Working with the Muse

Many writers and creative people say that they must be at their computer, in the studio or atelier at the same time every day to meet and greet their Muse, or she will not come! I like the word “Mistress” because it suggests the bossy and erotic nature of the relationship with the Muse—once you get started on a project, she owns you, and she wants satisfying love play (hard work) on a regular basis. In essence, she wants your attention—body and mind, heart and soul.
    For sure, a grounded daily rhythm is very helpful to the creative process, and may be the easiest way to invite your Mistress to keep you company. However, in my case, over many years of writing, one thing has remained constant: a consistent, same time, same place “date with my computer” every day has not been an option. Instead, I have been busy with many different responsibilities, or traveling—scribbling notes on the run, pulling out my computer at odd hours, in between places and action and the darting directions of each day. I am thrilled when I have a long spread of time to write over several days or weeks, but I’ve had to hone my skill at writing under all kinds of circumstances. In fact, I’ve discovered that some of my best work and most satisfying flow comes at that time, especially when traveling, which may be the supreme challenge for a creative person.
    Why is traveling useful for creativity? The impermanence of travel gives me a certain edge that throws me back on the necessity to live in the moment, to let go of coziness and certainty, not the least of which are all the reassuring rhythms and rituals of comfort—a good bed, clean towels, privacy, pure food (a necessity!), quiet, hot showers, eight hours of sleep, that special Ayurvedic oil, and regular walks (another necessity). Not to mention the solitude that is so essential to courting a Mistress. All these lovely and harmonious things get thrown into bags during travel, to be reopened and dusted off for a happy reunion at a later date. But until that time, they are tossed onto the backs of the ornery plodding camels that shuffle along in the caravan ride of travel with you astride their backs, clutching and pondering the memory of sweet comforts, now hidden deep within your bags, while you are thoroughly bounced and trounced under the hellfire of summer sun or the bone chilling windy rains or snows of autumn and winter (and so on—you get the idea).
    Traveling is a flow of experience occurring in groundlessness, in which I have to rely upon inner stability, regardless of external circumstance. India is one of the best teachers in this regard, but even in the West—Europe, for example—simply not speaking the native language in crucial moments can be enough to send the most stalwart of us into the clenches of anxiety or at least stress! Admittedly, the torturous aspects of road life are often the very experience that yields a fantastic bounty of creative impressions—if I am willing to really work at making use of the whole panoramic display of light and dark and everything in between.
    It’s good to allow travel to have its way with me, to confront and break down my arrogant, self-satisfied assumptions, or my self-imposed limitations and entrenched identifications. Courting the graceful attention of my Mistress, I must have some humility, some hunger, and a willingness to wait for a crumb or a glance. I must be a lovesick wandering bard singing below her window; a beggar in rags waiting for a scrap or a copper coin at my Beloved’s door. It is most interesting to cultivate an ability to wait. Waiting can yield a taste that is very sweet, once we get past the dragon our impatience and boredom. When the coveted pearl arrives, then the kiss of the Muse is burnished to deep intensity by the very proximity of those experiences we avoid: waiting, impatience, bitterness, austerity, deprivation or even voluntary simplicity.
    Forced to work with change and transition during travel, I can view opportunity, potentials, and magic in a different way. In the process, there is more space inside me, everything expands and gets bigger and more fluid, especially my capacity to relax into the adventure of not-knowing, to trust my own capacity to live and move freely through the world, cosmos, universe—and to trust in the ultimately benign Intention of that Universe. Even if I am not writing and seeking out the Muse, this is a good reason to travel.     

“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller    
Remembering London, 2007. On the road for the summer months that year, I was pondering my predicament: a looming book deadline due in the midst of a busy travel schedule. I had just traveled seven hours by car from Arizona to Los Angeles, ten hours by plane across the continental U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean, landed at Heathrow in London and spent another hour and a half packed into a car with my companions to battle heavy traffic in the city. The effects of the in-between state—not really landed, but nonetheless embarked upon a challenging summer of constant travel—were pressing hard upon me. The question of how to find time for my Mistress while traveling whirled about on the merry-go-round of my mind as I nursed a proper cup of tea and basked in the lush environment of a friend’s English garden. With notebook and pen in hand, I drank in her little sanctuary in the big city—rain dripped from trees and shrubs, pale pink roses hung heavy in wet repose.
    I jotted down the question: “How does one keep the creative fires burning with the constant interruptions and distractions of a travel schedule?” Contemplation took over, and from the dreamy, jet-lagged relaxation of the moment, I heard my friend talking with one of his children, who had asked him how he always won one the card game they were playing at a table nearby.
    “Think expansively,” he was saying.
    Sometimes the Universe answers our questions through the byways of synchronicity, coming from an unexpected direction—like a carom shot on the billiard table. Contemplating this communication, for a long time I sat amidst overhanging roses, thick Virginia creepers, and rhododendrons while fluffy clouds passed gently in a blue heaven. Savoring the moment, I relaxed a little more, anticipating a lovely dinner in the lush, chilly garden with friends who would soon arrive. We laughed and talked as a long slow evening set in. It was a passing time in Camelot, under a rain-washed, Celtic sky.
What I learned that summer, and over many years of writing and publishing books on schedule, is that it’s a particularly useful skill to be able to write anywhere, anytime. This depends on our willingness to be expansive, to open up, to relax our self-important demands upon life to provide perfect situations for our edification. Only a princess or a queen looks at the Muse and makes such demands: “I’ll welcome you, Creative Muse, if the circumstance meets my needs.”
In my experience, the Muse as Mistress prefers chivalry and a rather courtly attitude: “My Lady, I am here for you whenever you should desire my company!” To fulfill such a promise to the Mistress, we must learn to garner, focus, and use our attention; we must learn to shift the focus of our attention easily, fluidly, while staying fully present and receptive. To develop and use these skills, we must have a desire for an amplified awareness, to live from a bigger picture, to cultivate an open and growing connection to our own inner worlds. It is a gargantuan task well worth the effort—a prime opportunity to taste the nectar of creative flow.