Final Thoughts on Big Magic by Rev. Carolyne Mathlin, Senior Minister

Big MagicWhen you recognize her beauty, the eye applauds, the heart stands in an ovation, and the tongue when she is near is on its best behavior, it speaks more like light. What does light talk about? I asked a plant that once. It said, “I am not sure, but it makes me grow.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
One of the main reasons why I love Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is that I see so many parallels between what she describes as creativity and my experience of spirituality. It is like she is writing my own journey in developing a relationship between my spirituality and my profession of ministry. It’s one thing to love to express creatively or to dedicate yourself to walking a spiritual path. It’s quite another to rely on them for your source of security and livelihood. It’s a whole new level of an adventure in faith.

Many people rely on their creativity for their livelihood. For stand-up comedians, I can imagine there is constant pressure to be funny. Writers have a persistent dread that they won’t have something interesting or compelling to put on the page that will pay the bills. I can imagine that the burden placed on creativity to come through so you can eat can feel really scary, even stifling, to the creative spirit.

Just like Gilbert’s career is based on creative inspiration, my career is based on my spiritual inspiration. Through her writing, I’ve come to recognize the pressure I’ve been unable to name until now of relying on spiritual insights, revelations and presence in order to keep my job – the fear of not being inspiring enough, of not being cutting edge enough, deep enough, relatable enough, spiritual enough, blah, blah, blah. It can start to feel really heavy. And nothing blocks my experience of the flow of spirit quite like my anxiety about being in the flow.

It’s a paradox. The very thing I yearn for is exactly what I’m blocking because I’m trying to manufacture it from my ego mind, trying to desperately figure out what will be enough. This isn’t all the time for sure. My particular anxiety seems to come most when I’m faced with an unknown, a choice that will determine a future reality. That’s when my mind kicks in and says “Step back God, I’ve got this one” which cues all the limiting thoughts, negative emotions, and physical stress I’m afraid of in the first place. It’s quite a maddening cycle. I’m able to witness it sometimes, go into it completely other times. Yet something in me keeps feeding the cycle because there’s a belief somewhere in my consciousness that it’s part of the dance. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And Gilbert has helped remind me of that in one of the areas where I forget most frequently.

It’s not that suffering and pain don’t play a role in our spiritual evolution (or ability to create). It’s the belief that we must have pain and therefore actively pursue pain and suffering as the means to be creative that is false. Gilbert understands the cost of this limiting belief when she says “if you choose to trust suffering over love, be aware that you are building your house upon a battlefield.”

I often relate light and consciousness. There are nuanced differences; however, for the purposes of this exploration, let’s use them as synonyms. Consciousness does make us grow. What is required is our willingness to be grown, not from our own ideas but from our surrender. Or as Jesus said, our meekness. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Gilbert writes, “Fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.” The same can be said for the spiritual path. The more you walk on a spiritual path with sincerity and commitment, the more you will be required to enter into the unknown. But not because it is a torture test and you must be afraid or suffer in order to transform. Instead, it’s because creativity and mature spirituality ask you to grow beyond your current paradigm. And of course that is going to bring up fear. At least it has for me.
The best conductor of electricity is the substance that is least resistant to the flow of electric current. The best conductor of Divine Power is the person who is nonresistant to the flow of divine power. That awareness comes from the conviction that God is always the answer to human needs and the willingness to submit wholeheartedly to the flow of the Spirit in and through us. So where is my trust placed? As Gilbert reminds us, it’s not a trust that says “‘I am certain I will be a success— because that is not fierce trust; that is innocent trust. There is no guarantee of success in creative realms. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone. Not now, not ever. Will you put forth your work anyhow? Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome does not matter.”

Mark R Leary, a psychologist at Duke University coined the phrase “hypo-egoic self regulation,” a state in which people accomplish their goals more easily by relinquishing conscious control. He found that by using your willful ego to stop doing something actually prevents achieving your goal. He concluded that the ultimate self-regulatory goal is to reduce deliberate self-control and to function hypo-egoically. Surrendering and letting go of ego-identification doesn’t have to lead to regression or childish behavior. It can lead to greater resources and a new foundation of identity.
What does light talk about? I asked a plant that once. It said, “I am not sure, but it makes me grow.” My heart is so full of gratitude for the spiritual principles and practice that I live. They have colored and shaped my life in profound ways. There are so many unknowns, too many for my ego-mind’s liking; this is the human condition. But they are there nonetheless. And I continue to remind myself when my own fears and anxieties kick up that the road to freedom begins with non-resistance, willingness, a deep trust in the love and light of the universe. From there the path of creativity and spirituality goes on and I with it, living life as a beautiful unknown.