Inspiration, also called the awen, is a key part of modern Druidry. While this has obvious relevance to the bard path, inspiration is a necessary part of life for all people in all things. Without inspiration, all we can do is what we’ve always done, or what we are told to do. Innovation, stretching, experimenting, and exploring all require ideas. Thus the quest for awen matters to everyone, Druid or not, bard or not.
Those of us who work in deliberately creative ways have something of a canary in a coalmine function. It used to be that canaries were taken underground because if they got into trouble, or died, the men could get out before the gas present killed them. The more sensitive, delicate creature becomes the early warning system. If your canary stops singing, there’s a problem. I suggest that a culture where the creative professionals are routinely hurting is probably hurting everyone.
How do we seek inspiration? This is an ongoing issue for me. You’d think, as I get older and more experienced in life and craft alike that I’d have more insight, more ideas, more to write about. I find it harder to write now than I did ten years ago. Compared to twenty years ago, what I could do ten years ago seems half hearted. Why? Because ideas and inspiration need time. There has to be free thinking space to play with voices and concepts and tease them out into a story. If I try to go at that in a deliberate and workish way, the outcome is drab, and flat. If I have to write like a machine, I am not a good author. I’ve been trying to be a machine, and I’m now stopping that.
Of course if being an author full time paid the majority of authors enough to live on, there would be space for thinking, daydreaming, reading, researching and poking about. Only a tiny minority get this space. There are only so many hours in a day, and the necessary day jobs take up mental energy and attention. In recent years it’s become the case that authors at all levels have to do a lot of work selling their books, and that takes time and attention too, and reduces the brain space for thinking about things that might one day be stories. And because the creativity is key to what I do, I notice, and so do other creative people.
Of course it’s not just creative industries folk. No matter what your job is, the pressure to do more at greater speed is probably part of your life. Is there time or space for you to innovate at work? Even if it’s your job to innovate, the answer could well be ‘no’. And when you’ve worked, and commuted and shopped and sorted out your home, how much time and energy is there left for being creative, or thinking about what you might do differently? All too often the answer is ‘none’ leading to the grateful plop into a soft chair and some kind of passive distraction until sleep and then repeat. If you don’t see yourself as a creative person, you might not notice this. We all have the capacity to be creative, and we should all have the space to think.
If all we have time and energy to do is ‘the things’ then we don’t stop and think about what we are doing. If we don’t have space to wonder, question and imagine, our lives are made up of what we’re told to do and what we’ve always done. If you can find time to pause and look around you’ll quickly see that neither people nor planet are benefiting from this. We need radical change, but that’s hard at a grass roots level when everyone is too busy and too tired to seek inspiration or imagine something different.
Look around at the multitude of TV spin off books, the films that are re-boots of something else, the manufactured pop music and industrialised creativity churning out more of the same. Many of the canaries have stopped singing. Sooner or later, the poison will get everyone if we ignore it. So we can choose to keep doing what we’re told and what we’ve always done, shuffling forward exhausted and ever more brain-dead, being the zombie apocalypse, or we can stop. We can fight for even the smallest fragments of time to think, question and wonder. We can seek inspiration. We can resist and we can choose differently, but not while we’re running like crazy on the treadmill. To be a Druid is to be taking back the time and space for thought.
(And to round up that metaphor, ask who benefits most from canaries and workers in coalmines, because it isn’t the canary, and it isn’t the miner.)