The world at large might view artists and writers as free spirits rocking la vie bohème, but creative people know that it’s much more complicated than that, especially if we’re striving to earn even a modest living from our work. As a writer, I often fall into the trap of measuring my success or failure on factors completely beyond my control, such as the ups and downs of a fickle book buying market.
I know that I’ve often wrestled with the feeling that I’ll never be enough. Never be big enough, never be a bestseller. Sometimes it’s hard not to succumb to a flailing sense of helplessness—why are any of us doing all this? Worst of all is my fear of creative dryness—that my inspiration will turn to dust and I’ll never write—let alone publish—another book.
My meditation practice offers me a refuge from this churning maelstrom of fear and insecurity.
Writers, artists, actors, and musicians can spend so much time in our competitive, ego-based minds that we lose track of the deep wellspring of creativity within our own being, from which our art arises. When we take time to retreat to this inner sanctuary, we can literally revisit why we’re in this business in the first place—because we have this inner voice, this font of inspiration that is crying out to be noticed, to be birthed into being through our creative craft and shared with the world.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron wrote about the importance of filling our inner well with new ideas and experiences, but in my mind, our wells are already full and ever-replenishing. We just need to take the time to drop into this space, abide here in quiet reverence. To listen and wait until our inner guidance arises.
Some of my most potent ideas that I’ve woven into my published stories and novels emerged from meditation, reverie, and dreams.
Writers and artists throughout history have called upon the Muse as a Goddess of creativity who whispers inspiration into the ears of her devotees. The ancient Greeks believed that Apollo was attended by nine Muses, who were themselves the daughter of Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory. The twentieth-century British poet and novelist, Robert Graves called his Muse the White Goddess and wrote an eponymous book filled with his ecstatic praise of her. Too often in the past, women have served as muses to the creative men in their lives while putting their own artistic lives on the back burner. Women, too, need to claim their own inner Muse, however they envision such a force. After years of serving as her husband, Alfred Stieglitz’s muse, Georgia O’Keeffe broke free to find her own wild, untamed Muse in the New Mexico desert.
So how can we connect with the Muse?
Find a quiet place to sit alone for at least twenty minutes. You can sit on a regular upright chair—no need to go out and buy a special cushion. Close your eyes and imagine a grounding cord dropping from the base of your spine and reaching deep into the earth like a tree root. When you feel grounded and centered, visualize yourself sitting on the bank of a softly flowing stream. Inhabit this space fully. What time of day is it? Does the sun or the moon shine in the sky? What is the landscape like?
When you feel fully present in this space, call upon your Muse. Ask, in your own words, for your Muse to appear to you. Your Muse is your unique inner guide, rising from the depths of your psyche. Gently wait until you see this being with your inner eye or simply sense this presence. What form and gender does your Muse take? Maybe your Muse appears in angelic form or as a historical figure you admire—in Deena Metzger’s book, Writing for Your Life, she mentions calling upon the late Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, as her Muse.
While listening to the rippling stream, commune with your Muse. Open your heart to her. What does your Muse have to tell you? Does he speak in words or in images? Does she have any tools she wants to give you? Is he singing to you or playing an instrument?
Ask her to share her wisdom and inspiration with you. As you gently open your heart to her, her sacred heart opens to you. I like to visualize silvery light flowing directly from my Muse’s heart into mine in a transfusion of deep inspiration.
Sit quietly and receive this stream of silvery light. With each inhalation, your Muse’s radiance fills you. With each exhalation, her light spreads through your entire being.
Rest in the serene and empowering presence of your Muse.
May the Muse shower blessings on us all.
Mary Sharratt’s new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, drawn from the life Aemilia Bassano Lanier, England’s first professional women poet, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She is also the author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, inspired by one of the most creative women of all time. Visit her website.
19 thoughts on “Calling on the Muse: A Meditation for Creative Spirits by Mary Sharratt”
One of the most ancient Greek songs known to us is this one:
“Sing for me dear Muse, begin my tuneful song, a breeze blow from your grove, to still my listless heart.”
Sappho sang: “It is the Muses who taught me their craft. Dead, I will not be forgotten.”
When I wrote my first book, I lit a vanilla-scented candle and played Mooncircles by Kay Gardner, but only while sitting at my desk writing or intending to write. If I got up to do something else, the candle was blown out and the music turned off. As Z Budapest once said, “You can train your mind, like Pavlov’s dog.” Now my mind is trained, and I can access my deeper knowing quite easily.
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That’s beautiful, Carol! Thanks so much for sharing that! Kay Gardner’s music is wonderful. I hope it’s still available now.
great article..thank you!! tweeted
Thank you! :)
I needed this reminder today. Thank you, Mary, for your wisdom and grounding guidance.
Thank you for reading! :)
Wonderful piece, Mary. So much better to be silent and seek the Muse instead of chasing her while uselessly worrying …. “what if” I can’t finish, my book won’t sell, everybody is so much better than me, etc.
I know! That dance of negative thoughts can plague us all. Surrender to the Muse to shut them up. :)
Brava! Love the illustrations, too.
My sort-of problem, though, is that it’s hard to turn my creativity off so I can get some peace and quiet. I go to bed, for example, and whatever I’ve assigned myself to write–like my next FAR blog or a poem I’m going to submit to a new anthology or something for Facebook–starts crawling, then racing through my mind. Or I’ll be in the grocery store and things start writing themselves in my head.
But I’m not complaining! We need to keep our muse close by. Thanks for writing this and for writing your terrific books.
Thank you, Barbara. How wonderful that your inspiration just keeps flowing!
In a former life I was a costume designer. I kept a note pad on my nightstand to record my dreams for inspiration. These dreams usually involved one or more characters that I needed help with. I miss the creative process, but am learning I can extend this process to my writing and research.
Thank you, Cynthia!
Thanks Mary for the O’Keeffe painting, and which reminded me of a comment on her work by Jack Cowart who says — “No artist has seen and painted like O’Keeffe, whose spirited union with her subject was of a special quality, unparalleled, and irreducible…The best of her works cross over to abstraction…and then loop back to the figurative, engaging the viewer’s full imagination regardless of one’s regional bias.”
(from “Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters,” 1987, p.5)
That’s beautiful, Sarah. Thank you for posting that. This summer I was fortunate enough to go to a magnificent retrospective of O’Keeffe’s body of work at the Tate Modern in London. I could live inside her paintings.
Reblogged this on writingontherim and commented:
For my writer friends out there. I have blogged about her books before.
Thank you, Juliana!
Thanks Mary and Carol for your excellent suggestions! Incidentally, the women’s circle I sing with, Women With Wings, was founded by Kay Gardner.
Wow Mary you express the fears of the creative life so well – the negative “not good enough” thoughts, the measuring our success by the amount of money or fame received….
When I was a young painter I always had to have at least a 4 hour block of time to paint so that I could get into the flow and leave the ego behind. Now if I’ve been racing around dealing with things of the world, I find a quick meditation before painting brings me to that space and allows me to work, even if the amount of time is short.
Thank you for commenting, Judith! I like to write in 4 hour blocks for the same reason, to get into that flow. And yes, meditation, is a huge support.