Elizabeth Gilbert, the celebrated author and speaker best known for writing Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, counts Oprah, Sheryl Strayed, and Julia Roberts among her close friends. Yet, despite all of her personal and commercial success, she is down to earth, personable, and real.
In anticipation of her upcoming event in Montreal on May 9th (now cancelled due to the pandemic), I was delighted to sit with her to record an episode of my podcast, Embodied with Anne Bérubé. “Liz” was authentic, bold—and very funny. Her potent yet straightforward wisdom came through with her every word.
For many of her fans, Liz is the embodiment of fearless creativity.
“Fear is always triggered by creativity because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome,” she says.
Curiosity is both her antidote to fear and the foundation of her secret as a successful author: “The definition of creativity that I work with is constantly choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear.” She aims to wake up every day with a mind open to the unknown because she knows how curiosity will open doors otherwise unnoticeable.
In her early twenties, Liz was living in New York City, an unknown writer juggling three jobs. Between her busy work schedule and occasional freelance assignments from a magazine, she didn’t have time to work on the writing that mattered most to her.
She admired an acquaintance, an older woman who made her living as an artist. The woman asked about her favourite TV shows and an upcoming vacation she was planning with friends.
“What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?” she asked Liz. “Your time is going into everything but your writing.”
“I want to teach women that the three most important words they will ever need to know to get through life are ‘I don’t care.”Elizabeth Gilbert
At first Liz resented the insinuation. Then she realized it was true.
Liz wants us to pause and think about how we spend our free time. Are we truly making our calling a priority?
If you aren’t, she says, “You’re wishin’ too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”
To move toward your dreams, you don’t have to rearrange your life drastically. Instead, the challenge is to identify your best hours and give those to your passion. Liz believes we have only a few great hours a day, when our attention, focus, and inspiration are at their most potent.
Those hours are different for everyone. It could be first thing in the morning before the sun comes up, mid- afternoon after our necessary work is done, or late at night when the world is quiet again. It is important to spend those precious hours on our passion, on what it is we really want to manifest in our life.
Then, we need to place clear boundaries around these priorities. That means making conscious choices around our time, our attention, and the people in our lives. We must focus on what matters and stop worrying about what others think. This is essential to our health, happiness and success.
“I want to teach women that the three most important words they will ever need to know to get through life are ‘I don’t care.’ I don’t care about a lot of stuff that people want me to care about. There are a few things and a few people that matter to me, and I have to make those my priority. If I don’t do that, then I can’t be the effective, happy and relaxed woman that I want to be.”
She invited listeners to draw an imaginary golden circle around themselves, a boundary, and declare that everything within the circle is sacred. People, thoughts, ideas, invitations can come into this golden circle only if they can respect what is sacred.
Who gets to decide what is sacred? You do. What about everything that doesn’t belong in the circle? She asks us to declare: “I don’t care.”
Not caring isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially for women.
“Women are taught that they are supposed to care about everything and everybody equally, and it’s a lie,” she says. “It’s a great lie that’s keeping us
in bondage. It’s a lie that’s wrapping a rope around our neck that we’re using to strangle ourselves with.”
But these three words, she argues, will change your life, give you back the energy you have lost, and propel you on your path as a creative human being.
“The definition of creativity that I work with is constantly choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear.”Elizabeth Gilbert
Throughout her career, Liz has shared openly and candidly about her creative journey, both in her writing and in her life. Yet writing is not the only place she has had to be fearlessly creative. She says that to embrace creativity as the guiding force in our life, we can’t relegate it to the realm of hobbies. We need to apply it to every aspect of our family, relationships, and careers.
In her bestselling memoir, Eat Pray Love, she breaks away from a life that isn’t working for her, and ends up finding and marrying the love of her
life. She followed up that book with Committed, a meditation on marriage and a continuation of her love story with that same man.
It was a perfect narrative, an example of following curiosity, with a happy ending. But life is messy, complicated, and ever-surprising, and Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t stick to a script.
In 2016 she left her husband for her longtime friend, Rayya Elias. She shared the story of falling in love on social media. Her followers responded with a collective cheer. She had followed her heart, unapologetically, and she dared to do so in a very public forum.
She was walking her talk, illustrating her life philosophy, the one she
had detailed in her 2015 book, Big Magic. She was showing us how life is a creative process, but we learn to suppress it.
There are many expressions of our innate creativity that we all did instinctively when we were very young, things that all children do: dancing, singing, drawing, making things, moulding clay, acting, writing, storytelling, and lots more.
For many of us, there came a time when each one of those things dropped out of our life. You could probably remember when, and it’s probably linked to a traumatizing moment or a realization that you weren’t that good, or that somebody else was better.
These are shaming moments, where you’ve been told that you’re not good at something. And yet, Liz thinks it’s essential for our health and wellbeing to reintegrate these activities into our lives. When you allow yourself to trust that creativity is the fabric of your being, you can let go of fear and worry, and surrender to curiosity and the many muses that are present in and around you at all times.
Looking back, we can see how Big Magic was preparing her for the most difficult period of her life, the ultimate test of her philosophy.
Rayya was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although this diagnosis had precipitated their recognition that they were deeply in love with each other, they then knew their time together was limited. In our conversation, Elizabeth shared a story about a time when they were together and reflecting on the shock and sorrow of her impending doom and the pain that was in store. The unspeakable horror of knowing that her body was going to be in an enormous amount of pain, disintegrate, and ultimately die.
“In that very low moment, that state of dread and terror, a David Bowie song came on and I just remember this big smile coming on her face and she just kinda got up and started dancing. And there was this realization of, well, we can just sit here and cry about this some more—or we can get up and dance, or we can dance and cry, you know?”
When Rayya passed away, Liz was confronted with the unknown like never before. She wasn’t sure how to live in a world that didn’t have her soulmate in it, and fear threatened to take over.
How did she move forward after she suffered this earthquake of a loss? How did she find love and emotional nourishment? How did she find the courage to give other people a chance to fill that vacancy?
Surrender. She continued to let the unknown be her guiding light, even
if it meant feeling unimaginable pain. She allowed grief to take her where
it wanted to when it visited her. Surrendering to grief often felt counter instinctual, but she knew it was the only way to let creativity and love guide the way.
She danced her grief; she screamed her grief; she wrote her grief. She let it take her to her knees; she completely abandoned herself to it. And through this process, she emerged, little by little, more her, more whole, more connected to Rayya.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Liz where life was asking courage of her right now. She said that losing Rayya brought her through depression and rage, and now she was called to completely surrender to “what is.”
And to her, this is the practice of living life fully. Ironically, just like “not caring,” practicing complete surrender is not as easy as it sounds. It can require a great deal of willpower and intention.
What does life look and feel like for Elizabeth Gilbert when she is successfully integrating all of the above? She is relaxed. Life doesn’t have to be about maximum effort, hustle, productivity, time management hacks or epic acts of perseverance.
This was my favourite insight from our time together. How much better would the world be if we allowed ourselves to follow our creative genius, be a little more carefree, and simply relax?
Author: Anne Bérubé PhD is an author, speaker and spiritual teacher. She is a regular contributing writer for Optimyz Magazine as well.
Images courtesy of Cooked Photography
More Inspiration: Check out our awesome interview here with actor Karine Vanasse of the TV show Cardinal.