I read a great interview of Elizabeth Gilbert by Claire Zammit. There are lots of good bits, but the one below struck me for its accurate depiction of Si.
All of us should just a take a moment right now and think about a moment when fear saved your life, and be grateful because it did. We’re here because there was a moment when our fear rescued us.
So it’s our friend and it’s trying to help us. So whenever it speaks up and raises its head and freaks out, it’s only because it’s trying to protect you, and it’s afraid that something really terrible is going to happen to you and it just wants you to stop so that you can be safe.
And so the tone that I take with fear is that I start by thanking it. I just say, “Thank you so much for caring about me so much that you rise up in this level to protect me. It’s really beautiful of you, and I thank you for all the times when you’ve saved my life. And I just want to let you know, though, that this is not an instance where my life is in danger. I’m just trying to write an essay.”
Si is that ancient part of us that has kept our species alive through the millenia, imparting protective instincts from generation to generation. Si is conditioned. It is conditioned to fight or flee in the presence of a threat. It learns from the past mistakes made by itself and others, to protect itself from harmful situations.
Gilbert’s Si sat with her in English classes, learning about one dirt-poor famous author after another. Gilbert’s Si saw the stats on how many authors make it big, on how much money you can reasonably make per year selling your writing, and Gilbert’s Si was like, Oh No! We are not doing that to ourselves!
Gilbert handles this very well. She made a contract with her Si not to rely on her writing to pay the bills. Fear’s sister Creativity (Ne, function pair to Si) loves to write, so Gilbert created a safe place for her to do so. She says, “The other commitment that I made to writing is that I said to it, “I will never ask you to support me financially. I will always support you. I will work hard so that you can play lightly.”” (It is VERY wise not to ask Ne to support you financially. There are other functions WAY better at that.)
This is why she’s able to write such amazing work. She pays her bills in other ways, so her ability to eat isn’t dependent on her writing. When it comes to her creative expression, she is free to say exactly what’s inside her, because she’s doing it for herself first. If others appreciate it, great. If not, she’ll continue to live just fine.
Even so, her Si still kicks and screams about the perils of writing and living on the creative edge. Gilbert acknowledges this part of her. She listens to the message so she can incorporate it rationally — by having other jobs, for example. Then she engages her creativity from a safe place that Si helped her build.
Too often, we try to deny fear, stifle it and ignore it. Or we try to beat it up and forcibly control it. Either strategy is denying an essential aspect of ourselves that needs a voice. We get ourselves in all kinds of trouble by not listening to Si. On the other hand, we also tend to let fear have too much of a say, shrinking ourselves down into invisibility to stay safe. That’s giving Si too much sway, which stifles our other functions, especially Ne — our ability to create the world we want to live in.
As in all things, balance is the key. Listen to Si to create the safe place in which Ne can play safely.
Here’s a link to the interview. I don’t agree with everything Gilbert says, especially when she jumps into magic, but much of what she says is spot on.