Just after Valentine’s Day 2006, at a time when people thought print was dying and new books couldn’t move the needle, a comedic memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, at once both reverent and irreverent, cynical and romantic, hit the shelves. Despite (or maybe because of) the romantic holiday having just passed, it became an immediate best-seller. This was Eat, Pray, Love, a tale of divorce, frustration, and travel. It is, at its essence, deeply human. And that’s why it was, and still is, so celebrated.
To say it was a phenomenon is an understatement. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for an astonishing 187 weeks. It was sanctified by Oprah. Its popularity only grew when the 2010 movie version, with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem came out. And now, it is a staple of book clubs and friendships, and people still have Eat, Pray, Love parties.
There’s a good reason for that. What do we do when we gather with friends? We eat, of course, celebrating the fundamental and the libertine luxuries of life. We celebrate the connection we have with each other, and the spiritual energy that flows within us. And, most of all, we celebrate love.
So if you’re thinking of hosting an Eat, Pray, Love party, here are a few tips. You want to offer a holistic experience, much like Gilbert did. You want to celebrate and laugh, you want to think and learn, and you want to be connected with your friends and loved ones. A well-thrown Eat, Pray, Love party doesn’t have to take you around the world. It just has to let you travel the universe.
There’s a very good reason why Gilbert traveled to Italy to indulge her corporeal side: very few people celebrate the joy of eating well with more verve than the Italians. Food is a huge part of the culture—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the culture revolves around the joy of eating. Large tables full of laughter, wine passed around, days spent cooking with the people you love, and amazing food as a result. The food and friendship blend together. It all gets passed back and forth.
You can use amazing Italian food to do the same at your own party. You can try modern cuisine, like a mushroom risotto or Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico, or classic dishes like a Panzanella. If you don’t feel like putting together a full meal, instead offer a couple appetizers:
- Grilled octopus
- Flatbread with prosciutto and fontina
- White beans and rosemary crostini
- Margherita pizza
Needless to say, you don’t have to stick to Italian food. While their particular cuisine and gioia della vita plays a huge role, the point is acceptance, not accents. You have to accept that food isn’t something to be steered away from, but to be celebrated.
Our ability to enjoy a meal is part of what makes us human. We don’t eat on the run. We can sit back with a full plate of amazing food, laugh with the ones we love, and enjoy a slow, languorous meal as the evening turns into night. There’s nowhere to go, but everywhere to be.
After Italy, Gilbert, of course, goes to India, on a half cock-eyed, half-searching quest for spirituality, a kind of sincere expression of longing that is absent from her very modern life. She finds it in fits and starts, sometimes getting close to touching the divine, and sometimes feeling very far away.
But through it all, she’s learning more and more about herself, her capabilities, and how she can find her inner self away from the fleshy and honking confusion of the world. And, to many, that is a form of finding the universal.
You might not have time for all of that at your party, and you might not have the finest yogis in attendance, but you can still meditate or practice yoga. It’s a great way to get your body relaxed before the big meal, and to clear your mind. It’s a way to find a center in our busy lives.
Ask people to bring yoga mats, or provide your own. Even if you aren’t trained (or don’t have a friend who is), you can help walk people through beginner stretches. Some might be pros, some might be doing this for the first time. None of you will likely receive total enlightenment. But, everyone will be trying something.
You can also set time away to meditate. You’ll want to create a peaceful room where people can explore, and then silence, that insistent inner monologue. Turn off the lights, and light up some meditation candles. Use aromatherapy to relax people, helping them find their center. White noise, or crystal singing bowls, can get people in the right spirit.
Gilbert didn’t pack it in and become a shaman, and your guests won’t either. But you’ll have a new appreciation for stillness, which isn’t the opposite of joyful noise. It’s the perfect companion.
Never forget to LOVE!
So how do you celebrate love? Both of the other aspects—the libertine and the spiritual—were forms of love, of course. And they revolved around love. A meal is just food on a plate unless it is accompanied by love, and finding yourself is a way of connecting with the driving force in our life. But at your party, how do you celebrate like Gilbert? It seems impractical at best, and really pushy, to demand that people find a new love of their life by the end of the evening. So, I suggest a friendship book exchange.
Friendship is such a powerful force and, to celebrate your time with those you love, give each other your favorite books about this incredible and complicated subject as a way to remind others that they’re important to you.
A book exchange, which can be organized like a gift exchange to make sure that everyone gets exactly the book they most covet, is a way to celebrate friendship. The books can be modern or old, for adults or for children (indeed, children’s books are often the wisest about friendship). But they should be about that unique bond. Like what we eat, or how we find our center, friendship is a bond we choose. That makes it special. That this can also help spur the next book club meeting is a bonus.
Some of our favorite books on friendship include:
- Charlotte’s Web
- The Giving Tree
- My Brilliant Friend
- Summer Sisters
- Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
- Truth and Beauty
- Circle of Friends
- Let’s Take the Long Way Home
- Into the Tangle of Friendship
These are fiction and memoir, for young and old. Really, for everyone. These are new books, or classics to revisit. They can always spur incredible conversation, and reflections on what matters in your life.
That’s sort of the whole point of the Eat, Pray, Love party: to remember what matters most. It’s a reminder that life is a constant journey, even if you are staying home. It’s a way to look inside ourselves and find who we are, and in the party, to celebrate it with those we love, whose company nourishes us as much as food or meditation.
You may not go to Italy to dine or India to meditate or Bali to find love. But you don’t have to. You can do that all at home, with the friends you love. You can find the universe that isn’t just within yourself, but is yourself.