Omega: What is your relationship to curiosity and how do you cultivate resilience?
Elizabeth: I think curiosity in my life has been the ultimate cure for despair. It's the antidote to despair. One of the best definitions of despair is separation from the divine. My friend Rob Bell, the minister, defines it as the conviction that tomorrow is going to be exactly like today. Nothing's ever going to be different than it is now, and I'm stuck in this until I die. Curiosity is this key to get you to recognize that not only is tomorrow different from today, but the next moment is different from this moment. You're living in a cosmos of constant change and constant renewal and constant destruction and constant upheaval. It's all in play, and curiosity is the part of you that wants to participate in that play.
In Big Magic I say the difference between despair and stubborn gladness (optimism and good cheer in a world full of sorrows and suffering) is the difference between the words “awful” and “interesting.” The word interesting can get you out of all kinds of terrible situations, because if you look at anything with one inch of distance and perspective, it's all really interesting. It's like, “Wow, that's interesting, my marriage didn't work out.”
One of the best lessons about this for me was from a guy I know who's a coal industry engineer. I was really interested in what his life is like and what he sees about the world.
I asked, "You're in the energy industry, do you believe in climate change?"
He said, "Oh yeah, absolutely.”
And I said, "So what's your feeling about it?"
He got this really big grin—it was not cynical, he looked like a little kid—his face lit up and he said, "Really interesting things are going to have to happen. We're a species that adapts and we're going to have to figure out how to make things differently. There's going to be a lot of possibility for transformation. It might be violent, it might be devastating, but it's definitely going to be interesting."
My Great Aunt Lolly, who's 96 now and the most stubbornly glad person I've met in my entire life. She thinks the world is the coolest place and has not had an easy life at all. She has no rational reason to think that everything is awesome but she does.
At 85 and I asked her, "Lolly, how's everything been going?"
She said, "Liz, guess what, I have cancer."
I said, "Wow."
And she said, "Isn't that interesting? It's so interesting. I go to the hospital and I meet these interesting doctors. I meet these interesting people, and I'm learning so much about all this interesting stuff. I just think it's fascinating.”
So that's somebody who's choosing a very specific way of thinking, and that's resilience.
That's the edge. It is either a frontier or it's your head on the guillotine and I really feel like at some point that's got to be up to you.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies