Elizabeth Gilbert —
Choosing Curiosity Over Fear

Her name is synonymous with her fantastically best-selling memoir Eat Pray Love. But through the disorienting process of becoming a global celebrity, Elizabeth Gilbert has also reflected deeply on the gift and challenge of inhabiting a creative life. Creativity, as she defines it, is about choosing curiosity over fear — not to be confused with the more familiar trope to "follow your passion,” but rather as something accessible to us all and good for our life together.

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is the author of seven books, including Eat Pray Love, the novel The Signature of All Things, and most recently, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

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Our overscheduled lives leave little time for contemplation and reflection. How do we enable each other to pause and reflect together and ask how our hearts are doing?

About the Image

Elizabeth Gilbert stands in in Two Buttons, a store she and José Nunes opened in 2007 to sell East Asian imports.

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It may be easier to give positive feel-good messages when one has been very successful, found their passion and made some good money. Not to discredit the goodness of the author but I hope she enters more existentially into the reality of life. 'Choosing curiosity over fear' is often easier for the affluent and successful and for the artist who is acknowledged. See Picasso and Van Gogh. As Marcuse writes, the capitalist system absorbs all powerful ideas and makes them into commodities. The sharpness and dichotomies are lost and there is little that is truly revolutionary--just nice.

Hi Blair, you are right about much of what you say and I am impressed and drawn to you as a friend who understands the significance of the capitalist boat tipping us all to one side. Not just as a economic thing but as an energy sucking thing. But I want to try and encourage you to think slower about what the author is saying. I get it, I had a teacher mentor honor me saying, tim what you need is a warehouse of tools, time and creative resources. And yes if I win the lottery I would be standing in a place like her. But I cannot begin to tell you the joy I got this 4 th of July weekend building a timeranium using pretty much what I have found. I can't explain it and it would possibly be a let down to see it but I felt this amazing wonderful friend doing it with me in such a gentle and yet a delightful way. I share your grief but your sharp awareness of what is going on is also your way out. Maybe that sounds trite. But you are here and the resources capitalist society throw in the trash or sell for pennies is stuff to be reconsidered and a path for me back to the glory of nature and play scapes for children. The very notion of not having enough money or time is both true and the lie as well. Thanks for talking about the trump in the room. The author is so right, being kind to your creativity is better than ecstatic moments. Sorry if I sound like a dad. It's late.

yes, capitalism must expand and so we as a nation force our way in to expand markets: we bring the best and worst to the world. from experience, as a peace corps guy in Kenya 92-94, I saw the effects: british expanding, setting up structure re: resources in tea, coffee etc. to self advantage and imports that did not solve; hair care products, soda, media like Rambo and Dallas. Yet man has always fought and we, without knowing it, shaped by the media, are racist in our judgments, an ego centered view. I know that my often first reaction re: the outsider is tainted and skewed. religion, such as Christianity, is shaped: and so in the US, many mainstream churches take on the US American conditioning: patriotism, pro-state Israel (when in fact 'Israel' is not a state but a spiritual blending of loving neighbor to widest extent, true care for the poor, true revolution), also imperialistic, 'knowing', 'winning'. do not judge, you are doing the very thing is projection in a Jungian sense. Yet in the daily walk is greatness and hope. rome watched the people be sacrificed in public. We do the same today in watching the daily news. often, our emotions and seen solution are in 'feeling' for others through the television, which is an illusion. our 'stories' of victimization need to be healed and put in perspective: there are people suffering in war zones to an extent, and our personal stories need healing and to be retold seeing the good, our impressions of 'other' so limited for we base the perspective from the ego which is so limited. the only way is through other and our compassion not limited to our 'group association' but to the widest extent. creation or creativity is not just in making something that is beautiful ascetically but it is in new thought and a new realization that we are all connected....Burma/myamar, the middle east, must build markets and so any threat to freedom becomes a threat to the status quo, criticism is seen as unpatriotic, god bless the men and women who are placed in harm's way but why cannot one pray for peace, we arm the world with good and bad, our media is also good and bad but more purely wicked...thank you for this type of forum and bless your hearts...

'Terrified people make terrible decisions. Terror and fear make you irresponsible.' This is not a compassionate statement. Do I need to take a chill pill?

I think that Liz's approach toward the curiosity/fear dichotomy has much more to do with a scenario of the creative process, and fear is positioned specifically in relation to the notion that artists, or potential artists, may have much more to give or achieve than they realize, but it is the factor of fear that prevents them from stepping into that light. So I don't think her positioning is necessarily coming from a position of privilege or success alone, but rather, of experience and knowing. I'm not sure what any of this has to do with the idea of compassion but the theme does not figure much into her body of work.

I agree with this statement, fear makes us be reactive vs. being proactive or thoughtful. I think that the current violence going on, both on the side of the police and the side of the individuals being shot, the groups taking to the streets are all afraid. We are seeing some very bad (violent) actions happening and that harks back to what Gilbert says.
To your earlier point, you can be curious and do not have to be wealthy or successful at all. You can learn new things at the library, you can step forward when you hear a bird that you want to see and you can watch. These may not be fearful things, but curiosity answered enriches one's life, which builds your confidence, which reduces fear. As I age, I am much more curious than when I was a teenager, and I could spend my life learning and acting upon new things and doing nothing else. That is how I'm taking what she says at least....

While listening to your conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert, which was lovely, Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned the idea that Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both arrived at the notion of evolution at the same time. In fact, Darwin had been sitting on that idea (instead of publishing it) for 20 years. Hearing that Wallace was near presenting a similar idea was the main reason Darwin finally decided to share his own ideas. Unlike many other instances in which scientists do arrive at the same idea at the same time, this instance clearly shows that Darwin got there first, by many many years.

You really should read her book "The signature of all things".....LG calls it a novel......but you will see it is based on many facts and extensive research - and specifically deals with the Darwin theory.

Great discussion, and I have a question for others--I'm curious. How many people have felt what Ms Gilbert refers to about 20 or 21 minutes in? "...It feels like something is coming through you, not from you..." I am asking because I have never in my life felt this way, and I'm getting up there in years, not a spring chicken. Thanks.

I believe in intuition... ideas arising spontaneously... the joys of creativity... a life force... the life force that drives the seed to leaf to blossom is within each of us.

I have felt this way many times when I have dived so heavily into creative projects - with groups of people in the same mindset, or writing poetry to express my most difficult times of life. I hope she means it in a spiritual way because that's how I feel during those times - there is something greater that needs me to be doing what I'm doing in exactly those moments. For me, it's about getting so far into the understanding of how to express something that you forget the "how" and it just happens as I write or play music. It stops being self-gratification and starts being a part of the greater whole. If I want to follow through on those times, something wouldn't happen that is supposed to be.

I to have felt and can relate to Elizabeth's description of receiving ideas or message/thoughts coming through you. In our everyday lives we have normal types ideas ; packing better for a trip, cutting expenses at work and home, a new game to play with your children, problem solving types of ideas.
The feeling I get and My Interpretation of Elizabeth's description is altogether different, not of the normal.
Haven't we all heard the phrase throughout our lives: "It came to me Out of the Blue". that phrase, if you think about it describes the feeling perfectly. For example, Say I am on task for the day, mindset on divide and conquer, focused. Then suddenly, as if a window has opened , a comforting breeze has brushed over and around my face and body, and idea, thought or perhaps a message "feeling" interrupts that everyday "regularly scheduled" program. And I think "now where did that come from?"
Now I can then either choose to keep at my tasks, brushing this idea or thought aside saying "oh yeah that's a good idea" and that is all the recognition I give it (I'm sure you can all relate), or I can quickly find a piece of paper and pen and write it down, and immediately (and verbally most times) I give thanks and say that hear what is being said to me and I look forward to the next message/idea. Later, when my mind is clear I give it my full attention. If I cannot use this information given to me at that time I often think of someone I can pass it to !
It's " Paying Attention" being on alert, then opening your spirit to receive information when it comes to you. Now I don't mean that you should be on this Heightened Hyper Alert status all day - that would exhaust you!
Try this - When you awake in the morning and give thanks for the day and to be in it, etc. Your mind being new and fresh, announce to the universe that you are open in the mind and spirit for creative living and doing (lol! maybe visualize an "open for creative business" sign on your spirit door, Yeah !).
Do this routine everyday, it helps keep you grounded and open and it seems like to me that when I do this for myself I am more than just a Cog in the Wheel, you know what I mean ? I am quality, I am a Creative I .

This morning I woke to the NPR interview with Liz. I will admit, I have never heard of Ms. Gilbert before but I was struck by her ability to articulate human nature in such a raw form and meaning. Specifically when she spoke of self-hate and the Dalai Lama failing to grasp how humans could get to this point in their lives. This was an awaking moment for me as I never thought of my guilt over my transgressions or failures in such a manner, but I let things tear at me in the way she described. I do my best to stay positive and indeed much easier task when things are going well, like Blair Weaver states. But if we can learn from our mistakes and realize how is much is left in our lives of time and things we can do to make the world, or at least our part of it, a better place... you can recover....and love. Unfortunately I am 8 years past my divorce and love escapes me still, but today I think I may have realized why. Thank you Liz for the enlightenment. Life is indeed a journey. Never give in to fear and never give up. Chin up, move on.
I must read Eat, Pray, Love.

Neighbors ??
What do you mean, “Get out of bed?”
I was quite happy dreaming about a world were I was the hero.
Someone feed me, I’m hungry.
No, I’m not going into that dark tunnel.
Well okay, if you say that there is food at the other end, I’ll go.
So many things to know about,
And it’s such a small planet.
Penguins and whales and vegetables
And ripened fruit, falling from the trees.
Somewhere, someone is having trouble dealing with just being alive.
I don’t understand that, because I know the meaning to life.
What were we talking about? I seem to have lost track of the conversation.
You say, It’s your mother’s and your brother’s birthday. How odd.
Speaking of odd, I only know a few of my neighbors, and I’ve lived
here a long time.
White and black make a shade of gray when mixed.
Why then don’t black and white couples make gray children?
I know, because they are not really black and white.
That’s just the misuse of language to describe someone
Is it time to play again? Where have all my friends gone?
If we all lived in one place all of our lives, we’d never loose track of each other.
Moving day! Pack up everything I own and load into a cargo container.
Down around the corner and into a new zip code, it all looks the same.
And after I’ve been here for years, I’ll bet, I still won’t know all my neighbors.

How can one little incident have such a life long impact?
I mean, accidents change people’s lives everyday.
Mostly for the bad
The news reports the incident, but not the life long results.
It becomes a very personal thing.
Winning the lottery changes people’s lives three or four times a week.
Mostly for the good
We see the results, and the amount won, especially the big winners,
But we never follow the weird things that a lot of money can do.
Some people can handle it, but there are exceptions and it’s hard to believe.
How could a lot of money adversely affect someone’s life, but it does.
And I remember walking down the railroad tracks to nowhere, but
The trip back was to somewhere, back to Uncle Bill’s farm.
While sitting on a bench, an older lady walked by and said,
“Isn,t it a nice day?” She smiled and then walked on to somewhere.
And now the traffic report: Eastbound is moving slowly due to a
Three car injury accident in the diamond lane. Southbound has also
Experienced a major delay due to a passenger car and tour bus colliding.
Some of the injured were evacuated to the nearest hospital via helicopters.
The winning numbers for tonight’s lotto are 5-23-25-34-41 bonus number 12.

I have to thank you about your story about the death your story and the birth of Ann Patchett's book "State of Wonder". It answered a big question I've always had about a book I swore was plagiarized by Catherine Marshall when she wrote "Christie". Another author, Mary T. Sloop, M.D., wrote a book called "Miracle in the Hills" that were quite identical stories! Now I know it just might happen that way and not be called plagiarism at all!
Thanks for your wonderful writing and to Krista Tippett for her wonderful interviews and writings too! By the way, I did love both Catherine Marshall's and Mary Sloop's books! They both are great stories...

I don't know who said it, but I love the phrase "Truth lies in truth".

Stunning insight! However, I would challenge the idea that GQ (her former employer) is a "men's" magazine. It's for boys whose father never raised them right. If mom or dad caught me reading that (hypothetically - it was not published then) it would have been worse the being caught with Hustler.

Thank you so much for this conversation! ' Stubborn Gladness' is now my favorite saying. As a shelter veterinarian, I see suffering daily & I can hardly watch or listen to the local & world news ( although I do as one must stay informed) . The 'need' is never ending . Many days it just can wear one out to the point of compassion fatigue. I try to keep my chin up by focusing on the animals & people we help & encourage those around me to do the same . Being top dog ( pun intended) at work & at home ( single mom to 3 teen boys) I don't get a lot of emotional support so this podcast was very encouraging to me.
Also wanted to share my thoughts on creativity. We are more creative than we think . Evidence/ opinions as follows in random order: 1) anytime a person solves a problem they are being creative. 2) nature is creative & we are made of the same creative life force 3) simple projects bring joy & pleasure 4) existence of craft stores ( Hobby Lobby in my area) & DYI shows & stores ( Lowes/ Home Depo) would not exist if people were not creative. How fancy do our 'caves' need to be really? 5) cooking - we make food much more elaborate than it needs to be for survival just like Elizabeth's grandmother made her quilts/ blankets more beautiful than they needed to be for warmth. 6) And the list goes on.
On the subject of curiosity it seems to me we are innately curious . The favorite word for all 2 yr olds is 'why'. As adults we still ask 'why' & add 'how' . Curiosity leads to learning & creativity . In a perfect world we would be so busy being curious & creative we would have no time for fear & destruction.

I love your insight about "compassion fatigue." I am a property manager and hear and see so much about which I cannot change and try to make the best of what is.

Yvonne - you sound amazing to me. You have been called to do some hard stuff on this earth and are taking a great approach, really the only way to manage it and do important work.

Make sure and take a little care of yourself too, I know you are crazy busy but an epsom bath by candlelight can be transformative in 15 minutes!

I think what might help in choosing creativity over fear is to see the mysterious in all things. A philosophy of 'die to every yesterday' may help: seeing matters fresh knowing that all is in flux. The Buddhist understanding of emptiness too assists: phenomenon are presented and everyone might have differing reactions, opinions as to what is 'seen'. People are in flux and so it is interesting to meet all encounters fresh. The creativity comes in celebrating the fact that we are changing beings and each new configuration presents something fun and new.

I was glad to finally see an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on On Being. I had secretly wondered all these years if the reason she had not been interviewed was because her memoir Eat, Pray, Love had been cast aside as "chic lit." It's ironic isn't it, if a woman becomes a well-known writer (both journalist and novelist), financially successful, has a major Hollywood movie made about a part of her life story, becomes a coveted speaker working with media-mogul Oprah Winfrey, and then goes on to write MORE books, she is dismissed as inconsequential, superficial and a sell-out...Would we say the same about a man? Like the late, great Pat Summit, even you don't care for her personally, if you have any bit of feminist juice in you, you've got to admit it is a very cool day when a WOMAN can sell millions of copies of her SPIRITUAL MEMOIR, and spend somewhere around 4 years on a NY Times Best Sellers List. To me, that is something to celebrate.

I was looking forward to this because I had never read anything by Ms. Gilbert. To my surprise I found her to be a most self-regarding deeply narcissistic individual , one shot through, drenched in phoniness , so I turned it off a third of the way. I apologize in advance if I'm lame and simply don't get her.

I understand the choice of curiosity over fear. Every one of my creative projects began with "what if" and rejected the fear of possible failure. The discussion of the boredom and tediousness of creating, I am reminded of Ric Masten's poem where he says, "I don't like writing--I like having written."

The book 'Big Magic' is killer; a great read for anyone who has a passion for... anything. As for the skeptics... read the book and pay special attention to the section where Liz links romantic affairs to our connection with creativity. She knows she is lucky for being able to make money off of her creativity but that isn't what she is advocating. What she is advocating is for people to simply not be afraid of being creative if they want to be.

I was disappointed to see that On Being interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert. Her behavior struck me as extremely narcissistic when I was only a couple chapters in to Eat Pray Love, and Gilbert's disturbing article about being a serial cheater only confirmed that impression: She has repeatedly "chosen curiosity over fear" for her own benefit at the expense of others, which goes against the whole spirit of On Being.

Be the change you want to see in the world.. Gandhi

I loved this interview, especially now when the political world is so dominated by fear. The only thing I wondered about was the bit about boredom - I'm a writer and while I agreed with what you said about how much of writing is boring, I didn't agree that much of mothering is boring. I have two children and have found that while it can be tedious and all that, it is also the most absorbing and fascinating experience in the world - for exactly the reason you talk about. If and when I'm curious, it is fascinating. If and when I'm not, it is not. So that contrast made me think it is worth opening up this idea of 'boredom' a bit more, that it is more nuanced than suggested here...

Had to find the full referenced poem. It's wonderful

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

Jack Gilbert

I learned so much from this podcast. Thank you for sharing and for the beautiful, melancholy, reflective music that weaves in and out. What I learned:

First, that being friends among your various selves vs. a war among your various selves is helpful. It is so true that we have to learn to accept, understand and love ourselves. But the idea of "self love" is a bit - uh, uncomfortable, and dangerous - and so the idea of being one's own great friend and a friendship among our various selves, given no one is a singular uni-dimensional self, seemed really useful.

Second, I have come to appreciate more flexible ideas/words than rigid ones. Liz adds to these for me by saying curiosity is a better concept than passion (just as passion is better than obsession; I disagree with the title that fear drives passion - I think fear drives obsession more than passion) since passion brings the pressure of high expectations and sets a high bar. Curiousity is more fluid, accepting, allowing of change, etc. In a way, passion can close a lot of doors while curiosity can open many doors. It reminds of understanding vs. truth - the former is more in line with an evolving world, the idea that our own perception does and should change, and the reality of multiple perspectives, all equally true.

Third, I encounter here again this idea that ideas are out there in the world and you have to be just open - "ready with a catcher's mitt" - and accepting of them when they find you. With this mental framework, you have no choice but to execute them once the idea finds you and this helps you get through the boredom and the tough parts of executing your ideas.

Fourth, it was interesting to hear her say that 90% of your execution time is spent in boredom or worse than boredom. She didn't say the "worse than". For me, it's not such a high-percentage, but, again, it's a useful concept to incorporate in one's mental framework.

Fifth, she says she would judge herself based only on motion rather than output. Motion alone is good enough so better not to put a higher bar than that on yourself.

This latter point, along with the second one, reminds me of something I've been thinking about lately: what types of areas should one have high-expectations for and in what areas does it serve us well to have low expectations?