Where does inspiration come from? A stray word overheard on the street, a beautiful view, an ironic piece of art, serendipity? Should we seek inspiration or let it come to us?
All week, I’ve been suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. I don’t know if it is a result of boredom, going on vacation for a week, or waiting for a spring that never seems to arrive. Sometimes I think it has something to do with the loss of my yoga teacher (no, he didn’t die, just stopped teaching for a while). He would often say something simple in class that would set me off on some whimsical train of thought. Whatever the cause of the barrier, I find that desire for relief makes it hard not to work at finding an idea; hard to relax and trust that something will come.
Thomas Edison famously said that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” but he didn’t actually say where he got that inspiration. There seem to be two schools of thought on this – the first is what I call the “Just do it” school, and the second is the “Wait for it” school. Jack London was in the first category, saying that “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Pablo Picasso too, thought that “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
Waiting for inspiration is a little like calling on the muses from Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks believed that poets, artists, musicians and even scientists got their inspiration from one of the nine muses, goddesses that were the source of knowledge. Amy Tan has said, “Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.”
Consider another definition of inspiration – “the act or process of inhaling” – and compare creative inspiration to the act of breathing. We know that the breath doesn’t have to be forced. It will happen without us doing a thing. We are born without the need to control the breath, yet it’s incredibly difficult to give up control of other things we want. We don’t have the patience to just let them come.
If we have both open airways and clean air, we trust in our continued ability to breathe. If I keep my mind open and let the breezes of experience flow through, can I learn to trust that ideas will come? I am reminded of two of the qualities of mindfulness: non-striving, which is about being, rather doing; and non-attachment, which means letting go of the idea that things have to turn out a certain way.
Maybe I am my own muse. By being and trusting who I am, letting go of fixed ideas, and not being afraid to wait, inspiration will come – just like my next breath.