The art and life of Georgia O’Keeffe was a major part of my masters’ thesis, written way back in 1972. As a young graduate student in Denton, Texas, just thirty minutes away from O’Keeffe’s museum in Forth Worth, I knew she was an iconoclast, a rebel in her art and in her personal life. I spent hours in the Fort Worth museums that held her paintings, stunned by the feelings her stark landscapes created in my little heart. But I didn’t know that she was afraid. I thought she was bold and brave and fearless. And of course she was all of those qualities. But underneath bold and brave was fear. And she used that fear to create her art.
In yesterday’s interview with Jonathan Fields of Good Life Project, Elizabeth Gilbert talks a lot about fear and the artist, and I’m sure Gilbert would identify with O’Keeffe’s statement. She says it’s useless to attempt to rid yourself of fear; instead, use it for the juice you need to create. Redirect the energy that fear stimulates toward your the next necessary step in your good life.
This interview coincides with the publication of Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. A huge Gilbert fan, I pre-ordered it months ago and just received a message from Amazon that it’s on its way to my house. If you want a nice preview of the book, though, listen to this great conversation between Jonathan Fields and Elizabeth Gilbert found on Good Life Radio.
Here are some of the topics they discuss:
1. The problem of being rational. Many times people resist doing what they want to do because it doesn’t seem “rational,” often meaning, it won’t make money. Fields and Gilbert discuss the kind of strength and support it takes to hold on to an artful dream. Gilbert says this tendency to be rational is why we need spiritual support. . . to combat that rational thought. The spiritual/creative side of us will nudge us to keep going with what is deeply meaningful or passionate for us.
2. The issue of urgency. Gilbert says she doesn’t want to get to the end of her life and wonder “Why didn’t I do that thing that I so wanted to do?” She talks about living aligned with those deep nudges. Time is running out! Are you really going to wait?
3. The issue of feeling selfish. Like doing your deep work is a selfish thing to do.
NO! she says. Doing your creative work is not selfish. “To permit yourself to do the work you are called to do is ultimately a gift,” Gilbert says. Live at your highest potential. She calls it “an act of community service.”
4. The issue of fear. What if I do this thing I want to do, and I fail? or lose money? or embarrass myself? Fields says, “But what if it works?” Fear stops us from moving forward in a bold new way.
Gilbert says fear is not something to be conquered. “Anything I fight, fights me back harder.” She says to “walk next to your fear,” befriend it.
5. People who say they are not creative. Gilbert re-frames this cliché and instead inserts the word curious for creative. Everyone is curious. The trick is to learn to really give yourself over to what you are curious about. She says the way you craft a creative life is respecting and trusting and following the curiosity.
But. . . the thing that makes you curious may also cause you fear. “A creative life is a life where you routinely choose the path of curiosity over the path of fear.” Every single day!
Following your creativity is going to make for a bigger, more interesting life. “Curiosity will take you where you are meant to be,” Gilbert says.
6. Practices that support creative living. She talks about having to take care of her “animal” – meaning her body. This allows her to make good decisions. You have to be healthy, whole, sane.
At LifeArt Studio, we call this our foundational practices: eat well, hydrate, focus, meditate, listen, slow down, avoid urgency, be in gratitude. Jonathan Fields calls them “vitality practices” and says they are the container that makes the brain receptive to creating, thinking well, experiencing fully, feeling deeply, and more.
7. Believing that change is absolutely possible. Take baby steps. Cultivate self agency.
8. The issue of things not working out. This is a hard one. You may invest in a project that actually doesn’t work out. Maybe lots of them. Can you let go of your dream, your yearning, your curiosity, your creativity, your new work, your new life for fear of things not working out? Can you live with yourself for not being curious about whether or not it would work out or not?
9. The topic of where creativity resides. Is it outside of you? Inside of you? Where the hell is it? Gilbert says you have to just show up. Sit down and prove that you’re worthy to do the work.
She says ideas are in the ether looking for collaborators. Show up and do your work. The muse will show up and help you.
For Gilbert, “Creativity is a partnership between the labor of a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” You become a vessel of creation. (OK, people, that’s some BIG MAGIC.)
At the end of the interview, Fields asks Ms. Gilbert what constitutes “the good life” for her. She says, Show up for your life. Have the discipline to stay awake. You have been given this life; do something magical with it.
This answer is one of the many reasons we love Elizabeth Gilbert here at LifeArt Studio. Stay open, curious, interested, hopeful, devoted, emerging. That’s the good life.
And now, let’s all go out and make some BIG MAGIC today.