muse noun \’myüz\
a source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius
I met my muse almost six years ago. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, in the middle of trading one job for another. As I was going to work for a competitor, my current employer had politely declined my offer of two more weeks of work. To decompress after a long and stressful hiring process—and to contemplate the possibilities afforded by some (paid) work-free days before new employment—I went drinking with friends, and I drank more than a little. When I awoke the next morning, I found that I had purchased roundtrip airfare to Tokyo. I doubled down on that decision by booking a hostel too.
That was where I found my muse. She was already there when I arrived, another solo traveler eager to make friends. I would spend nearly every moment of that trip with her.
As a country I long admired, that first visit to Japan (and Asia) was destined to be special. Adding an attractive and talented companion simply elevated the experience. I felt immensely connected to that foreign place, and I got to share it with someone who felt the same way. I cannot give her all the credit—that trip was bigger than her—but her presence intertwined itself into the entire fabric of the experience. Those precious few days are a beacon of light that will forever outshine all other lights in my mind’s eye. She shines with it.
Her talents inspired me first: my muse is fluent in Japanese, adept on multiple musical instruments, a singer/songwriter with a beautiful voice, a photographer, massage therapist, kayak instructor, and more things I am surely forgetting. She excels at everything she has a mind for. I felt rather unaccomplished in comparison to her abundant talents.
I was then inspired by how she lived her life: my muse is a free spirit, willing to follow life wherever it leads her. She was then in Japan for an extended period of time. She calls Hawaii home but does not hesitate to set up temporary residence anywhere. I, on the other hand, was following the standard script that most people did, living in a very expected sort of way—that was, until the smashed flight purchase.
I was not satisfied with my skills, experiences, or what I was doing with my life in general. I was leaving a job that did not fully challenge or excite me for another job that only excited me marginally more. Something was wrong. I was doing everything that was expected of me, but I was unhappy.
Enter my muse—the pivot on which my life shifted. She embodied the unscripted and flexible nature that I then realized I wanted and needed. She broke the mold; I could too.
I flourished for a time at my new job, but on Day One, thinking mostly of Tokyo, a part of me knew it was temporary. Events out of my control (the financial crisis) gave me a push in the right direction: in a year’s time I would be laid off, and I took it as an opportunity to follow that new-found inspiration my muse had stirred up. After a few months of planning I embarked on a self-made adventure—a trip around the world. No itinerary. No timeframe. Unscripted and flexible. Other experiences informed that decision—most of all a quick trip to Bangkok earlier in the year—but it would not have happened if I had not met my muse.
I would not see her again for three years. Chance threw us together when I happened to be driving very near her temporary residence in Chico, CA. When I found out she was there, I made a point of visiting.
At that time I had been back in the US for several months. After a trip that had turned my life upside-down and changed nearly everything about the way I saw and interacted with the world, I was struggling. Where was I supposed to be? What was I supposed to do? Who was I anymore? I felt blind, unable to find a way forward. With no immediate intention of working for Hollywood again, I decided to go back to Pennsylvania.
These are the circumstances in which I met my muse again—suspiciously similar to the internal struggles of three years prior.
She showed me the town: the park, the brewery, a coffee shop, a Japanese restaurant. We rode bikes. Nothing extraordinary happened. I couldn’t even write one whole page about it. But that day was extraordinary for one reason.
Two people, born in completely different places, having lived completely different lives—our only connection a city an ocean away—and there we were, connecting again in Chico, home to neither. I remember the beauty of the town. I remember the sunshine. I remember my muse’s fabulous mohawk. Time held no dominion over that perfect day. I was bedazzled as I left her.
Two more years went by. I went to India and solidified my commitment to Tibetan Buddhism. Returning to the US, I found a job at a Buddhist monastery where I live and work today. That job miraculously afforded me an opportunity to work an event in Hawaii.
After five years, I was going to see the place my muse called home.
Again, it came at a time of uncertainty. I would be hard-pressed to state in adequate words how thankful I am for the experience at the monastery. It has changed my life for the better in every way. But on that lonely mountain, with few people my own age, and a job that increasingly had less and less to offer an ambitious worker, I felt stuck and uncertain of my way forward.
I would be lying if I said I took the Hawaii job for any other reason than on the outside chance my muse and I could meet up. I did not know which island she lived on, nor if her wandering ways had carried her off somewhere new. But our karmic connection, in Buddhist terminology, is strong. Not only were we both on Oahu, but my hotel was a stone’s throw away from her new rental. She was soon traveling to the mainland, but not while I was there. Time restraints—hers and mine—relegated us to a single evening, but to me it was precious beyond value. I would not have traded it for a king’s ransom.
There is even less to write about that evening. It consisted of dinner (Japanese) and an art center open mic. The highlight was watching her piano performance. There she was in the corner, seated alone under the lights, back to the room, playing beautiful original tunes accompanied by beautiful original lyrics.
As I was sitting there, utterly transfixed, I thought about how glorious and mysterious life was—how unspeakably amazing that the two of us should ever have met at all, and what subtle energy drew our paths to repeated intersections.
I knew in that moment that a person who can touch that energy and feel its vibration is never stuck. That energy is the substance of life. We all have this vast potential to contribute to it, feed off of it, and dance with it. There is no other purpose to being here. The only mark of a failure is ignoring that energy and letting one’s potential wither and wink out.
My muse had rattled me from a slow death five years earlier, but I was still seeking relative permanence in an impermanent world. Energy never rests, and one should not either.
I have only met my muse three times in nearly six years, but in that short time no one has affected my life more. I think we will meet again, but only ever fleetingly. I consider myself nothing but blessed for every minute we have been allowed to have. Her very existence lifts me up and demands more of me. Our connection is beyond friendship or romance. It seems impossible to limit her to any label, but the poet in me has reached for something old-fashioned and thinks of her as muse.