If you haven’t already seen our review of the creative classic, ‘Big Magic‘, I’ll forgive you for not knowing that here at Cork & Chroma we are big fans of Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz is a pioneer in demystifying how fear gets in the way of how we ‘show up for ourselves’ creatively. Whether her creativity is well-received or overlooked, Liz is a spokesperson for committing to doing what brings you joy in life. She is a living, breathing permission slip, encouraging anybody and everybody to create, whether you are perceivably failing in the eyes of the world (like when she was a waitress trying to get published for 6 years) or a massive success (remember her memoir, Eat Pray Love, that was turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts?).
In her TED talk, ‘Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating’, Liz shares how much pressure she felt writing the book that followed ‘Eat Pray Love’. She explains how she was persistently asked, “What are you going to do now?” and, “How will you ever top that?”, which left her feeling paralysed by the idea of writing again. However, her love of writing eventually overtook her fear of failure. Liz says it’s easy to get lost in the hinterlands of our psyche, but the way back to ourselves is to do what feels like home to us. Though Liz’s subsequent books varied in success (The Signature of All Things ‘bombed’ while Big Magic was received extremely well), Liz has resolved to keep writing books no matter what because that’s what feels like home to her.
I admire Liz’s vulnerability to share her raw and honest experience with creativity so openly. She is a leader in what it means to be human: to succeed, to fail, to keep creating and to keep opening herself up in the face of the most devastating loss of her life. In her recent interview with Gwyneth Paltrow on the Goop podcast, Liz shares how creativity has been instrumental in coping with the grief of losing her partner, Rayya, who passed away from terminal cancer in 2018.
Liz tenderly shares her advice for using creativity as a means of self-care and self-soothing in times of trauma. She shares how creative self-care means always having your own back. When she’s taken a bold, creative risk and bombed out, she gives herself gold stars by sticking them in her tear-stained journal to acknowledge the bravery it took to show up for herself that day. And, as a means of encouraging others, she also gives out gold stars when she sees others doing the same. This exchange takes me back to primary school and how much my six-year-old self felt seen and loved for getting gold stars in class. It also makes me think that my inner child could do with some gold stars in praise and recognition for facing my creative fears these days, too.
Another creative self-care technique Liz uses in response to her grieving is self-parenting. She shares that the first step is acknowledging that you’re in a traumatic response and need to call upon the universal mother energy to comfort the part of yourself which needs to be held. This means delivering unconditional love from yourself to yourself by being the soothing bosom of a mother who loves their child and believes them a perfect creation no matter what. Speak to yourself, or better yet write a letter to yourself from your mother energy, saying things like, “You cannot fail, because I love you no matter what and you are precious unto me”. When you can breathe again, the next step is to invoke the universal father energy. This is acknowledging your courage and resilience and making a plan for what to do next. He says, “Ok kid, you’re brave, you’re strong, now what are we going to do?”. Liz shares a powerful closing statement, saying “Once you can really sit with your own pain, you can sit with anyone’s pain.”
In the most recent copy of Breathe magazine (Issue 15), Lisa Kjellsson wrote an article called ‘The Magic of Letter Writing’ about her experience attending a Liz Gilbert workshop. The workshop is based around writing letters to yourself while embodying each of the six major components of creative living as explored in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity.
Liz says these writing exercises are designed to highlight different areas of your creative consciousness. Surprisingly, the first step to tap into Courage is to write a letter to yourself from the embodiment of Fear. It would start something like:
“Dear Amy, I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you.”
Liz says it’s not a conversation with Fear, it’s a monologue—and you have six minutes to let the voice of your fear be heard without censorship. In her Goop interview, Liz says, “I always invite fear to stay with me, because as soon as I say to it, ‘It’s ok for you to be here, you can stay with me. We’re going to do this together,’ it just relaxes and goes to sleep like a toddler in a car seat”.
The other creative writing exercises are to write to yourself as follows:
– From Enchantment to yourself. Enchantment is the voice of joy, expansion, curiosity and connection.
– A letter back to Enchantment from yourself, promising to honour its requests and needs for happiness.
– From your Head Teacher to yourself, giving you permission to do the things you always wanted to do but talked yourself out of. Also include what your Head Teacher gives you permission not to do, for example, giving you permission not to follow world affairs if you’re not interested in them.
– From Persistence to yourself. Persistence wants to be acknowledged for all the things you got through in life. It showed up to help you persevere through the hard times and helped you commit to achieving and finishing things.
– A letter from your Divinity in response to your letter from Fear. This is to self-parent the part of you that is deeply afraid of failing and venturing into the unknown. It’s similar to the universal mother and father energy.
Liz’s hypothesis about why humans desire to create is that when we are creating we are aligned with the momentum and energy of the rest of the universe, which is constantly creating too. A lot of the time we don’t see it, but according to physics the universe is in a constant state of expansion and creation. When you’re not creating you’re against that natural flow, which can make you feel stagnant and depressed. To Liz, making something with her hands makes her feel deeply good.
“I think of creativity as a relationship—not between self and self but between self and mystery,” Liz says. She says that the simplest way for us to connect with a force greater than ourselves is through our creativity. So, if you’re ever feeling triggered, have a go at Liz’s self-parenting approach to invoke the mother and father energy to hold your pain. And while you’re in the mood for trying out something new, grab your journal and write a letter to yourself from your fear, enchantment or head teacher. If using a creative approach to your self-care works for Liz, it could very well work for you too!
Haven’t read our book review on Big Magic:
Tap Into Your Creative Genius With This Modern Classic
Not sure what ‘kind’ of creative you are? Check out our quiz:
What’s your Creative Personality?
Held prisoner by the Self Doubt Monster?
Bridle Your Backbiter and Slay Your Self-Doubt
Read: ‘Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear‘.
Listen: Gwyneth x Elizabeth Gilbert: Can Creating Something Small Heal Something Big?
Watch: Liz’s Ted Talk ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius
Watch: Liz’s second Ted Talk ‘Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.’
Elizabeth Gilbert: Instagram | Facebook | Website