Mindful Reading: Big Magic

Mindful Reading Book Review: Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

Confession: I read a lot of books. It helps me focus and pass time but it also helps me expand my thinking. I tend to read a lot of books about psychology, wellness, and mental health and I thought, what better way to have a conversation with my wonderful readers! 

The intention behind the new Mindful Reading section of the Mindful Living blog is to share the knowledge that I pick up by reading these books. I hope you will join me in this virtual book club as we review a new book each month. 

The first book I chose, Big Magic, is especially meaningful to me because I read it at a time when I really needed to hear what the insightful Elizabeth Gilbert had to say. Her lessons are strong and I think it may resonate with you too.

The Gist: 

Big Magic is a mix between self-help, instructional, and motivational. The book aims to motivate all individuals to strive for some type of creative existence, whether it is your profession or a hobby. It also breaks through stereotypes and irrational beliefs about why people choose not to be creative in their lives. More so, Big Magic inspires us to believe in the magic of creativity and curiosity, encouraging us to chase after the things that give us butterflies and goosebumps. 

If you have read Elizabeth Gilbert's other books, you know that she is a down-to-earth writer and is very real in her advice. She does not encourage you to quit your financially secure job to chase your passion. She also does not make it seem like living a creative life will be all that glamorous or happy. She points out that there is balance in all things, creative living included. That despite the highs and lows, the uncertainty, and the unknown, we should pursue a creative existence anyways.

Powerful Messages:

I love so many of her sentiments that I nearly highlighted a third of the book. I'll narrow it down here to the most powerful and also the most relevant messages. 

"...when I refer to "creative living"...I'm talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear." --Creative Living, Defined

Gilbert defines what she means by living creatively. Not just being an artist in the traditional sense, or really being an artist at all. Big Magic makes you think about what creative spirit you have to offer as well as why you are not living this creative dream right now. Again, not necessarily for money, not as a profession, but just for fun.

"Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call someone "a creative person" is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species...If you are alive, you're a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers." --Your Permission Slip

If you are not in a creative field and see this book, at first sight it might seem like it's not for you. Wrong! Gilbert challenges us to think about how we define creativity throughout the book and points out that based purely on our ancestors, no matter where we are from, we are creative beings. This chapter speaks to all the reasons a person comes up with for why they cannot create.  And then she promptly cuts through the BS and says "Here is your permission slip. Go. Create."

"Creative entitlement doesn't mean behaving like a princess, or acting as though the world owes you anything whatsoever. No, creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that--merely by being here--you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own." --Entitlement

This mirrors a belief in yoga that states "I have the right to be here." Big Magic encourages you to step into the person that you are. Not making excuses or hiding behind fear, but being all of you. 

"As [Mark] Mason writes with profound wisdom: "Everything sucks, some of the time." You just have to decide what sort of suckage you're willing to deal with." --The Shit Sandwich

To me, this is the essence of life: balance. Things will not always be great. Conversely, they will not always suck. Each thing we devote ourselves to in life, be it a relationship, a career, children, etc., will have some degree of suckiness. We have to acknowledge this and take in the "shit sandwich" along with the perks and positives of what we choose to do. 

"Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless and it is important to recognize the distinction. Bravery means doing something scary, fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means." --The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don't Need

It is easy to get swept up in the "you can do anything!" message of a traditional self-help book. I believe this to be true, too. To an extent. Big Magic tackles fear in a very real and understandable sense that most self-help books miss. Gilbert uses herself as an example and discusses how she acknowledges fear and invites it along with her, knowing that it will be there anyway, but does not let fear make any decisions. This is a powerful distinction that we can learn from. We can keep our fear in check, listening to what it has to say and gently reminding it that it has no place in the decision making process. 

"Let people have their opinions. More than that--let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else's blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people's judgments about you are none of your business." --Pigeonholing

Remember that blog long ago on the book The Four Agreements? This speaks to many things, including not to take things personally. Creative living is not about the outcome, rather about the process. Big Magic does a great job explaining why this concept is so important and why we should not be indebted to other people's approval, permission, or opinions. 

"...in order to stay in the game, you must let go of your fantasy of perfection...You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass...Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes--but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work." --Fear in High Heels

Perhaps one of the most powerful chapters for me, Fear in High Heels speaks to the flawed ideal of perfectionism. I see this with so many clients and it is crippling. I see it in myself as well. We strive to be "the best" at something and stop ourselves if we are not going to excel. However the cost is much too high as it stops us in our tracks from even having a creative life.

"So how do you find the inspiration to work when your passion has flagged?...I believe that curiosity is the secret...Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times...curiosity only asks one simple question: "Is there anything you're interested in?"" --Devotion to Inquisitiveness

This final quote speaks to the accessibility of curiosity. You do not have to have a grand plan or hugely detailed ideas about your creative life, but do have curiosity. If inspiration or even interest strikes, dig a little deeper to see why. Gilbert gives the example of following curiosity from growing a garden to deeply researching botany which developed into a novel. All we have to do is lean into our curious nature.

Get involved in the conversation with me. I would love to hear your thoughts on Big Magic! 


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