So I'm in the middle of whichever plot I'm hatching for world domination when I get interrupted abruptly by a text message from an athlete:
Like you, the first thing I wanted to say was: "learn punctuation, and we'll start from there." But I put aside my cranky old coot hat and instead dusted off my old sorcerer's cap to direct him to the "source" of his concern. It's nothing proprietary – just the stuff I have been told and shown along the way by those far wiser and more clever than myself. But what I shared with him I have always loved for it's disarming yet pragmatic simplicity.
It starts with looking at the word "inspiration." Most of us tend to hold this word in some grandiose regard. We think: inspiration is a big deal; it is epic and deep and spiritual and intense, right? Well, so as not to piss off my numerous artistic dreamers, I will agree that inspiration can be these things sometimes. But finding inspiration is also remarkably simple – and startlingly accessible.
The word inspiration comes from two Latin root words:
- The first part is "in" meaning, well, in.
- The second part is "spirare," which means "to breathe."
Put these two together – in + spirare – and you get "inspire," and it's close cousin "inspiration." Looking at the roots, inspiration literally means "to breathe in."
I guess what this means is that when we are inspired, we are breathing something in. It could be something new, something intoxicating, something refreshing, something nourishing; it could be a whole bunch of different things, but it is certainly different from the air we just previously breathed.
Those who lack a feeling of inspiration tend to be breathing stale air. They are breathing the same air over and over. Maybe they are thinking the same thoughts without taking in other perspectives. Maybe they stay in the same places without changing the scenery. Maybe they talk tot he same people without meeting different faces. The uninspired are typically wed to situations that are repetitive, monotone and unchanging. They breathe in the same stale air of that situation over and over and so nothing new comes into their "personal atmosphere."
And then they whine about not feeling any inspiration.
Meanwhile, they refused to make any change in how they take the world in. They just continue whining: "Poor, poor uninspired me!" As if they were entitled to the privilege of inspiration without sacrificing any effort. But just you can change your breathing through a decision to change it, so too can you find inspiration by making a change in how you take things in.
And it doesn't have to be a quantum change. You don't have to overhaul everything, throwout half your clothes, rearrange the furniture and quit your job to create inspiration. It doesn't always mean radical risks (even though those are allowed, too). Remember: this is only about how you take things in. Making a change – even a momentary one – in how you receive your world is the key to generating inspiration. To be inspired, we merely need to expose ourselves to "new air." We need to make a conscious effort to take the world in differently than we are right now. Little changes in how we approach the world can bring us that "new air" very quickly.
Some of the simplest, "your grandmother could have told you that" ideas can trigger a sense of inspiration because they change how your mind is taking in the day. Try writing things by hand, instead of on a keyboard. Try walking around for a while – even in an ugly place. Take a nap when you usually don't. Eat a hot lunch, a different one every day, for a week. Watch someone who is really, really, really good at a difficult physical task; anything from gymnastics to concert piano.
Talk to someone face to face, without any electronic interface.
You see, one thing I do know is that electronic communication isolates us. I mean, when we talk via text or email or even the phone we are certainly communicating, but there is still an electronic interface between us. And that interface we use as a solitary act; you talk to your little electronic box and I talk to my little electronic box and essentially we are both a degree more isolated then if we were in a direct conversation.
There is no inspiration in isolation.
Soak that last statement in a little, because it is the kicker. There is no inspiration in isolation. Solitude – doing something by ourselves – is not the same as being isolated. Isolated means detached from the world; solitude simply means going through that world on your own, yet fully engaged. Which is why you can certainly find inspiration in solitude, but it is next to impossible to find while isolated.
Our electronic world isolates us; it keeps us stuck in our "stale air." It tricks our mind into thinking we are engaging, but we are actually perceiving the world the same as we did before – on our own, isolated terms – without the blessed inconvenience of the world on it's own terms. We are not playing with an animal when we watch a cat video. We are not earning anything while we are playing video games. We are not fully connecting with people when we are communicating through our devices.
However, this is not one of those "down with electronics" manifestos! No, not at all! I am all for kitten shows, video games and my precious text messaging. They are not the culprits – they are mere the accomplices. If we are not feeling inspired or passionate, we can often look to how we have allowed our devices to stand in for genuine engagement; how we allow them to limit the receipt of "fresh air."
In other words, one quick way to get inspired is just a swift kick in the ass to get off of the electronic dependency and breathe in some fresher communication air. Instead of text, call someone. Instead of call, visit someone. Change the degrees of separation; change how you "breathe in the world."
Like I said before: your grandmother could have told you that one. I'm not the most original sorcerer in the game.
Lack of inspiration is not a lack of getting something. Lack of inspiration is a lack of doing something. Inspiration relies on new action. Only by exposing ourselves to fresher air can we "breed in" more nourishing energy. But we have to do something; we have to participate or else we get no new inspiration. And then our whining about it's deficit becomes just that: frivolous whining. Inspiration is requested, not the obligation of the Universe to bring to you just because somehow you feel you deserve it without making any changes. If you want more inspiration, you have to find willingness to make changes, even if only small ones. Inspiration requires participation.
That's another kicker, so take a second to soak it in again: inspiration requires participation.
Your beliefs about how you are may have been derived from empirical facts about your history, but your loyalty to them has turned into stale air. Quit believing that the way you go about your days is the only way your day's obligations can be met. That attitude is not only a block to inspiration, it is also a myth; a myth that is not only stale, it actually stinks. You are not forced to stay in this pattern. You can interrupt it whenever you want. And those interruptions need not be life-altering or cause problematic consequences. However, without those interruptions to distract you from your beliefs about how your life "is supposed to be," there will be no inspiration.
I am lucky enough in my employment choices to live under near-constant interruption. People seeking mentorship change the pace of my day. Clients requesting creative solutions force me to think different. Folks I entertain engage me with their mood and how I should respond. I am blessed and luck to be wealthy with inspiration, which makes me often feel passionate, but make no mistake: it is derived from a perpetual series of incredible inconveniences. I can't have the world "my way" – I can't only breathe "my air" – to be able to have so much new air to breathe.
Trust me, it's one of the reasons I shut down so hard. There's only so much fresh air this sorcerer-coach can take before the mundane and uninspired become so wildly appealing for a short spell. Then I sit and plot to take over the world and eat junk food and let media hypnotize me into a pleasant coma of stale-air bliss. I won't lie: I agree that the uninspired moments of life can have a sublime comfort. But they also isolate me from inspiration. It's a trap.
But eventually, thank god, some athlete I coach will text me with a poorly-punctuated request for an instant injection of passion and inspiration. Somewhere, some athlete is fed up with his own stale air, and wants to change up what he takes in. Somewhere, someone is taking a risk to change things up, which reminds me to also take that risk and find my own inspiration and passion once again.
Inspiration isn't even a giant risk. Its more like just a small adjustment. Become willing to change how you take it all in, and inspiration follows. It's actually a fact of human nature that we all already know from experience, but we all often forget.
Fortunately we have our grandmothers to remind us.
And if not them, then at least the inconvenience of poorly-punctuated text messages.