilbert's book, set in Italy, is titled "Eat," as an expression of her search for pleasure.
In it, she has gone to Italy to learn Italian, giving herself permission to learn a language that, she says, will have no practical use in her life but whose sounds she adores and she simply wants to learn.
She also gives herself permission to eat, guilt-free in Italy. In a memorable monologue from the film, Roberts, as Gilbert, says to her friend, "I'm so tired of saying no and waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before. Counting every calorie I consume so I know exactly how much self-loathing to take into the shower.
"I'm going for it. I have no interest in being obese. I'm just through with the guilt. So this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to finish this pizza and then we're going to go watch the soccer game, and tomorrow, we're going to go on a little date and buy ourselves some bigger jeans."
Eat Pray Love: Searching for Pleasure
For Catherine Hughes, who works at a web design firm in Northern California, reading the book led her on a guilt-free search for pleasure: She embarked on a quest for the perfect bicycle. She had not ridden one in two decades.
"Not just any bike, a bike you can cruise through the wine country, without a care in the world," she said.
When she found the one, $300 later, she said, riding with the wind blowing her hair, made her forget her problems and feel "young, free and blissfully happy."
It's these stories of self-discovery that Gilbert herself enjoys hearing. "Getting divorced and moving to India is not everyone's answer,'' she said. "Go on your own scavenger hunt to find out where your spark is, where your joy is, what you're missing. It's not about eating the same pizza I ate."
Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a marriage and family therapist outside New York City, said she read the book when it first came out and within a few months, patients were coming into therapy inspired to make changes.
"Eat Pray Love," she said, can "show us how indoctrinated we are in our lives, we don't think we can sort of just spread our wings in different ways."
One of her patients had never gone away on her own and after reading the book, and after months of planning, she hopped a flight for her first solo beach vacation. Another, afraid of leaving her kids, finally took an overnight trip alone with her husband, their first in seven or eight years, Gilchrest O'Neill said.
The book has made many women realize they need to create more boundaries in their lives, and to demand time to be alone to reconnect with themselves and discover themselves for the first time.
One mother was moved to hang a sign up on the bathroom door, lock it and and insist on some private time to take a bath in peace.
The act of eating alone also became a flash point for many women.
"The whole idea about eating alone, even if you can't go out, even if you don't want to spend the money -- most women can find a way to just have a quiet peaceful meal," she said.
_For more literal ideas on the "Eat" theme, check out Chowhound for "Eat Pray Love" menus. _To enhance your experience, buy local ingredients at your farmer's market.
_Go the extra mile and make your own pasta.
_Consider hosting an "Eat Pray Love" night for some close friends. Feast on Italian food, have a yogini friend lead a meditation, and discuss the book and your own relationship challenges.
The middle portion of Gilbert's book, set on an ashram in India, focuses on the pursuit of devotion, and the author's struggle to immerse herself in meditation.
"When it comes to meditation,'' said Margaret Burns Vap, founder of Big Sky Yoga Retreats, "you don't have to sit there for an hour to make it happen. You can take two minutes of your day.
"You can incorporate it into your daily ways, so you can discover some of this peace and perspective,'' she said.
Find a space in your home to claim as your own. "Dedicate a small area to your well-being." Create an "altar," filled with inspiring objects, such as a photos, books, candles, a journal, flowers. Make it pleasing to your senses, she said. (HSN also has "Eat Pray Love" branded home fragrance diffuser set for $19.95, currently sold out).
With time, family members and even pets, she said, will respect the space. Then the trick is to allow the time to use it and enjoy it, and focus on it. It's all too easy to be lying on your yoga mat, in your dedicated space, and zero in on the dust balls.
The demands of home, for some, though, may be too overpowering to ignore.
"The first step in coming home to yourself is to change your environment,'' said Sarley of Kripalu, which hosts yoga retreats and educational programs.
If you can't get away to a retreat or on a trip, take a yoga class locally, he said.
Halle Eavelyn, whose Sprit Quest Tours hosts an "Eat Pray Love" themed tour to Bali, where participants meet some of the characters in Gilbert's book, eat a four-star meal and read from and discuss the Gilbert's book, suggests finding touchstones for your journey, even if you cannot physically travel.
Find books, travel stories, photographs or other physical objects that illicit positive feelings. It's a trick she suggests to her clients to make the magic of their journey last after they return home.
Someone unable to travel can also use the same trick to help focus on what they want, whether that's a trip or simply a feeling of relaxation or being centered.
Eavelyn also said it's important to "Give yourself permission to take what you need." At New Years, she decided to escape her everyday routine by going silent for a week.
The last-minute effort did not go very smoothly, she said, because she wound up spending a lot of time explaining herself via e-mail.
Still, it was worthwhile, she said. "Not talking helped me to be able to shift (my thinking). It was very powerful as far as my own growth."
Writing is also helpful for many who are on a journey of self discovery. In a 2007 appearance on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," Gilbert told viewers to keep a "Happiness Journal."
"At the end of every day, write down the happiest moment of every day," she said. "It's a way of reminding myself what really makes me happy, and what doesn't. And you know, every day also has its crappiest moment of the day, but I decided not to keep a crappiest moment of the day journal. And learn, and study, and look back and see what is it consistently. "
Gilbert's own journey was inspired by her painful divorce and the end of a volatile rebound relationship. She spent most of her year-long adventure committed to remaining celebrate.
After she'd allowed herself the pleasures of Italy and the devotional explorations of India, she traveled to Bali where she sought to balance the two, something she said she achieved naturally.
In Bali, she stumbled upon love with a Brazilian man 18 years older than she.
Committed to Love
The two are now married and living in New Jersey. She chronicled her ambivalence about marriage in the book, "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage," published in January.
Therapist Gilchrest O'Neill, who wrote "A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage," said "Eat Pray Love" inspired several of her clients to take a look at their own marriages.
"They wanted to just evaluate their marriages, based on the fact that she [Gilbert] believed her [first] husband was her soul mate,'' she said. "How do you just end your relationship with your soul mate?"
Indeed, there is no way to know how many divorce filings have been initiated in the aftermath of reading the book. Or, how many credit Gilbert with helping them heal from divorce.
Anecdotally, it appears that Gilbert's willingness to reject what many would consider her perfect life -- married to a good man who loved her, a great job, a big house in the suburbs, and to write about it, empowered some to launch their own journeys through divorce, travel, and new relationships. And she has spawned a slew of copycat books.
"I want to make clear that I never advertised this as a universal prescription," Gilbert told George Stephanopoulos on "GMA" today.
Divorce and travel are not the point, she said. "The important thing is not to do what I did, it's to ask what I asked."
Wendy Walsh, a psychologist and relationship expert, said the book resonates at this moment in time, a difficult one for many. In the midst of a recession, many are working hard to hold on to the material trappings of life. "They're clinging onto a big house or a big car, for what reason?" Walsh said. "It's time to figure out who you are and what makes you happy, both in love and career."
"I think the biggest message that's impacting people from the book is trying to figure out who you are," she added.
As for love, while in Bali, Gilbert worked to raise money to help an Indonesian family build a house.
"She found love during a time in her life when she was actually doing some charity, philanthropic work," Walsh said. "Her powers of empathy and compassion -- very important for love to bloom -- were highly attuned."
Walsh suggests that seekers of love find some volunteer work in their communities. And, she said, the best place to look for love may be at home, on the Internet.
Follow your interests, she said. There's no need to seek out conventional dating sites. Instead, look to make new friends through your interests via social networking. Those new friends will have friends and they'll have friends, and so on.
Gervais is hoping that'll be the case for her.
After reading one of her four copies of "Eat Pray Love," she knew she could not take a year off from her life, but she could make some changes, she said.
Among the many pieces of herself she'd given up in the name of marital harmony was a passion for photography. Once her marriage was behind her, she resurrected the hobby. Hesitant to go out shooting pictures on her own, she took a risk and organized a MeetUp.com group for amateur shutter bugs. She wondered if anyone would show up for the first outing. Eighteen months later, the group numbered 303 members.
With any luck, she'll find love among them.