Lincoln composed most of the Gettysburg Address during the train ride from Washington DC to Pennsylvania. Mickey Mouse took shape in Walt Disney’s imagination on a train ride from New York to Los Angeles. J.K. Rowling first conjured Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London. It’s not really about trains, though.
What all three had in common was time. Time to contemplate, to be alone with their thoughts, and to let their imaginations dance without distraction. That kind of time seems hard to come by these days. Life is hectic, pulling us in a dozen different directions at once. Work. School. Family. Friends. Something is always vying for our attention, monopolizing our time. At the end of the day, we’ve had precious little time to ourselves.
Truthfully, you’re not that busy. Get over yourself. We all have responsibilities, but if you can’t find an hour, or even a half hour, to give to yourself each day, you’re not “too busy”, you’re just disorganized. Make the time. Stand up for yourself, shut the world out for awhile, every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning, after lunch, or before bed. Find the time that works for you, and let the world wonder where you went.
This isn’t time for TV, tweeting, texting, or catching up with the latest news online. Those things consume time, mostly wasting it. Trust me, your tweeps on Twitter, and friends on Facebook aren’t breathlessly hanging on your every word. Unplug. Turn off the iPod, or the iPad, step away from the computer, and be one with your analog self.
Meditate, do yoga, jog, bike, read, sketch, play an instrument, take a walk, feel the sun on your face, the grass between your toes. Do what you love, every day, to free your mind; connect with your inner voice, your genius.
Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to characterize an attendant spirit, watching over you from birth, guiding you to your calling. A writer writes with her genius; an artist paints with his; doctors heal with theirs; entrepreneurs start plumbing businesses and tech companies. Genius is that voice in the back of your mind, that stirring in your heart, your inner compass guiding you to flower as your self-in-full.
“O Divine poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song…”
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed men were moved by forces unseen. These they personified in the gods of their mythology. Among them are the Muses; Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, and Urania, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, charged with inspiring artists. From Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue, Socrates proclaims:
“…madness is possession by the Muses. When this seizes upon a gentle, and virgin soul it rouses it to inspired expression in lyric and other sorts of poetry, and glorifies countless deeds of the heroes of old for the instruction of posterity. But if a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”
Muses are with you, like your genius, prodding, nagging you mad with the notion that there is more to your purpose on this planet. You know the feeling. You have a calling, a true self to find, potential to realize. Make time for the Muses, listen for their whispers, be ready to receive inspiration.
Expect the Unexpected
Genius can strike at any moment; the muse is always breathing down your neck. Drop your guard. When our mind is free from the weight of the world we’re more open to the creative impulse. Even in the midst of great turmoil the gift can be received. Consider this:
Lincoln was dealing with the death of his son, a civil war, and the disillusion of the Constitution. Disney was traveling back to his cash-strapped studio having just lost the support of his financial backers – and the copyright to his then most lucrative character, Oswald the rabbit. Rowling was an impoverished, single mother grappling clinical depression, desperately seeking a home for herself and her infant daughter.
Each was consumed by individual trials, yet travel offered time that was the catalyst for contemplation that invoked their muse. Be prepared, inspiration comes at unexpected, and inconvenient times, welcome it.
As Rowling describes it, the idea, “Boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard; goes to wizarding school,” just popped into her head, as if it were floating around waiting for someone. She says she experienced “an incredible upsurge of excitement and thought,” everything flowing from there. Without a pen, she was unable to jot notes. Once home, she began writing, deciding that anything she’d forgotten was not worth remembering. Call it an epiphany, or an “ah-ha moment”; it was a flash of genius.
Let the Rats Run Their Race
Napoleon said, “I can always regain lost territory. A single second, never.” Time is a precious commodity. Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back, and it’s relentlessly ticking away. We’re taught that we don’t have time to waste, so we run ourselves ragged to make every minute count. We fear that life will pass us by if we stop to smell the roses.
Truth is, we’re passing up a lot by not stopping. Quiet contemplation is not time wasted. Recalibrate, surrender to the whims of your imagination, succumb to your muse; seek your self-in-potential. Wondrous things may happen. Time is precious, waste it wisely. If you need help, hop a train.