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Following the Muse

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

Whenever I sit down to work on a new music project, I really have no idea what is going to happen. I feel like I am starting over EVERY SINGLE TIME; as if I have never, ever, in my whole life written a piece of music. It is a disconcerting feeling. Like a writer faced with a blank page, or a painter with an empty canvas, it can be daunting to have the courage to begin over, and over, and over again. It destroys me every time. I honestly never know if I can pull it off, if I can see it through. Then suddenly, the magic happens, and somehow, as the little neurons in my brain get fired up patterns emerge and something starts to come into being…

The creative process can be a great way to let go of the ego and to learn the art of surrendering. We start with an idea, conceive of and plant a seed, and as the idea takes shape, it takes on its own life. It becomes something more than what we originally planned or had in mind.

Tori Amos once described her songs as children tugging at her, not allowing her to sleep at night because they demanded attention. This is so very true. As art and music creators, we become facilitators or parents to our creations. Just like children, artistic creations need to be fed, nurtured, and supported to go in their own direction or they will be stunted. That is the thing: as our ideas start to develop and take shape, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way; we have to be willing to let go in order to allow our creations to become fully realized, and allow them to live and exist on their own terms. As strange as it sounds, our artistic creations, whether it be music or painting or stories, become little entities, little beings in their own right who need and want and demand the chance to exist.

Why do we do this? Why do so many of us have the urge to create art? Is it an inherent human tendency? Is it the desire to make the world a more beautiful place? Is it a channeling of the procreative urge? Or is it something deeper than this, a way to get to know something bigger than ourselves, to have a taste of the divine?

People create art for many different reasons: as a way to reflect and express the world around them; to give voice to social and political ideas; to exorcise personal ghosts and purge psychological wounds; to say what can’t be said. Art can be a transformative experience: it can transcend ugliness, pain, and suffering and turn it into something beautiful. It can also be a form of devotion and love and a way to communicate the highest and noblest of human tendencies. That kind of art can be transformative not only for the artist, but for the audience as well, having the ability to bring us to a deeper part of ourselves and the human experience.

As artists and music creators, stepping back and learning not to be attached to our creations to the point that we sabotage our own efforts is essential. We must be willing to destroy, to “kill our darlings” if necessary. The Tibetan Buddhist monks who create beautifully ornate and elaborate sand mandalas as part of their spiritual practice take this to an extreme by destroying their creations as soon as they are finished. For them, the act of creation is a form of meditation, and a process through which to learn non-attachment to the world and to the physical realms of existence. The destruction of the sand paintings represents the impermanence of life. At the end of the ritual, when the mandala is complete, the sand is swept away, and poured into the nearest body of water so it’s essence and energies can be shared with the rest of the world.

Like the Tibetan monks and their sand paintings, we have to learn that we can’t hold onto our own art or music. Once we bring it into being, we must also be willing to let it all blow colored sand flowing down a river...

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