By Steven Pressfield
Published: October 26, 2016
We were talking last week about “what works and what doesn’t,” i.e. what activities produce (for me) peace of mind at the end of the day. I listed a number that didn’t work—money, attention, family life, etc.
Let’s talk today about what does work.
If you asked me at this time of my life to define my identity—after cycling through many, many over the years—I would say I am a servant of the Muse.
That’s what I do.
That’s how I live my life.
[Remember, this post is Why I Write, Part 6.]
Consider this (incomplete and possibly out-of-order) selection from our newest Nobel laureate.
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Highway 61 Revisited
Blonde on Blonde
Bringing It All Back Home
Blood on the Tracks
John Wesley Harding
Slow Train Coming
Time Out of Mind
Shadows in the Night
See the Muse in there? Mr. D might not agree with the terminology I’m employing, but he is definitely serving something, isn’t he? Something is leading him and he is following it.
That’s exactly what I do.
An idea seizes me. Gates of Fire. Bagger Vance. The Lion’s Gate. Where is this idea coming from? The unconscious? The soul? The Jungian “Self?”
My answer: the Muse.
I experience this apparition-of-the-idea as an assignment. I’m being tasked by the Muse with a mission.
You are to travel by sea to Antioch. There you will meet a tall man with one eye who will hand you a talisman ….
My instinctive reaction, always, is to reject the idea. “It’s too hard, nobody’s gonna be interested, I’m not the right person, etc.”
This of course is the voice of Resistance.
In a few days (or weeks or months) I recognize this.
I accept my task.
I accede to my mission.
This is how I live my life. From project to project, year by year. As the Plains Indians followed the herds of buffalo and the seasonal grass, I follow the Muse.
Wherever she tells me to go, I go.
Whatever she asks me to do, I do.
I fear the Muse. She has slapped me around a few times over the years. I’ve been scared straight.
She has also cared for me. She has never failed me, never been untrue to me, never led me in any direction except that which was best for me on the deepest possible level.
She has taken me to places I would never have gone without her. She has shown me parts of the world, and parts of myself, that I would never have even dreamt existed.
But let’s take this notion a little deeper.
What I’m really saying is that I believe that life exists on at least two levels. The lower level is the material plane. That’s where you and I live. The higher level is the home of the soul, the neshama, the Muse.
The higher level is a lot smarter than the lower level.
The higher level understands in a far, far deeper way.
It understands who we are.
It understands why we are here.
It understands the past and the future and our roles within both.
My job, as I understand it, is to make myself open to this higher level.
My job is to keep myself alert and receptive.
My job is to be ready, in the fullest professional sense, when the alarm bell goes off and I have to slide down the pole and jump into the fire engine.
Again, I didn’t choose this way of living.
I didn’t seek it out.
I didn’t even know it existed.
I tried everything and nothing else worked. This was the only thing I’ve found that does the job for me.
In other words, I don’t do what I do for money. I don’t do it for ego or attention or because I think it’s cool. I don’t do it because I have a message to deliver or because I want to influence my brothers and sisters in any way (other than to let them know, from my point of view anyway, that they are not alone in their struggle.)
When I say I’m a servant of the Muse I mean that literally.
The goddess has saved my life and given it meaning or, perhaps more accurately, she has allowed me to participate in the meaning she already embodies, whether I understand it or not.
Everything I do in my life is a form of getting ready for the next assignment.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
. . . Killing Rommel is both a captivating history lesson and a rousing guts-'n'-glory saga. GRADE: A-
Pressfield has produced a splendid tour de force, one that brings to life the heroism, sacrifice, tragedy, frustration, fear and—yes—thrill of war. It should not be missed by military-history buffs or by anyone who wants a moving reminder of the bravery, ingenuity and sacrifice that ordinary men are capable of when given a cause they believe in.