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The On and the Off: Finding the muse

Plunging in the depths

All change and growth – all art, music, and writing – springs from an abundant free energy source. This is the same energy that nature uses to power its colossal path through the seasons.

This spring was a dazzling profusion of growth.

Anne and I took numerous walks in our local woodlands, following stream courses, catching the opening of the sun-generated blooms. It was Heaven on Earth.

We sit by the stream.
All the brain buzz,
by the white noise of water over stone.
We have time to listen to its rushing voice.

All is well in our moments together.

I take my socks off,
place my feet in the stream,
heal the wounds of my soul –
wash away the static charge, accumulated in daily life.

This is the “off” part. It is the place where time slows down, or stops. It is an open place, a place we can learn to cultivate – like a garden within – where thoughts, poems, songs, grow.

On these walks I captured some beautiful images

… photographing the patterns of light in matter – particularly in the movement of water – where I see universal energy flowing. Single moments, so fleeting, so filled with color and change.

Water image I

Water image I

You can’t do creative process if you are always “on.”

Most of what human beings do is repetitive and boring. What we think of as creative is usually imitation. Our minds are limited by what has been done before. But the creative impulse of the universe is constant. Free will allows us to choose whether we open the windows of our souls or not.

Nature abhors a vacuum. After a fire burns through a forest, the ash-laden soil coupled with water and seeds and abundant sunlight creates an opportunity for new growth.

In a similar vein, by slowing our minds, stopping the incessant electronic chatter of modern life, we create the opportunity for new ideas and perspectives to grow.

Water image II

Water image II

The muse

Everyone is an artist broadcasting his/her unique signal. By not listening to that signal, we miss the moment, lock-stepped to an artificial rhythm, not really alive at all!

Shakespeare called it his “muse.” I imagine that he sort of went out-of-body to write his work. He did not map out his prose. He sat down and wrote it, entranced in the imagery as it unfolded before him, through him.

Some of the most beautiful creations come from the mouths and hands of children. There are so many ways our socialization process shuts down a child’s connection with his/her muse. Sometimes later in life, after the trials and tribulations of a career and family cease to control our lives, the artist re-emerges. How great. I watched my mother pick up her brushes again at 50, to begin her prolific career as a painter and print maker.

Inside, when we take the time to listen, the still small voice, the creative breath, waits patiently to be heard. Can you hear it?

Water image III

Water image III

Left and right brain function

We are a left-brain dominated society with an engineering worldview. We are very good at linear application: A + B = C, always – and we build from there.

The right hemisphere is the “outside the box” activity location. When we use our intuition rather than logic to arrive at conclusions, it is a right brain activity.

The brain is a tool of the input response cycle, a shaper like a carpenter’s rasp. Getting into a creative state of mind requires using the open patterns of the right hemisphere. In this location A + B does not necessarily equal anything – or could equal everything. When we are being truly creative, we are letting the abundant free energy flow through us – shaping it with the feelings of the moment – and our intention to write or sculpt or play something new and unique.

This does not mean there is no plan or preparation.

Here is one of my centering techniques: Upon my dining room table is my red pen and blank white paper ready to go. It is calling me. During the day I brood about a topic, letting the ideas come freely, picking up a thread of thought or remembrance. It is kind of like a surfer waiting for a wave, digging it …

In the ocean swell, board-ready, totally relaxed.
She probably wouldn’t be out there if she weren’t ready –
thousands of waves under her board,
mind open, unhurried, aware that her wave is coming.

The universal creative impulse wants to become whatever you can imagine or shape.

As I said before, nature abhors a vacuum.

So, how do you get into this open-minded right brain place?

The first step is to stop all of the negative programs you might have around being creative. Perhaps like Mrs. Fisk in 3rd grade telling me I could not sing and that I could not be in the choir at School 16 in Yonkers, New York. When I chased her down the stairs pleading my case she pulled out her pitch-pipe and right in front of everyone made me sing the scale. Failure lurks large in our hearts!

At essence, everything we think of or feel becomes real. We build the world we live in. What could be more creative than that? Trust me, this is totally true. The difference between an artist and an engineer is being aware of this and surfing the waves as they come in, rather than trying to control them or measure them. Same process, different result.

Craftsmanship is not art. Yes, the flow of universal creative expression moves through the craftsman, becoming something fine indeed. It is by paying your dues to a craft, fine-tuning the tools, craftsmanship will pay off big time in artistic satisfaction.

Water image IV

Water image IV

Get out in nature.

Don’t jog or mountain bike.

Or if you do, stop. Sit. Listen. And breathe.

Holding your breath too tightly restricts natural rhythms. Sit and let your breath flow easily in and out. Let your thoughts move through with as little resistance as possible. Listen to the birds, the wind in the trees. Close your eyes, say a prayer.

This is basic meditation practice. It is doing while not doing and it is a great way to court your muse.

Look for inspiration that jump-starts new opportunities for self-expression.

It is important to be non-judgmental, especially during the early courtship. Art is not about what is better or worse, it is about feeling in touch with the greater meaning of life.

  1. David R. Philpot #

    Your best work yet , and your water images are beautiful.

    February 1, 2014
  2. Zoe McCaffrey #

    Simply wonderful Nick. I love the image of Shakespeare as Trance Channel, as well as the sprinkling of your personal anecdotes throughout. It’s wonderful to see some of your massive collection of water photos find a venue here – a perfect marriage of imagery and language!

    June 16, 2012
  3. Joanie Philpot #


    This is the best article yet! I love the photos, the prose and poetry. Keep writing this blog, it really is terrific.

    June 14, 2012
    • Thanks Joan! It is really nice to get some feedback and that you enjoyed it.

      June 15, 2012

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