Today’s guest is Mary Sharratt, whose latest book, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2016), is drawn from the dramatic life of ground-breaking Renaissance poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanier. The award-winning author of six critically acclaimed novels, Sharratt is an American who has lived in Germany and England for more than two decades. She is on a mission write women back into history. She lives in Pendle Witch country in Lancashire, England.
While I was writing my most spiritual novel thus far, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012), I started a daily meditation practice and kept with it ever since. With the publishing world becoming increasingly cutthroat, my practice feels more essential than ever, offering me the refuge of an inner sanctuary where I can drink from the wellsprings of inspiration.
Calling on the Muse: A Meditation for Writers
The world at large might view novelists as creative free spirits rocking la vie bohème, but we writers know that it’s much more complicated than that. We’re struggling to earn a living in one of the most competitive industries on the planet, writing books which might actually be redundant in their physical paper form in a decade or two. We tend to measure our success or failure on factors completely beyond our control, such as our publisher’s marketing budget and our reviews—if we actually get any reviews!
I know that I’ve often wrestled with the feeling that I’ll never be enough. Never be big enough. Never sell enough. Never earn an impressive enough advance to break out and matter. Sometimes it’s hard not to succumb to a flailing sense of helplessness—why are any of us doing all this? Worst of all is my fear of creative dryness—that my inspiration will turn to dust and I’ll never write—let alone publish—another book.
My meditation practice offers me a refuge from this churning maelstrom of fear and insecurity.
As writers we can spend so much time in our competitive, ego-based minds that we lose track of the deep wellspring of creativity within our own being, from which our novels and stories arise. When we take time to retreat to this inner sanctuary, we can literally revisit why we’re in this business in the first place—because we have this inner voice, this font of inspiration that is crying out to be noticed, to be birthed into being through our writing and shared with the world.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron wrote about the importance of filling our inner well with new ideas and experiences, but in my mind, our wells are already full and ever-replenishing. We just need to take the time to drop into this space, abide here in quiet reverence. To listen and wait until our inner guidance arises.
Some of my most potent ideas that I’ve woven into my published stories and novels emerged from meditation, reverie, and dreams.
Writers and artists throughout history have called upon the Muse as a goddess of creativity who whispers inspiration into the ears of her devotees. The ancient Greeks believed that Apollo was attended by nine Muses, who were themselves the daughter of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The twentieth-century British poet and novelist, Robert Graves called his Muse the White Goddess and wrote an eponymous book filled with his ecstatic praise of her.
Hindus and Buddhists call this white goddess of inspiration and creative flow Saraswati. She rides a white swan down a gently rippling river while she strums her veena, a kind of Indian lute. (If you’re a Western person who would like to learn more about meditating on Saraswati, I highly recommend Sally Kempton’s book, Awakening Shakti.)
If the concept of a literal goddess doesn’t work for you, you can think of the Muse as an archetype, a fairy godmother or sibyl deep within yourself.
So how can we connect with the Muse?
Find a quiet place to sit alone for at least twenty minutes. You can sit on a regular upright chair—no need to go out and buy a special cushion. Close your eyes and imagine a grounding cord dropping from the base of your spine and reaching deep into the earth like a tree root. When you feel grounded and centered, visualize yourself sitting on the bank of a softly flowing stream. Inhabit this space fully. What time of day is it? Does the sun or the moon shine in the sky? What is the landscape like?
When you feel fully present in this space, call upon your Muse. Ask, in your own words, for your Muse to appear to you. Your Muse is your unique inner guide, rising from the depths of your psyche. Gently wait until you see this being with your inner eye or simply sense this presence. What form and gender does your Muse take? Maybe your Muse appears in angelic form or as a historical figure you admire—in Deena Metzger’s book, Writing for Your Life, she mentions calling upon the late Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, as her Muse.
While listening to the rippling stream, commune with your Muse. Open your heart to her. What does your Muse have to tell you? Does he speak in words or in images? Does she have any tools she wants to give you? Is he singing to you or playing an instrument?
Ask her to share her wisdom and inspiration with you. As you gently open your heart to her, her sacred heart opens to you. I like to visualize silvery light flowing directly from my Muse’s heart into mine in a transfusion of deep inspiration.
Sit quietly and receive this stream of silvery light. With each inhalation, your Muse’s radiance fills you. With each exhalation, her light spreads through your entire being.
Rest in the serene and empowering presence of your Muse.
May the Muse shower blessings on us all.
How do you call on your Muse?