I want to share some thoughts with you on ‘inspiration’. Specifically —
- What is inspiration?
- Why is inspiration important?
- How can we get inspired?
1. What is inspiration?
The word, ‘Inspiration’ comes from the Latin, ‘inspiro‘, which literally means:
“To breathe into.”
For example if you read Homer’s Iliad, the gods would often ‘inspire’ the warriors with new-found ardor, courage, and bravery for battle. This meant the gods literally ‘breathed in’ courage into the hearts, lungs, and souls of the warriors.
Taken even further– the word ‘inspiro’ is two words:
in + spiro
To blow, breathe.
Thus, to “in+spire” means to (breathe into [yourself]).
2. Where does inspiration come from?
Then the next question:
Where does inspiration come from?
In ancient Greek times — inspiration was BREATHED INTO you by an external god. For example if you were in battle, and feeling discouraged– Ares would ‘inspire’ you with newfound energy, breath, vitality, courage, and life.
Thus according to Greek philosophy:
Inspiration doesn’t come from within you– it comes from the gods.
Now in today’s modern (non-religious) world, god(s) are dead. We no longer believe that other-worldly creatures, gods, or beings divinely inspire us.
Thus, if you are a non-religious or non-spiritual person– this is a bit troubling. This means that it is all on you — all your inspiration (inner-breathing) must come from you!
Some people might become crushed with this burden– others might be uplifted and motivated by it. As for myself, I feel empowered by this idea– the idea that all my inspiration can be produced by myself, independently — without any external forces. Because after all– we can control our own breathing.
3. The difference between ‘inspiration’ and ‘motivation’
This is tricky —
We often misconstrue the words: “inspiration” and “motivation”.
- Inspiration is breathing energy, vigor, and ideas into you from an external source: To get ‘inspired’, we generally look for external sources of ideas– like studying Renaissance painting (Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael), by reading great poetry (Homer, Dante, Virgil, Horace, Basho), by reading great philosophy (Nietzsche, Nassim Taleb, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus), by looking at great photographs (Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Richard Avedon).
- Motivation is having the energy and will-power to move, act, create, or do: Unless we are prodded by others (like an electric prod which is used to move cattle), we must motivate (move) ourselves.
I’ll talk more about motivation later– let us continue to talk about inspiration.
4. Why is inspiration important?
I believe that as humans, we are born with some instincts– but for the most part, we are a blank slate, a tabula rasa — a wax tablet that hasn’t been written on yet. We are like blank SD cards waiting to get written on.
We learn from others. We learn from our parents, teachers, uncles and aunts, media, books, friends, etc.
“Inspiration” (to me) is the act of finding great ideas from others– external from you.
Now — this is the cool thing with inspiration:
You can seek inspiration on your own!
If you are lacking new ideas, you can actively go out and search for new ideas from others.
This means consuming the best artwork from the past. And of course, you can also inspire yourself– by spending more time thinking, meditating, reflecting, and synthesizing your ideas.
Inspiration is important because many of our forefathers (and mothers) have labored greatly to create great ideas and artwork for us. We should learn from the best, and then continue to pave our own path in life.
5. What is your great task in life?
Nietzsche once wrote something like:
For a person who knows their “why?” in life can always figure a “how“.
Thus the strategy is this:
Figure out which great tasks you want to achieve in your lifetime, and then hustle hard to achieve/realize/create these tasks!
If you know what your why is in life (why live?) then you can figure out the methodology to achieve it (your ‘how’ in life).
6. What if I don’t know what my great task is in life?
Dictate your own great task in life for yourself– independent of the judgement of others.
Unfortunately many of us weren’t given any encouragement to think for ourselves, to set our own life goals, and to direct our own lives. Many of us have been spoon-fed a generic curriculum, to become generic cogs in the machine.
To be frank, many of us have never even had the opportunity to direct our own lives. Many of our parents have “pre-scripted” our path in life– choosing what schools for us to go to, choosing what majors for us to major in, and choosing what kind of jobs to get, and choosing who to marry, and where to live.
You dictate how you live your life, for what purpose-aim you live your life for. And this starts off by saying to yourself:
To hell with the opinions, ideas, and judgements of others. I will pave my own path in life, and dictate for myself what I deem is worthy of my life-actions!
Much of this is de-training, or de-socializing yourself to the expectations of others. This also means cutting the umbilical cord from your parents — something that individuals who grew up with an Asian-Confucian culture doesn’t do well (or many cultures in the world). The thing I’m triple grateful for is this: being born in America. At least I was endowed with a spirit for individuality– something which I consider a good virtue.
Recognize that your task in life isn’t going to be shouted at you from a cloud. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer here. No God(s) have an answer for you. You must dictate for yourself your own great task(s) in life.
7. Archimedes lever
“If I know where to stand, I can move the world!” – Archimedes
A simple idea from our friend Archimedes (Ancient Greek philosopher-mathematician):
Your ‘lever’ is how you can best create a massive impact, given your strengths and talents.
Dictate what your strengths are, and maximally-exploit your strengths.
If you are a great public speaker, focus 80% of your efforts on that. If you are a great writer, focus 80% of your attention on that. If you are a great photographer, painter, poet– whatever– focus 80% of your efforts on that!
For example, we don’t remember the great poet-storyteller Homer for the way he made his bed, his morning routine, or how he answered his letters. No — we remember Homer from his main strength: poetry. Thank God that Homer had lots of slaves and servants doing all the menial housework for him– so he could focus on his poetry.
In practical terms:
Don’t try to strengthen your weaknesses.
Focus on strengthening (your pre-existing strengths)!
Thus, if your photography is your #1 skill in life– focus on improving that! If you are a great poet, but really bad at math–I say give the middle-finger to math, and just focus on your poetry.
To clarify, you can study and focus on whatever you want in life. But ignore the people who say:
“You’re so bad at math and science! You must get better at that!!!”
It would be better if our parents said:
“You’re so good at storytelling, poetry, and English — focus on improving that!”
Figure out what your strengths are, and further strengthen your strengths.
Conclusion: It’s on you!
My friend Dr. Dre taught me:
This is great. Don’t crumble from the pressure. The pressure makes you stronger. Pressure makes diamonds!
Rely on your bravery, your courage, and your own inner-resourcefulness. You can do anything, achieve anything– be anything. And let us not forget our motto:
Dictate your meaning and purpose in your life with ZEN OF ERIC:
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