Inspiration- a multifaceted word. On first glance it is defined as; “the process of being mentally stimulated, to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” It also means “divine influence”, and “the act of breathing in, an inhalation”.
The Source of Inspiration
But where does inspiration come from? Our brains? Or somewhere deeper? According to Neuroscientist Dr Caroline Leaf, the brain and the mind are separate, in the sense that our brains are a problem-solving organ: The brain thinks just as the heart beats, and the lungs breathe. She explains that our brains and bodies are the way we experience our mind- and our mind is far richer and more complex than our brains and bodies. She says, “The mind is energy and it generates energy” (ref: Podcast 306: How to balance your brainwaves + The difference between the mind & brain). In other words, the mind is the driving force behind our brain. It’s helpful to make the distinction by referring to the mind as the ‘wise self’ or the ‘wise mind’.
Based on this, our inspiration and creative energy comes from a deeper source than just our brains. If you think about the sheer volume of creative expressions in the world- things that have been agonised over, lovingly altered, thought about and experimented with- it’s overwhelmingly immense. It’s like the Earth holds a constant shower of creative things, a rain of ideas and thoughts sinking into the ground and eventually, most likely, lost. I used to find this thought really discouraging. However, the unrelenting urge to create is built into us as humans. It’s is part of our Imago Dei, or who we are as image bearers of God. We create as a true expression of our being. I think the reason we struggle with the thought that our creative endeavours may be unacknowledged or lost is because we live in a world that values productivity and data. It is bent toward rigidity over flexibility, reductionism over possibilities, utility over worth and meaning, judgement over grace, certitude over nonduality and exclusivity over acceptance.
If we view the ‘wise mind’ as the seat of inspiration, and the brain as the vehicle through which we experience it, our perspective is transformed. We are no longer dictated by the the overarching values of culture or society. We become more authentically who we are created to be. Inspiration is not stingy or withholding. It is not the exclusive property of a sacred few. As mentioned above, it is like a constant rain, or a river that flows endlessly, available to all.
Our upside down world….means that to nurture or make room for inspiration requires a commitment to authenticity. Putting our inspiration out into the world comes with a price: we give up control over where it will land. This lies is the hands of the Spirit. The true value of what we create lies not in the thing itself, but the essence of the thing as an expression of our divinity- as co-creators with God.
I’m reminded of a Bible verse in Philippians: “I will rejoice even if my life is poured out like a drink offering”. If we pour out our lives, which includes everything we do or create, it follows that we give up concern over how it is received, since everything we have to offer has first been given to us by a loving and creative God. What we accomplish in our own strength can be so self-conscious and focused on external responses. It’s a temptation to present oneself according to the upside down values of the world- even for short term accolades. We want to appear clever and successful. Part of the antidote to this mind trap for me at least, lies in reminding myself of who I really am: deeply flawed yet deeply loved. Created in the image of God. I have within me the mind-boggling capacity to reflect back a unique one-of-a-kind facet of the nature of God. One with God in union, I am also a particularity. Another antidote is realising that all those around me carry the same spark of divinity, are equally loved, wonderfully unique and therefore communication with others is sacred. We reflect God back to one another.
Art as Communion
We are all an original, and part of something much larger than ourselves, something we cannot fully understand. I need to remind myself of this often.
Back to some thoughts on making art. For me, when I think of my arts practise, and in particular how it produces so much joy and healing in my life, I can see the principle of inspiration – or the wise mind- at work. In painting, drawing, writing poems….I am aware of being pulled away from the endless chatter and problem solving of the brain into a more expansive space of grounding into the life of the Spirit. (I say this with the firm belief that we are all creators in some form or another).
The more I pursue inspiration, this creative force within me, the more I become aware that God is closer than my breath. Creative expression is like a loving dialogue or prayer going back and forth. This is why the definition of inspiration- as respiration or breathing- is so beautiful.
If inspiration was personified it would be accepting, childlike, compassionate. It values process over product. May we all joyfully and with gratitude, breathe it in.