Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is Inspiration?

What is inspiration? For some it is a spark so bright, so important, so insightful that after it strikes, life takes on an entirely new meaning. I have known friends who in a moment's instant have set out on an entirely new life path. It's as if they were plodding along on a dark night when suddenly a lightening flash streaked across the sky and illuminated the mountaintop they had been looking for all along. Seeing clearly, in that instant, they then strode on with renewed confidence.

That's not to say that the flash resolved every issue. In fact, knowing where to go and setting out towards it sometimes creates some tough challenges. In other words, after inspiration strikes, the real work begins. In Fredrich August Kekule von Stradonitz's well-known dream a snake latched onto its tail and "As if by a flash of lightning" he awoke with the realization that he had discovered the Benzene molecule. He then spent an immense amount of time working out the details.

I once had a flash of inspiration while thinking about writing a novel which propelled me through more than two solid years of writing. Unlike J.K. Rowling whose flash led to seven monoliths, the last of which sold some 44 million copies, mine led to an early burial on a closet shelf. Of course, that's not to suggest I wasted my time writing it. If money were the true gage to what is worthwhile, then people like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi wasted decades. For me hours passed in minutes while I sat totally entranced by this world I had created. I felt calmer writing it, more alive. I felt like I had unearthed a long lost treasure.

So inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes through years of effort followed by one trans formative moment and other times totally unexpected and completely serendipitous. This is what happened to a friend of mine who, while lying in a grassy field as a young girl, felt her spirit lift and expand and in that moment felt herself merge with everything around her. That moment changed her and her inspiration blended with her life. From that moment one, when she helped another she helped herself. While others fought battles, she worked toward harmony and became the advocate to those who could not defend themselves. Her fear of death faded away after inspiration struck in a big way.

Most of us, though, are inspired by smaller flashes. We feel the joy and don't know what to do with it. We just bask in it for a while and then get on with the monotony of our daily life. In other words, it feels good, but nothing really changes. Sometimes inspiration is like that. These small flashes lift our spirit, creating an inner buoyancy. There's no clear mandate, just a lightness of being that releases us from life's drudgery. Put a chain of these together and your life, while not completely transformed, will feel pretty good.

Whether a lightening strike or a candle of illumination, whether life transforming or not, our heart is always lifted and warmed by inspiration's visit. So be watchful. Be open. Be ready for the flash and when it comes, be prepared to do the work that may lie just around the bend.

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