Full Cup eNewsletter:
Fall 2016 ~ Inspiration from the inside-out
I've been jotting down notes this summer in a tiny, orange journal with the phrase LIVE INSPIRED on the front. In reading these words again and again, I've noticed that some days offer undeniable inspiration and delight—like the joy of encountering a flower in full bloom, or watching the sun rise up through layers of clouds, or the pleasure of consuming an ice-cream cone or dancing along with just the right music.
I've also noticed that other days offer very little of this. Maybe we're repeatedly put on hold or stuck in traffic, or we realize that all the weeds we pulled last week have returned. Worse yet, we're presented with saddening news at a global or personal level, and our stresses expand beyond these small irritants. Tuning into political updates offers little help. Each time I turn on the news, I could swear my dogs are moaning in disbelief at what has become of our human race.
Comparing these two types of days reminds me that inspiration can arrive from the outside-in or from the inside-out. On delightful days, feeling uplifted is a natural response to the warmth of the sun's rays and the goodness that surrounds us. On rough days, however, the will to "live inspired" must be harnessed from within, not because of what we're experiencing, but rather, in spite of it. We may choose to do this because we want to live a vibrant and meaningful life or, more simply, because the alternative is to find ourselves curled up in a ball in the corner of a room—an option that doesn't sound very appealing.
I appreciate descriptions that speak to this inside-out inspiration. I think of Alice Walker's proclamation that "resistance is the key to joy," along with Elizabeth Gilbert's discussion of "stubborn gladness." While Alice Walker speaks of resistance in the context of violence and oppression, Elizabeth Gilbert refers to the stubborn gladness Jack Gilbert would encourage in his students when telling them that they "must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world." What I like most about both these phrases is their reminder that sometimes the qualities of inspiration, peace, and joy need to be actively cultivated, almost as an act of rebellion, rather than arriving in a gentle, passive way. Even if these qualities must be hard-earned, it seems well worth the effort when we have the effort to give.
I'm reminded of Victor Frankl's work, which was largely influenced by his experiences in Nazi concentration camps. He proposed that humans are primarily motivated by their desire to find meaning in life and that this meaning can be found through an active life of creative work and service, or a passive life of enjoying beauty, art, or nature. He went on to suggest that when these two options aren't possible, we can also find meaning through the attitude we adopt in the face of unavoidable suffering. His work reminds us that we always have some choice to make, and that hardiness and resiliency can be great allies during heavy and dark times.
As a parent and a psychologist, I realize I have added incentives to revisit inspiration often. I also have my moments of wanting to hide under the covers or sigh loudly—and sometimes, I do. But then I realize that life is too short and too precious to not get back out and greet the day—and that I'd rather search out, find, and illuminate any pockets of goodness that can be found as opposed to focusing on life's negatives.
I think it's also fair to say that now, as much as ever, the world can use inspired people who are dedicated to making things better in whatever ways they can. Fortunately, even on days when we find it hard to generate our own gusto for life, if we look around at the good that's happening—often beyond the headline news—it's hard to stay uninspired for long.
For those of you in the Kalamazoo, Michigan area, I hope you can join me for a 3-part "Compassion Renewal" series beginning Thursday, September 15 at Transformations Spirituality Center. You can register at https://www.transformationscenter.org/