By Melanie Lee
Author, “A Year In Sedona~Meeting The Muse At Wisdom’s Edge”
(May 21, 2018)
Sedona’s climate is typically mild enough for year round cavorting in nature with red rock hiking, a dependable and enjoyable way to meet the Muse. But that first winter here, colder weather curtailed such daily excursions and a certain sad ennui set in. What to do? We decided to catch up on our reading, reckoning that if the Hiking Muse had gone into hibernation, no worries, we would just cuddle up with our old friend, the Literary Muse.
Heading over to the friendly Sedona Public Library, we found a plethora of old treasures, among them E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End. This heartfelt tale of tangled relationships gone awry, only to get set right in the end, had always impressed me. I loved the heroine’s eloquent and persuasive speech about connecting prose and passion, heart and head as a way out of the isolation of living in fragments, personal or social.
As Louis and I conversed about what we’d read, it was great fun, with daily creative discussions ranging from philosophical musings to piddling gossip. But soon we got bored with just one another to talk to, concluding we needed other people to maintain a really spirited and definitive group dialogue. But how to connect with them? When the next day’s mail brought the latest catalogue from OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (we knew the Muse was afoot.
We signed up for a workshop called “Dialogue As a Spiritual Practice,” exploring how Taoism and other spiritual paths might help make connections in everyday life, and thus how to connect prose and passion, head and heart. We would dialogue in small groups to foster creative conversation of a spiritual nature by examining the Tao, admittedly a somewhat nebulous and indefinable spiritual concept. But the fuzziness about meaning was okay with Louis, who’d been a theology scholar and university humanities professor. In his element, he spent a lot of time listening and pondering the unfolding dialogue. His contribution was a quote by Lao Tzu: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” A perennial favorite of his, this was hazy enough to be non-threatening but provocative enough to invite probing dialogue about spiritual implications.
I shared some about my new book in progress, A Spoken Image, telling of my experience as a writer and teacher. Personal narrative, imagery, metaphor and symbols for storytelling was my focus for exploring the timeless and elemental flow of universal connections of spiritual ancestral lineage. Not a new idea but relevant because, in literary history, an examination of the journey of the soul through metaphor and imagery had always been a powerful way to resolve many of life’s longstanding vicissitudes.
Next, Ellen spoke. A feisty, sixtyish woman who had taken several OLLI classes over the years, she shared her story about arriving at a time and place in life when learning to connect with her grown children had taken on an urgency, matters of health, she said.
“I came not really knowing what to expect,” she told us, “but I knew I didn’t want more classes in how to talk with grown kids. What I’m looking for is a way to share with my children on more of a soul level. My garage is overflowing with boxes, letters, pictures, mementos and several years of journals. I want to find a way to use all that, maybe open a new dialogue with them by sharing the story of my own spiritual journey. Maybe they could use some of the stuff I’ve saved over the years, not just mine but from the whole family tree,” she said. I thought she completely nailed the Taoist principle implying that imagery, metaphor and symbolism could be key to enhanced spiritual dialogue.
Then came Greg, a retired hydrologist and wavering realist on the way to discovering himself as a mystic. Unlike Ellen, who had pressing family dialogue issues to grapple with, Greg simply wanted to explore new ways to connect and converse with others about the things he secretly loved, spiritual things that normally fell outside the strict boundaries of the scientific method of gathering and disseminating knowledge. Reserved and dour in the beginning, he slowly found ground as he embraced the implicit intent of the class: Letting go of logic to let answers arise intuitively. Learning to be more fully present, practicing non-judgment, opening to minute-by-minute experience and coming to recognize unconscious skills and instincts began to make more sense to him as the class unfolded. He realized finding the Holy Grail (what we called wisdom’s edge), required a different way of thinking. Imagery. Metaphor. Non-thinking.
Finally, Robert. A computer programmer from New York, he’d been a Sedona winter resident for years and liked keeping his mind sharp with topics completely unrelated to his primary work. Fearless about going full tilt for something totally out of his comfort range, he was a perpetual poster child for ‘beginner’s mind,’ and I had a surge of admiration for his ability to embrace opportunities which might offer a chance to fling open the doors to a wider perception and appreciation of life. For him, the experience was a way to forage for information and skills to create better personal and social relationships, a plausible outcome of learning how to connect with his own, as well as other’s spiritual traditions, like the Tao.
Hearing Ellen, Greg and Robert speak of their personal quest experiences, I realized something important. Even though we all may have the same story of a readiness to meet the Muse and ‘live in fragments no longer,’ we each find our own way to accomplish this by learning how ‘only connect.’ At the end of the class, Forster’s perspective was validated as I connected with others through spiritual dialogue revealing both head and heart. It was a much needed and appreciated lesson I wouldn’t soon forget.
Melanie Lee is an award-winning writer, editor, artist and author. Growing up in Texas, she read mostly biography and autobiography and dreamed of being a writer who could help inspire others to meet their muse by honoring beauty in everyday life. She holds degrees in languages and journalism and was a features editor and columnist, writing everything from lifestyle stories and business news to profiles of entrepreneurs, artists and inventors engaged in the creative pursuit of right livelihood. She lived for ten years in Northern New Mexico where she was creator and director of Sojourns Writing Workshops of Santa Fe.
At the second half of life she moved to Sedona with her husband Louis Michalski. She met her muse anew, took up painting, became a yoga teacher and avid hiker and wrote “A Year in Sedona~Meeting the Muse at Wisdom’s Edge“, available on Amazon.com or from the author. She can be contacted at
P.O. Box 1419 Sedona, AZ 86339 or firstname.lastname@example.org