What’s So Important About Inspiration?

This is a question I often get asked so here is my latest answer for you

Even from a young age I was aware that life seemed to fall into two categories. Most of the time, life was normal. Most things that happened were variations on the familiar and my thoughts and feelings stayed within a certain range.

But every now and again, I would have times of bliss, times that went far beyond normal happiness. I would feel elated, filled with joy and wonder, as if lifted up to see much bigger horizons. Sometimes the beauty in belonging to this universe would take my breath away.

These times were very special to me. They became defining moments – high points from which I could navigate through the lowlands.

I noticed that my energy and motivation would shoot up and my confidence was boosted. Creative ideas arrived without effort and I found solutions to vexing problems. I gained the clarity to see what is truly important in life which helped me make wiser decisions.

Because I was curious, I began to take a deeper interest in what was going on. As I explored further, I became aware that I wasn’t alone. Apparently other people had similar experiences. Perhaps you too?

I liked these special moments a lot and decided I wanted more of them. This is when the term inspiration came to me – the literal meaning of inspire is ‘to breathe life into’ and that is what seemed to be happening. Being inspired is like awakening from a kind of sleep-walking.

This is why we all love hero stories. We are drawn in because we see an ordinary person ‘wake up’ and do extra-ordinary things. We feel a personal resonance because we would like to rise above the ordinary in our own lives.

We all have the ability to wake up to life, to become inspired. I used to think that this is something we have to strive for, to attain. But now I see this ability is part of our nature. There is no qualification necessary; it applies to everyone.

There is no need to feel stuck in our lives, putting up with habitual stress, frustration or failure. Being inspired gives us a glimpse of our latent powers and talents.

It’s then we can see that we already have the means to escape from our particular prison. We see our role in putting bars on the window and locks on the door. Then we can move out and live in a more life-affirming and rewarding place.

Feeling Good Despite The Workload

Yesterday, being the beginning of a new month, I decided to make a list of all the things I have to do. It soon became quite a long list! Some items were single tasks; others were complete projects in themselves.

Making a ‘To Do’ list is a typical human activity – I’m sure you’ve done the same. It can help us feel better organized and less likely to forget important things.

Yet as I looked at my list, I could see that a whole lot of work was involved. Anticipating all the effort that would be needed was hardly motivating. I tried to imagine what it might be like at the end of the month. Perhaps when everything had been ticked off the list, I would feel a sense of satisfaction?

A sense of satisfaction is a great feeling. It seems to combine the feeling that life is complete, with nothing missing, with the feeling of peace now the hard work is over.

But experience tells me that finishing a ‘To Do’ list doesn’t bring anything more than a flicker of satisfaction. More likely the ‘reward’ is the writing of the next list, and then the pressure to achieve starts all over again.

What if it could be different?

The good news is that it will automatically be different when we separate two things:

1. We can make lists whenever we like. We can choose what to put on these lists and what to leave out. But simply doing things on a list will never bring a sense of satisfaction – see 2 below.

2. All our feelings – including the sense of satisfaction – come from whatever we are thinking at the time. So the feeling that life is complete comes from life is complete thoughts. In the same way the feeling of peace comes from peaceful thoughts.

It is tremendously liberating to see this distinction because it means that we can feel good (eg. satisfied, complete, at peace) at any time. The feeling is independent from wherever we’ve got to on the ‘To Do’ list.

I know that it often looks as if finishing a task makes us feel satisfied but this is an illusion. You can sometimes spot the illusion when you feel satisfied for no obvious reason, or, conversely, when you feel bad even though you’ve completed a significant task.

So now, when I look at my list for July, I smile because I know I can feel good before I finish the list, or even before I finish the first task. Phew!

It’s the same for you. Whatever you have on your list (or in your diary), your feelings come from your thinking. You may well want to achieve everything on your list for other reasons but feeling good doesn’t have to be one of them.

When It’s Smart To Give Up

Yes, it’s true – giving up is sometimes the best strategy. I know it might sound like wimping out but giving up can trigger your greatest creativity and the best outcomes. Let me show you how.

Whenever you feel pressurised or stressed because of a problem, your mind is busy trying to work out a solution. It tends to go over the same thoughts again and again. People talk about ‘cudgeling their mind’ or ‘racking their brains’ which makes it sound like a kind of torture! And in one way I suppose it is – it certainly doesn’t feel nice.

This happened to me the other morning. Soon after waking, my mind started buzzing over a problem with the design of a training programme. I could see a gazillion options to move forward and they kept parading themselves for evaluation. I went from one to another and back again, trying to choose the best one. The parade got faster and faster and my head went into a complete spin.

After an hour or two of this, I was getting worn out. It all seemed so complicated and I was not a jot nearer to a solution. So I decided to give up. I saw the futility of what I was doing and just decided not to bother with it anymore. With the decision made, I felt a sense of relief sweep in. Then I got on with something completely different – I think I put the bins out :-)

As I went through the rest of the morning, I got on with other things and my mind was no longer bothered by the problem. Yet, sometime in the afternoon I suddenly saw the solution. There it was as clear as day! And I hadn’t had to work hard to find it – it arrived all by itself.

I realized afterwards that giving up when I did had made space for new thinking – fresh thoughts that I had not yet thought. The solution arrived as a fresh thought – inspiration!

This experience is also an insight into the question that I’m often asked – how do you ‘let go’ of unhelpful thoughts? The answer is that you can let go by giving up.

Giving up is not half-hearted; it’s the full monty. You do it when you are at your ‘wits end’, in other words, when you are fed up with the unproductive thinking going round in your head.

You know when you have really given up (not just kidding yourself) because of the feeling of relief it brings. Then you can get on with living life more lightly, knowing that new thoughts can arrive at any moment. And it’s these new thoughts that provide by far the best solutions.

But don’t just take my word for it – try giving up for yourself. Let me know how you get on

Feeling Good For No Reason

Do you ever find yourself feeling good when there is no obvious reason? The reason I ask is because it’s a big clue to feeling good more often. Here’s how it happened to me recently.

One evening after dinner, just as I was pleased to be indoors out of the rain, the phone rang. It was my son saying that his car would not start. He said he was at the swimming pool, so I set off on the 5 mile drive to help him.

The rain seemed to be easing and I began to anticipate a dry interval to get his car working again. But when I got to the pool, I couldn’t find him. I drove slowly around the car park a second time and he definitely wasn’t there. When I called him on the phone, I found out that he was at the pool in a different town!

I will admit to more than a moment of frustration – I was cross with myself for not checking. But I could see no other option than drive the 10 miles to the other town. Worse still, the sky looked ready for another downpour.

Fortunately it was at this point that I remembered the key principle – all my experience is created by my thinking. Remembering this turned the ten mile trip into a revelation.

To be honest, at first I was still feeling cross and frustrated because of what had happened. In other words, I was thinking about how past events should have been different – how I made a wrong assumption; how I should have checked the location; how I’d made a wasted journey, and so on. It was this thinking that was creating feelings of anger and frustration.

When I realized what was going on, somehow those thoughts loosened their grip on me. There seemed little point investing in such thinking if all it did was make me feel bad.

So for a few moments my thoughts about the past faded and I was able to notice the delightful shades of green in the trees and hedges, and the impressive layers of scudding clouds. I began to feel calmer.

But soon my thinking moved into the future – how was I going to get my son’s car started? Perhaps between us we could push-start it. Or maybe we could use battery leads and jump-start it. Or perhaps we would have to take the battery home and recharge it overnight.

While my mind ran through the options, I became switched off from my surroundings. Because I was totally preoccupied by the future, I was missing the present. At the same time I could feel anxiety building. Then, for the second time, I realized what was going on. It seemed so obvious – my thoughts about the future were creating the experience of anxiety.

The more this dawned on me, my thoughts about the future seemed to shrink. As my mind became less busy, I could feel the calmness return. And I was able to connect once more to the beauty of my surroundings.

During the rest of the journey, my feelings oscillated. When I became aware of building frustration I knew my thoughts had returned to the past. When instead I could feel anxiety welling up, I knew my thoughts had jumped into the future. But the sweet spot was in the present, when my mind wasn’t dwelling on anything in particular. It really surprised me just how good I felt in the middle of all the ‘hassle’ of the evening.

The upshot was that when I eventually arrived at the right place, my mind was calm enough to see the best option straightaway and we successfully started the car – so the story does have a happy ending.

More importantly, the story shows how we don’t have to work at feeling good or finding peace of mind – it’s our default setting! And we can only be diverted away from this when we become absorbed by the thoughts that bring unwanted feelings.

So look out for the next time you feel good for no reason!

Unlimited Hope For The Future

Inspiration has a very close relative called hope. The two are inseparable; they go everywhere together.

This is important because when we feel stressed or overwhelmed with work or life, hope is the antidote. Going further, hope is also the solution to helplessness, resignation and despair.

If it was really possible to tap into an endless supply of hope, how much difference would it make to you?

In its most powerful undiluted form, hope is much more than wishful thinking. To have hope means ‘to expect with confidence’ – in other words, to count on a certain outcome. But given our inability to predict the future, how can this be?

Before we get to the answer, we need to remember where the experience of hope comes from. If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you’ll notice a recurring theme: every experience we have comes from the thoughts we are thinking at the time. So the experience of hope must come from our thinking. So where do our thoughts come from?

Well, there’s no doubt that many of the thoughts you think are those you have thought before. Some are welcome, others less so. Either way they spring from your accumulated knowledge and experience. But what about new thoughts, thoughts you have never thought before?

Some people claim they bubble up from the unconscious mind but this is not very convincing. It implies that every new thought we have ever had and will ever have is already there.

Another attempt to explain where thoughts come from rests on the description of how the brain works by making new neural connections. But while this explains the biological changes that take place, it does not account for the origin of the content of thought.

In contrast, many spiritual traditions describe some kind of universal source of thought. They use different words – such as collective mind, universal intelligence, life energy, God – all of which attempt to point to the ever-present but formless source of thought.

Such a source is infinite and therefore gives us the potential for unlimited new thoughts. This is where we come back to hope. When you are not stuck on old thinking, new thought will always flow into your mind. You can be sure of this – you can count on this outcome.

Can you remember a time when you have had just the idea you needed ‘out of the blue’? It happened when you were not busy thinking about the problem but rather when you were thinking about nothing in particular, hence ‘out of the blue’.

So whatever problem or challenge you face, there is always the assurance that you can have fresh thoughts about it at any time. And these fresh thoughts are how solutions will unfold to you. This means that the potential solution is only a thought away. This is how you can be full of hope – hope-full. You are not on your own – you have an unlimited source of new thought to draw on!

All you need to remember is that new thought will automatically flow into your mind when you are not busy with the thoughts that are already there. A quieter mind is all it takes.