Tag Archives: Big Magic Read-a-Long

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Trust


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.

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Persistence


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.

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Permission

image by Justine

image by Justine

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 third section of the book are:

  • As you read about the idea of permission what came up for you? Are you seeking permission in any areas of your life / creativity? Permission is a huge issue for me in terms of my creative life, my life. For many many years, I knew what I wanted, who I was, but I thought I had to wait for permission. I thought there would be an invitation, or that I had to earn a certification. I misunderstood completely how the whole thing worked, so I waited, got stuck there, almost gave up. The permission I’m looking for now is to live without apology, to want without guilt, to know that I don’t have to earn the right to be here.
  • Gilbert explains the attitude of “insouciance” that allowed her parents to do whatever they liked when it came to their creative living, and how that influenced her own path. What are some of the attitudes and assumptions of your family-of-origin? And, as Gilbert suggests, go back through your family history, where are the makers? Where do you come from? And then, it doesn’t matter. We’re all creators. Make your art. I think there was a lot of fear and compliance in my family history, being rewarded for doing as required or expected, punished for not, and trying to control the chaos in a way that stunted freedom and joy. There was a lot of hurt and struggle. The conditions of living were just so different. Gilbert’s own experience with strong willed, stubborn, smart and gifted parents felt familiar to me. I come from a long line of teachers, fixers, farmers. All the women are crafty and all the men can repair stuff. They built things with their bare hands. They were funny and smart. The conditions of their lives didn’t always allow for full expression of their creativity, but it was right there, just below the surface all the time. In my family of origin, there’s a writer and a photographer and an artist, all who didn’t get to fully experience or express that, which only fuels my desire to keep trying.
  • Gilbert writes of her dad: “He didn’t quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life.” How can you fold your dreams into your everyday life? Gah. I’m totally doing it. I complain and want out of it (all of which I wanted to take back after reading this chapter), but this is how it’s working. I wake up early so I can practice before going to work at CSU, and then my days are a mix of work I do in the service of others and my own creativity — but they don’t really stay neatly separated, are blurring together and tripping over each other all the time. Like conjoined twins, they are two separate beings and yet they aren’t independent at all. They feed each other at the same time they steal from each other.
  • How are you living your “most vividly decorated temporary life”? By not compartmentalizing things. Practice isn’t just practice. My CSU work isn’t just work. My creativity isn’t just of and for itself. When I teach I learn. When I write, I simultaneously dig in and let go. When I’m by myself, I’m not alone. Being tired is its own form of energy, and work can be its own kind of rest. The lines between things, the boundaries fall away, and there’s nothing but wide open space.
  • Pretend you’re in your own hostage negotiation with those negative, internal voices. Speak directly, but lovingly and make your “statement of intent”. I’m not giving up. It’s that simple.
  • “I enjoy my creativity.” Go on, say it. The whole thing she says right before that is so great. “I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was 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.”

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Enchantment

image by Justine

image by Justine

In case you missed my first post, let me explain. 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 response.

Justine’s prompt for the second section of the book are:

  • When it hits you, what does inspiration feel like in your body? Fluttery, like my whole body is suddenly buzzing and jittery, stomach full of butterflies and head full of bees, but also floaty, like gravity has stopped working, and hot, on fire — but weirdly, considering the previous descriptors, completely still and quiet, calm.
  • How have you said “yes” and how have you said “no” to ideas and inspiration in the past? I’m going to flip my answer and give the bad news first — I said “no” to ideas and inspiration for almost 35+ years. I got “the call” in the 2nd grade. It was so clear and I was so sure, so excited and ready, but from then on it got very, very confusing. There was still the occasional buzz, but I just wasn’t available. I had to work through so much before I could be ready, and yet, in the end, it wasn’t about being ready at all. I wasn’t ready when my first dog and my dear friend were both diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t ready when they died. And yet, that experience happened anyway, and it broke me open. I couldn’t go back to the way things were, so I really didn’t have a choice. I said the biggest yes ever — to finding myself again, to living a creative life, to staying awake, to being present, to keeping my heart open.
    And with that, I said “yes” to starting a blog, reading and studying and learning, attending workshops and retreats and conferences, finding a community, publishing places other than on my blog, being a teaching assistant for Mondo Beyondo, putting together the Self-Compassion Saturday series and then the ebook, becoming certified to teach yoga, getting another dog (then losing another dog to cancer and getting yet another dog), becoming the Communications Coordinator for the English department at CSU, shifting the way I thought about money, working to simplify my life, taking Buddhist vows, teaching yoga, teaching workshops and classes that are a mix of yoga and writing and meditation, working on a book, forgiving myself, befriending myself.
    I said “no” to doing things because I thought I should, pleasing/perfecting/pretending/performing, staying in projects and relationships that were toxic, alcohol, waiting for permission, dieting, starving and stuffing myself, people who don’t love or even see me, anyone else’s idea of what I’m supposed to look like, things I don’t need anymore, teaching for CSU, denying myself, smashing myself to bits. Maybe these yeses and nos don’t seem like they are all related to inspiration and creativity, but believe me, they are.
  • Is there an idea trying to “wave you down” right now? What’s keeping you from saying “yes” to it? There are a few — some classes and workshops I want to offer, a creativity club I want to start, and “the book.” The poor book doesn’t get the time or space it needs to come together, even though I’ve already written probably at least 70% of it. I let myself get distracted by work, by constructing new work, by other writing, by all the stuff and projects of my life. I sure hope it doesn’t give up on me, pass me by. When I think about it, I feel like I should pray or something, but all I can think of to say is “please don’t give up on me, please wait for me.” I think there’s some part of me that doesn’t understand how to write a book, worries I won’t be able to figure it out.
  • Do you identify with the tormented artist or the cooperating joyfully approach more? What can you do to make creativity more of a partnership? I think I’m a tormented person in general, dissatisfied because I want SO MUCH but I’m only human, only have so much time and energy. I see the list of ALL THE THINGS, hold it in my mind and heart all the time, and the longing can feel overwhelming, so much bigger than what I can actually do. And I skip right past celebrating where I am, enjoying what I’m doing, into “but what about…” I do try in my regular practices to offer an invitation, to open myself up to what might arise. I do this when I meditate every morning, and I do it when I write my morning pages, even addressing them to “Dear One” and signing off with “Thank you.” A partnership would require more focused attention from me, I think. To be with what is right now without rushing off, to slow down, to balance my effort with ease. I think creativity needs me to spend more time staring at my toes, day dreaming, doing nothing.
  • What are your expectations surrounding your creative genius? Are you showing up consistently, upholding your end of the partnership? I am definitely doing the work. I show up every day. Discipline in that way isn’t my issue. I think my problem right now is I’m not letting my creative genius help. I’m so busy with the doing that there’s no room for it, no space. It can’t get a word in edgewise. I haven’t left a place for it, need to scoot over, slow down, surrender to it.

Big Magic Read-a-Long: Courage

image by Justine

image by Justine

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 provided prompts for the first section of the book on her blog, and invited readers to respond in the comments or send her an email. At first, I was going to journal about the prompts this morning, then send her an email, along with some times when I could Skype so we could discuss it the next time we talk, but as I started to write out the first prompt in my journal, I thought to myself, “why don’t I just blog a response?” Duh. It’s funny how much work I’ve put into cultivating this space, but then I forget to use it other times when it’s so obviously the right place for something.

Justine’s prompts for the first section of the book are:

  • What are some of the fears that crop up when you think about living a more creative life? My first fear, the most immediate one right now as I consider how I might shift the way I make my living to be more focused on my creative pursuits, is money — how will I make any money if this is how I’m spending my time? Which leads directly to the next fear — time. I worry that I don’t have enough time, that I don’t have the energy or space or days left it will take to accomplish all the things I want to do. After that comes the deep longing to make a difference, to help, to be of service, and wondering if what I do does those things. I also worry about the amount of time my creative pursuits take away from what I can give to Eric and the dogs, the time I can spend with family and friends — am I cheating them, am I giving enough attention there? And finally, (and you’ve heard me say this before, recently), I’m afraid I’m boring, that what I have to offer won’t be meaningful to anyone else. These fears all stem from the same fundamental confusion: I think that living a creative life has to have a product that is worth something, an outcome that is valuable enough to justify itself. It goes back to that same, original confusion: that I have to earn the right to be here, to have the life I want.
  • Like Gilbert’s friend who started ice skating again at 40, what life affirming pursuits are you denying yourself? How can you begin “to appreciate the value of (your) own joy”? I’m most definitely denying myself joy. I think I have to accomplish a certain amount first, that joy is the reward for hard work rather than a necessary condition of living. Things I don’t do as much as I’d like: read, nap, relax, laugh, pause, make art for art’s sake, practice yoga, stretch, sit in the sun, go outside, hike, take long walks, ride a bike, garden, follow my curiosity, spend time with friends, play with my dogs, do nothing, have no plans, focus on one thing at a time. I’d like to learn how to swim and play the ukulele, take singing lessons or a painting class. But even these things I can turn into a project if I’m not careful. How I can begin is to stop, as weird as that might sound. To stop doing, stop trying, stop planning. Just stop and see what happens, wait for what might arise.
  • Gilbert tells the story of arguing for her own limitations.
    1. Why do you think it feels easier to argue for our limitations rather than for our strengths? We are so desperate to let ourselves off the hook, somehow think that it’s easier to give up. We make a lot of effort to avoid what is hard thinking we can get ourselves out of it somehow. Fundamentally we are struggling with the truth of how hard life is, how vulnerable we are, what a raw deal it is that we love and delight and enjoy our life just to one day lose everything. If we can hide away in our cocoon of excuses, we think we can skip that part, pretend it away. It makes me think of the Pema Chödrön quote, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” We think we can excuse ourselves from that experience if we have a good enough reason.
    2. What limitations of your own do you argue for? I can’t because I have too many responsibilities, things I have to do first. I can’t because I’m too tired, not strong enough. I don’t have enough time. Why should I have to when she/he isn’t doing anything? Why can’t my life be easy? It’s harder for me. I work so hard, shouldn’t I get a break? I didn’t start early enough. I’m too sad, too stressed out, too many bad things have happened.
    3. What thinking, saying or action can you embrace to argue for your strengths instead? Being present always feels better than being numbed out. No matter how scary or difficult the situation, my innate wisdom and compassion will guide me — I always know what to do, even if it’s to admit that I don’t know what to do. Doing the hard thing is so much easier than what it would take to avoid it. Showing up with an open heart is my superpower.
  • Write a welcoming speech for your fear. Maybe instead of a road trip your metaphor is a camping trip or running a marathon. Whatever the situation, how can you welcome and acknowledge fear and still keep the reins firmly in your creative hands? In my Buddhist lineage, I was given a teaching that included placing the mind of fear “into a cradle of lovingkindness.” My fear always seems to me like something very young and afraid, vulnerable and sweet, easily invited to crawl into my lap and rest. I can also easily imagine it clinging to me like a baby orangutan. In all of those circumstances, there’s not much of a speech involved. All I offer is the invitation to “come here” and the reassurance that “it’s okay.”
  • As you go about your week, think about approaching your day with curiosity instead of fear. What does that shift for you? Does it create any ease? There’s a lot of talk recently in the books I’m reading, most specifically this one and Brene’ Brown’s Rising Strong, about shifting to being curious. This non-judgmental approach, this leaning into what’s happening with an open mind and heart, allowing whatever might arise and being curious about our reaction rather than immediately reacting is something I already practice, in all the ways I practice — yoga, mediation, writing, and dog. I’m so lucky to have been taught this in all my traditions, to know this is an option and to have seen the outcome in my own experience. This approach shifts absolutely everything, creating ease and space and sanity.

Thank you Justine for the prompts, for the chance to get to think about these things, contemplate and reflect. I especially appreciate the way listing my fears made it clear that they really are all the same fear underneath.