I belong to a women’s wellness book club where we read for self-improvement. The first benefit of being part of this group is community. It provides a social, intellectual, and emotional connection that all humans need and desire. Belonging means you are part of something and accepted. The average age of our group is 60. This sense of belonging becomes more vital as we age. And, even if you’re at the front end of your journey, we are not designed to be perpetually alone, or lonely. The dichotomy of being on social media with hundreds of friends is that it is creating greater and greater social isolationism with depression, anxiety, and suicide reaching epidemic levels. A screen can never replace a little human touch, a gesture of warmth, or a real smile.
With diverse backgrounds and experiences – book selection can be a bit tricky. The greatest thing about this club (besides the wine and food) is everyone’s willingness to explore books that as individuals we probably wouldn’t select. From Don Miguel Ruiz to Viktor Frankl, we’ve examined different ways to see the world while exploring how to navigate it. Reading together creates a common language and framework to discuss ideas. The idea behind a “wellness book club” is to read a book from cover to cover, talk about it, and implement one key discovery. In the more than $10 billion self-help book industry – this is a novel concept. While there are millions of books on literally every topic imaginable, if a book is read in its entirety, within three weeks most fail to consistently apply lessons learned. Suddenly, the next must have, best-selling self-help book hits the shelves and the cycle begins again.
Our latest book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame intrigued everyone. The primary idea is that we all should pursue life through a lens of curiosity, mining the jewels of our creativity. Readers are encouraged to live beyond their fears, pursue their dreams-damning the naysayers, and generally try to be a decent person. Yet despite the straightforwardness of the book – we struggled with defining and agreeing upon the concept of creativity. Someone asked, “Well is reading a book creativity?” Pause. Silence. Sip wine. “Yes,” I respond. “Because your mind creates images of the scenes and characters. Besides, your brain works hard to make sense of the words.” Silence. I add, “The ability to read is a gift. Great cookie.” Heads nod in agreement as we munched. Though I’m not sure if we’ve agreed on the comment or the cookie, but it worked either way.
As we weave our way through the pages, someone mentions, “Most of this is just common sense.” (Mark Twain would probably disagree since common sense isn’t so common). I mention one of my daughters (age 37) independently selected this book at the same time I was reading it. “Wish I had read it at 37!” A voice laments. Perhaps, but maybe at 60 – we need even bigger magic, greater curiosity, and a fearlessness 30-somethings would envy. We’d be free to truly do that pile of things we put off to that mystical place – One Day I’m going to…
The ability to possess curiosity about life and a desire to create things are the underpinnings of having a purpose. At 60ish – society begins to dim the light of our role within it and what we have to offer. Some might say it is the natural order of the Universe. I for one, don’t agree. If the Universe no longer had something in mind for me to do – I’d like to think I would have returned to stardust by now. But, I’m pretty sure that something doesn’t include becoming a master in the Art of Puttering Around. Where the day flies by as we move from one mindless thing to the next with a smattering of chores and then wonder what we accomplished? We wonder where the time went – as if it hid itself under the sofa like a dust bunny. The most dangerous thing we can do is to use contentment as a euphemism for stagnation (read: running in place). While Socrates (c.470-399 BCE) a Greek philosopher said, “Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty” as a philosopher, we’d imagine he understood contentment includes fulfillment. After all, he also said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” While this may sound a bit harsh or elitist, perhaps at a basic level, Socrates was telling us to be curious about life and our personal meaning. Perhaps, we owe the whole idea of big magic to Socrates.
Creativity – in all its forms is fueled by curiosity. Curiosity is related to inquisitive thinking – an examination of the why and how of things. Even Einstein credited his success to being very, very curious. Most of us have an ingrained curiosity about our lives, even if we’re not looking for its overarching meaning. When we lose our curiosity for life – we fall into a rut. “The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.” While Big Magic may not have inspired any of the women in the club to take up sky diving or paint the ceiling a la Michelangelo in the clubhouse restaurant, it did provoke thought, discussion, and laughter. I also know it planted a seed of curiosity and maybe, just maybe a sense that we can still create big magic.