Image credit: Ankara University.

If you are paying attention, you will be sent two kinds of Muses.

Let’s call the first one the Inspiration Muse. And let’s called the second one the Suffering Muse.

Sometimes, these are two different people. Sometimes they can both be found in the same person. Sometimes they will be strangers that you cross paths with once. Sometimes they will be friends you will know forever.

The Inspiration Muse is the classic muse from mythology. This is the muse that brings creativity and insight. This muse reminds you of your light side; what makes you whole and worthy. S/he will stir passions, awaken confidence, spark innovation and action. The Inspiration Muse will often arrive as a mentor or a sage. This means there’s a temptation or tendency to worship or guru-ize this person. They are not a savior. Of course, some people will come into your life disguised as Inspiration Muses — but if they want you to see them as a savior, they are not an Inspiration Muse.

The Suffering Muse is often mistaken as a tormentor. After all, who likes suffering? But that’s not what this muse is about. This muse invites you into the wound. S/he helps you touch all of the most painful parts and convert them into art. This muse forces you to explore your dark side; makes you examine where you feel hurt, where you feel self-loathing. This muse is like a machete or like fire. Their work is about exploring the dark jungles, clearing paths and burning away false stories. The Suffering Muse is often someone you are very close to. So what they reveal may feel like betrayal. Not that people close to you won’t hurt you, but if they do so with malicious intent, they are not a Suffering Muse.

I’ve had several Inspiration Muses — some I’ve known well and others I’ve never met. One I know well is mentor and friend, Ron Price. I met Ron in 2006 at a time of great darkness. I’m sure others have tried to inspire me and show me my value, but Ron was the first one to truly get through to me. His encouragement and guidance put me on the path that I’m on today. Some Inspiration Muses I’ve never met: David Whyte, Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Bruce Springsteen, Jordan Peterson, BJ Barham. For me, Inspiration Muses represent order, structure, systems, frameworks. They help me function in the world. They make me more disciplined. They make me a better coach and mentor.

I’ve had a few Suffering Muses. I will keep their names private but they’ve almost all been someone I’m close with. They have been the greatest ignitors of spiritual growth and transformation. We’d like to think spiritual growth is all rainbows and unicorn farts, but it is a painful process that can stir anger, resentment and feelings of abandonment. Which is kind of the point of this muse. After all, these are reactions to wounds that the Suffering Muses are here to help me touch and make into art. They often arrive or re-arrive when I’m in a liminal space. I tend to romanticize Suffering Muses far more than Inspiration Muses. This leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment — again, which is kind of the point. Each of my Suffering Muses have quite different personalities. But they all have these in common: grace, strength, courage. Which, not coincidentally, are the very elements necessary to convert suffering into art. For me, Suffering Muses often represent chaos, disorder, disruption. The work they’ve done has introduced me to the very depths of my soul and has helped me moderate the tension between my light and dark sides. They’ve made me more compassionate, more empathic. And they’ve most certainly made me a better writer, poet and friend.

From a psychological perspective, it seems as if Inspiration Muses arrive to help heal a father-wound. And Suffering Muses arrive to help heal a mother-wound. Both are very different in their approach but each are instrumental in creating harmony and undividedness within.

Healing aside, it’s important to remember that muses are ultimately about creation. We are each here to create. And to create takes a muse. Both kinds. My encouragement is this: pay attention. In times of doubt, look for those who remind you of your worth even if you don’t believe them. In times of despair, look for those that will hold up a mirror of truth and keep holding it until you see what they see.

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