I have spent a lot of the past month talking about inspiration. As part of my trunk show lecture, which I delivered to several guilds this month, I talk about my first experience with receiving inspiration from some external, somewhat mystical source and how that changed the course of my quilts. I also talked about the inspiration for my Victims Quilt Project at the opening for my quilt exhibit “Disarming: Memorial Quilts for Mass Shooting Victims”. But, what I haven’t talked about is how I create the conditions that allow inspiration to happen.
For so many years, I did everything I could to keep inspiration out. I spent so much time rushing from to-do list item to to-do list item at home and at work that the Muse couldn’t have caught up with me if she wanted to. And, that was fine. I got a lot done and I still made some lovely quilts as relaxation. It wasn’t until I slowed down a bit that the Muse was able to catch me and I realized what I had been missing. Slowing down, I now realize, was the first thing I needed to do to create the conditions necessary for inspiration to come. So, what are those conditions?
- Be Still – If you want the Muse to find you, you have to stop constantly moving. I do not mean that you need to check into the nearest meditation center for a month of silence. That sounds lovely, but who has the time for that? No, you just need to carve out a few minutes a day to allow your mind to still. Take a walk without your earbuds. Close your eyes for a few minutes and lean your head back on your chair. When you first start to do this, you might think that it’s pointless because your mind won’t slow down but will just keep hurling thoughts and tasks at you. But, keep at it and you will train your brain how to downshift. The Muse isn’t going to shout to be heard over the cacophony in your head. She’s going to whisper so it has to be quiet enough in there for you to hear her. (See also: “The Case for Doing Nothing” (The New York Times)
- Be Curious – Once you start to hear those whispers you have to be curious enough to do something about them. If you hear the whisper “I wonder…” or “Maybe I should…” follow those threads and see where they lead. The path may not be direct; you might not follow up on that first whisper and go straight to your life’s passion, but you will be heading in the right direction.
- Do the Work – The original meaning of the word “inspire” was to “breathe or blow into” and the connotation was of a divine being breathing an idea into someone to move them to create. But, if you don’t take the inspiration from the Muse, then she is just wasting her breath. There’s an unspoken agreement with inspiration that if the Muse gives you an idea, an inspired idea that is far better than anything you could come up with on your own, you have to follow up and do what she says. Create the thing that you are inspired to create and you will be inspired with new projects in a continuous cycle.
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