© 2005, 2008 Jonathan Zap Revised 2008 Edited by Austin Iredale
Note: New material added to the end of the essay in 2011, 2013 and after 2015 after the podcast was recorded.
If you give birth to the genius within you, it will free you. If you do not give birth to the genius within you, it will destroy you. — Jesus, The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
Creativity keeps the creator alive. —Frank Herbert, Unpublished Notes
A book of mine is always a matter of fate. There is something unpredictable about the process of writing and I cannot prescribe for myself any predetermined course. Thus this autobiography is now taking a direction quite different from what I had imagined at the the beginning. It has become a necessity for me to write down my early memories. If I neglect to do so for a single day, unpleasant physical symptoms immediately follow. As soon as I set to work they vanish and my head feels perfectly clear. —C.G. Jung
Frequently, I find myself giving advice on relating to the creative process or muse, and the muse seems to be requiring me, at this moment, to commit my point of view to writing. To ground my philosophy of relating to the muse, I am going to present numerous personal examples in an often tumultuous lifelong relationship with the creative process. My purpose is not mainly autobiographical, but to illustrate the principles I have learned with the real life cases that instructed me. Also, since this essay is both about relating to the muse, and inspired by the muse, I will allow the muse to take me off onto unplanned tangents.
What is the Muse?
The word “muse,” used in this context, may for some people have the ring of an over blown figure of speech with a slightly antique ring to it. Muse comes from Greek mythology, and the concise Oxford dictionary defines the word: “One of the nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who inspire poetry, music, drama, etc” An alternate term is “daimon.” A daimon is a spirit, not necessarily evil, and I am particularly referring to the sense in which Socrates used the word, which was to refer to his divine inner voice. The American Heritage Dictionary gives a secondary definition of daimon: “An attendant spirit; a genius” Some people refer to the demanding creative spirit in a gifted person as their “genius.” This spirit or voice is sometimes seen as an actual autonomous entity that sends a transmission to the recipient, who then channels the voice, message or vision received. Others may perceive the muse, daimon, genius as “the higher self,” the personal or collective unconscious, or as some other internal psychic function separate from the ego. The deeper one goes into psyche, the more inner and outer becomes blurred. So it is to be expected that some will experience inspiration as an external transmission, one they humbly receive, and others will experience it as a welling up from their own unconscious or as a gift from their higher self.
What everyone seems to explicitly or implicitly agree on is that this level of inspiration is not mere ego contrivance. It emerges from a source that has a degree of otherness or autonomy from ordinary waking consciousness. It comes out of left field, sometimes when we least expect it, and the method of transmission may be a dream, a synchronicity that triggers a realization, a serendipitous discovery, a voice, or a well-timed suggestion from an intuitive person.
Inspiration has come to me at various times in all those forms, but the muse (for the rest of this essay I’ll stick with that term) seems to be asking me right now to consider the example of the present piece of writing. Where did this come from? I’ve thought and talked about the muse for some time, but its recent emergence as a subject of discourse seemed to begin five days ago when I was at a friend’s house and . . . I can’t be sure now exactly what its point of entry into the conversation was, but it definitely came from me. I believe we were talking about the reelection of W and someone may have said something about power being in the hands of “the elite.” I made the point—I do whenever I hear that statement, in its various permutations—that it is only half the truth. I always point out that the inspired “mutant” has the power to shift culture on the alchemical level, while political and economic forces may dominate the chemical or causal plane of reality. I used Jimi Hendrix as an example. His unique energetic signature, expressed in his music, had affected everyone in the room; all of us would have been a bit different if he had never existed. His power arose from his connection to the muse. Another example I used was The Daily Show on Comedy Central. The best humor seemed to be running against the elite, and humor is also a function of the muse. The conversation then veered to the sad reality that many artists are abandoned by their muse, or they abandon the muse by going forward without inspiration and churning out inferior work. I mentioned a particular filmmaker as an example.
I found that I was rather passionate in my discourse on the muse, there was a heat or energy about it, and the conversation lingered in my mind in the days afterward. Then yesterday, I got a one sentence email from John Jenkins asking me where in my writings on my web site he could find a discussion of narcissism and self-magnification. I responded, but realized once I looked into it, that I had written a lot less about narcissism as a stand alone topic than I realized, given how much I think and talk about it. That provoked the thought: What else have I thought and talked about a lot, but not written about? The muse came up, and I made a mental note to write about that someday. That was last night. This morning, when I went to work on “Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom…”, a major 20,000 word treatise that I am very committed to, I discovered that I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t engaged with it, and a strong inner prompting told me: Write about the muse now! That subject had heat behind it. The Casting Precious boat was temporarily stilled in the harbor, but the muse topic had strong wind behind its sails pushing it forward.
The Ego versus the Muse
Being guided by the muse may be another way of saying being guided by intuition, and especially of recognizing where there is deep enthusiasm, and where there isn’t. The problem is that the ego is impatient and wants what it wants when it wants it. Also, many people, including some of the most talented, form an ego identity around their talent (real or imagined ) and come to think of themselves as a “poet,” a “writer,” a “composer,” etc. Implicit in these self-definitions is that the associated creative activities—writing, composing, etc.—are their birthright and natural functions. If they really do have gifts in these areas, and even more so if they get social acknowledgment for them, then the identification tends to become ever more absolute and they become addicted to the recognition and admiration they get from others. A particular filmmaker I know, for example, believes himself to be a great filmmaker, and other people enforce that belief with praise, and especially since he once was a great filmmaker, naturally he believes that because he continues to be himself he must also continue to be a great filmmaker and should continue to make films.
What gets forgotten is the muse. The ambitious and inflated ego has identified with the glamorous role it has found and wants to go ahead even if there is no inspiration. This is a major reason why we get so much mediocre work in every area of creativity: people keep churning it out because of the needs of their ego identity, financial expedience, etc. The I Ching and Taoism put a great value on reticence, the practice of holding back in word and deed until one is shown that it is time to go forward. Like the old saying, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” it is better to be thought a has-been because you do nothing than to churn out inferior work and remove all doubt.
It is in creative, original art forms that this need to hold back is greatest. If one is an instrumental musician (but not a composer), a ballet dancer (but not a choreographer), a craftsperson, one can advance through regular daily practice and can call up a skill set far more reliably. Mathematical theorists, on the other hand, are often over the hill by age thirty. Some creative artists produce mature masterpieces well into their eighties and nineties. Everything is case specific, every artist’s relationship to the muse is different; the point is not to neglect or presume upon that relationship. Narcissistic inflation and identification can corrupt this relationship, but there are also great artists who continue to do great work despite their extreme egoism and narcissism.
When you have nothing new to say, get off the stage. The archer who hits the mark does so because he holds the arrow back until just the right moment. Goethe said, “A master first reveals himself in his ability to hold back.” Are you engaging in creativity because you want to be somebody, because you want to be seen as the one wearing the coat of many colors, or because you have something to express from the depths of your being?
A classic example of the ego identification problem is so-called “writer’s block.” I’ve heard writers talk about this as though it were an illness, a psychiatric pathology or case of demonic possession. All it really means is that someone has such a strong ego identification with being a writer that they foolishly presume they should be able to do creative writing all the time. What nonsense! Was “writer” stamped on their birth certificate? This is as silly as people believing that it is their right to be the young stud or beauty for an entire life span. Divine gifts may be given, and they may be taken away, without notice or warning, and you can’t sue to get them back.
Like being a child, an adult, a lover, a parent, a grandparent, whatever, these are temporary roles, being a human being is a temporary role. As Shakespeare put it: “All the world’s a stage, / All the men and women merely players. / They each have their entrances and their exits” (As You Like It, Act II, scene vii, 139-141). Play your roles when you are called upon, and get off the stage when the performance is over.
Indulging in creativity without the muse is one hazard; another hazard is failing to respond to the call of the muse. The muse is a demanding mistress, and failing her can result in devastating consequences. I remember when I was a full-time English teacher, with a zillion papers to grade, lessons to prepare, commitments to extracurricular clubs and activities, etc. and a fantasy writing phase happened. Usually, this area of creativity, the most desirable for me, is closed. In my own history this has been my greatest area of resisting the muse. I have long felt and experienced that the greatest creative fulfillment for me, possibly the greatest life fulfillment and peak experiences, have been with fantasy writing, particularly a fantasy epic I have written parts of but never finished, entitled Parallel Journeys. For me, nothing compares to the muse drawing the curtain back and revealing a portal into another world. On particular occasions, the fantasy writer may be granted what I call “entrance,” the temporally fragile permission to step across the threshold into this parallel dimension and record what is seen there, and sometimes to co-create what is there. It took me many, many years to fully accept that I don’t control the openings and closings of that portal. Similarly, we can’t control eros, or the possibility/impossibility of a divine human romance. You can’t make that happen, you can’t say, “That’s it, in one week I will meet my soul mate.” The more you try to contrive that or make that happen, usually the less likely it is to happen. Classically, it happens when least expected, or when you have given up on it happening. And Dorothy Canfield Fisher rightly compared novel writing to falling in love.
For many, many years, I was so hooked on the magic of the fantasy writing portal that I sought it the way a Ring Wraith pursues The One Ring. And when I was able to wield this ring of power, I became narcissistically inflated by it, and when that happened the ring would fall from my grasp and into the Cracks of Doom. In the great fantasy cycle by Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time, there are two sides of “the source” (the force of magical manifestation.) There is a feminine side that women access, known as “Saidar”, and a masculine side that men access, called “Saidin.” There is a taint on the male side of the force such that males who channel it become egoistically inflated and addicted to it and eventually go insane and use it in terribly destructive ways.
There is a general human truth in this. When one accesses active, creative power, the experience is thrilling, energizing, orgasmic, but one wants more and more of it, and there is a strong tendency to identify with it, to become narcissistically inflated by it. As a recovering narcissistic personality type, I know this syndrome very intimately. Many times I would have such a peak experience in fantasy writing that I would find myself disengaging with it to revel in narcissistic self-glorification, only to find that as I congratulated myself the muse was drawing closed the curtains, and just as I had triumphantly grasped the gold ring it was slipping out of my fingers and falling in slow motion into the Cracks of Doom.
The muse led me into that tangent, but I started out, a few paragraphs ago, to talk about the hazard of not answering the call of the muse, and mentioned a time when I was an overly busy English teacher. The creative writing fantasy portal opened, but I found that I couldn’t give it the space it required, and instead opted to correct all the hundreds of illiterate papers, etc because that was my imperative moral responsibility. I experienced intense inner conflict as I was forced to sacrifice many days of creative writing to fulfill my teaching duties. Then one morning I woke up in excruciating pain. It felt like I had somehow broken my arm while I was asleep. The muse had been twisting my arm, had she broken it while I slept because I wasn’t giving myself to the creative process?
An MRI revealed that I had two herniated discs in my neck, C5 and C6, which were impinging on nerves that ran into my arm where I felt the pain, a syndrome with the wonderfully absurd name, “ridiculopathy.” This pain was so disabling that I was no longer able to teach, but I was able to write for a while; the pain in the early morning, which is my preferred writing zone, coming out of dreamtime, was not so great, but as the weight of my head compressed the discs during the course of the day the pain would dramatically intensify. Medical specialists were recommending that I undergo dangerous double fusion surgery. I was told that I might never be able to run or back pack again. At that point I was a physical fitness enthusiast, often running twelve miles a day, marathons, mountain climbing, leading wilderness expeditions, a cross-country coach who ran with the kids, could run five miles in under five and a half minutes per mile. While not a true believer in allopathic diagnosis, I found myself taking this devastating prognosis of disability quite seriously and literally. I did not yet recognize that I secretly wanted to believe it. A young friend of mine, a former student, hearing of this prognosis told me, his voice resonating with an oracular power in my unconscious: “But that’s just what doctors say!”
A few days later, still debating the recommended surgery, I caught myself thinking, If this surgery produces disabling symptoms, then I could go out on disability: I wouldn’t have to mark papers anymore and I would have all the time I needed to write! Noticing the implications of this thought, which had been playing in the background for quite a while, I was shocked into realization of the signal I had been sending my body for months. The demands of the muse were such that I preferred disability to abandoning the creative path. This was the first signpost along the road that led to the realization that I had to leave teaching. This was no easy realization! In many ways I loved teaching and continue to miss the interaction with the kids. Also, I had a tenured teaching job in the highest-paying county for teachers in the US with total job security, health care, cradle to grave entitlements.
The muse had put a gun to my head, or more literally a surgeon’s scalpel to C5 and C6, and said, “Follow me or else!” It was driving an agonizing wedge between my head and my body. Still, I had so much invested in my teaching career that it took many more shocks to loosen my grip on this pillar of illusory security. The new shocks came as I continued to teach despite recurrent neck episodes.
To fully relate what happened would be a dissertation in itself, but very briefly: The theme of magic, magicians and magical pentagrams surrounded an encounter with my first Rainbow Gathering. The call to adventure happened when I was helping a former student, Scott, with a college paper. We were talking about the value of responding to the unexpected when the phone rang. It was another former student, Dave, whom I hadn’t heard from in months, also a friend of Scott’s, calling to ask me if I wanted to go to a Rainbow Gathering in Ocala, Florida. Winter break was happening in a day or two for me and for Scott (attending a different school), and given the obvious synchronicity of the call we said yes on the spot. The theme of magic, especially as represented by pentagrams, began with the phone call. I won’t give every example, but one of the first pentagrams came with a family at the gathering who were homeschooling their kids and living largely in Rainbow Gatherings. These kids were so much more whole and alive than the kids I had encountered in public education; it was a shocking revelation of the toxicity of counter-enthusiastic patriarchal education. It was also, by implication, a message about the muse, as these kids had never been taught to defer to external authority instead of their own creative enthusiasms.
Someone once said that children are born with 360 degrees of awareness, but that conditioning keeps reducing that sphere of awareness. By the time kids get out of middle school, that sphere of awareness has typically become a skinny cone of identification: my boyfriend/girlfriend/haircut/car/popularity/etc. But the kids in this family, who called themselves “Earth Tribe,” had very limited funds, and lived mostly in the rural south, were 360 degree kids. My intuition registered this global difference immediately, and it was a profound shock. I assumed that the largely twisted, truncated, conditioned, resentful young people I had encountered in great numbers were representative of all kids at this phase of culture. But the Earth Tribe kids, who had never attended schools, were entirely different. I was amazed to see them do difficult chores on their own initiative when they saw that something needed to be done. They easily and comfortably related to adults without all the weird boundary tensions and resentments that I just assumed were part of intergenerational life. Never having experienced schools, they had never been taught that learning is supposed to be painful and monotonous, and they were endlessly curious and engaged with everything around them and with their own self-initiated pursuits. I came to a realization about education that could be expressed in a single sentence: The real unconscious purpose of much “education” is to sufficiently oppress a young person’s innate will to learn, so that society can make use of them. One of these children, Timothy, drew a beautiful image for me using the primitive sketch program on my handheld computer. The image involved a pentagram and other visual motifs that proved to be an amazingly prophetic visual representation of a new phase of my life that was just beginning.
The night we came back from the gathering, after a marathon drive from Florida back to Long Island, New York, I had the most life-changing dream of my entire life. The muse is demanding that I relate this dream in full, while my ego is protesting that this is too much of an unrelated tangent. Thinking about this for a moment, trying to console my nervous ego and any readers who may be puzzled by the need to relate this dream, I can think of a couple of things that may bridge the dream to the muse. One is that magic and the muse are related themes, and dreamtime and the muse are related, as the muse often inspires through dreams. Maybe the dream and synchronicities that follow will illustrate how the muse can dramatically redirect your life from where you expected it to go. Whatever the link, the muse wants me to include it, so here goes.
In the dream it is nighttime, and I am at the Omega Institute in Upstate New York. This setting is highly significant, so I had better explain that the Omega Institute, which is in Rhinebeck, New York, is the East Coast equivalent of what Esalen is on the West Coast. Formerly a summer camp, it is surrounded by woods and has bungalows and meeting halls where seminars are held on all sorts of interesting subjects. I had been to Omega twice for courses, but probably got the most out of some tapes I found there of past seminars taught by Terence McKenna. The name of the Omega Institute is highly significant. The founders were referring to the “Omega Point,” theorized by the French Jesuit Priest, paleontologist and evolutionary theorist, Teillard de Chardin, in his visionary book, The Phenomenon of Man. Teillard’s Omega Point closely parallels what I have referred to in my writings as the “evolutionary event horizon,” which has been presignaled to us through the many permutations of what I call “the Singularity Archetype.” (see: Crossing the Event Horizon—the Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis). Encountering the evolutionary theories of Teillard and Terrance was a great confirmation for me, because their theories about the future of human evolution have such close parallels to theories I had arrived at independently along a very different path, theories which will be described later in this essay.
I am at the Omega Institute at night, and keeping with its summer camp roots, there is a scavenger hunt going on as an evening entertainment. The scavenger hunt has been created by a group of magicians who, in the dream, I think of as a bunch of New Age posers. I am annoyed because they have made me an item to find on the scavenger hunt. The treasure map, which had been cleverly made to look like an old parchment map, had an item of instruction: “Find a man named Zap,” and I am irritated to be made an object of pursuit because of (or so I assume) my unusual last name. I go to my campsite, a tent I have set up right at the edge of the lake, and am outraged to find that someone has opened the back of the camera I left there exposing the film. I am sure that it is this bunch of magicians who are responsible, and in an irate state I go looking for them. When I find them I discover that they don’t look like the New Age posers I expected, they seem to be very mature, intelligent older Jewish guys. Still irate, I demand to know who messed with my camera. They tell me that it was probably their leader whom they identify as “Gordon Wasson.” Still irate, I fume off to look for this guy. I go through some kind of tunnel and come out in what appears to be an empty New York City subway station with typical florescent lighting, cement floors, and walls of white ceramic tile. Gordon Wasson is there, and he seems to be a somewhat androgynous young man, who is doing some sort of magical ritual that may involve doing graffiti on the walls. There is an Indian-style teepee there, and parchment skins. He reminds me of a well-known artist I used to know, the late Keith Harring, who began as a subway artist. As I approach, I sense that there is some sort of parapsychological radiance about him, but my attitude is still irate and defiant. I am thinking that I am no stranger to the parapsychological, so I’m not about to be intimidated by . . . But as soon as I get close to him, my attitude and perception shift entirely. At the first moment of eye contact there is a deep mutual recognition, and an energetic merging occurs that shifts us visually and otherwise out of perception of the subway station setting. There is a completely encompassing merging of essences, and I empathically sense something about the symbiosis I experience with this being. I sense that my psyche is providing needed stability and structure for him, that his essence is lunar and changeling, while mine is solar and more solid. The merging or communion completed itself and we came out of the state and were looking at each other sitting on the subway station platform, sitting beside the teepee, where the parchments lying on the floor near us then appeared to have alchemical symbols scrawled on them. Gordon picked up one of these and handed it to me, saying, “This is a map of our consultation.” Then the dream ended and I awoke.
The recognition, though this may only have happened after waking, was particular and personal. The being that I encountered did not feel like merely a dream character, but a dreamtime encounter with another autonomous entity. At some point, perhaps only after waking reflection, I came to feel that this being was my deceased cousin David.
Some waking life background is necessary here. My mother has only one sibling, a younger sister she is still very close to named Jackie. Their first daughters were born within a few months of each other, and their first and only sons were also born within a few months. David was born first, and, I was born about six months later. in a couple of senses, I was named after him. David was, by far, my closest contemporary male relative, and as we grew up I sensed him as a fellow “mutant.” Certainly he was an extremely bright, funny and intense kid. Sometime in adolescence, David began having visions and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. To make a long, tragic story brief, around the time when we were both thirty, David hung himself.
Most of the dream is set at the Omega Institute, which is where I acquired Terence McKenna tapes, and on those tapes I encountered a theory of schizophrenia that may have a very direct bearing on David. The theme of magicians and Shamanism is continued by this theory, which I will relate momentarily. Shamanism is also connected to the oddly specific name given to the chief magician, Gordon Watson. My first thought on awakening, as if the whole dream had begged this question, was: Who is Gordon Wasson? The name was not ringing any bells at all, but later in the day I had an intuition that it was connected to Terence McKenna, and checking the index of The Archaic Revival I found it right away. Gordon Wasson was the first Caucasian to rediscover the psychedelic properties of certain mushrooms and had a connection with shamanism (as does Keith Harring).
Ok, so here’s the theory of schizophrenia that I got from the McKenna tapes I acquired at the Omega Institute. Terence points out, as have many others, that the psychopathologies, including schizophrenia, which are found in Western societies, are apparently nowhere to be found in tribal cultures. In a tribal culture, an adolescent who was having visions would be taken to the shaman, who might recognize him as an apprentice and guide him through these visionary disruptions of ordinary consciousness. Although the Bible is full of people having visions and hearing voices, I was brought up hearing—what truncating lies!—that “The age of miracles is over,” and that “The era of prophets ended with the era of the Hebrew Bible.” These outrageous statements exemplify culture and institutionalized religion as control systems, saying, in effect: “Yes, our core was formed by visions and voices, but no more are allowed, thank you very much! If new voices, visions and prophets are to be allowed, then religion will have to be in a state of continual change and we can’t have that!”
To be fair, I was brought up in a liberal Reform Jewish culture, and Reform Judaism recognizes that a religion needs to always be reforming itself. At least that is the theory, and it does get practiced somewhat. Reform excises many of the anti-feminine patriarchal rituals and abuses. But this sort of reforming was to be done by thoughtful adults in committees and so forth. The space that was allowed for reforming did not, however, invite young people to have visions, hear voices, or report prophetic dreams. That kind of thing would have been associated with psychopathology, superstition, and charismatic religious cultism.
Am I saying that my cousin David was a religious prophet? No, unfortunately I didn’t have enough contact with him during this phase to know what he was. Nor could I say that there was no genetically scripted destabilization of brain chemistry. But I can say that schizophrenia is a broad, catchall diagnostic category, and there may very well be people who are having visions and hearing voices that are part of a self-generated shamanic initiation. If Moses were around today and reported to well-intentioned Western- educated parents (David’s father is a doctor and his mother, Jackie, a biochemist) that a burning bush had spoken to him, he would be rushed into psychiatric treatment, and there would surely be neuropharmacological intervention, as there was for David, and these neuropharmecuticals and the pathologizing of the experience in general, would tend to derange and depotentiate a visionary phase. The experiencer, instead of being guided through the visions, would in turn become arrested within a chaotic phase, which ensures that the presentation remains pathological. Again, I first encountered this theory in tapes I got from the Omega Institute, but until this morning writing this right now I never made the connection between the dream set at Omega, David, and this theory of schizophrenia coming from Omega.
Let’s tangent off the schizophrenia topic for a moment and change the frame back to the muse for a couple of paragraphs. The associations that I just described arose as I was writing; they were not intended. This is the magical aspect of the muse, its otherness and usually unpredictable ebb and flow. A metaphor for the muse in the dream is the violated camera. As a photographer since childhood, I tend to identify with cameras. The camera has an eye and a memory, so it is a kind of technologized mechanical psyche of sorts, capturing certain key moments, just as our memory does. Neurological materialists, those who believe that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, or secondary effect of biochemical process in the brain, have a tendency to make literal comparisons between brains and digital computers. They think of consciousness—if they admit such a thing at all—as something that happens “in” the brain, something that is isolated within an exoskeleton of skull. Your awareness, if any, is inside this organic space helmet, and a primitive analog to this is the light-sensitive film or sensor inside the exoskeleton of the camera chassis. So what outrages my ego in the dream, and makes it irate, is that a magician has opened up the camera and exposed the film.
The ego, which is the first to take credit for the muse, can also become irate when the psyche is penetrated by the muse, which it may resent sometimes almost like a rape: how dare the magic principle—manifesting as dream, vision, synchronicity—violate the inner space that is supposed to be the sovereign realm of the ego. We should not assume that the muse is always welcomed, even by the creative person who claims to follow the muse.
Industrial era and information era humans alike tend to think of the psyche with technological analogs, as cameras, and especially as computers. From the industrial age, Freud was forever comparing repressed libido to built up steam pressure, and tended to describe the psyche as if it were a mismanaged locomotive. Neurological materialists in the information age view consciousness—if they admit its existence as all—as arising from the wet ware of our frontal lobes. Brains are compared to digital computers and typically it is a literal, not a metaphorical, comparison. Sometimes brains are disparagingly compared to computers, which are said to be faster, more reliable, and improving much more quickly. Sure, brains are complex, but that makes them unreliable and prone to short out. A schizophrenic is a shorting out brain, a computer riddled with viruses, and it should be unplugged from the network lest it contaminate other computers, a brain isolated from other brains. Attempts to reformat the wet hard drive with psychosurgery and chemistry often yield very disappointing results compared to computer repairs.
OK, back to this divergent view of schizophrenia. Some will protest that anti-psychotic meds actually work and they may very well be right. I’m all for the case specific point of view. There may be a person whose life is so diminished by symptoms that some particular medication, that can reduce or eliminate those symptoms, turns out to be life saving. In many cases meds may truncate the person into a feeble and diminished “normality.” Our culture is better able to work with diminished normality then an acting out, chaotic visionary state. If new visions, voices and prophecies were to be recognized, imagine how disruptive this would be to the status quote, the conservative baseline of collective consciousness. Instead of being recognized as a legitimate vector for cultural transformation, as they were in Biblical times, visions are universally pathologized and the experiencers are seen as “dysfunctional,” and although we are recently out of our horrifying psychosurgery phase, neuropharmacueticals may sometimes amount to chemical lobotomies. And, of course, as we all know, our society is so extremely healthy that it doesn’t need any transformative messages from individuals. Society is, by self-definition, the gold standard of health, normality and productive functionality. “Sickness” is an attribute of the individual. We would search the DSM IV in vain to find a category like “national psychosis.” And if a nation does go crazy, like Nazi Germany did, well society has an amazingly productive remedy for that, called “World War,” which can be a great boost for the economy and military-industrial complex.
Long before my cousin David reported visions and voices, I experienced them too, but in modalities that were less visibly disruptive to my “normal” functioning. When I was about three years old, I had a dreamtime experience of ancestors communicating to me. I have never been able to recall what they said except for one statement indelibly etched into memory: “You have the gift of an understanding heart.” I woke up fully aware that something of the greatest importance had happened and went into my parents’ bedroom and woke them up to tell them about it. I also recited two or three Hebrew prayers that I had apparently not been exposed to in the waking life. My parents, like sensible adults, went back to sleep. I continued to refer to the experience often for the next two or three years. And then, for a long period of time, a veil of forgetful neglect passed over the experience; it wasn’t a repressed memory, just a neglected one. It wasn’t until my thirties that I recollected how life changing this early experience was. The “understanding heart” phrase used by the ancestors still challenges me, because I know that I am more likely to recognize understanding as coming from my head, rather than my heart, and that seems to indicate a need for considerable metamorphosis before I can fully realize the essence suggested by the phrase.
Fortunately, little kids can report the occasional weird dream and not arouse the dragon of psychiatric scrutiny. Other experiences happened later when I knew the implicit rules about what to keep to myself. Communication with the muse is not necessarily met with delighted recognition by society. If you can chuck a football well, get a good score on the SATs, manage a stock portfolio, etc, then you will be celebrated and rewarded. Weirder accomplishments may get you hospitalized.
This childhood experience is another example of the camera being opened and another energy striking the film. The camera incident in the dream preceded the encounter with Gordon Wasson, which became a camera-opening event where I had a complete melding on many levels with another entity. The irate energy I presented in the dream could be seen as a kind of anticipatory immunological response to the approach of a camera-opening event. The psyche, like other organisms, is ready to defend its homeostasis. The dream came after the many unexpected revelations of the Rainbow Gathering where people and events in the waking life also opened the camera.
Voices and visions are functions of the muse, but for the most part society isn’t interested in the muse, or encouraging visionaries. On the contrary, society is often grimly, sometimes violently, determined to create reliable workers who are eager consumers and predictable voters. Well-intentioned adults equate viability with employability. They think they are doing young people the greatest possible service when they painfully condition them to “play by the rules” and focus their attention on a “realistic” career. Our society wants young people to be fully functional and productive. And what is all this highly valued functionality and productivity producing? Some of its more notable productions include ecological catastrophe and ingenious weapons of mass destruction that have resulted in mass extinctions and threaten the viability of our ever more productive species! Of course, many of those economically productive individuals are doing good things, and the realistic adaptive model has much to say for it. An innovative society, however, needs some creative people to rebel from the mode of realistic adaptation.
The dream I had the first night back from the gathering involved being pursued by magicians who had singled me out, partly because my last name is “Zap,” and the denouement of the dream involved my seeking out the lead magician, who turned out to be my cousin David, who in the waking life is deceased, but in the dreamtime seemed to be much more than a dream character.
The dream was shocking, and woke me up. There was no possibility of going back to sleep, so I left for school early. I wanted time to readjust to ordinary reality before bells started ringing and the whole hectic regimentation of public high school education resumed. It was a wintry, darkly overcast February day, quite a contrast from the tropical forest where the Rainbow Gathering occurred. As soon as I walked into the building, my eyes still adjusting to the eternal industrial high noon of florescent lighting, an eleventh grade student of mine, Andrew, who seemed to be the only student in the building, came up to me very excitedly. He had string in between the fingers of both hands that was formed into a loose cat’s cradle. “Mr. Zap, I want to show you something,” he said. In a flash, he manipulated the string and formed a pentagram! I was too stunned to speak, and before I could force out anything, Andrew said, the string pentagram still suspended magically between his fingers, “I want you to meet someone, Mr. Zap, a magician who just taught me how to do this pentagram, I think you have a lot in common with him.” I followed Andrew in a daze; I couldn’t have been more shocked by the surreal impingement of dreamtime and waking time than if I had been following a white rabbit with a pocket watch. Andrew quickly led me into the faculty lounge, where a strange-looking man I had never seen before was sitting. This man, who was almost exactly my age, was here for his first day as a substitute English teacher. He was a magician by trade, had spent the last ten years living in Rainbow Gatherings, and now wanted to become a full time English teacher! The muse was not being subtle; she might as well have driven a silver spike into my head. There was no mistaking these over-determined messages: we were to trade places, a substitute had been arranged, someone else could fill my place as English Teacher, but only I could do my creative work, and the muse, who had originally led me to teaching, was pulling me off that stage by my hair.
Finally, despite intense resistance from parents and inner voices of financial anxiety, I made the decision to leave teaching in the Spring of 1995. Ninety-five percent of my best writing, photography and artwork have happened in the nine years since then. (Sixteen years in 2011) Interestingly, eighty percent of my best teaching, in informal situations, has occurred since then too. During my last month of teaching I had another acute neck episode. Finishing out the school year, marking all the final papers and tests, and packing up my old life and house and readying the 18’ RV I would live in for most of the next twelve years, brought me to the edge of nervous and physical exhaustion. A day or two after getting on the road, the neck episode was over, and without any physical therapy. I have not had another acute episode as of this writing, thirteen years later.
On June 17 of 1995 I went on the road, officially taking an approved year’s leave of absence from teaching. The decision wasn’t irreversible at that point; I still had about ten months to decide if I was coming back. Despite all the messages from the muse, this was no easy decision, as I had a tenured teaching job in the highest-paying county for teachers in the United States, where I made close to 60K a year (quite a lot for a relatively young school teacher in 1995) and was provided with health insurance, an excellent pension plan, etc. My parents, and every voice of middle-class common sense and practicality, were urging me to return to the economic security of a profession I once loved.
I had been on the road ten months when the school district called, pressing me for a decision. I was traveling with some young friends with whom I had done volunteer work at a Navajo reservation near Big Mountain, Arizona. The little bit of money I had from cashing out my retirement fund had long since been exhausted, and I had been living close to the edge. We were camped out in a mesa near Sedona, Arizona, and the morning had arrived in which the decision had to be made. With my friend Jordie as a witness, I did an I Ching reading that seemed to strongly support leaving the teaching job. As I was finishing the reading, another member of the group I was traveling with, Seth, who knew nothing about the decision I was facing, came over to show me a Jung quote he had just encountered in a book on mountain climbing. The quote turned out to be stunningly relevant. This was the second time in my life when it felt like Jung had stepped forward as a spiritual grandfather to give me his blessing. Here is what Seth read to me:
The fact that many a man going his own way ends in ruin means nothing, he must obey his own law as if it were a daemon whispering to him of new and wonderful paths. There are not a few who are called awake by the summons of the voice where upon they are at once set apart from the others, feeling themselves confronted with a problem about which the others know nothing. In most cases it is impossible to explain to the others what has happened, any understanding is walled off by impenetrable prejudices. ‘You are no different from anybody else,’ they will chorus. There is no such thing, or if there is such a thing it is immediately branded as morbid. He is at once set apart, isolated as he has resolved to obey the law that commands him from within. ‘His own law,’ everybody will say, but he knows better, it is the law.
The only meaningful life is the life that strives for the individual realization, absolute and unconditional, of its own particular plan. To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being, he has failed to realize his life’s meaning. The undiscovered being within us is a living part of the psyche. Classical Chinese philosophy names the interior way Tao, and likened it to a flow of water that moves irresistibly towards its goal. To rest in Tao means fulfillment, wholeness, one’s destination reached, one’s mission done, the beginning, end in perfect realization, the meaning of existence unique in all things. —C.G. Jung
Enhancing Your Relationship to the Muse
Although we don’t ultimately control our relationship to the muse any more than we control our relationship with eros, there are ways to promote and encourage that relationship. Pay attention to the dreamtime, the dreams we have while asleep, and also pay attention to the waking dreams, often derisively called daydreams. Passive daydreaming is nowhere near as valuable as active imagination, but hidden in the dross of even passive imagination are sometimes diamonds. Above all, I recommend following what I call, “The Path of the Numinous.” Numinous is a word that Jung used frequently, though he didn’t coin it. Numin means spirit, so that which is numinous is that which is imbued with the spirit. Something is numinous when it lights up in your perception with an uncanny significance. When you find a numinous object of perception on your path, then follow that up, follow it down the rabbit hole, it may be Adriadne’s silver thread leading you into the labyrinth. The case where the numinous object is most deceptive, however, is when it is a physically beautiful person, a “hottie.” Even this numin would lead you to the center of a labyrinth if you had the courage to follow it past literal identification and possession toward the source of the urge (see Stop the Hottie! and Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom—Androgyny, Alchemy, Evolution and the One Ring). Have the courage to follow the muse when it calls you, and the humility to hold back from creative expression when it does not call. If you let your ego identify with a particular role in life you may not be able to recognize its call.
Following the Muse
A realization that I resisted for years is that following the muse and commercial success are separate avenues of possibility. Sometimes those paths run parallel, and quite often they don’t. Mediocre talents may gain meteoric success and great talents may go completely unacknowledged. Van Gogh is a good example. He suffered through poverty, illness, madness, and self-mutilation while remaining committed to the muse, and when he died the only one who had paid for any of his paintings was his brother. His paintings were left neglected in attics, but now, long after his death, they may bring seventy million apiece at auctions. Most artists struggle against obscurity. One who seemed to understand its necessity, one of the greatest visionaries of all time, was William Blake. Blake didn’t even try to bring out his visionary work because he knew the time he lived in wasn’t ready for it. Blake said, “Fool they call me. I laugh at the goddess fortune for I know that she is the devil’s servant ready to kiss anyone’s ass. I labour upwards into futurity.” Blake knew which metaphorical goddess he was committed to, the muse, and he ignored the goddess fortune. Our society calls someone who follows the goddess fortune to a large bank account a “success,” often without regard to how they got there or the creative value, if any, of what they produced.
While I resisted and pined for the fantasy writing, the muse was guiding me into all sorts of other interesting places: photography, collage and decoupage, nonfiction writing, creating my own oracle, etc. It’s taken me a long while to recognize the value of these other avenues and let go of the inner critic that disparaged these other creative avenues as inferior to fantasy writing. Now I recognize how fortunate I have been that for most of my life the muse has been pulling me intensely toward so many different numinous paths. Often I resisted, wanting her always to lead me toward fantasy writing. One morning in November of 1995, after I left teaching, I was trying to gain entrance into the dimension of Parallel Journeys, but couldn’t because a persistent voice or thought form kept insisting that I create an image, a collage. Tenaciously, I tried to resist this inner prompting that I perceived as an annoying distraction that was keeping me from writing, which is what it thought I should be doing. Never should on yourself when you are being led by the creative muse! Finally, I had to acknowledge that I couldn’t write, that I had to follow this inner prompting or it would keep tormenting me. Despite the strong disapproval of ego judgments, I found myself getting up from my desk and going downtown and spending almost all the money I had on craft materials. Critical inner voices were screaming with disapproval: “What a foolish distraction from your writing! What a waste of scarce money! Collage? That’s from the arts and crafts world of kindergarten and finger painting. You’re supposed to be a writer!” etc. Sheepishly, or courageously, feeling both enthusiasm and self-loathing, I felt forced to go forward until hours later I was back in my room with all these expensive art materials. I started cutting up treasured, one-of-a-kind photos, images and books. After I pasted the first few pieces of paper I was practically in tears with frustration and disappointment. Inner voices screamed disapproval: What the fuck are you doing? This looks lame, ridiculous. You’ve never done this before. It’s never going to work. You’ve just wasted so much money and time that you should have been using toward writing. What a waste! What a complete fiasco! But now that I had already bought all these expensive supplies, and cut into so many valuable images, I felt I had to continue. And then . . . magic started to happen. I found myself in that state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “Flow,” and for the next 72 hours or so I did nothing besides sleep, eat, and work on that collage, which came to be called, like my fantasy work, Parallel Journeys, and remains my best work of visual art.
black and white photo of Parallel Journeys Collage
For a few years that followed, collage and decoupage became, for long stretches, my major form of creative expression. I stopped for quite a while when a number of my best pieces were stolen. This trauma seemed to discourage me, and only after a long time did I pick up this art form again, though this return was short-lived. I was residing in Canada, and had the time and space to do a gigantic collage on almost a full sheet of plywood. After I finished that, I put collaging aside and haven’t done anything with this art form since then.
I am sharing these personal experiences because they have general implications about the creative process. One of the themes is that they are about allowing yourself to be pulled or led, rather than the ego ambitiously trying to push its way in. A humbling aspect of following the lead of the muse is that you may be led some ways and then abandoned before arriving at what the ego considers success or even completion. Consider the following personal example:
On May 31 of 1996 (the exact date is easy to establish because it happened to be the day that Timothy Leary died) I woke up feeling somewhat downcast about certain neurotic aspects of my personality that I felt I had never made progress with. Feeling no particular inspiration, I decided to sit down with a notebook and a pen in front of me and take another try at understanding anyway. Suddenly, what felt energetically like a transmission occurred, and in a short period of time—this seems to be a pattern for me; the time interval always seems to be less than 40 minutes—an intense series of life-changing insights cascaded through my mind. Was this a last message from Timothy as he left his body? The insights I had, about the nature of body and consciousness, and a largely unrecognized will in the human species, did not merely change my thinking and philosophy, they profoundly shifted some of the most over-determined, stubbornly neurotic aspects of my personality, and I’ve been a different person ever since that morning. Just when I finished furiously scribbling down this compressed burst of insight, my pager went off. This could be the most mundane of events, but intuitively I was absolutely convinced that the pager was registering a parallel transmission, and that whoever was calling had something of immediate bearing to the burst of insight. I left my RV to look for a phone. There was a voice message from my friend Jordie saying he needed to talk to me, but the number left on the pager turned out to be that of a hospital in Louisiana. Another page came through from him, again with the number of the hospital in Louisiana, and I worried that there might be a medical emergency involving him or his partner, Sarah. I’ll cut through the details here, suffice to say there were a series of telecommunication anomalies of different sorts, five inexplicable malfunctions of different systems making it impossible for us to communicate. It took more than twenty-four hours with both of us trying before we could have a live phone contact. Jordie had paged me immediately upon awakening from a dream of shocking intensity and import, in which I appeared as a dream character. The content of the dream had jaw-dropping parallelism to the burst of insights, which felt like a transmission, I had received at the exact same time that Jordie was having his dream.
At the time, I was represented by a literary agent at Paraview, perhaps the best agency to represent a metaphysical sort of book. I immediately began work on a book proposal that expanded the compressed burst of insights into a compressed version of a proposed book. This book proposal was entitled “The Glorified Body, Metamorphosis of the Body and the Crisis Phase of Human Evolution.” For the next couple of months I was totally focused on writing this book proposal. I did some associated research, edited and polished it until I was completely satisfied with it and sent it off to my agent. He was entirely satisfied with it as well, and ready to go forward. Quite suddenly, however, either while I was on the phone with him, or right after I hung up, I felt the inner tectonic plates shift inside of me, and with as much definiteness as one might feel in encountering the wall of a giant canyon I realized, I don’t want to spend two years writing this book. I’ve already said what I had to say on this subject. An ego consciousness looking at this might scream: Self-sabotage! What are you doing! You’ve got an agent ready to sell your book! Are you crazy?!
Looking up the book proposal on the web site, I notice a synchronicity that I had previously thought a simple error. When John Jenkins posted this document on the site for me, he falsely and unaccountably labeled it on the menu, “Entire book: The Glorified Body.” Right on the first page, it is labeled “book proposal,” and John had read this back in 1996 and knew, at least then, that this was a book proposal, not a book. I’ve reminded him to change that a couple of times, but somehow the “Entire Book:” prefix remains. Now I am able to understand why. It is an entire book! It said in compact form everything I had to say on the subject when I wrote it, and that’s why the muse was done with it. Typically we get nonfiction ideas with one basic idea in them—and usually that idea is a retread—and then this message is endlessly padded and repeated till the book is what consumers recognize as normal book length. But I have zero enthusiasm for reading or creating padded writing. In the Nineteenth Century, many thinkers issued pamphlets where they discoursed on some new insight in an extended essay format. Consider the concise brilliance, for example, of Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance,” originally published as a pamphlet. There is more original thinking in “Self Reliance” than shelf loads of Dr. Phil books and Chicken Soup for the Lazy Consumer’s Soul, and all the many other thick but empty volumes you find everywhere. Marketing and muse often go their very separate ways.
Drawing some lessons from the episode I just described, you can see that the muse gifted me with an intense burst of insights, and with the obsessive enthusiasm to get them written up in concise form. My ego, attempting to mediate successfully with the outer world had me working with a literary agent and had me put the writing into book proposal form. Once the message had been received and turned into writing, however, the muse dropped the project by the side of the curb and so did I. The lesson is that the muse creates its own openings and closings and doesn’t bow to ego or marketing expectations.
Ego Misfortune may be Muse Fortune
The muse is also able to make great use out of events that may devastate and be judged as entirely bad by the ego. When Ann Rice’s beloved daughter and first child died of leukemia, she went into a severe downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. At the bottom of this crash, the muse inspired her to write, Interview with the Vampire. At the time, she was known only as the alcoholic housewife partner of her husband, the somewhat well-known poet, Stan Rice. She submitted this novel to close to sixty publishers before she found one who was willing to publish it. Ann Rice would never have chosen this path to creativity, but it was chosen for her.
On July 6 of 2003, I was returning with two friends to my home in British Columbia from a great experience at the National Rainbow Gathering. At the advice of a Canadian official, I had previously obtained a BC driver’s license, which I had with me. When the border guards found I had a BC license with me, they immediately called immigration, which denied me access to the country because they were cracking down on American visitors who were informally becoming long-term residents. For my ego, this was as great a shock as being struck by lightening. My most significant relationships were on the other side of the border; my two friends got through; my most important possessions: artwork, RV, etc. were all on the other side of that border. An entire life I had going on there crashed closed in one decisive moment. I had about five minutes to hurriedly grab some survival gear from the packed car—missing several crucial items in the rush—and throw them in a backpack. Following a hasty farewell to my friends, I found myself walking down a deserted road at night.
My ego consciousness felt like it had been flattened by a sledgehammer. People often disparage the ego, and that’s not what I am doing here even as I point out that the ego must follow the muse and not vice-versa. It is the appropriate function of the ego, and often its thankless and overwhelmingly difficult job, to try to mediate between the inner you and the outer world. It plans and works to take care of your survival needs, it worries about crucial stuff the muse isn’t concerned with like: Where’s the next meal coming from? What roof do I have over my head? How do I pay for the tools and space I need for my art? How can I get my work recognized and producing revenue? Etc. (for more on the foolishness of ego-bashing and its appropriate role in the hierarchy of psychic functions see “A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler“).
For the next twenty-four hours, my devastated ego worked the problem, tried to find a way back into Canada, and hit nothing but walls. My return would not happen any time soon. At the same time, it worked on the immediate hierarchy of needs and found a free campsite, set up my tent, got food, and water. Survivor mode focused obsessively on investigating return to Canada and on the few things it needed to do to secure a campsite. But the items on those anxiety-tinged to-do lists soon ran out. Whatever possibilities there were had to be waited on, and I found that my life now consisted of a tent, a picnic table, a small artificial lake (the campsite was a municipal service of the hydroelectric company which maintained it) where I could bathe, a public bathroom, and fellow campers who were mostly red necks and locals. Hitchhiking or walking to the nearest town to check email and get supplies was the major activity of each of the twenty or so days I stayed there.
My ego’s view of the situation was calamitous. It saw me as a homeless refugee, abandoned, with no immediate prospects. The muse, however, had an altogether different angle on the subject. It saw an oasis unprecedented in my entire life. The weather was great, I had food, water, a place to sleep, a notebook and pens, few social distractions, and above all the muse had what it always wants from me, but could almost never get: relatively vast, uninterrupted blocks of time. My ego pined for the luxuries: good food, gadgets and relationships in Canada that it thought were crucial needs. Low on cash, I sprouted my own seeds in plastic buckets with nylon screening material rubber banded to the top. I copied this technique from the sprout kitchen at the Rainbow Gathering. With a live food diet (I had no cooking equipment), a few miles of hiking every day, fresh air and swims in the lake, my health was improving significantly. And I had the supreme luxury of uninterrupted time, no phones rang, no friends came over. Some amiable RV people from Canada gave me a cup of coffee my second or third morning there, and I began to write and write and write. The early version of “A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler” was written then. A key serendipitous gift helped greatly to inspire the intensely productive writing phase that followed. The first full day of my exile, I went to the library to get on the internet. While my ego focused on the “emergency,” my muse was thrilled to find that a portal had opened for me in cyber space.
Completely on his own initiative, my friend John Jenkins had taken a couple of writings I sent out as emails, a photo of me with a tiger that he had downloaded from one of my Snapfish online albums, and had created a simple web page for me piggy-backed on his web site alignment2012.com. My muse was absolutely thrilled by this. With no intention or effort on my part, my writings were now available on the World Wide Web. John’s books are published in several languages, so people from all over the world visit his site. While my physical life was in pieces, and I was living in the perfect obscurity of a tent in a free campground, a new type of publication had opened up. Now if I wrote something it could be posted on this web site and available to anyone with internet access.
A major lesson of this personal experience is that a crisis for the ego can be a golden opportunity for the muse. If you follow the muse, you are usually provided with what you need, though this may be fantastically different than what the ego wants. While my ego continued to experience lots of anxiety and emotional anguish, my muse went to town and a huge writing phase began. During a full moon at the campground I was the subject of a bizarre attack (see Mind Parasites, Energy Parasites and Vampires). Like being turned away at the border, this was scary and shocking to my ego, but it left my body intact and excited the muse, who inspired me to finally write up my thoughts, experiences and insights on the whole mind parasite subject.
It is now a year and a half later, though it feels like several life times, and hundreds of new pages of writing have been written for the Zap Oracle web site. My ego is disappointed that it gets no money for this creativity, none of the accoutrements it long craved in its fantasies of what entails a successful writer lifestyle, but my work is out there in cyberspace. I have a place to labor upwards into futurity. If you Google “mind parasites, “for example, my essay often comes up in the top three, and some mind parasite experiencers have found me through this website, and shared fascinating episodes and theories. I get the occasional email from people in other countries. Because of the freedom of the web, I am able to retain the copyright, so no publisher can demand changes or drop my work from print. The muse loves the idea that people can access these writings anytime of the day or night at no cost.
I feel I am writing for fellow “mutants” and myself. Not for the many, certainly not for what Jung called “mass man,” and the majority of the planet is mass man. Sometimes, what stands in the way of creative fulfillment are the ego’s standards of success. If just a few people are deeply affected by my writings is that failure? As Dorothy Canfield Fisher says, “There is no large or small against the back drop of the infinite.” From the point of view of the I Ching, the keystone of relationship is to meet others halfway. If I didn’t express myself, or hid my writings in a drawer, that would be meeting less than halfway. If I were an aggressive self-promoter doing everything possible to push my work forward (the “success” mode of our culture, like a Donald Trump, or one of the other power-mad whores for celebrity attention) that would be meeting more than halfway. My job is to create and put it out there where it can be found, it is up to others to look for what they need. I am not opposed to marketing efforts to promote creative work, sometimes such efforts are appropriate and produce great results. My personal principle with marketing is that I will make some efforts in that direction, but not when it is at the direct cost of creating original content. Creating the original content has higher priority since it is intrinsic, and marketing, which is extrinsic, has lower priority. On some particular day, however, there could be such a time sensitive and valuable opportunity to get my work out there that I could reasonably give it the top priority for a limited time.
One of the general lessons that can be derived from my experience of being locked out of Canada is that the muse, like the Tao, of which it is a subset, can work by giving or by taking away. My relationship to photography has been governed or at least influenced by both. My father is a talented photographer, and I grew up in a home with lots of photographic equipment and a darkroom in the basement. Especially between the ages of twelve and sixteen, photography predominated as creative expression. When I was twenty, just after graduating from college, a large carousel tray containing my very best color slides was stolen, or somehow disappeared unaccountably. This taking away was a negative inspiration and caused me to leave photography aside for more than twenty years. During that time I still took some photos, mostly during wilderness expeditions and other travels, but I used amateurish cameras.
During the Spring of 1996, I was a volunteer living at a Navajo Reservation near Big Mountain, Arizona. We were helping the family of a Navajo medicine man trying to stay on their land despite the machinations of the Peabody Coal Company, etc. One day we were laying irrigation drip lines out in the extremely hot sun, and the word “optical” began to recur in my mind with an uncanny insistence. Optical . . . optical . . . optical. It occurred in my mind as a numinous object, dense with many layers of meaning: a power word. For years following that afternoon, this word repeated itself occasionally, and it always felt like someone out of my field of vision was bringing a vibrating tuning fork to my ear whenever it happened. There were many other layers of meaning to this, which I won’t go into here, and which I am still unfolding, but one effect of this unexpected occurrence was that I became much more interested in photography again.
The following Spring, I was camping out in the mountains of Santa Fe with my friend Daniel. We were working on an ecological project, and both the beauty of Santa Fe and the large photography library that is in Santa Fe were inspiring my increased interest in photography. I left our campsite with Daniel, we had to get something from his truck, and when we returned I saw that I had carelessly left my camera, not a very good one, but the only one I had, sitting out on a picnic table where anyone could have taken it. No one had, but Daniel, whose nickname and turntablism performance name is “Elf” (the significance of this nickname will be apparent in the next paragraph) told me that for someone so interested in photography I should have a better camera. That was the last thing said between us as I got on my mountain bike to head down into Santa Fe, a thrilling all down hill ride with spectacular views.
Three or four minutes later, I was speeding down mountainous switchbacks and happened to notice a mud-covered lead foil film bag lying on the side of the road. In the pre-9/11 era, you could put your film in these bags so that airport x-ray machines would not affect them. I already had one, and this one was all muddy and filthy, but something made me go back. There had been so many synchronicities and things coming up about photography that it seemed like this was a stone that had to be turned over. Sacrificing the joy of my fast downward momentum, I stopped my bike and pedaled back up hill. The bag was filthy, looked like it had a few weeks of mud and dust on it. I opened the bag and sparkling clean inside was a brand new camera, which listed for about $500, with an instruction manual and three rolls of unexposed film. It was the most advanced version of the Canon “Elph” series of APS cameras that had just come out that year. Over the next two years I used that camera constantly, during which time it survived some incredible mishaps including, if you can believe this, getting washed in a washing machine after being left in a jacket pocket! I dried the Elph out by putting some of those little packets of silica gel that come with vitamins and in shoeboxes etc. inside of its case, and wrapped it in a Ziplock bag. Twenty-four hours later it was working again. In 2000, I bought a much better camera, a Canon A2E, which I am still using. There were a couple of accessories for this camera I really wanted, but I had already exceeded my camera budget. In 2002, I was living in a rural part of British Columbia and noticed in the local newspaper, which had a tiny buy-sell section, that someone was selling, at a very low price, the exact two missing accessories specifically made for a Canon A2E. I had never noticed photography equipment of any kind being advertised in this rural paper. When I called the seller up, it turned out that in the next month there was only one specific day when he would be coming through my area and could bring the equipment; that date happened to be December 5th, my birthday.
Of course I recognized this as a synchronicity supporting my photography, but my reaction was slightly ambivalent. At the time, I was trying even more than usual to open a portal into Parallel Journeys, my unfinished fantasy epic. I was happy about this encouragement of my photography, but also felt a bit disrespected and misled by the muse. It was highlighting photography as part of my birthright apparently, but what I really wanted was her magical encouragement toward Parallel Journeys.
Nineteen days after that birthday, I was still hoping for a portal into Parallel Journeys to open. It was Christmas Eve and we had just acquired a large screen TV. My friend Dave had given me a boxed set, expanded DVD version of the first Lord of the Rings movie. The extended version was a great improvement on this already great movie. But I had already seen the movie something like seven or eight times, including a viewing of the extended DVD version just a few days before. Everyone wanted to see it on the new TV and I joined them, not expecting too much from the experience. A few minutes into the movie, I had another one of those twenty to forty minute episodes, a cascade of life-changing insights and intuitions exploded into my mind; the theory that I held for over twenty years about the ring symbolism of Tolkien’s mythology reversed and turned in on itself in a matter of moments (see Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom—Androgyny, Alchemy, Evolution and the One Ring). That night, and the following morning, I outlined these new insights. The day before, someone among the fellowship of holiday guests staying in the house for Christmas had suggested that everyone would teach a class about something. So on Chirstmas day, the movie fresh on everyone’s mind, I taught a class on my new theories. A venue or audience for this new work had been set up, without any contrivance on my part, though it turned out that no one else actually got around to teaching his or her class.
I was both elated and a bit disappointed by these new insights. The trickster-like muse, whom I had been pressing for help with Parallel Journeys, gave me a photography-based birthday gift and now a nonfiction-oriented Christmas present. My ego was excited because I thought I could get this book done before the last Tolkien movie came out and that it would have great commercial appeal. I wanted to call this book, “Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom”, and had various subtitles for it. Now it is just under two years later, the last Tolkien movie came and went last year, and I am now about 75% finished with the core of this “book,” which will probably be a very uncommercial forty pages or so in length (Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom—Androgyny, Alchemy, Evolution and the One Ring) and the insights have also been spun off into some other short pieces—-“The Mutant versus the Machine…”, “Time and Tolkien’s Elves,” ” Tolkien and the Developmental Need for Evil,” Wielding the One Ring,” “Stop the Hottie.”
I had been making steady progress on the Tolkien project until three days ago, when the sudden need to write this essay about the muse happened . . . The sudden, but complete detachment of the muse, and the cessation of my obsessive enthusiasm were so absolute and decisive that those voices of self-criticism couldn’t even get going. They were like squash balls hitting walls of thick foam rubber; they had no bounce, the energy source for this project, which had been so on for many weeks, was OFF. The point is that the creative process continues, but out of ego control. The ego wants a straight-line march of progress toward “success.” But the path of the creative is zigzag, diverse, roundabout, too obscure and convoluted for ego comprehension. I am coming to accept that finally, and instead of pining for Parallel Journeys, or what I think should be happening, I am learning to instead be grateful that the muse is always leading me somewhere interesting. Instead of letting my ego get frustrated because the muse is leading somewhere different than expected, I am starting to finally get it that unexpectedness is what makes a journey interesting.
To conclude this essay, I want to tell about some adolescent experiences I had with the muse that completely redirected the course of my life. Again, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay, my purpose is not autobiographical, but to illustrate general principles about relating to the muse with the particular examples that instructed me. (Rereading this in 2011 I see some muse censorship going on. I think part of the inspiration of the essay was an intent to be autobiographical, and defining it as merely in service to writing about relating to the muse was another attempt to supervise the muse and keep it on the expected track.)
Voice from Underground
One night during my first year of high school I felt something prod me out of the deep sleep of a healthy fourteen year old boy at two or three o’clock in the morning. Some irresistible inner prompting had me reaching toward my futuristic-looking Panasonic clock radio to switch on the sound. When I did so I heard a voice coming out of the radio that sounded exactly like my own mind speaking in my head. I was stunned and wondered if I was still dreaming, but everything in the room felt so physical and real. The voice seemed to express my inner most thoughts, the thoughts I had not shared with anyone, and the thoughts and feelings expressed by the voice had what I thought were the unique perspective of my own mind and personality. Suddenly there was a station identification break and I found out what was going on. The station was WBAI, FM, the station I tuned into far more than any other. WBAI was one of my main lines into the Sixties, and I have never encountered a radio station remotely like it before or since. It was run by hippies; nothing was too weird to be broadcast, and it was a fountain of creativity and novelty twenty-four hours a day in the Sixties and Seventies in New York City. On this particular night WBAI was doing an all night reading of Fydor Dostoevsky’s novella, Notes from Underground.
At the time I didn’t know what to make of this experience, but made a mental note that one day I would have to find out who this Dostoevsky was and how it could be that a Russian writer could so perfectly express, way back in the Nineteenth Century, the inner perspective of my mind.
Education: Numinous versus Compulsory
The way most schools, including colleges and universities, are designed is directly antagonistic to relating to the muse. Your studies are not guided by the muse but by a curriculum set by external authorities. They decide what you are to study, or write and when. There are exceptions to this authoritarian approach, of course. The most extreme are Sudbury Schools, where children work completely guided by their own enthusiasms. They study or work on whatever they choose, with whomever they choose, and at their own pace. One amazing finding about Sudbury schools is that no child who has ever been educated within the Sudbury model has ever developed dyslexia. A possible implication is that dyslexia is an artifact of being forced to learn to read and write before an individual is ready, and individuals do vary considerably in the timing of their developmental stages. Societies tend to love one-size-fits-all standardization, and our society, in particular, loves the efficiency of the assembly line.
( for more related thoughts on education see my article “Crossing the Great Stream, Education and the Evolving Self” published by Holistic Education Review and posted with their permission on the web site).
My education had been completely driven by external curricula until my third year of college, when I was nineteen years old. Having taken care of my required courses, I discovered there was something called “The College Scholars Program,” where you could propose your own topic of study and under the loose supervision of an adviser could pursue your own research and write a dissertation that would be read by an interdisciplinary committee of professors, who would also cross-examine you on the subject and grade you. Finally, after preschool, elementary, junior high, high school and two years of college, I was going to be allowed to follow my own creative enthusiasm! I decided that I would use this opportunity to study Doestoevsky.
The regimented method of education may be good in some ways for mass man, for people who need to be structured from the outside, but for the self-actualizing creative person it is like being slowly poisoned in a prison cell. Although I did pursue some of my own interests like photography, and read my own books not on the curriculum, a huge amount of my time was occupied by classes and mind-numbing homework.
Many people, seeing that a young person is bright and creative, assume that school work must be a breeze for them. This was true for my parents, who were remarkable whiz kids, child prodigies. But this was not true for me. It was completely artificial, oppressive, agonizing and difficult for me to hold my attention on material that had no relation to my creative muse. If I were a child in school today, I would no doubt grasp for one of those horribly overused and misapplied acronym labels—ADD, ADHD—to explain my sufferings. Now, I can identify exactly what the trouble was. There was nothing wrong with my attention. When I was focused on something lead by the creative muse, I could focus obsessively for hours on end. But when my mind was forced to process the boring busy work and monotonous drudgery that passes for education, it was forever wandering off, forever trying to throw off the harness and run free. I did well in school, was particularly good at taking tests and escaped to college at age sixteen, but homework took me endless hours because it was so horribly difficult to force my mind to focus on uncreative drudgery. All these years later, it is still horrifying to think of this wasted time and effort when I now see that I would have been far better off conducting my own education, based on my own enthusiasms, working at my own tempo.
The Muse and Mutant Intensive Environments
Someone once said that, “Every American school child knows that school is what interrupts their learning.” This was absolutely the case for me. But there were very fortunate influences in my case as well. My parents were, and are, highly-educated intellectuals with a great knowledge of the sciences and humanities. I grew up in a home where modern art, classical music, psychology, politics, science, and literature were topics of everyday conversation. My parents were, and are, skeptical, analytic thinkers, and sloppy thought, ungrounded assumptions, and poor expression had little chance of getting past them. Another break was that after two hellish years zoned into a junior high in the South Bronx, one of the worst and most violent schools in the history of public education (I taught elsewhere in the South Bronx myself for six years, so I have a good basis of comparison) I passed a test to get into the Bronx High School of Science, which in those years might have been the best mutant hot spot on the planet, filled with the brightest, most creative kids selected out of a ten million person metropolis. For example, Bronx Science graduated seven noble prize winning physicists, and six Pulitzer Prize winning writers. Bronx Science had no football team, no proms and no sadistic assistant principals on power trips trying to pay back the kind of kids that were more popular than them when they went to high school (a classic core motivation of many assistant principals and suburban police officers). The sex and power games, the toxic social wasteland of high school was all but absent. Although I lived close enough to walk to the school, kids commuted from all over the city—by subway, no one had a car—and although it was the early Seventies, the Sixties were very much alive in this school. Teachers were often countercultural and brilliant. Conspicuous consumption and focus on clothes and possessions were scoffed at, and staff and students shared a bond of brilliant, creative enthusiasm about learning, and took for granted that they were working toward the cutting edge of any field. The debate team I was part of was number one in the country year after year. Many of the kids from these years of Bronx Science still seem larger than life and sage-like. I remember witnessing a conversation between some of the varsity debaters about whether debate competition was ethical because weren’t we wishing misfortune on our opponents? Instead of the parochial focus stereotypical of high school (girlfriend, boyfriend, clothes, haircut, cars, etc.) my high school colleagues thought about everything in historical, philosophical, ethical contexts, and related everything to the larger world and universe.
As an experiment a few years ago, I took two year books I had, one was the Bronx Science year book from my senior year, 1974, and one was from the Long Island High School I taught in, W. Tresper Clarke High School, 1988. I didn’t let people see any part of the yearbook except the senior class individual mug shots, so they didn’t know exactly where or when these faces were occurring. Although Clarke was a significantly above average American high school, the difference in the two groups of pictures was astounding to everyone who saw them. The Bronx Science kids were described as looking so interesting, as such characters with highly individual quirks and brilliant talents, while the Long Island high school kids had faces and hairstyles that seemed so commonplace and uniform, the images blurred in your mind as generic high school stock.
The point of this is not an excess of school loyalty, to sell you on the Bronx Science of the early Seventies, but to illustrate a central principle for relating to the muse. When they asked Timothy Leary when he was dying what was the single most important thing he wanted to communicate to others while at the edge of the grave, he said, “Be careful about where you film the movie of your life!”As they say in retail, the three most important factors are, “Location, location, location.” At my present age, the best location is mostly solitude, but especially when you are developing your creativity it is crucial to locate yourself around other creative, free-thinking mutants! The human environment, the minds that you are sharing space with, is a factor that can never be underestimated. Much creative work is done by self-actualized people in isolation, but many creative movements come out of collaborative alliances, hermetic circles of gifted mutants synergizing and inspiring each other. A good example is Impressionism, which changed the way we saw color and form forever. This movement arose from a small group of friends and painters who were intimately involved with each other. Monet was apparently the leading personality and genius of this group, but he was nourished by the group synergy as much as the others. Although at this more self-actualized age I work mostly in isolation, I live in Boulder Colorado, a mutant hot spot where I feel myself in a field of creative, active, healthy, vital, happening energy. * See a note added at the end of this essay on 7/27/11 that provides a dream related to this theme.
Fellowship vs. Solitude
Today, geographic locality is partly, not entirely, mitigated by the nonlocality of cyberspace, but there is still something to be said for the creative inspiration of live, 3-D, nonvirtual contact with other creative people. On the other hand, people are also the greatest distraction for the creative person. So much social contact is stereotyped, mechanical and low intensity. Every day, it seems, I get new messages about the need to withdraw from the more random kind of social contact, situations where small talk predominates, the life blood of the social personality, but poison for a creatively self-actualizing introvert. People differ in their ability to shut out distractions, and some say that a heightened sensitivity to distractions is a sign of a neurological deficit. But I think that an extreme aversion to distracting influences is sometimes a healthy immunological response. The creative person needs to be the sovereign of his imaginal space, needs to protect his kingdom from random invasion. The muse is a jealous, demanding, possessive partner. High intensity creative work wants to proceed without distractions and interruptions, and it can be crucial to arrange your life so as to allow for that.
At the present moment, practical necessity is demanding that I work on my laptop in the back of a coffee shop. In the recent past I used to like, at least sometimes, writing in coffee shops. When Seligman and others conducted research into happiness, one of the most consistent results they found is that people were happier in groups, and most unhappy, most subject to what they called “psychic entropy,” when alone. This proved true of even the people who claimed to prefer solitude. There is stimulation for us social mammals in seeing, and being in, even the anonymous company of others. There is the eye candy stimulation of the occasional attractive person going by, etc. But my muse isn’t going for that anymore. I have to wear earplugs and/or headphones with music to shut out the talking, and the wavelength of caffeinated socializing energy is not what I need to surround me. So the lesson, to summarize, is this: to follow the muse it is essential to have contact with other creative people, but it may be even more essential to have solitude available when you need it.
The Muse as Developmental Catalyst
The muse led me on a gigantic tangent I didn’t anticipate about education, location, and social boundaries. Now back to Dostoevsky and my College Scholars project as a nineteen-year-old junior in college. Finally, there was a confluence of propitious factors leading to that year initiating my real education. I had creative allies, students and teachers who recognized me and supported what I was doing. College was paid for and I had an incredibly busy schedule, but much of my time was taken up with creative, enriching work. And finally I had one class I could structure myself. I wanted to read Dostoevsky; I was following the Path of the Numinous, and I wanted to find out more about the voice that was coming out of the radio, but I didn’t fully realize that yet. My original proposal was that I would write about Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg, a city that attracted both his fascination and loathing. Because it was one of the first cities to be completely preplanned, Dostoesky saw it as an artificial world, a landscape of the soulless ego. This was a perfectly intriguing subject, but it was not, ultimately, where the muse wanted me to go.
Fairly soon into the project, I came to realize that what was really numinous, what I really had to investigate was why that voice from the radio sounded like the inside of my own mind. As I read Dostoevsky, I found that I felt something in common with a number of his central characters, not just the man from underground, but also Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and a few others. I had only taken one psychology course, the introductory survey course that everybody takes, but I was starting to discover that my mind was psychologically oriented and that I seemed to have psychological intuitions and thinking without having been trained in it. My mother was a psychologist for forty-four years, so I did grow up hearing and overhearing some psychology, but much of my insights seemed to come from the inside. Reading Dostoevsky novels, I began to use certain of his characters to build a psychological model of a personality type I called “the profound egocentric.” (see the original paper: Doestoevsky and the Profound Egocentric)
While I was building this psychological model, there was a decisive moment, perhaps the first of those twenty to forty minute zones when an entire vista of awareness opened up. It was at night and I was sitting on a park bench by myself on a path that led to the college library. Suddenly there was a vast coalescing of insights and intuitions; everything seemed to come together. I saw how this personality type worked in the Doestoevsky characters and how it worked in me, how it limited me, and how I was now in a situation with allies where I could begin to transcend those limitations. This was, for the first nineteen years of my life, an epiphany, a breakthrough into unprecedented self-knowledge. I felt the inner tectonic plates shift, and at that exact moment, on that park bench, I felt then, and feel now, that my adult consciousness began. To this day, when I look back at the landscape of memory, that was the dividing line, the memories that come after that park bench are of a different sort, as they are seen through the eyes of an analytical, self-awareness that had not really come into its own before I sat down on that bench.
This is one of the greatest reasons to follow the creative muse, as demanding and impossible as she can be: the path toward creative realization can also run parallel to the path of self-realization; you may be led not merely through the labyrinth of a particular field of inquiry or art form, but may also travel more deeply into the labyrinth of your human incarnation, and may find yourself closer to who you really are and what you came here to do. And the more deeply you travel into yourself, the more likely you are to come back from that journey with something of universal value to other humans.
Unlikely Help from a Dead Swiss Guy
My success with the profound egocentric project was the necessary precursor, intrapsychically and academically, to a more ambitious project, which took the form of a philosophy honors paper entitled “Archetypes of a New Evolution.” The path of discovery involved in this project continues to this present moment. Retrospectively, the life I lived before I wrote that paper had led up to it with a great deal of thematic unity, and since I began work on it at age twenty, I have been aware of its meaning as one of the key defining themes in my life. That theme involves paranormal life experiences, relationships, teaching, fiction and nonfiction writing. Like Bilbo laying his hand on the One Ring in the darkness of a cave, this path began with an encounter with the numinous, and it has led me down a rabbit hole that has yet to run out of unexplored depths.
I’ve already written about some of the numinous encounters that led to this paper in Thoughts on Jung and I’ll excerpt a relevant part of it here:
Carl Jung once said, “I’m glad I’m Jung, and not a Jungian.” Although I’ve never had “Jungian” stamped on my passport, I do have to admit that for me, if there had been no Jung, it would have been necessary to invent him. There was a dark side to his character, but he was clever enough to anticipate judgments with a favorite quote, “The larger the man, the larger the shadow.”
My first encounter with Jung was intense and had the uncanny stamp of what Jung called “synchronicity” all over it. I was nineteen years old and attempting to investigate certain anomalies. I had had experiences of a parapsychological nature, and found myself fascinated by certain disturbing sci-fi fantasies, and other strange objects that lit up in my imagination with recurrent intensity, but that also appeared, inexplicably, outside of my psyche in sci-fi books and movies. This appearance of an artifact of the inside world materializing outwardly, another example of synchronicity, was especially strange as some of the material predated my incarnation. Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, for example, had been written two years before I was born. Even more disturbing was the British 1960 sci-fi movie, Village of the Damned, which was based on the novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham, written five years before I was born. How could fantasies and visions that I thought weirdly peculiar to my imagination turn up in stories that were older than I was?
Unlikely help offered itself to me during the course of my studies. I was in my last year of college and the Chairman of the Philosophy Department, though I was an English major, had become my benefactor and opened doors for me in a highly conservative academic environment, allowing me to pursue interdisciplinary research projects into obscure, shadowy areas. But it was actually my mom who suggested that I read what a Carl Jung had to say about archetypes and the collective unconscious.
And so I came to stand before the many elegant black volumes of the Princeton Bollingen edition of Jung’s collected works. But what could this Swiss psychologist, the son of a minister, who reached manhood in the Nineteenth Century, say of any use to a nineteen year old Jewish kid from the Bronx who found himself obsessed with sci-fi fantasies like The Midwich Cuckoos, in which a UFO-related incident somehow resulted in large-eyed, androgynous children with psychic powers and a group mind? I scanned the index volume for a minute or so and came across a late work, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of things Seen in the Sky. That was a bit of a shock, as UFOs were a major part of the fantasies and my esoteric research. I went right to volume ten, Civilization in Transition, where flying saucers were considered. This subject seemed to haunt Jung near the end of his life, and he couldn’t let go of it. At the end of the book there was an afterword, followed by an epilogue, followed by a supplement.
And then my jaw dropped open in amazement. Jung had devoted this lengthy supplement to analyzing mythological layers of meaning in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos! It seemed as if this dead Swiss guy had stepped out of the bookcase and had holographically manifested himself to look over my shoulder, at the same sci-fi story that obsessed me. Even more amazing, I saw that we had some parallel ideas about what it might mean. Since then I have seen Jung as my spiritual grandfather and feel justified in saying that I am glad to be a Jungian, and not Jung, because I get to be the benefactor of his many decades of heavy lifting. He had the earth-moving power to tunnel deeply into the cultural matrix and uncover the deep program, the core ruling images he called archetypes. If anyone has made a heroic contribution to pulling back the veils of Maya, it is Jung.
(For a more recent version of what I learned about our evolutionary event horizon see Looking toward the Event Horizon—the Singularity Archetype and the Metamorphosis of the Human Species )
The muse is drawing the curtain closed on this discourse on her. I’m sure that there was some narcissistic motivation in all this self-disclosure, but I hope that aspects of my long, troubled and blessed relationship with the muse have general implications as well. If you are seeking to follow your creative muse, I salute you. Look into what others in your particular field of creative endeavor have gone through. Rollo May’s classic The Courage to Create has a lot to say on these subjects, though I have only read a few tiny excerpts myself. Emerson’s Self Reliance and The American Scholar are guaranteed to reward your attention. Probably the most thorough scientific inquiry into creativity is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity—Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Still working my way through it and if you check back I may add a discussion about this book in the near future. This is probably not my last word on the subject, as I am writing about a relationship in progress, and new adaptations and realizations no doubt lay ahead of me. I would be greatly interested in hearing anything you may have learned about the muse in your own relationship to the creative process. Next time maybe I will incorporate more examples than my own. Until then,
May the Path of the Numinous rise up to meet you, may you follow the muse down the road that goes ever on and on . . .
Material about the muse certainly goes ever on and on. Here are some things added later:
From Life Lessons from the Living Dead:
[Peggy is a near-death experiencer] Later Ring points out that Peggy’s realization [from her near-death experience] is an almost universal one for experiencers:
“One thing I [learned] was that we are ALL here to do an ‘assignment of love.’ We don’t have to do it at all, or we can do as many as we like. It’s up to us. Our ‘assignment’ is programmed in at birth and it is the very things we love most. I was such a bozo. I always thought doing what you loved most was selfish. I can remember how amazed and happy I was when this information “came into my mind.” This other source of energy, using my voice, said, “that is the most unselfish and constructive thing you can do for the world because that is your assigned energy and you will be happiest doing it, best at it, and most respected for it!”
“The Light seems to be telling us, each of us, that we have a unique gift, an offering to make to the world, and that our happiness and the world’s are both served when we live in such a way as to realize that gift, which is no less than our purpose in life. What the NDE does is to help crack the egg in which this gift has lain, neglected and even unsuspected, so that it can begin to emerge and grow to its fullest” (LL, 51).
What we need to celebrate is the individual. Have you not noticed (I certainly have), that every historical change you can think of—in fact any change you can think of, forget about human beings—any change in any system that you can think of is always ultimately traceable to one unit in the system undergoing a phase state change of some sort. There are no group decisions, those come later. The genius of creativity and of initiation of activity always lies in the individual.
July 27, 2011 Early this morning I had an interesting dream related to the muse. In a somewhat chaotic situation where anomalous, almost apocalyptic weather is occurring, I am working on some sort of performance art piece. The art piece involves viewers looking down some sort of shaft, partly created by optical illusions, at a person sitting at a table far below. The person at the table is in a state of subterranean isolation and I think of naming the performance art piece after the Dostoevsky novella, Man from Underground. As I play with the optical illusions necessary to create the perception of the long shaft I am in some sort of subject/object reversal state as I experience myself as both the viewer and as the man from underground sitting at a table at the bottom of the shaft.
Many aspects of this dream relate it to the creative muse. Beside the obvious, that it involves a performance art piece, there is also the connection to the novella Man from Underground that has already been discussed in this essay—the encounter with the muse in the form of a voice from a clock radio in the middle of the night when I was fourteen. When I was designing the performance piece in the dream, I was well aware of my artistic intent. I was trying to make a statement that the artist must be a man from underground, must accept subterranean isolation in the depths, but that, paradoxically, from this intense isolation the artist can create things of universal import and of great interest to others. In the dream I am in the classic position of the artist as both performer and observer and am aware that I am creating optical illusions, that what seems like a shaft revealing a person in deep isolation is also a projection, a creative intrusion into the outer world of an artistic statement. For example, if we envision Dostoevsky alone in his garret writing Man from Underground in isolation at night, pages and pen illuminated by the flickering light of a kerosine lamp, it’s like looking down a shaft, seeing a person in the depths of isolated creation. But then if we shift our focus to view the present readers of Dostoevsky, we see, for example, young college students, 130 years after Dostoevsky’s death holding battered paper back copies of Notes from Underground and reading them with rapt attention. Our expanded view reveals that what looked like a shaft descending into total isolation was actually more like a light house, a beam of light, a telepathic artifact made in the 19th Century that is still glowing in the minds of myriad people in the 21st Century. If we can hold these two views in our minds we see the paradox of creation—that what seems like this isolated tunneling into the depths of our being can also be this telepathic broadcast into the minds of others, a broadcast that can transcend our life span. The optical illusion of isolation when we tunnel inward has never been more illusory than in the internet era.
I woke up before dawn this morning to write about a dream I just had. If you were to project a shaft of remote viewing into the ceiling of my room right now you would see the 21st Century equivalent of the 19th Century garret, an obsessed looking middle-aged guy leaning forward in his chair, shaved head illuminated by a computer monitor, listening to Pink Floyd Echoes and typing on a wireless keyboard. Another image of man underground, working in total isolation. But then, with a few mouse clicks, I post what I’ve written to my website and send it out as a newsletter to a thousand subscribers. From the bottom of the shaft a beacon of zeros and ones has shot out at near light speed and a thousand emails are appearing in email accounts to people who are mostly in other time zones. My predawn is evening for a subscriber in Australia opening the email and reading what I just wrote. The old art form of writing melds with cybertech to create a telepathy as the Australian scans what a few seconds ago were my private thoughts. If you expand your remote view to include all readers and subscribers, and this would have to include you reading this right now, you see that what seemed this solitary ritual is actually a mass telepathic event, one psyche interfacing, time displaced, with many others. All art is the exteriorized artifacts of individual psyches. These exteriorizations, if they are done well, create parallel intrapsychic experiences in those who perceive the art. Thanks to the internet, this inward/outward telepathic paradox is now available to almost all of us.
The context of the dream reinforces this paradox. I hadn’t been thinking much about this essay, but Joe, a new friend, a young poet in a graduate writing program who lives in the same building as I do, told me on the phone the previous evening that he was reading the Path of the Numinous, and listening to the podcast with great interest and wanted to talk to me about it. We arranged to meeting up the following evening. This social transaction happened just before I went to sleep. In the dream, I am in solitude creating this art piece that has an image of deep isolation, but the dream itself seemed to be seeded by a social transaction. Joe’s numinous interest in the essay, which I hadn’t been thinking about at all, seemed to inject vitality into the subject and catalyzed the dream. This social context adds a layer of parallel meaning. We create in what seems like the depth of solitude, but actually, as I discuss in a recent essay, Pushing the Envelope—Boundary Expansion into Novelty in Personal and Evolutionary Contexts, there are many social contexts to solitary creation. What we create in isolated depth can be broadcast into the collective and become a maximal case of our psyche interfacing with others. But another social aspect of creativity is revealed by the context of the dream. The numinous interests of other creative people can catalyze creative synergies. All human creativity has a social context. If it were not for the influence of other artists and creative people we would not even be ourselves. For this reason it is very important that we creative people find some sort of community with other creative people so that we can tap into the serendipitous synergies that arise when minds on parallel wavelengths converge.
The dream also had some connections to the Singularity Archetype (see my book, Crossing the Event Horizon—The Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis). Outside the building where I was creating the performance art piece, there was anomalous weather that seemed almost apocalyptic, an inexplicable form of precipitation that seemed explosive. My response to the apocalyptic weather was to access the inward/outward telepathic paradox of art. This process is at the cutting edge of evolution, and Pushing the Envelope—Boundary Expansion into Novelty in Personal and Evolutionary Contexts expands this theme and is, I now realize, a sequel to this essay. Terence McKenna, my late colleague, when talking about what we should do during this critical phase of human evolution said, “Push the art pedal to the metal.”
CREATIVITY AND PHYSICAL CONDITION
Something that’s not said often enough about relating to the creative muse (in fact, it’s rarely said at all) is the connection to physical condition. Obviously, we realize that athleticism depends on bodily condition, and athletes have relatively short careers compared to those pursuing creative arts (except ballet). Even though I’m emphatically not a neurological materialist, no one can deny that while we’re associated with a physical body our neurological condition is a huge factor. Like the rest of the body, the brain ages, and our neurological condition fluctuates during the course of a single day.
In my case, I’ve long been aware that a high level writing session is very dependent on my neurological condition (among other key factors). Predawn, upon awakening from quality sleep with lots of REM, is, for neurological and a number of other reasons, the golden zone for creative writing sessions. ( see: http://zaporacle.com/predawn-window-zone/) It is even more crucial for the highest-level creative writing sessions, which for me is fantasy fiction, or highly stylized nonfiction. A well thought out email is something I could write at almost any time of the day, but I can’t do the high level writing any time of the day.
To ground this in a practical example, if I were to stay up late drinking some night, the odds of a high level writing session the next morning are less than 5%. At this life phase, however, if I exercised the day before, ate really well and got to sleep early, the odds of a high level writing session the next morning are closer to 95%.
The creative muse and physical condition are dependent variables so long as I am associated with a corporeal body. An athlete, early in life, finds that the muse of athleticism is in a war with the clock—their skill and experience is going up, but their peak bodily condition starts going down. If they’re lucky there is a golden zone between these two curves where they have enough skill and experience and their bodily condition is still close to peak.
The creative person is usually dealing with a gentler version of those two curves. Skill and experience have longer to accumulate and the downward curve of neurological condition is less steep, but still a major factor. Eventually, however, if the creative muse continues to demand big things of you late in life, you also experience the war with the clock. This can be a different struggle than the classic human struggle with mortality and corporeality, but it has its overlaps. I’m not at war with death, I’m excited about that event horizon, but I’d much rather cross the corporeal finish line after completing certain key life tasks rather than leaving them in an unfinished state. (why I’m enthusiastic about death: http://zaporacle.com/life-lessons-from-the-living-dead/) When it comes to stuff that often leads up to death, such as profound aging and ill health, I am much, much less accepting and, in general, my struggles with mortality have always been about the nonperfectable nature of the human body (at any age).
At the moment, I realize, I have few causes for complaint, only a very small percentage of all Homo sapiens have ever made it to age 55, and I am in much better shape than the average 55-year-old. I jumped off the death train of the standard American diet when I became a vegetarian at age 19. I have a long history of exercise, my dad made it to 93 and my mom is 89 and still able to live on her own, etc., etc. Nothing bodily has, so far, limited my relationship to the creative muse except that what I do today has powerful effects on tomorrow morning’s writing session.
This is fortunate, and although some of it is the result of my efforts toward nutrition and exercise, some of it is also the good luck of genetics, modern hygiene and medicine, not being desperately poor, etc. There are quite a number of writers who, in their fifties, were still being pulled by the creative muse, but whose bodies were totally spent and had to leave unfinished work. Dickens and Dostoevsky, for example, died just a couple of years older than I am right now and looked like extremely old men at my present age. More recently, Robert Jordan, author of the amazing fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, departed in his fifties leaving the last couple of books to be written by another author. Of course, he might have gotten sick anyway, but when I recently happened to see YouTube interviews of him and George R.R. Martins (author of the Game of Thrones series) I noticed by their fifties they both looked grossly out-of-shape like they hadn’t exercised in decades and were walking with canes, etc. Long writing sessions, and fantasy writers probably endure the longest of writing sessions, are really bad for physical condition. Robert Jordan would sometimes write from 8 in the morning to 11:30 at night which is enviable from the muse point of view, but horrible for his body. Just in the last year or so all this research has come out that sitting for an hour or more is really bad for your health even if you get in an hour of vigorous exercise later in the day. I didn’t realize this until recently and used to be one of those people who believed that my intense cardio workouts made up for long writing sessions (to some extent they do, but not entirely). Now I write at an adjustable height desk that allows me to pedal a short elliptical trainer as I sit. I also can work standing. There has been a movement toward more ergonomic work stations, sit-to-stand desks, treadmill desks, etc.
If the creative muse were to stop leading me constantly in new directions, I could probably catch up with all unfinished nonfiction projects in a year or two. I never can get caught up, however, because new projects keep showing up. Additionally, there is a gigantic mountain before me, larger than anything I’ve done before, and that I have scarcely begun to climb—an unfinished, experimental fantasy epic called Parallel Journeys http://zaporacle.com/parallel-journeys/. Most fantasy writers who complete a major fantasy epic begin no later than their early forties. Parallel Journeys, in one form or another, has been haunting me since I was 20, but portals into it open rarely. When they do, it is dramatic and overwhelming. A three-week period beginning in the middle of February saw a whole book’s worth of content play out and dominate my consciousness for three weeks. Then it quieted down again and new nonfiction projects pulled me into their vortex. Everything I’ve written so far seems highly experimental and in need of rewrite. Also, although I have way more than my 10,000 hours in with non-fiction writing, I don’t have 10,000 hours in with fantasy fiction writing. My nonfiction skills are still improving, and my fiction writing skills need much more development. This is especially the case because Parallel Journeys wants to be written in a highly unconventional, experimental style that demands much more skill than a conventionally structured narrative with less stylized writing.
Of course, I’ve long realized that Parallel Journeys might never be finished. It might be my version of that thing that’s always just up ahead but ever recedes from your grasp like the green light blinking on the dock in the distance that Gatsby stares at every evening and relates to his unfulfillable romantic longings.
When I was twenty, and made my discoveries about the Singularity Archetype, I had a strong, intuitive realization that even more important than writing about it and exploring it from a nonfiction perspective would be to create a fantasy portal into it. The latest download (the three week period) was the most intense one ever, so it still feels like momentum for it is still building in the unconscious. But I’m still waiting for the major opening into this work, the opening that will allow me to finish whole books, etc. In every other case where the muse has pulled me into something I’ve been able to produce finished work, so it’s not outside the range of probability that I will reach such a zone with Parallel Journeys.
And this brings us back to closure with the subject of bodily condition and the creative muse. To be able to pull off such a huge writing project, one that will probably require thousands of hours of high level writing, I need to continue to be in far better shape than average for my advancing age. Presently, I’m 33 days into a smoothie regimen, which is definitely helping, but I need to do even more toward physical fitness and need to keep that up long term. So if any of you extreme health and fitness people out there have any suggestions for me, I’d love to get your input. Also, if you are driven by the creative muse, I hope what I’ve written about my case gets you thinking about your own relationship between creativity and physical condition.
Status Update 1/25/15
Following the Creative Muse
For those few people interested in the vicissitudes of the creative process, a volatile three month cycle for me reached a culmination yesterday and shifted decisively this morning. This personal account is an illustration or example of the the path of creativity I have developed and written about in The Path of the Numinous—Living and Working with the Creative Musehttp://zaporacle.com/the-path-of-the-numinous-living-a…/ (also available as a podcast and Youtube).
I just spent 3 hours and 15 minutes engrossed in a very productive revision/ writing session on my fantasy epic, Parallel Journeys (Chapter One and some notes on the history of this project: http://zaporacle.com/parallel-journeys-beta-test/), and this was a complete departure from what’s been going on recently.
For the last three months, my predawn writing sessions (see Predawn Window Zone http://zaporacle.com/predawn-window-zone/ for why I need to write predawn) have fluctuated unpredictably between Parallel Journeys and intense inner work/writing sessions. Both types of creative work involve almost continuous writing, especially the inner sessions which have been turned into a personal oracle, called the Coaxial Oracle which, as of yesterday, contained 101,294 words (over 500 pages) about two thirds of it written in the last three months.
Starting December 30th, the muse wouldn’t allow me even five minutes of Parallel Journeys work and every morning I was ineluctably pulled into inner work during writing sessions that had huge word counts but no public content.
For the last few days, despite daily downloads of new realizations and voluminous Coaxial Oracle writing, I felt that this inner work might be reaching a culmination and that I would be able to return to Parallel Journeys soon. But I also felt that this might be wishful thinking because although I realized that inner necessity, the muse, whatever you want to call it, demanded this other work predominate, I also had this guilty feeling of neglecting Parallel Journeys, and even got a concerned email from my editor, Austin (http://www.austiniredale.com/), who wondered why I hadn’t even commented on the edits he had sent in the first week of the new year.
Then on Thursday, traveling from Bronx to Boulder via two subways, two airplanes and two buses (the liminal zone of traveling between two such polarized places always magical for me), I had some culminating insights that also took the form of a new chaos magic practice (see Two Chaos Magic Practices http://zaporacle.com/two-chaos-magic-practices-to-enha…/ for a brief definition) and a new form of an imaginal object (used in the practices) which I began working on in the Eighties.
On Friday morning I had a powerful dream that added to the culminating insights. I worked with the dream and then polished and refined the insights, magical practices and imaginal object on Friday morning and spent the day applying what I had learned and created.
I could feel the inner tectonic plates shift as three months of work resulted in culminating insights and a new magical technology (an inner practice involving the imaginal object) that was immediately effective.
And then this morning, this predawn writing session, I found that the tide had turned and the irresistible gravitational force pulling me, day after day into the inner/ Coaxial Oracle work was gone and replaced by a wide open portal into Parallel Journeys.
And once I started revising I noticed something else. Instead of feeling rusty, my fiction writing/revision skills seemed enhanced by the time away. Rereading a part that I thought of as finished work, I found ways to improve most of it and wrote a whole new section.
Austin’s edits, which had been gathering dust in my hard drive for two and a half weeks, proved to be invaluable and incisively accurate. They perfectly accorded with my stated intention to make the writing more cinematic and present tense. As I hoped, all the acting work Austin had been doing for the last few years had enhanced his editing skills and in the same direction of cinematic immediacy that I’ve been aiming at.
A few days ago in New York, my friend Michael said something that had been replaying in my mind. I repeated my spiel about having way more than 10,000 hours in with nonfiction writing but not with fiction and he dismissed that as not as major as I was making it out to be, “Yeah but if you have been working for decades in the arts, then you bring all of that to bear on whatever medium you adopt.”
Just as Austin’s acting career enhanced his editing skills, working in any art form can enhance what you bring to other art forms.
A brief Parallel Journeys phase in 1996 was interrupted by an immense gravitational pull into collage and decoupage work, an unexpected and highly unwelcome call that occurred right in the midst of a Parallel Journeys session and which I tried mightily to resist, but couldn’t. (I wrote about this in The Path of the Numinous).
The immersion into handcrafted visual art went on for a few years, and when I emerged from it I found that my writing was more aesthetic and visual. The artwork phase was right brained, guided by feelings, intuitions and visual ideas and when I resumed work in the medium of writing all that came with me.
The last three months of inner work was a realigning of my whole being and that realignment applies to my fiction writing and allowed progress to occur during the time I was compelled toward other sorts of writing.
But I don’t want to indulge in too much self-congratulation because I also sense that progress will stall immediately if I neglect the new inner practices and physical disciplines. I need to walk the talk the whole day for the next predawn writing session to be a portal. Also, no matter what I do today, I am not in control of the creative process and I can’t be sure what tomorrow will bring till I get there.