Archive for January 8th, 2010

Dry river bed of the Rio Grande, at Big Bend National Park, with the United States on the left and Mexico on right. Photo Credit: SCEhardt, available in the public domain

The moments of special dread for writers, composers, scientists, artists, and mathematicians are the mental “dry spells.” A fertile period of easy flow when, for the writer,  the words seem to come readily with a life all their own, are invariably followed by times when it looks as if s/he’s run out of ideas. These gaps can last for what seem interminable periods and are often experienced as deeply frustrating, frightening, lonely, and as occasions of depression and shaken confidence. In these desert times, with no oasis in sight, anxious hours of work bare little, if any, tangible fruit.

Many artists have talked about these lacunae in inspiration, but one came to mind tonight that puts it all together with unparalleled spiritual insight: poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote in his poem, The Poet:

O hour of my muse: why do you leave me,
Wounding me by the wingbeats of your flight?
Alone: what shall I use my mouth to utter?

How shall I pass my days? And how my nights?

I have no one to love. I have no home.
There is no center to sustain my life.
All things to which I give myself grow rich
and leave me spent, impoverished, alone.

As only Rilke can, these few stanzas capture the sense of being abandoned by the inner voices of inspiration for protracted periods of seeming “emptiness.” However, the anxiety surrounding these dormant intervals are no less significant and pregnant with meaning as the bulbs planted late in the growing season that will surely rise in their full splendor come the Spring. These dry spells are zones of incubation. Consciousness doesn’t take a holiday, nor does inspiration leave us. Instead, the ground of inspiration for the next creative foray is being refreshed in the winter cycle. As the mythic Persephone must descend into the underworld until the following Spring, so too the depth of the later expression wholly depends on the fullness of the Winter’s descent.

The anguish that we experience when the muse goes silent betrays our narcissistic attachment to the times of fruitful expression. We see the words or the notes or the equations flowing through us and, after a time, we grow too fond of our reflection in the words, the musical phrase or the beautifully elegant mathematical expressions that never really belonged to us. We serve as the vessels.

We fall in love with our reflection in the “pool” of flowing ideas and sounds and images. It is our nature to become thus attached. When we do, we are actually breaking off our open channel to the collective unconscious. In that moment of ego ownership, the river becomes blocked upstream and so the waters begin to run shallow until they go dry altogether.

Rather than being a time for anguish, worry, and melancholic insecurity, the dry spells are gifts to be celebrated. Instead of loss, they are a corrective in the psyche for these attachments. The winter cycle forces  a time of incubation and relaxed opening to the root system of all ideas and images.

Much like sleep and dreaming, the dry times serve the important purpose of allowing ideas to settle in, self-organize, await the right moment when new combinations and synergies are sparked, and the springtime of the mind returns with all of its luscious diversity. As spiritual practice, replacing consternation with celebration when the well runs dry quickens the soul’s journey to penetrate ever deeper toward the Source.

In his poem, A Walk, Rilke alternatively captures the fullness of living in the time just before the inspiration and revelation, in the in-between, in the time of waiting in wonder:

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Here is the paradox of the creative soul. The greater the time spent in the desert is directly proportional to the depth of the revelations that will surely follow for the heart that remains fully opened. Isn’t it interesting that in the mythology of the church much is made of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted. Only then, was he ready to assume the role of a soter. The writer’s priesthood ( and that of all creative artists) is purified and enriched in the crucible of those times when nothing seems worth writing about, the words won’t come, and the river runs shallow.

Then, suddenly, the skies open, and it rains again.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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