My friend and one of my favorite bloggers Justine is hosting a read-a-long for Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Justine provides prompts for each section of the book on her blog, and invites readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. I decided to blog my responses.
Justine’s prompts for the fifth section of the book are:
- Do you love your work? Do you believe your work loves you in return? (What a radical notion.) Sidebar: I can get so confused when contemplating my “work.” It can feel like two separate things — what I do for someone else in exchange for money (as in my CSU job), and what I create and then offer to the world mostly just because I want to (teaching yoga, offering workshops, blogging, etc.). Most of the time, the second one feels more meaningful but doesn’t translate into much money, if any. So when I think about the work I love, absolutely I love it and I believe it loves me in return. I’ve said it here before, said it even though I know it might sound weird especially coming from a Buddhist, but I believe that work is “God’s work.” It feels like what I’ve been called to do, it feels like it matters deeply, it feels effortless, it feels like it has the potential to ease suffering and as such is so important.
- How has emotional pain or trying times affected your work? Do you believe that you can create when things are good? I used to think my depression and anxiety were what made me creative, but that was confusion. If anything, the most fundamental quality of depression is an inability to do anything and the most basic feature of anxiety is being so distracted by it I can’t focus on anything. Nothing much gets created in those states. However, difficult times have absolutely affected my work by breaking me down to the bare essentials, opening me up to the fundamental truth of life. Struggle and suffering, if I allow it to, can make me more compassionate, and it’s from this state that a natural wisdom arises, in which a gentle curiosity resides. Being in this receptive state, the best stuff can manifest. Ultimately, I can create when things are good or bad because I have the foundation of my practices to support the process.
- Choose your delusion: trusting an infinite force you can not see or trusting your suffering and pain? Infinite force I can’t see, for sure. My own stink and mess aren’t irrelevant, but when I trust them as fundamental truth there’s gonna be trouble.
- Where does the martyr energy show up in your life? How does it (or doesn’t it) serve you? How can you invite more of the trickster into your day? Ugh. In my CSU work and my relationships, I default to martyr. It goes way back to old beliefs that the way to get what I want in life (love, safety, happiness) is to be a good girl. It absolutely doesn’t serve me. It leads directly to despair and dis-ease, the exact opposite of what I’m seeking. As Justine mentions in her post, “Trickster energy is light, sly, transgender, transgression, animist, seditious, primal, and endlessly shape-shifting.” Being open, being curious, being relaxed and receptive are all qualities that I attempt to cultivate, even though I’m not so good at it. For me, the invitation comes in the moments I feel myself getting wound up, tight, angry or depressed, and asking myself “what is really going on right now? what do I really need?”
- When it comes to passion vs. curiosity, where do you land? How does each one serve you? Where has a creative curiosity led you before? Passion has never been useful to me. It’s too unwieldy, too crazed, too messy. It wants to go too fast, act without thought. It rushes off without even knowing where it’s going. Passion is more likely to cause an accident than anything. It breaks trust, fosters disharmony. I’m saying all this as an intensely passionate person, but having been burned by it, having been hurt by its impulsive nature, I know that I need to be careful with it. Curiosity is much wiser. It’s like the minimalist form of passion, simpler and quieter and calmer. It doesn’t have to move so fast, and it can change it’s mind whenever it wants. Creative curiosity leads to an approach that is infused with ease, freedom, joy, crazy wisdom, and a particular kind of wildness. Curiosity means I’m not bound to one way of being or doing. I can evolve beyond my passion.
- Ask your soul, “what is it you want, dear one?” and follow what it says. *sigh* It wants more rest, more space, more ease, and more joy. I feel glimmers of just that sometimes, but am still working out exactly how to allow more of it. Hang in there, Sugar.
image by Justine
You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Before I even look at Justine’s prompts for this section of the book, I have to say that this is one of the best books on creativity and living a creative life that I’ve read in a long time. And for me, it’s perfectly timed, just what I need to hear at the exact moment I need to hear it. The particular shift it’s helping me make, the shift I seem to keep making and then slipping backwards and having to make again, is moving from working because I’m trying to prove myself, trying to earn the right to have what I want, hoping for permission to live the life I long for, to working because I like it, because it’s a good experience, because it brings me joy, because I want to. On to the prompts for this section…
- Think about what it would mean for you to take vows for your creative life. What ceremony could you invent? What promises would you make? I’ve done this, but not always with ceremony. I did it when I started this blog, made various commitments to 30 day challenges and created other publishing schedules for myself, signed up for classes and went on retreats. I did it when I committed to yoga teacher training and then after to teaching a regular class. I did it when I stayed with Obi and Dexter all the way to the end, when I brought Sam and then Ringo home and vowed to do the same for them. I did it when I took Buddhist refuge vows, the one time there was an actual formal ceremony. I have four practices that form the foundation of my path, my creative life — writing, yoga, mediation, and dog — and with all four, ceremonially or not, I’ve vowed to stay with them, to show up with an open heart, no matter what.
- What small, sustaining action can you take daily to show your devotion to your creative life? It doesn’t even have to be the same action every day, though rituals are always a lovely way to ground our fears, to call to inspiration and let them know we’re showing up, shining the homing beacon. I have a daily morning practice: I get up and stretch, meditate for 10-20 minutes, and then write for about half an hour. The other thing I do is I have tiny altars, mini shrines at all of the places I practice, including my CSU work office.
- What things are you so curious about, enjoy so thoroughly, are so interested in that you are willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes along with it? When in your life did you turn away from a pursuit because you just couldn’t stomach the shit sandwich? I eat the shit sandwich that comes with all my regular practices. Writing is hard, trying to get to the truth and then maybe even create something that would be interesting to anyone other than myself, working my way through all the layers of what’s difficult and scary and boring. Yoga is hard when my body isn’t “perfect” or even entirely healthy, and when I can’t seem to let go of expectations, my own agenda. Dog is hard when they need so much and I don’t have it to give them, or when they need something but I can’t figure out what and they can’t tell me, when they get sick or hurt, when I love them so damn much and they die. Meditation, and by extension Buddhism, is hard because it asks so much of me, specifically that I get over myself, show up with an open heart, stay with whatever might arise. I turned away from the pursuit of a PHD, of a full on academic career, of even teaching in that formal environment because I couldn’t stomach that particular shit sandwich.
- Have an affair with your creativity. What kind of actions can you take to present yourself as sexy to inspiration, to grab stolen bits of time to create, to fib and maneuver your schedule so that you can get that precious time alone, for you? I feel like I do some of this already, stealing time away from my CSU work and even my tiny family to pursue my creativity. Every morning and every weekend are dedicated to it. The remaining shift would be stealing time away from my own laziness, in all its forms, specifically as Adreanna Limbach describes them. For example, sometimes I watch TV and eat a snack because I’m tired, when reading a chapter from a book like this or listening to a podcast or practicing some yoga would be more restful, more energizing, more nourishing. Or, sometimes I make myself really busy by overcommitting to things, trying to prove something or avoid something, get caught up doing what I “should,” when what I really want is to do my creative work, to slow down and see what might happen. So the biggest thing I could do in that regard is get out of my own way, turn towards what I’m really hungry for.
- Practice being a “deeply disciplined half-ass”. What does that term bring up for you? How can you change your approach to your work? What plan can you “violently execute” this week? This really struck me, as Justine already mentioned in her post. I really want a tshirt that says “deeply disciplined half-ass” on the front. Being a lazy perfectionist is slick with shame and suffering, whereas there’s a freedom, a joy, a satisfaction in being a deeply disciplined half-ass. It means that you happily keep trying, keep going, don’t give up no matter the outcome because the true measure of value in your work is the discipline, the devotion, the practice, just the joy of doing for the sake of doing. Adreanna Limbach says that laziness is essentially forgetting what we want. The antidote to laziness is discipline, which is simply remembering what we want. This shifts everything for me, again, to making sure that I show up because the experience brings me joy and satisfaction, not because I’m trying to prove something or earn anything. And again, I go back to what Elizabeth said in the last section as the why, “committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, no to become famous, not to gain entrance into the canon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it.” Shit sandwich and all.