Excerpt: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic goes in search of creative living

Farhana Gani

The bestselling author of Eat, Love Pray has a reputation for living fearlessly. Her new book, Big Magic, is an inspiring guide to finding the courage to live creatively beyond fear.

Big Magic
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“If you’re alive,” states Elizabeth Gilbert, “You’re a creative person.” Gilbert is best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which topped bestseller charts around the world in 2006, and was adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts. Her success led to her being invited to deliver a TED talk on creativity.

Her new book takes the concept of living a creative life through following your curiosity even further, without worrying about what others think. In the opening pages, she offers us a challenge: What is creativity? Her answer: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them,” says Gilbert. “The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.”

Big Magic

The conversational style of her intelligent self-help manual is honest and encouraging. She could be a close friend, delicately and humorously imparting thoughtful truths and insights from her own life. She has cleverly divided the book into six parts with short, easy-to-read chapters packed with examples—Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity—each a necessary quality for living a life driven by curiosity.

Gilbert gives practical advice on how to be more open to inspiration using her own triumphs and failures alongside those of her friends.
 

In this excerpt below, Gilbert defines her outlook.

 

An amplified existence

When I talk about ‘creative living’ here, please understand that I am not necessarily talking about pursuing a life that is professionally or exclusively devoted to the arts. I’m not saying that you must become a poet who lives on a mountaintop in Greece, or that you must perform at Carnegie Hall, or that you must win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. (Though if you want to attempt any of these feats, by all means, have at it. I love watching people swing for the Bleachers.) No, when I refer to ‘creative living’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

One of the coolest examples of creative living that I’ve seen in recent years, for instance, came from my friend Susan, who took up figure skating when she was forty years old. To be more precise, she actually already knew how to skate. She had competed in figure skating as a child and had always loved it, but she’d quit the sport during adolescence when it became clear she didn’t have quite enough talent to be a champion. (Ah, lovely adolescence when the ‘talented’ are officially shunted off from the herd, thus putting the total burden of society’s creative dreams on the thin shoulders of a few select souls, while condemning everyone else to live a more commonplace, inspiration-free existence! What a system...)

For the next quarter of a century, my friend Susan did not skate. Why bother, if you can’t be the best? Then she turned forty. She was listless. She was restless. She felt drab and heavy. She did a little soul-searching, the way one does on the big birthdays. She asked herself when was the last time she’d felt truly light, joyous, and – yes – creative in her own skin. To her shock, she realised that it had been decades since she’d felt that way. In fact, the last time she’d experienced such feelings had been as a teenager, back when she was still figure skating. She was appalled to discover that she had denied herself this life-affirming pursuit for so long, and she was curious to see if she still loved it.

So she followed her curiosity. She bought a pair of skates, found a rink, hired a coach. She ignored the voice within her that told her she was being self-indulgent and preposterous to do this crazy thing. She tamped down her feelings of extreme self-consciousness at being the only middle-aged woman on the ice, with all those tiny, feathery nine-year-old girls.

She just did it

Three mornings a week, Susan awoke before dawn and, in that groggy hour before her demanding day job began, she skated. And she skated and skated and skated. And yes, she loved it, as much as ever. She loved it even more than ever, perhaps, because now, as an adult, she finally had the perspective to appreciate the value of her own joy.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert TED
Image via TED Talks

Skating made her feel alive and ageless. She stopped feeling like she was nothing more than a consumer, nothing more than the sum of her daily obligations and duties. She was making something of herself, making something with herself.

It was a revolution. A literal revolution, as she spun to life again on the ice – revolution upon revolution upon revolution...

Please note that my friend did not quit her job, did not sell her home, did not sever all her relationships and move to Toronto to study seventy hours a week with an exacting Olympic-level skating coach. And no, this story does not end with her winning any championship medals. It doesn’t have to. In fact, this story does not end at all, because Susan is still figure skating several mornings a week – simply because skating is still the best way for her to unfold a certain beauty and transcendence within her life that she cannot seem to access in any other manner. And she would like to spend as much time as possible in such a state of transcendence while she is still here on earth.

That’s all.

That’s what I call creative living.

And while the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you.

Because creative living is where Big Magic will always abide.

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