I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about what it is that creates the space for inspiration. I’ve been trying to figure out the energetic difference between a normal practice and an inspired one. When inspiration comes, its almost like the electricity in our bodies gets boosted to another level and all the lights inside of us get a little bit brighter. We connect with what we are doing on a more intimate level and those usual, self-limiting beliefs seem to soften and dissipate. A lot of the time, the act of physically doing a thing can even get confused with the simple observation of that thing being done. Its like our brains get hijacked and instead of being the operator who executes a task, we suddenly become the host of an internal operation.
The difference between inspired and uninspired creativity is often so gratingly subtle that we might not even know the difference until we have fallen from grace. At times, it can be so easy to get lost in our practice and to become unified with the effortless flow of our imagination that we might not even consider it remarkable until we fall into a rut. Its usually only then, when we are sunk up to our knees in the muck of half-hearted technique and mechanical recitation that we look back at those moments of trance-like focus and wonder, “how did I wind up here, and how on earth do I get back?
In my experience, the presence of inspiration seems to be encouraged by a few different things. I’m sure there are actually many factors at work here but right now I am focusing on the main ones that have produced results for me.
First, I believe inspiration can be encountered when we have a strong enough intention. When we are fully committed and whole-heartedly present with the task at hand, our focus begins to narrow and distractions start to wane. This allows us to listen and to see and to feel more clearly, which all add up to a greater sense of appreciation for what we are doing. When we have intention in our practice and are actually excited to live up to our commitments, the whole process starts to turn into a kind of ritual instead of an obligation. We engage with the practice like we are doing puja or prostrations. It becomes an extension of our highest self. Intention actually seems to be related to all of these factors in one way or another but a committed and dedicated state of mind is primary.
Second, I think inspiration can come from a proper set and setting. Much like the idea of creating a safe and comforting space in order to encourage a meaningful experience while taking psychedelics, set and setting is also crucial when attempting to tap in to our creative juices. By creating a space that is compatible and welcoming to our artistic process, we are simultaneously aligning ourselves with the energy of the space. The energy is actually what’s most important here. Its not just about having a quiet room to be able to crank your guitar, or a clutter free studio that allows access to supplies, its about setting aside a space that is largely (or entirely) dedicated to expression. I like to think of it as a sacred space-like a temple or a monastery. A monastery isn’t just somewhere for monks and nuns to sleep-it’s a space that is dedicated to practice and to the energy behind it.
Sometimes this space can be found out in the world, like a particularly good coffee shop that you like to write at or a studio that is all set up and primed with musical juju. Other times it can be found by setting something up in a spare bedroom or an unused closet. The area itself might not be perfectly designed and flowing with good energy the moment you step into it, but with a little work you can turn it into your very own sacred space.
The third element that I feel really encourages inspiration is something that Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, referred to as beginners mind. The idea itself is actually quite simple but it is often very difficult to achieve. In order to have a beginners mind, in relation to the creative process, we need to be able to drop all of our previous accomplishments or failures and approach our art from a place of total freshness. When I attempt to reach this state of mind it helps me to think back on some of my earliest memories of picking up a guitar and to try and tap back in to those feelings of awe and wonder. Playing music was such a beautiful mystery in the beginning. Everything I did was completely new and exciting and it seemed that I would never tire of strumming those simple chords or picking out those familiar notes.
If we can get ourselves back into that kind of headspace and can approach our craft with that level of excitement and respect, there is no reason to believe that we can’t feel the same way we did in the beginning. The beauty and the mystery are still very much present in whatever it is we are creating, it is only our level of sensitivity that’s has diminished.