“An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation.” ~Lewis Hyde
What is invocation?
It’s like a prayer, a cry into the unknown, a plea to God. In dictionary-based terms, it’s “an act of invoking or calling upon a deity, spirit, etc. for aid, protection, inspiration, or the like,” it’s “an entreaty for aid and guidance from a muse, deity, etc. at the beginning of an epic or epic-like poem.”
In her book For Writers Only, Sophy Burnham describes how back in ancient times, performers of music, poetry, or art would stand up and with the strike of a chord would speak the words, “O, Muse, fill my mouth with your songs. Make me silver-tongued that my words may pierce the hearts of men…” This was a traditional mantra that performers would use as an invocation (or prayer, request, cry) for whatever muses and inspirations were out there to help them make their performances great. For some, it was just a simple tradition, for others, it was more than that; it was an honest plea from the heart.
This obviously isn’t a tradition or ritual that is practiced anymore by artists or performers, at least, not in the same way. I believe that artists, writers, CREATORS still weave the art of invocation in their work, whether they realize it or not; in fact, it may even be an art that they are fully capable of performing, but have no idea how to successfully put forth. After all…
What creator out there hasn’t sat wishing for – waiting for – a vital strike of inspiration to hit him in the chest and ignite life in his imagination’s eye in order to awaken his work?
A muse in modern terms is often viewed as a creature of sorts that appears at the bidding of its creator, a flame of life inside a writer’s heart that sends his pen soaring, a sense of flow that only happens when the notorious “writer’s block” is finally knocked down; it’s what every creator wishes for in the most frustrating moments of his career – those moments when the words just “won’t come.”
In a more basic way, the term muse can be bundled up into one word: inspiration – that inspiration that everyone waits for, that never seems to come when needed, that is about as elusive as a lone dandelion seed floating about in the breeze.
And what a pain in the neck we all know that to be.
Have you ever stopped to wonder that maybe it isn’t so much the stubbornness of inspiration that is the problem, but rather the lack of effort being given by the writer that is causing the constant blows of disappointment and frustration?
Inspiration is often deemed as elusive and as something that one must go after with a club in order to bring down. People simply get discouraged otherwise because they are waiting for it to strike them on its own and send them dancing back onto their feet. When this doesn’t happen (as is the result so often), people throw their hands in the air and give up because inspiration never came or the time didn’t feel right or they never felt “ready.”
The thing is, inspiration doesn’t work that way.
One basic truth that I have come to understand is that ACTION precedes MOTIVATION. In other words, in order to find the motivation to act – whether that be to create, workout, clean, get something done, etc. – then the action must start happening FIRST.
In other words, in order to become motivated to get something done, you must first begin the work it takes to accomplish it. This can be one of the hardest parts of the work, but it is then and only then when the motivation to pull you through to the finishing of a project will be kindled and ignited, and, before you know it, you will find that the motivation you previously sought after will be working right at your side, bearing you through to the end.
Just like how water can’t begin to boil until you first put it in the pot and set it over a flame, motivation can’t find you unless you begin the work that will kindle it to life.
This same principle applies to inspiration.
In order to find inspiration, you must first do the work that will allow inspiration to come to life inside of you; you can’t simply wait for inspiration to spark within you on its own, it must first find you working to find it. Working, whatever that may be for you – writing, drawing, sculpting, inventing, CREATING – can be viewed as your invocation for inspiration.
ACT OF CREATING = INVOCATION FOR INSPIRATION.
“There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: Do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas, of successful writers contradict each other in the most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is PERSISTENCE – an overwhelming determination to succeed… They will not be thrust aside!” ~Sophy Burnham (For Writers Only)
Now, when inspiration does strike – when it comes upon you suddenly, right in the midst of the fumes of your work – ah, what a feeling…
It truly is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world when effort collides with and then cascades with the surges of inspiration, passion, and life.
It is my belief that, because of the conjectured scarcity of true inspiration for so many people, when it does grace you with the swing of its mighty sword, the strike of its electric bolt, the crash of its drowning wave, one is a foolish being indeed not to act on it. That inspiration is the wings on which you can be projected and carried to the finish of your project – your novel, your art piece, your program, your composition – and it will become that much more beautiful because of the callused hands you will be gripping the granted reigns with, the scarred, stained, smudged, even broken hands that got you to where you are in the first place.
Now, there are times where inspiration steps into your life through a different form, and it is this form that many get confused about, that many end up sitting back and waiting for, because it came out of seemingly nowhere the first time, didn’t it? Why wouldn’t it come back again?
This muse, this inspiration comes to you in the form of a nudge, a whisper, a prick – it comes to you as the small breath of life you need in order to get going again.
And this can – and will – be anything; no matter how big or small, this will be anything that speaks to you and reaches you right down to your pounding heart. It will be something that you see that sparks a light in your eyes, something you feel that sets the butterflies in your stomach loose, or something you connect with that reminds you of what it means to truly be alive.
As an example, one of many things that have stood out to me in my life as breaths of this inspiration, even have resulted in jolts or gasps of shock, are spiders.
Ew, gross, right?
Actually, I myself am quite fond of the little creatures. Granted, I never want them in my personal space or on my being, but because of the symbolism that they have come to develop in my life, I have grown to accept their existence and presence and even thank them for coming into my view, even in the most shocking of times.
You see, spiders are symbols of creation.
According to Elena Harris, “the spider is a remarkable figure of feminine energy and creativity in the spirit animal kingdom. Spiders are characterized by the skilled weaving of intricate webs and patience in awaiting their prey. By affinity with the spider spirit animal, you may have qualities of high receptivity and creativity. Having the spider as a power animal or totem helps you tune into life’s ebbs and flows and ingeniously weave every step of your destiny.”
While I personally am not so into all the ins and whims of the theology behind spirit animals, I still love the messages they can bring to you in your life, if only you are willing to be open and listen.
In Dr. Steven D. Farmer’s book Pocket Guide to Spirit Animals, this is what he says about the message behind seeing a spider: “This is an opportunity to access your deepest wisdom and assimilate it so that it becomes a part of your daily living. Beware of any potential traps or ruses that you’re tempted to get involved in. Rather than staying stuck in this apparent impasse, open your mind to the infinite number of possibilities that are before you, and make a choice. Don’t limit yourself to the mundane world, but instead be willing to explore other dimensions and realities. It’s time to write creatively without limits of tradition or habit, allowing yourself to be inspired by Nature.”
It’s little things like this that I consider to be breaths of inspiration for me, reminders of what I want to achieve, create, and accomplish in this life. That is why when I see spiders, rather than mercilessly taking their lives, I thank them for the message they have given me, appreciate their beautiful existence and the blessing they were to me in that moment, and then release them back into the wild if needed or let them be.
Truly – if you view spiders (and anything else along these lines, for that matter) as messengers rather than acts of terror, life proves itself to be that much more beautiful.
Along with that, if you come to understand the difference between inspiration as a breath of life and inspiration as something you need to work for in order to find, then the whole creation process becomes that much more beautiful. I believe that.
And I believe in you.
Keep creating, friend, and I hope that when you do get overtaken by the life of inspiration, you take hold of it with all you’ve got and soar your way to the finish.
“What keeps me writing is that I can only know through writing. My major sense organ is apparently a pencil.” ~Kay Ryan
Writing – creating – is a divine calling. Passion and inspiration aren’t feelings of coincidence. Act on them, and I promise you that your life will be a beauty to behold as it unfolds for you.