Sunday, 23 October 2016

Inspiration: Breath it in breath it out

In a recent “Living the Questions” we explored the subject of “Legacy: What will we leave behind”. As is always the case it was a deeply rich and moving conversation. One area that we looked at was the people who have touched our lives, have inspired us and left their legacy upon us as individuals. Not so much famous and celebrated people but ordinary and seemingly nameless ones who have touched are lives and continue to touch our lives long after they have gone. People who were living breathing sources of inspiration who were incarnations of love, the word made flesh through the way that they lived. The people who have inspired us. The people who awakened something within us. Who planted seeds in our hearts and souls or who nurtured those seeds and helped them grow.

Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower. Who have been the inspirations in your lives?

Maybe your inspiration hasn’t come from living breathing flesh or perhaps not exclusively so. Maybe your inspiration has come from the arts, or from literature or perhaps even nature. Perhaps it has been through seeing life in certain ways you have been inspired to do something you previously could not. The photographer William Guion describes such an inspirational experience in the extract that follows from “Leaning Oak and Reflection New Orleans”
"On a hazy, chilly December morning, I walked, camera and tripod balanced on my shoulder, through a stand of oaks toward he edge of a pond. The water was silver-gray and still like a mirror hung in an empty, unlit hall. A thin mist fell, or more accurately, hung in the air. Rain had soaked the landscape during the night, and mud at the water’s edge sucked at my shoes. In the yawning light, I saw an oak leaning at a precarious angle over the water. The soil had eroded over time, dissolving much of the tree’s foundation, yet the oak’s roots were locked tenaciously into the receding land. Against the threat of drowning, this tree survived through an elegant dance of balance, perseverance, and heroism. Almost in praise, the pond mirrored the oak’s profile creating a beautiful mandala-like wheel with spokes of water, leaves, earth and light.

As I set up and focused the tree on my camera’s ground glass, I thought how often in my own life I have lived just on the edge of heroic acts. How I’ve operated within safe, comfortable boundaries that defined the limits of what I could accomplish. At this time in my life, I was considering leaving a comfortable, secure job to follow my heart’s urging to photograph and write. I stood on the edge of an uncertain future, mud sucking at my shoes, and stared out through the mists across silver-gray water at this leaning oak. Through its example, I saw clearly through the mists of doubt separating me from a decision. I stood for a long moment and imagined the worst that could happen if I stretched too far over the edge of my fears. Then, in that second when I snapped the shutter recording this moment on film, I stepped across an imaginary line in my mind. In the pond’s dark mirrored water I saw a face. It smiled back at me."

Public figures are of course inspirations to many. A couple of been in the news recently. One being Jessica Ennis the recently retired Heptathlete and Olympian and another Bob Dylan who was this year awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, who has inspired many through his music, particularly his lyrics. The likes of Sir  David Attenborough or Professor Brian Cox are other examples in the way that they bring a sense of awe and wonder about the natural world and universe. People like Nelson Mandella or Mala Yousafsi, the Afgani girl who was shot by the Taliban for wanting an education are other inspirational figures to many too. 
For still others inspiration comes from the great stories and parables, that reveal truths that are often hidden away deep in our hearts. Jesus and the Buddha are great examples of this. In Luke ch 13 vv 18-19 Jesus was asked:

What is the Kingdom of God like?
And to what shall I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that someone
took and sowed in the garden;
it grew and became a tree,
and the birds of the air made nests
in its branches.

Parables like these reveal Jesus’ ability to dispel wisdom through his teaching. This parable in particular, I believe, is about connecting to that divine aspect within all of us and bringing it to life, thus creating the "Kingdom" within our own lives and within our own communities, for others to share in and enjoy. In so doing we become an inspiration to others to do the same.

Thomas Keating in "Meditations on the Parables of Jesus"expands on this.

"When rightly understood, the parables help us to see how extraordinary a wisdom teacher Jesus really was, and how revolutionary, in the best sense of the word, was the content of what he taught and to which he bore witness by his life and death.

"These insights cohere particularly well with the actual experience of people on the spiritual journey. When contemplative prayer is seriously embraced, we come upon [a] lived reality … the reversal of expectations, the gradual and often painful liberation from emotional programs for happiness, and the increasing discovery of the kingdom of God in the ordinary and everyday."

But how do we bring this seed of inspiration to life in our lives and how can it be nurtured so as to flower and be shared with others? Well I think one way is to recognise it first and foremost, not only in the lives of others but in our own lives too.
Chade-Meng Tan writes on the subject of “Deeds” in “Joy on Demand”

“Whenever you make a donation of time or labor, or do something out of altruistic intention, take a moment to think, "I am doing this out of altruistic intention. Having this intention makes me so happy."

Whenever you meet or bring to mind an admirable, inspiring person, take a moment to think, "There exists this wonderful person in this world. I'm so happy."

Whenever you see somebody performing an altruistic or heroic act, take a moment to think, "More good is being done in this world. I'm so happy."

It is so vital to recognise these moments of inspiration in others and within ourselves if we are to create the Kingdom of God, the Kin-dom of love in our lives. It matters because I believe everything matters, every thought, every word, every deed and every feeling. Everything matters because everything impacts and effects everything else. We impact on the lives of everyone and everything all the time. We are inspirations to one another, even if we are not aware of it. We need to recognise this, we need to be aware of how important we are and how we impact on life.
We are all inspirations to one another.

But what does it mean to be an inspiration? You may well ask. Well the word inspiration is an interesting one, as so many are. We have reduced its meaning in power. It’s another one of those words that we have attempted to tame. Today it means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a gods”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. As you can see it meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.

That said I believe that we can and indeed do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kin-dom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark, we do.

I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers here amongst us.

How do we do this though? How do we bring this spirit alive within ourselves and how do we recognise it in others?

It is ok saying we need to recognise it, but it isn’t always easy to awaken to this. This is where spiritual discipline plays such a vital role. I remember that ordinary man from Oldham, who was one of my inspirations, who helped rekindle the flame in me. One thing he always taught me was “first things first” that if I was spiritually well the rest will follow and the key to that is spiritual discipline. My life is testimony to this. The problem of course though is that seeing evidence of its importance isn’t always obvious. 
Prayer and meditation do not bring obvious results and yet experience has taught me that they are as vital as breathing air and eating food and drinking water. This brings to mind a tale from Margaret Silf’s “One hundred more wisdom stories” from the famous author “unknown”

A disciple once asked his master, “What can I do to attain God?”
The master answered by asking the disciple another question: “What can you do to make the sun rise?”

The disciple retorted indignantly, “Nothing at all. So why are you giving us all these methods of prayer?”

And the master replied, “To make sure you’re awake when the sun rises.”

The key, I have come to believe, is to be awake to the inspiration within me and all around me. To let that spirit come alive. To let it breath onto all life and to breath in all the inspiration present in all animated life.

The key is to breath in the inspiration and to be the inspiration to bring that seed to life and then breath it out on the world all around me. To shine as you are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be.

And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, By simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kin-dom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with.

I’m going to end this chip of a "blogspot" with a little bit of wisdom from one of my inspirations John O’Donohue. Taken from “Anam Cara”

“Live the life you love”
"If you allow yourself to be the person that you are, then everything will come into rhythm. If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessing in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love, rather we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."


  1. "Simply living the life you love." Such a short and sweet statement but WOW what a punch it packs!! Love it!

  2. Thank you...It really is that simple