Catching up with Elizabeth Gilbert

Last month, Elizabeth Gilbert brought her creative light to Seattle. Best known for her 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love“, she spoke to audiences at the Moore Theater and IslandWood about creativity, love, politics and boundaries. What follows is a summary of the Q&A sessions in Seattle and Bainbridge Island.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s love of Seattle

Do you have suggestions for someone who is stuck?

There is such an enormous process to getting unstuck. There’s no simple way.  Every person is different. Every time is different. Providing a formula or steps minimizes the difficulty of being stuck, so she highlighted two behaviors to help jimmy the lock.

Try everything. Go down in a ball of flames. In Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Right Stuff”, he wrote about the pilots that risked their lives to break the sound barrier. Even as their planes careened toward earth, they were compelled to keep the program moving forward by radioing in all corrections, all mistakes, all thoughts until their very last breath. Their ability to remain nimble, creative and devoted kept the program alive.

In addition, Elizabeth advocated for cultivating mercy toward yourself.  Being a logophile, Liz helped dissect mercy from forgiveness.  Forgiveness begins with fault = you forgive in response to a wrongdoing. Mercy is a blessing defined by compassion = you respond with kindness and empathy. Stuck is not a sin. Stuck is a place.  By communicating to yourself in a merciful voice, you unlock a practice that enables you to continue doing the best you can with what you have.

How do you build relationships with boundaries? How do you build bridges without always being the bridge builder?

Liz laughed and said she’s likely the wrong person to go to about boundaries. However, she felt the question was about balance, about controlling what is not controllable.

In short, she’s given up trying to achieve balance.  “Balance” is just another weaponized word geared toward women – it’s unattainable and an exchange for the word “perfect.”

If you were perfect or in balance, where would your humanity go?

“I just want to be kind…to me and to all of it.”

How do you expect us to not be so absorbed in this political climate?

Although not explicit in her understanding of the political air, she believed that the bumper stickers parked outside did not include the words “Great” or “Again”

Then she quoted Jack Gilbert’s poem “In Brief for the Defense”

To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil

She faced this question: How to find hope with searing injustice?

On election night, there was a flurry of texts with friends as the unthinkable happened. She poses the question: Did we really think that the patriarchy would just roll over? As her confidence broke and uncertainty shadowed over her, she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror: arms wrapped around her knees, all curled up in a ball. In that moment, she recognized that she’s never made a good decision from that posture. Change had to start now.

She and Rayya turned off the media and decided to pray. A new practice for them. Liz, mocks herself in giving God a classic “Elizabeth Gilbert wish list” of helping her to understand, learn and impart empathy.

When it came time for Rayya to have her words with God, she approached the sky with open arms ready for battle:

Seriously? Rayya bellowed… OK then, let’s dance. Watch me dance with cancer. Watch me dance with Trump.

That’s hope.

In the end, Liz advises, you will need to do both – to listen and to follow. Start with the life you are given, the life that you have been entrusted with.

There’s work to be done, but not at the expense of your own soul.

Can you comment on your own journey and meditative process?

Liz boldly states that creativity is her religion. She was not made to live in a monastic setting. She was made to live in the world as a gatherer of ideas. She will borrow from anybody and reject things that don’t resonate

She does not meditate. She struggles with it. And, in one of those cherished moments, as Liz is explaining how difficult the meditation practice is for her, an iphone is triggered in the audience and blurts out:

“I do not understand you.”

I guess that sums that up. Take it as a riddle or as divine wisdom from our techno friend, Siri.

Do you feel like our sexual orientation exists on a spectrum?

The boldness of the question released cathartic laughter from Liz and the audience.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s life bore many changes in late 2016. First, she announced the end to her 12 year relationship made famous by her best-selling novel turned high profile film “Eat, Pray, Love”.  Later, she shared on Facebook that her dearest friend, Rayya Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer – and that she intended to stay by her side until the end.

“I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya.”

Through this experience, she learned that people treat you the way you act. When she announced that her female lover had cancer, her only request was that no one offer them cancer cures, cancer advice or cancer stories. The fact that her sexual preference had changed, took a back seat.

“Here’s what it comes down to for me: I need to live my life in truth and transparency, even more than I need privacy, or good publicity, or prudence, or other people’s approval or understanding, or just about anything else.”

Standing in truth is where she wants to live and she is honored by the loving response from the public.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias at Moore Theater

Hearing Elizabeth speak this weekend, people appreciated her for living so boldly, with so much joy.  How can there be so much joy despite mortality staring her and Rayya in the face? How do you choose joy instead of fear and pain?

In this arena, Liz is committed to grieving whatever it is that needs to be grieved and not to experience depression.  To Liz, depression is not grieving something that we need to grieve.

“Do not mistake my joy for absence of weeping.” She and Rayya weep daily.

When Elizabeth embarked on this journey of being a caregiver (correction, the best caregiver), she read all the books, scoured the internet and absorbed all the advice. Locked and loaded, the rally cries rang in her head: Take care of yourself. Stay strong. Don’t fall apart.

But, she soon realized the expert advice fell short compared to length of her love.

“Why is everyone so afraid of falling apart? Because sometimes the only appropriate response is to fall apart. When you break apart, you get to pick up all the beautiful pieces to take with you on the next journey.”

Instead of withholding to save her energy for later, Liz has committed to being tired now. Stating that, “I will spend all my love.” Liz calls this her soul commandment.

Caregiving implies that you’re giving. But, you’re not only giving. You’re getting something. Even as it’s draining you, it’s filling you in other ways as well.

With Rayya and Liz, this experience has given them so many blessings, like a heart that has known full love:  “You get to keep that. Joy comes from that privilege.”

 

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