Inspiration, now there’s a big ol’ beast of a word to spark a conversation. How many times have we been mocked or mocked others for waiting for inspiration, for the muse to show up? How many people are already out there talking about it and trying to find the best way to tame it or embrace it or “just” have it on standby for whenever they’re ready?
Ah, but inspiration is a trickster and a juggler and an inevitability of thought. It’s a gambler palming cards and a healer who poisons first in order to have a patient. The muse can be gentle and generous, certainly, but her loyalties are split among everyone who wants her attention for — even though she cheats on every turn of the game — she still must hedge her every bet.
Still, the conversation has been sparked, and now one must wonder at the possibility of earning her trust and loyalty. With her trust she will come to us from time to time. With her loyalty she will return again and again.
There once was a King of Leinster in Ireland who so loved a good story that he gifted a manor and lands and wealth to a Storyteller in exchange for a wholly new tale never-before-told every night before he went to bed. Wise indeed was this king for providing time and room for inspiration to come to call. Were that everyone could be so wise.
The Storyteller, for his part, woke every morning and went immediately to his garden to think up the tale he would tell to the King that night. Wise indeed was this storyteller for ensuring that inspiration would always know when and where to find him. Were that everyone could be so wise.
I believe that we can be so wise, and so foolish. The King provides lands to the Storyteller who looks for inspiration in the garden each morning, and the Storyteller provides stories to the King who takes the story with him into his dreams each night, and this circle remains unbroken for many years. But this is only the beginning of our tale, and such a happy tableau of King and Storyteller can only last for so long before inspiration must come along and do as inspiration will do.
Rooms Have Walls
Consider your conscious mind King and Storyteller, decision-maker and critical-thinker, rational and creative. Your rational side understands that you need to take care of yourself in order to be at your best, while your creative side knows that taking care of yourself goes far beyond eating and sleeping and going through the motions of your day.
Do you see it? Do you see why doing the same thing every day (even if a new tale is being told each night) cannot last forever? You would end up bored out of your mind.
The saying goes that “familiarity breeds contempt,” that, once we notice something about our situation isn’t the right fit for us, eventually something will have to change. Familiarity is that noticing, and contempt is when we reach our breaking point when “eventually” becomes “now”. Inspiration loves a good breaking point.
Gardens Have Walls, Too
And so it is that one morning the Storyteller goes out into his garden and can think of not one, whole story to tell his King. He thinks up first line after first line and his craft takes him no further. For all intents and purposes, he is blocked.
When he finally goes back into his house, his Wife asks what has him so distracted that he’s missed breakfast. It is then that he finally admits aloud that he has no story to tell the King that night, that his reputation as a great storyteller will be forfeit along with his lands and station. Little does he realize, though he is a storyteller whose words are known to weave magic, that this very declaration is a kind of magic.
His Wife, upon hearing his words, is inspired to look out the window at their lands. There at the far end of the field she notices something out of the ordinary and brings the sight to her Husband’s attention. She then goes with him to investigate.
Heading For The Garden Gate
While the pair of King and Storyteller represent the rational and creative sides of one’s personality, the pair of Husband and Wife are the conscious and subconscious. With this new pairing in mind, the Storyteller’s lack of a new story isn’t surprising. He’s simply gotten so familiar with his garden over the years that it lacks even the subtlest novelty for the subconscious mind to register and present to the conscious mind of being worthy of consideration in a new story.
The garden, you see, and the visits there before breakfast each day, are all the little routines that make up the foundation of one’s daily life. These routines allow for a certain amount of predictability which in turn help us to feel safe and secure. Meanwhile the subconscious mind is both a pattern-hunter and easily-bored, and after a time all the tiny little things that separate one day from the next also become predictable.
With nothing new to learn or pull inspiration from, the creative self enters into a dialogue between the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind communicates the need for change, and the subconscious mind goes looking for something/anything of novelty. Then, of course, the two go together in search of what inspiration might bring.
To The Far End Of The Field
Husband and Wife, conscious and subconscious, make their way to the mysterious figure who comes into focus as a “lank, gray beggarman.” The Beggarman (with his 100 gold coins) tempts the Husband again and again to gamble, the Wife guiding him to take chance after chance for the sake of having a tale to tell. The Husband gambles away all that he has including his Wife and his own self.
The Beggarman then gives the Husband his choice of being transformed into a fleet-footed deer, a clever fox, or an evasive hare with the warning that he can only choose once. The Husband chooses and is transformed into a hare and his own hounds are sent baying after him. He attempts to run away and is stopped by the hedge, he attempts to seek protection from his Wife and she sends him back to the dogs, and this goes on until the Beggarman is satisfied and transforms the hare back into a man.
Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Losing everything he has, losing his Wife, even forfeiting his dignity. And yet this is what is presently required to satisfy inspiration’s curiosity as to what exactly is needed by the Storyteller.
To Hedge Your Bets
The thing about inspiration is that when you absolutely most need it and yet absolutely least expect it is when it’s very likely to show up, these are the moments when we think of inspiration as a bolt of lightning striking us. And while today we often think of inspiration in terms of inanimate objects or muses/women (how very patriarchal of us), here we have inspiration embodied in the form of a man. Not just any man, mind you, but a beggar who somehow has a bag of 100 gold coins.
Isn’t that just like inspiration to come to us so unassuming yet carrying treasure and willing to risk it all? Yet inspiration really risks nothing. His gambling is a ploy to get to the one-question test he’ll use in determining what’s gone wrong with the dialogue between conscious and subconscious, Husband and Wife, and what change is needed to mend it.
So the Beggarman separates the Storyteller into Husband and Wife and has the Husband choose a transformation of deer (speed, momentum, muscle memory), fox (wit, trickery, playfulness), or hare (hiding, burrowing, digging deep). When as a hare the Husband stays within the limits of the hedge and cannot find protection from his Wife, we are seeing the conscious mind’s avoidance of that which is new or unknown and the subconscious mind’s efforts to communicate its hunger for new patterns that will aid in unlocking greater depths of knowing.
You Need To Remember
When the Husband is transformed back into a man, he asks the name of the Beggarman who then insists on a road trip of sorts as part of answering the question. To do this, the Beggarman leaves the Wife at home (the back of the Storyteller’s mind) and takes the whole Storyteller on a journey of the unknown. While on this journey, the Beggarman is visible to all they meet and the Storyteller is invisible and silent.
First they go to the Court of Red Hugh O’Donnell where the Beggarman is recognized as a great traveler, worldly and therefore worthy of attention. He performs a number of tricks which seem completely without magic when he does them, and yet when anyone else tries they end up losing a hand or a head. Through it all the Beggarman doesn’t bat an eye, even when he puts all right again and disappears.
Next they go to the Court of Leinster where the King is awaiting his nightly tale and does not recognize the Beggarman for the great musician that he is. The Beggarman returns the lack of respect in kind, and yet when the court musicians and executioner seek to exact punishment on him they only succeed in punishing themselves. Through it all the Beggarman doesn’t skip a beat, even when he puts all right again and disappears.
The House Always Wins
In asking for the Beggarman’s name, the Storyteller believed he was seeking a straightforward answer. But because the Husband had chosen to be a hare and not acted as a hare should have, the Beggarman knows better than to skip to the end. Rather than give what is wanted, he gives what is needed, and shows the Storyteller.
At first inspiration is revealed to be a great traveler of the world, there is no place it has not been and cannot go, and yet it presents very ordinary tricks (more a play on word at first glance) that are inexplicably difficult to recreate. Red Hugh O’Donnell’s Court represents our instinctual knowledge that there is something very special about inspiration; our disappointment when inspiration seems to ask something small and “unworthy” of us; and, our frustration when we are unable to complete that seemingly “unworthy” thing. These are the times we are open to inspiration, but have little to no clue what to do with it once it arrives.
Next inspiration is not recognized to be a great musician, there is no song it does not know or cannot know, and attempts to assert its expertise only to be met with a derision that ever results in a kind of elaborate self-flagellation. The Court of Leinster represents our instinctual acknowledgement that inspiration is necessary; our disappointment when inspiration is not immediately apparent to us; and, our frustration when we unwittingly work against inspiration and spoil whatever it was we were trying to do in the first place. These are the times we are prepared to work with inspiration, but have little to no clue in what form inspiration will appear.
And You Are The House
Having shown the Storyteller who he is and how not to work with him, the Beggarman brings the Storyteller home (splitting him once again into Husband and Wife, conscious and subconscious) and reveals himself to be none other than Angus of the Bruff, and returns all that is rightly the Husband’s. Yet the Husband does not wish to have the Wife back due to her recent “betrayal” while he was a hare. Angus explains it was not her fault or her choice to behave that way, but an enchantment she was under.
That night, Husband and Wife reunited, the Storyteller shares his adventure with the King who laughs and laughs and stays up very late asking to hear the story again and again. For the rest of their days the Storyteller retains his position and the King asks for no other story. They have both learned a lesson from Angus of the Bruff, and are wise not to forget it.
Angus of the Bruff, or Óengus of Brú na Bóinne, is an ancient Irish god of inspiration turned fae. As a god of inspiration, he is also inspiration itself. His name translates as “One Strength” or “One Choice” and he is known for having others make decisions which suit him just fine because he only allows others to choose when he controls every possible outcome of that choice.
You Hold All The Keys
No one controls inspiration, not as a beggarman, not as a god, while it is perfectly capable of taking hold of us and not letting go. Those nagging and intrusive thoughts are the subconscious telling the conscious mind, “Look at this, look at this, there’s something here you need to see.” Even when our habits seem to self-sabotage it is the subconscious saying, “I am inspired to do this thing, and you should find a way to incorporate it into whatever it is you think you’re doing.”
With the conscious and subconscious minds properly communicating with each other, it is now time for the conscious work of using that dialogue rationally and creatively. It is time to set up routine reminders to be open to inspiration in all its unpredictability. And it’s time to give ourselves space to work for when inspiration brings us something to do.
We can be a home to inspiration. But we must be prepared to do the work it will ask of us. And we must remember to throw open all the doors and windows and chimney flues so that inspiration may enter in whatever form it wishes.