Thank Your Inspirations, Then Leave Them Behind
All my life, when I have loved something, I have REEEALLY loved it. Whether it was Star Trek and the Beatles (my first decade), English History and the Wars of the Roses (my second), Medieval and Renaissance re-enactment (my third), Elfquest and the Philadelphia rock band The Hooters (my fourth), or certain New Age/New Thought thinkers and philosophers (my fifth and beyond)…inspiration by others shaped my whole world. Whether it was the people I worked for or the novel series I wrote for, I held them in the highest esteem and immersed myself in everything about them. I made sure friends and acquaintances knew about my Current Love Object, saw them in the same fabulous light as I did, and would take them to heart as much as I had.
Even if there were parts of me that didn’t agree with parts of the CLO, I’d look the other way, tell myself that *I* was wrong or missing something, that they HAD to be as wonderful as I thought they were. Weren’t they?
Invariably I would be forced – by circumstances or the Universe (but isn’t that the same thing?) to realize that These My Idols had feet (or more) of clay. I’d come crashing down, feeling bereft of my guiding compass. After a while, I’d pick myself up, shake myself off, and go about my life – until the Next Big Thing caught my attention and my heart.
In my fifties, the clue brick finally hit: I needed to be my own muse. I began pulling threads together, discovering what ideas were present in all my former objects of devotion, and fashioning my own inspirations. Once I did that, several things happened at once: I had a real sense of my own values. I was rarely disappointed in how my worldview affected my life – after all, this was me talking to me. I felt far more empowered to make changes I’d put off because they hadn’t fit whatever “fan road” I was following at the moment. And best of all, I found that I could put my values to work in the world, creating positive change in a lot of different directions.
On the way, without even realizing it, I became an inspiration for other people. And wasn’t THAT a kick in the pants! Who would have thought? Certainly not me – until I started valuing my own experience.
These days, though there are some very challenging aspects to the world, there are also people, ideas, and movements that can inspire us. They come from everywhere:
- a beloved New Age thinker;
- a charismatic religious figure;
- a Hollywood couple devoting time and effort to helping disadvantaged children in every country;
- a television talk show host who champions change and growth;
- folks at the forefront of empowering world movements;
- groups reaching out to the world’s poor, hungry and sick;
- people who create positive change where they live, no matter how difficult the circumstances they face…the list could go for pages.
And in ages past, there were artists and writers, philosophers and scientists, preachers and poets who could distill ideas and thoughts into splendid words and riveting pictures. They captured the imagination and propelled people along new roads of thought.
In a way, we have an overabundance of inspiration these days. It seems as if EVERYONE out there has something to tell us, an ideal toward which they feel we should move – and therein lies the danger. If you filter everything through the inspiration of others, you never consider ideas or filters other than what you (or they) know. There’s no room to grow!
Shannon Hayes, a friend and neighbor, is a farmer and advocate for sustainable food and living. She’s written nationally-praised cookbooks and lectures on raising grass-fed livestock with humane husbandry – ensuring that the cattle, pigs and poultry raised for food have good, healthy, happy lives before they become nourishment for us and our families. She is inspired by what can be created in a conscious and nature-honoring environment.
Her cookbooks and her way of life have encouraged thousands to view food and farming in a completely different light. But she says that is only a first step – or should be. “If you’re inspired by my work, if you make changes in your life, that’s terrific. It’s how I meant for things to work. But to come back and think I am the be-all and end-all, to constantly look for me to give you answers and direction – that’s not useful for either of us. Take what you’ve learned, but then go inspire yourself. Get others enthusiastic about your ideas. Don’t get stuck here.”
How many times have you heard someone say “well, so-and-so believes” or “this group knows that” or “I always live my life by this-that-and-the-other system,” and wondered if the speaker had any thoughts of their own? When we constantly refer to others, we forget to ask how we feel about things. We let others do our thinking for us. Yet if you were washed up on a desert island, with no other reference points, you would HAVE to view the world strictly through what you knew based on your experience.
People who inspired us first checked in with themselves, reviewed the lives and asked “what’s my core? What thread anchors me?” And while they may have appreciated their inspirations, they didn’t stop there. They found a way to move their life forward in a way that reflected their personal worldview, rather than act as someone else’s permanent acolyte.
Here’s an exercise that will give you some perspective: go out and listen to how people voice their beliefs. If it’s not clear where the beliefs come from, don’t be afraid to ask, “Why do you think so?” or “Where did you get that perspective?” Remember to ask with a sincere desire to learn, not with a challenge in your query! Then, listen carefully; you may hear how people accept without question the beliefs of their parents, their religion, their political party, their schoolteacher or their boss. You’ll also hear whether their inspirations are from love – positive things – or fears. Remember that this is an observation day; even if you don’t hold the same belief system, just listen and nod. Write it down.
When you come home, clear your mind and list every “influence” you can think of for yourself. All the people and belief systems and fads and groups and books and television shows and popular movements and seminal events – everything that really touched you and gave you part of your understanding of Life and the Universe should go on that list. Also, ask yourself: are there things I really don’t believe any more? Are their things that were “anti-inspirations” that I bought into – like fear, bigotry, the inevitability of disease, powerlessness, or scarcity? Those also affect our belief systems in a big way!
Once you’ve gotten down everything you can think of – good and bad, useful and not-so-great — in a second column, write down one or two core beliefs from each of those influences. Now – is there a thread? Is there a connecting word or phrase or feeling that comes up time and again? With the “anti-inspirations,” can you see a gift that they brought you just the same? For example, if you believed in the inevitability of disease, did it inspire you to learn more about health and preventive care? If you believed in scarcity, did it inspire you to do something positive in terms of saving, frugality, developing a Do-It-Yourself streak or indulging in less conspicuous consumption? Before you leave these anti-inspirations behind this week, turn them inside-out and thank them for the good things they brought you.
Once you’ve harvested these threads or connecting phrases from your life of inspirations, you’re ready to fashion your own personal revelation – one that crystallizes what you think based on everything that you know, that you have experienced, and that you have come to realize. Remember, the key word is YOU.
Do you love it? Then keep it, use it, delight in it, play with it. If you don’t love it, then play with it, reshape it, reframe it into something positive and useful for you, until you hold it up and say “yes, indeed – this is me. This is how I want to inspire myself from now on.”
When I did this exercise, I found my threads to be humor and independence and fearlessness in the face of change and resilience and freedom and compassion and truth in the face of lies and personal authenticity and loyalty to those I love and courage to speak out and the gorgeousness of words well written.
Yes, that’s a lot of words. But when I distilled them all down, they ended up in two simple phrases:
- Live the Examined Life.
- Fling what I’ve learned into the world like faery dust, with utter joy in the giving and no attachment whatsoever.
That’s how I live, that’s what I encourage others to live – and look at that: it’s why I developed this website, so I could share it all with you!