Elizabeth Gilbert is an American journalist and author who is best known for her book Eat, Pray, Love (2016), a colossal success that was made into a hit movie starring Julia Roberts. Many people thought Elizabeth Gilbert wouldn’t continue writing because how can she top Eat, Pray, Love? Except I think she did. I relished reading her The Signature of All Things (2013), Big Magic (2015), and City of Girls (2019) more than Eat, Pray, Love.
In this podcast episode, Tim Ferriss asks incredibly detailed questions about grief, love, and writing. In return, Elizabeth Gilbert gives impressively insightful answers.
Many times I was awed by Elizabeth Gilbert’s ability to pick out specific words to describe a feeling that I could not put into words. It’s the gulf between having a mastery of the English language and having mere conversational fluency. I resisted the urge to give her a standing ovation at some of her brilliant answers.
I highly recommend this podcast episode to anyone who is interested in a deeply moving conversation about grief, love, and writing. I want to share with you some of my favorite parts to encourage you to listen to the full podcast when you have time!
What I Learned From (WILF) – The Tim Ferriss Show #430 Elizabeth Gilbert
- “…great art has to contain two features. It has to be both surprising and inevitable.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
- “…every single thing that the scriptures and all the holy teachings promised me that I would get through meditation, I’ve gotten through writing.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
- “I can’t live if living is without you and yet here I sit eating a sandwich. It’s like, apparently, I can.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Great Art Has to be Both Surprising and Inevitable
That’s the paradox is that you have to go, “Oh, my God, I didn’t see that coming,” and that is the only way that could go.Elizabeth Gilbert, The Tim Ferriss Show #430 Elizabeth Gilbert
I agree completely! It’s the reason why I loved reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls. I didn’t know how it was supposed to end and yet it was the only way the book could end. Other books I’ve felt this way include Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, and Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist.
Writing as a Form of Meditation
But every single thing that the scriptures and all the holy teachings promised me that I would get through meditation, I’ve gotten through writing. And I got that from a very early age. So the main thing is the silencing of the mind. And it’s really ironic, because there’s a state the mystics talk about going into that’s called wordless oneness, where you, where your mind, the chatter of the mind and the language centers of the mind goes silent, and you feel yourself to be quiet oneness with everything around you. It’s also called the zone. You could call it serenity. There’s many names for it. But I like wordless oneness because it implies an absence of the chatter in the mind. It is so fascinating to me that one of the ways to drop into wordless oneness, and this has actually been studied by neurologists is by writing, which is ironic because that’s the use of words, it’s the use of language.Elizabeth Gilbert, The Tim Ferriss Show #430 Elizabeth Gilbert
Prior to 2017, I never took my writing seriously or tried any form of meditation. Writing and meditation started after I began listening to The Tim Ferriss Show (Thanks Catan!), reading philosophy books, Design Matters with Debbie Millman, and Ted Talks. It was through them that I began desiring to live an examined life. It was through examining my life that I slowly began to understand myself. It took over six years of tracking my feelings and actions for me to realize writing, reading, singing, and playing board games bring me serenity.
It is only writing that gave me the feeling of what Elizabeth Gilbert calls “wordless oneness.” In writing, I discovered a pleasure unlike any other. A type of wonderous pleasure that lasts far longer than any other activity when I write well. I haven’t learned how to accept the feeling when I write poorly or uninspiredly which is why I also avoid writing many days. Basically writing is an activity that gives me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, going forward I’m going to think of writing as a form of meditation.
You Can Go On Living Even After Losing the Love of Your Life
My friend Martha Beck has a really great thing that she always does as a counteraction to co-dependence. She likes to take classical sort of sappy love songs that are about co-dependence and just add one line to them to me to make them — to put them into context. And so she’ll take that song — for instance, this is one of my favorites. She’ll go, “I can’t live if living is without you and yet here I sit eating a sandwich.” It’s like, apparently I can.Elizabeth Gilbert, The Tim Ferriss Show #430 Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert thought she couldn’t live after she lost the most important person in her life, Rayya Elias. Except after Rayya Elias passed away, Elizabeth Gilbert learned to. My mother never thought or prepared for becoming a widow and then she learned to. I hope people will choose to go on living after losing the love of their life and I also respect people who choose not to.
Additional Thoughts on The Tim Ferriss Show #430 Elizabeth Gilbert
This was a great podcast interview and one I learned a lot from. Thank you, Tim Ferriss and Elizabeth Gilbert!