Elizabeth Gilbert’s Surprising Advice

This is a photo of Elizabeth Gilbert.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert came to town this weekend, delivering her “Big Magic” creativity workshop to a huge Halifax crowd. While I expected her to talk about writing, and about being creative, I was surprised by one of her key messages.

At a certain moment, she pointedly addressed only the women in the room and spoke earnestly and energetically about a specific unnamed quality she wanted every woman to try and cultivate. If every woman could embody this quality, she said, the world would be a different place.

Huge lead-up. Everyone on the edge of their seat. What would she say? What was this earth-shattering quality?

Wait for it.

RELAXED.

Yep, you heard that right. Relaxed. She didn’t say that we all need to try harder, manage our time better, and persist in the face of adversity. She didn’t say that we need to find our passion, harness it, and monetize it. She actually said that we’d all be better off if we could just learn how to relax a little more.

Complete silence reigned, followed by a collective gasp, somewhat stifled and covered over by nervous laughter. No wonder. In an era where we’re tethered to our devices and the constant beeping reminders that there are yet more things to do (including the action needed to save our imperilled planet), Liz Gilbert’s message is blaringly, and brilliantly, discordant.

She went on to explain there is an under-utilized power in a calmer state. “When you are relaxed, you have a 360-degree range of vision,” she says. “You can see things that all the stressed out people in the room can’t see. And you’re aware of opportunities that other people don’t notice because their eyes have become pinpoints of terror.”

This makes sense to me from an experience I had many years ago, one that was a hinge point in my life. It came about during a very stressful period where I constantly felt overwhelmed and anxious. In an effort to get a handle on the chaos in my head, I decided to try something radical. I made myself sit still and do nothing for 10 minutes each day. The result was both comic and incredibly enlightening.

You can read about my little experiment here, but what I discovered was exactly what Liz Gilbert is talking about. I had the revelatory experience that from a more relaxed state, life looked, and felt, infinitely more manageable. I was able to see that I was juggling too much and I suddenly knew which balls I could drop. Not only that, this calmer state seemed to create magical happenings and made me feel like I was flowing with life, no longer being yanked out to sea.

Since this epiphany, I’ve come back to it again and again (often kicking and screaming and extremely stressed). It may not be something that I’m able to consistently implement, but I do understand the power of it. 

These days, this state is most reliably induced when I write, and I don’t mean blog posts or articles or courses or websites. I mean pen on the page, heart on my sleeve, thoughts and emotions tumbling out. Journal writing. Me writing. Nothing in this world compares to the feeling of relief—and yes, relaxation—that floods me when I take the time to do this. 

When I remember to grant myself these moments of connection, even if it’s only 10 minutes before my work begins and I tackle all the things I didn’t get done yesterday 😬, the unfolding day is always brighter, more spacious, and more satisfying. 

On this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I want to thank Liz Gilbert for reminding me that peace in my head and my heart are more important than anything. Certainly more vital than any TO-DO list, no matter how long!

p.s. If you can relate to any of this post, drop me a line. I’d love to hear how you arrive at “relaxed” and how it benefits you.

Author: Renée Hartleib