I had two jobs this week: keep my heart open and seek inspiration.
One typically follows the other, so I started by placing my hand over my heart, then breathing into my palm as a reminder that I have my own back and that the small, wounded part of me is not going through this life alone.
Next, I returned to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic and learned about how to stop fighting your gifts.
In section two, she explores enchantment and says inspiration is always around us, looking for a vessel to tell its story. When it taps you on the shoulder, you have two choices—say yes or no. If no is the right choice, you can “let yourself off the hook and not create anything, which isn’t a dishonorable choice.”
When saying yes, you enter a contract with creativity. Elizabeth says the most common one in Western Civilization “seems to be the one of suffering. This contract says, ‘I shall destroy myself and everyone around me in an effort to bring forth my inspiration and my martyrdom shall be the badge of my creative legitimacy.”
Destruction and martyrdom feel a little over the top, but I’ve certainly seen writers develop such a case of tunnel vision around their project’s outcome they neglect their relationships and health. Hell, I’ve been there myself.
Elizabeth says there’s a third way. In it, “we cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with inspiration.” This path requires you to care for yourself by recognizing that “whatever is bad for you is bad for your work.”
She shares a beautiful, lilting list of ways to recognize these things, but one really hit me in the gut.
“You can battle your demons instead of battling your gifts.”
I’ve been battling my demons for years “through all the typical means (therapy, recovery, prayer, humility).” At times, the work has given me the false sense that I’ve arrived. But if I’m honest, I’ve spent just as much time battling my gifts.
In the first draft of this post, I included a sensible list of my gifts followed by practical tips for appreciating them. Then, on my drive back to New York, I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak on the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, and I felt the burn of inspiration in my chest.
Nadia’s current pet peeve is the phrase you are enough. We say it to bolster someone’s self-esteem or ward against our brokenness.
Yet, when we focus on always being enough, we can come to believe that enough means self-sufficient. In this state, we miss out on the gifts that come from recognizing we are part of a larger story, one where others serve as helpers, confidants, and occasionally ass-kickers who tell us to get our shit together. In that story, sometimes they’re the stars and we’re the supporting cast.
I don’t know exactly how old I was when I decided to become self-sufficient, but I can tell you about the angle of the sunbeams as they hit my bedroom floor on the day I vowed to never need anyone again. Cold seeped from the windowpane into my small fingertips when I pressed them against the glass. If I close my eyes, I can still feel it.
I was tired of feeling betrayed, disappointed, or just plain hurt, and believed I could ward those things off if I just relied on myself.
Circumstances in my twenties and thirties debunked that myth. I’ve spent a lifetime untangling myself from it. While I’ve made a lot of progress, I’m still vigilant about maintaining the balance between giving and receiving in all my relationships. While I could rationalize about how this is a form of health, here’s the truth: Giving is powerful. Receiving can be so damn vulnerable, it triggers that feeling of not being enough.
That vulnerability has been sitting in my sidecar as I rely on others while caring for my father.
But as I listened to Nadia speak, I realized every pang of “not enoughness” is an invitation into that larger story, and that by letting others in, I was playing a sacred role for both of us. I was giving myself a chance to trust while helping someone else rebalance their scales, and possibly heal a wound I’ll never know about.
So, how do you stop battling your gifts?
- Identify your gifts and see how you might be battling them. Journal about what the battle looks like and how it affects you.
- Broker a cease fire by identifying one behavior in the battle and doing the opposite.
- If you want a challenge, become open to the unexpected gifts in your life, like not being enough.
- To understand these gifts, open yourself to inspiration. Listen to everything, whether it’s a hawk’s cry, a line from a podcast, or a sentence in a book. When the sting of truth burns in your chest, pay attention to the message.
- As you record it into your being, say thank you, then journal about what it means both for your writing life and your heart.
For me, this realization is a reminder that I don’t have to balance the cosmic scales in every situation. Some people are in my life to just give to me. My job is to accept their gift without tinge of guilt, then pay it forward when the time is right, either to them or someone else. That’s it.
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