Refusing to Prostitute Our Muse (a.k.a. ‘The Relevance of Peonies’)

Feb 3, 2021 | Blog, Featured 2, Featured Read

My muse recently returned to me, after an excruciatingly long hiatus. For many, many months I could barely write a word.

I felt zero inspiration, no assignments from God, a complete lack of any creative connection between my heart, mind and voice. I could still feel a potent yearning to express myself, but I had absolutely nothing to say.

At first I felt stunned, and a bit miffed: my muse had left me! She had actually left. I had no idea for how long she’d be gone, or even if she’d ever return. After a particularly prolific few years, this came as a bit of a shock.

What would I do without this cherished way of moving and processing life through my words? This medicine of alchemizing the mundane into parable and poetry?

I sulked and tantrummed and pitied myself about this for some time. And then finally, like any good mystic would, I surrendered. Where once my precious free moments had found me flirting with God for words, now I turned wholeheartedly to silence.

Where once I had found such a dynamic love affair in expression, now I could feel the beckoning of an infinitely deeper love with stillness. Wide open moments of nothing to do or say or give. Zero insight. Zero poignancy. Zero inspiration. Ahhhh. Amazing. What a relief.

The more I sat in stillness, the more I could see the necessity of this break with my muse. It had not just come out of the blue. Her leaving was a direct response to a prayer I had made: to rediscover right relationship with my own voice.

Somewhere along the way, I had formed a habit of writing from an agenda to be read, or with an underlying striving for the writing to serve or inspire or resonate. Neurosis, insecurity, self-doubt and desire for impact had hijacked my innocent love for writing.

I had been prostituting my muse, in a compulsive striving for relevance. My words had become one step removed from my naked, honest voice. And since I’m a truth-teller, this one step removed felt intolerable. My muse leaving me high and dry was a generous answer to my prayer for realignment.

One balmy day in June, I took a leisurely barefoot walk upon the land of my home. I smiled to notice three stellar jays bossing around the territorial raven my kids and I had affectionately named Zeus. There was a kindness inside my eyes, as love looked through them. A simplicity of thankfulness for every single thing.

As I made my way gently back towards our house, I suddenly stumbled upon a small bush of pink-faced peonies in wild, open bloom. I couldn’t believe it. In three years of living on this land, I had never noticed them before. I had somehow overlooked this blatant blessing of peonies! Apparently it had taken a global pandemic and my muse abandoning me, to notice such beauty. I cradled each one of their faces gently between my fingers. I felt so tenderly in love with them, that tears came to my eyes.

I recalled that peonies have always been one of my mother’s favorite flowers, and that when her father, my grandfather, was still alive, he would grow rows and rows of heirloom peonies in his garden, and then he’d cut them and arrange them as voluptuously messy bouquets all over their New England home.

Standing there in my own summer garden I suddenly felt something stirring within me, some wondrous inkling, the subtlest hint of my muse, and excitedly I left the peonies, running inside to find my journal and a pen. Oh she was back, she was back! Breathlessly, I opened to a blank page, so curious to see what she would bring me.

But as the ink met the paper, only four words emerged: “The relevance of peonies.” I waited patiently, listening, my pen poised, to see what might follow. But that was it! Nothing about the relevance, nothing about my grandfather’s heirlooms, nothing about a lineage of love for these plump, pink flowers. Nothing about the poignancy of being quiet enough to notice everyday beauty. Nothing but this strange, open title, apparently complete unto itself.

And just like that, she whisked off, and was gone again, for many months to come.

I shrugged, put my pen down, closed my journal, took a deep breath, and went back outside to the peonies with some clippers, to create my own voluptuous, messy bouquet. Maybe there was nothing to say about any of it anymore, but I could still live it?

I stopped taking my journal with me when I’d go places. I stopped making sure I had a pen and paper always at hand to write down whatever peek or glimmer she might share with me. I stopped opening Microsoft Word when I sat down at my computer.

My identification with my muse, with my expression, with my words, slowly loosened. It was a death and a birth all at once to realize I could, in fact, love life without her.

And then, sometime after that epic Dec 21 Solstice conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, and the brightest star shining in our sky, my muse returned to me. She didn’t make a dramatic thing of it. It was almost like she’d been there all along, right behind the curtain, just quietly waiting for my heart to be a place of innocence again.

I was so happy to feel her return, I can’t even tell you. At first I tiptoed around her, giving her sideways glances, afraid that if I directly acknowledged her presence she’d leave me again. (Muse-attachment trauma, perhaps?) But after a few days, it became clear she wanted to create with me again. I could feel the preciousness of her presence, her sparkly urging, her sweet invitations.

Just to have something to say! What a gift this is. Just to feel inspired by a call to express—such a treasure. Golden assignments, twinkling nudges—I had missed them dearly.

One of my most beloved friends, with whom I’ve walked closely for over 25 years, never fails to serve as a provocative mirror for my heart. While we share many life paths and passions—healing work, medicine work, writing and single motherhood—unlike me, she carries a flaming torch of ambition and drive for professional success that I both admire, and at times am triggered by.

And so when I told her over the phone that my muse had just returned, my friend responded with wholehearted joy, “Oh that’s so wonderful, love! I’m so happy for you.” She knew what this meant to me. And then, because she carries the ambition torch the way she does, she added, “So how will you do it differently this time? With getting your work out there, I mean? So you can actually make sure you get read? I mean what’s the point of writing, right? If only a handful of people are reading it?”

Immediately I could feel my heart tighten and my pulse quicken. It was the perfect test, the perfect mirror. I responded calmly, gracefully brushing off her concern, accentuating the simple gift of inspiration. But when I hung up the phone, I was trembling. I could feel how protective I was of my muse. I noticed at once a fierce refusal to ever prostitute my muse again, while also feeling the vulnerable temptation to re-entangle my muse in striving.

I could feel myself rushing to the defense of writing, just to write. Not to be somebody, not to make something, not to make ME into something, not even to make medicine or contribute value, or leave a legacy. No, no. It’s all too much.

Writing just to write. Expression just for the sake of itself. Art just to be created, even if it’s washed away by the waves in the next moment. Even if never read, never seen, never published, never valued. Because the relevance of peonies, after all, is how they bloom outrageously, even if un-noticed and unappreciated for years, hidden in the garden. Still, they bloom—so  elegantly, so wildly pink, in godly glory, perfectly messy, and then they die.

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