Release the Muses
Posted by Joseph Anderson
Just the other day I found myself captivated when reading this article:
“It had been too long since I'd last had a fire.
The next morning the smell of wood-smoke on my shirt stopped me in my tracks.
I didn’t wash that shirt for weeks.
I was racked with cravings for the feral life. I wanted to drink blood from a horn, to let my body grime over with grease and gore.
Like the ancient Samurai with their lives rich in rock, fire, iron, and wood.”
What is this? I thought … I was glued …
“But…You don’t sell your soul in some Faustian bargain.
You bleed it out slow, one sterile, plastic, right-angled day at a time.
You try to jump-start it with nostalgia.
You look back to your golden years, when you were a god.
You look back to the summer you lived out of your pickup truck, broke, tan, and happy.”
Without warning I am brought back to my 20s when inspiration and ambition was what determined what I did with every single day. But of course the author, Bryan Ward was speaking to just about all American family men in their 40s. This especially became apparent when he stated “When you were a boy, you dreamed of the day you would be king. Of the day you would marry, have children, own lands…”
And he’s right I remember that vision clearly now. Then he continues to hit the nail on the head with, “somewhere along the way, the dream was corrupted.”
Yep, the laundry piled up, work got serious…less magic, the kids sent home from school…sick…again, then someone has lice and you’ve gotta wash everything…TWICE. Damn. How did this happen?
I think all of us start with varying degrees of that endless ambition and inspiration when we’re young. It sort of jump starts you into life like a Darwinian survival mechanism. But why does it start to wear down? the inspiration specifically speaking. How does life get so… “normal”?
Of course life throws all kinds of stuff at you, that’s expected. But how do you stay on top of it? How do you stay inspired?
…and it was in that moment that it clicked.
I got it!
Inspiration is a Fuel.
In the simplest example I can think of here’s what I mean on a micro scale. Take the exhausted climbers trudging for hours up a mountain in whiteout, what a dreadful existence that can be, but suddenly and unexpectedly they pop up above the clouds. Those thinking of heading down miraculously change their minds, the pace picks up. A life that was bleak, depressing and seemingly pointless is blasted by a turquois sky and the naked, electric mountainscape. “This is why we’re here” That’s what I hear people say. The point is they didn’t need food or water to keep going they needed a different kind of fuel. They just needed Inspiration.
I was intrigued and kept digging. I wonder if anyone else is calling inspiration a fuel?
David Brooks in his New York Times article titled What is Inspiration? Starts to get close to this idea of inspiration as a fuel when he explains…”there are some moments — after much steady work and after the technical skills have been mastered — when the mind and spirit take flight. We call these moments of inspiration.“…. He latter hints at it again when he states “it’s a beautiful contagion that passes through people…Inspiration is not permanent and solid. It’s powerful but ephemeral, which is why so many people compare it to a gust of wind. And when it is gone people long for its return.”
But I don’t think it’s quite like Brooks suggests, I think we can reap more as long as we know how to find it. I mean, you’re trudging up through the whiteout because you’ve been inspired to climb mountains in the first place. You put your mind and spirit towards “steady work…and technical skills” because you have been inspired to do so, the completed project is the reward and the “gust of wind” David Brooks is talking about is actually the product of the fuel.
A Huffington Post article by Kay Greene titled What is the true meaning of inspiration? Claims that “inspirational people are ordinary” like you and I and that ordinary is inspirational and that Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were ordinary people and then goes on to offer three tips on how to inspire others: 1. Act and Show 2. Provide a Blueprint and 3. Become a Mentor. I’m left feeling inspirationally castrated at this point and furthermore, come to think of it David Brook’s article on inspiration also seemed to flush inspiration down the toilet with statements like “Inspired work stands apart from normal life” ….or ”Inspiration is not earned. Your investment of time and effort prepares you for inspiration, but inspiration is a gift that goes beyond anything you could have deserved”. Boooo!…. Brooks is a cold, wet blanket. But he continues….”Inspiration is not something you can control. People who are inspired have lost some agency.”
I’m starting to put something together. They're both kind of right but at the same time kind of wrong. Specifacally I think that it's suppose to be part of normal life, but it no longer is. When Kay Green states that "Mahatma Gandhi and Marin Luther King, jr were just normal people," they clearly weren't. But maybe that's what normal is suppose to look like, maybe we're suppose to answer those midlife calls to "drink blood from a horn"? Our institutions and culture have become at odds with the meaning of the word and therefore don't really know what to do with it anymore, but it's still there. Afterall The Latin root of the word Inspiration is “To Breathe”.
Brooks actually starts to get to the roots when he explains that inspired people “often feel that something is working through them, some power greater than themselves. The Greeks said it was the Muses. Believers might say it is God or the Holy Spirit. Others might say it is something mysterious bursting forth deep in the unconscious, a new way of seeing.”
The 9 Greek Muses that Brooks seems to have dismissed as hocus pocus are the 9 Greek “Inspirations” or Daughters of Zeus. And get this: They are what our Liberal Arts Universities are structured off of. The Greek Biographer Plutarch who famously stated that “the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled” refers to the 9 Muses as “the memories”. Furthermore, these “memories” or “inspirations” remain well infused within present day language as well as our institutions. A Museum for example literally means “Shrine of the Muses”.
The 9 Muses represent:
3. Music (which literally means “sounds of inspiration”)
5. Drama/Tragedy/ Lessons
6. Garden/Geometry /Home (Paradise)
7. Art/ Dance/ Athletics
8. Comedy/ Humour
Fascinating. The Muse’s represent the natural human experience and through this tradition we have built our vibrant worlds, civilization and culture. Pretty much everything that inspired our ancestors and their creations can be traced back to the Muses. But something has changed. We’ve encased them all in glass and have begun separating them from ourselves and don’t even remember what they mean. In our mad obsession for god like control we’ve actually lost something.
There’s an old Persian proverb that says “Why search for paradise, it is in front of me now.” What did they mean? The word Paradise is from the old Persian word paradayda for “walled in garden” and it turns out the same themes are found in Polyhymnia, the 6th Muse and inspiration for your sacred space, your garden as well as agriculture and food. But who lives off their land anymore? Turns out paradise was never something you look for in some otherworldly existence, it’s supposed to be cultivated…it’s your home. The same goes for all of the Muse's. We're meant to cultivate what inspires us, keep it close, keep it alive, allow it to drive our lives forward, every day, every week letting it guide us into the future.
The irony is that the mother of the Muse’s, Mnemosyne is the Titan of memories. The Muses as the inspirations are engraved in our DNA. Meaning it's more than your right to "cultivate Paradise", or to "play the sounds of inspiration" or to paint, dance and stay fit and to love and to laugh and to make others laught and to be curious and look outward into the night sky and wonder what's out there and then go find out. It isn't a right at all to do all of these things. It's a responsibility.
The next time you’re craving the feral life, or campfire with friends or a big mountain adventure remember that it’s unnatural to push your hunger aside. If you do you’ll eventually run out of gas…
Release the Muses