Inspiration

Inspiration
by Art Ticknor

                     
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Could your deepest yearning be the desire for absolute security or unity? Does your intuition tell you that what you're looking for lies at the core of your being? If so, then all you need to do in order to satisfy your deepest longing is to know what you really are.

How is it possible, though, not to consciously know – not to know that we know – what we really are? What could possibly prevent us from such self-knowing?

The Inspiration of St. Matthew, by Caravaggio
When we ask ourselves what we know, or how we know what we know, our observation leads us to the fact that there's a split between us-the-knower and the objects of our knowing. If that's an absolute limitation, then we can never know ourselves … can never know the knower. That would make life ultimately absurd, as many existentialists and other nihilistic philosophers evidently have concluded. It may well be a limitation of perceptual and conceptual knowing, but is there a knowing beyond subject-object knowing?

There appears to be an in-between stage, represented by the cosmic consciousness that Walt Whitman experienced, where we become one with everything, and the unitive experience of contemplative Christians like John of the Cross, who become one with God. But since it's an experience, it comes and goes, in intensity, frequency and duration … and the core state of being remains unknown.

If our intuition tells us, or our intellect admits the possibility, that there may be a knowing beyond conceptual knowing and even beyond cosmic consciousness, then we're faced with the how-to-get-there question. And that's where we're liable to run into the inspiration roadblock as witnessed by complaints like these:

"A lot of action may be required, and I don't have the inspiration to dedicate myself to the necessary effort."

"I don't feel inspired. I just have to wait for my mood or something to change so that I can act."

Sure, the statistical odds aren't good. Richard Bucke, a friend of Whitman's who also experienced cosmic consciousness and published a book of case studies, estimated that cosmic consciousness occurred in 1 out of every million people. If that's accurate, then around 6,000 of the people now living should reach cosmic consciousness. (Bucke was optimistic, feeling that the rate was increasing, as do modern gurus Andrew Cohen and Eckhart Tolle, who both write about a planetary shift occurring, an evolution in consciousness. Personally, I haven't seen any evidence for it.)

Eleven climbers perished recently on K2, the second highest peak on earth but considered to be the most difficult to climb. In fact, for every three people who try to make it to the top, one dies trying. Not very good odds. But look at human life: for every 1,000,000 people who desire absolute security and unity, at least 999,999 of them apparently die trying.

What is inspiration, and where does it come from? We identify it as a feeling or a mood. We feel inspired in relation to negativity or flatness … when the pendulum swings from negative to positive, from being "down" to being "up." The extreme case is bipolar depression and mania. Feeling inspired may last for an extended period during which it produces great activity, as in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, but in most cases it's fleeting and produces little if any productive action. Action for action's sake is nice, especially after a period of inaction, but action toward our primary life-goal is what we're concerned with here.

I experienced inspiration for new or renewed action toward my primary goal mostly when I was on solitary retreats – about the only times my mind relaxed sufficiently, I suspect. The accompanying feeling was like champagne bubbling through my cardiovascular system. I felt bubbly inside and would be hit by many ideas for action. Those periods of inspiration were the only times I felt able to scan my mind for resistances and make honest commitments to myself to carry out actions with great determination – almost exactly unlike New Year's resolutions, which might be made with earnestness but evaporated with great rapidity.

There's a message being piped into the mind from its source, and that message is the cause of the deepest inspiration. It's the voice of nostalgia, calling us home. Home is not a place, but it's where we came from … and actually have never left. The "return" pull is really a call to awaken to our true state of being. Sometimes a book or a person triggers an inspiration. At other times there's no discernible catalyst, with the inspiration seeming to come out of nowhere. In any case, when it penetrates down to our deepest longing, it motivates action toward returning to – really recognition of – our changeless state of being.

We desire inspiration and fear expiration. Emotionally, inspiration is like feeling full, while expiration represents emptiness. Douglas Harding, a witty contrarian, referred to a quote from Meister Eckhart ("He who created me rested in my tent") in an essay by that title in To Be and Not To Be:

For many years now I've been in the habit of silently repeating to myself, from time to time, my own secret mantra, "To be saved is to be Him," while breathing out very deeply indeed. My whole body down to my toenails seems to be expiring, breathing me out and You in. The strong sensation of leaning back and collapsing into Your Immensity, of merging with You utterly, brings with it the profoundest physical relaxation I know. As I say, it's as if, breathing out thus deeply, I breathe You in; and, breathing in again, You breathe me in. It's very much as if, having just saved me from drowning in the Sea of Death, You were giving me the Kiss of Life.
Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in Blink how the neurological changes that produce happy feelings and subsequently cause contraction of the associated facial muscles also occur as the result of an intentional contraction of those facial muscles. In other words, feelings produce action but actions also produce feelings – a chicken-and-egg standoff in terms of which came first.

wondering deeply It's not necessary to wait for inspiration in order to be able to act. We can intentionally contract the "inspiration muscles." A good example of that occurred recently in the Pittsburgh Philosophical Self-Inquiry Discussion Group. One of the participants, who had been voicing his lack of inspiration and the conviction that all he could do was wait for inspiration to visit him, volunteered to lead the discussion at the following meeting, and another participant put together a poster for that meeting. It contained a quote from Seng-Ts'an, the 7th Century Chinese Zen Patriarch: "... Just because I wondered deeply, I later attained penetrating understanding.... If you do not reflect and examine, your whole life will be buried away." He titled it Wondering Deeply, found and included the photo accompanying this paragraph, and added three questions: What is death? What is life? Who are you?

They will likely never know the extent to which their action may have inspired someone else, and they may never know the extent to which their action inspired their own continuing action – or inspired the help that's necessary for bringing about the satisfaction of their deepest longing.


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