Wednesday, October 24, 2018


by Elizabeth Venart

What is inspiration? Is the experience universal – or personal? How important is inspiration in achieving our goals? In experiencing happiness or satisfaction in our lives? Is it possible to seek out inspiration – or must we wait patiently for it to simply “happen”? I’ve been thinking about these questions over the past few months, and, in my curiosity, I asked colleagues and friends for input, re-read favorite authors, and searched  online for recent writings on the topic. I will share with you some of what I discovered and invite you to consider your own answers to these questions . . . and maybe discover some new questions of your own.

First, what do we mean by “inspiration”?

Inspiration can bring profound shifts to how we perceive ourselves, the world around us, and our sense of what is possible – and is felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration as “the chills up the arms, the hair standing up on the back of the neck, the nervous stomach, the buzzy thoughts, that feeling of falling into love or obsession.” New York Times columnist David Brooks describes inspiration as moments when “time disappears or alters its pace.” When I’m inspired, I feel emotionally open, happier, and grateful, more connected to something larger than myself, more motivated to take action, to make a difference. I also experience a feeling of spaciousness in my body: my breath deepens, the tension in my body fades, I relax, my eyes brighten, a smile crosses my face. Inspiration clears the fog and debris from my thinking and the “stuckness” from my body.  The experience is deeply personal. As Lynn Doer, a writer, traveler, and volunteer at several local nonprofits, said, “Defining inspiration is as elusive as holding water in your hand, it happens for an instant; you know what it feels like but it is hard to show to someone else.” 

What is the relationship between inspiration and motivation?

Inspiration seems to be the intersection of awe, emotional resonance, and a strengthened internal motivation to create or act. Inspiration provokes an uplifting surge in energy and enhances our sense of capability in taking meaningful action. Doerr described inspiration as “the divine universe whispering to you to take action.” When the energy of inspiration fills her,  she feels as if she will burst if she doesn’t heed the invitation to act.

What inspires you? 

The experience of being inspired is described in similar ways by people all over the world. However, what inspires each individual – and how they answer the call once inspired – is absolutely unique.  What inspires you? A walk in the woods? The story of perseverance and triumph in the face of adversity? Watching a documentary in which someone ventured outside the expected to a new discovery, a new understanding or scientific advancement no one dreamed possible? There are unlimited invitations to awaken our eyes, hearts, and minds to the vast repository of ideas and insights yet to be imagined. What calls to you?  Eudora Welty wrote:The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order. . [in a] continuous thread of revelation.” We are all in the process of discovering . . . ourselves, the world around us, and our own meaning and significance.  

Is it possible that depression is the absence of inspiration? And, if so, can inspiration be sought as a balm when we struggle?

Can we use our past experiences as a kind of personal compass, helping to guide us at times when our mood or outlook feels bleak or blah?  Reflecting back on moments when we did feel inspired, can we recreate the conditions that paved the way for inspiration to appear? I don’t know. Maybe. The possibility of that maybe being a yes is enough for me.  I’ll take the leap. I hope you’ll join me.

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