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What Makes Inspiration Fade?

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of July 30, 2007

Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2

This Week's Questions

  • Where does inspiration come from?
  • What makes inspiration fade?
  • Do uninspired people ever do inspiring acts?

Do you know?

[Question 1] Where does inspiration come from?
Before we can say where inspiration comes from, we first need to define what it is we're talking about. What is inspiration anyway?

According to dictionaries, it's complicated. The Visual Thesaurus says inspiration is the arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity. Wikipedia says the word may refer to several things. Artistic inspiration (sudden creativity in artistic production), revelation (an uncovering or disclosure of something hidden via communication from the divine), and inhalation (the movement of air into the lungs). And the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says it is stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity, or the condition of being so stimulated, or an agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention; something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired, the quality of inspiring or exalting, divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind. Whew! What a mouthful that sentence is.

So how do I define inspiration? I'd say it is an uplifting experience wherein you witness beauty suddenly emerge where none was expected. Moreover, while some inspiration is permanent, most is of the temporary variety.

What's the difference?

The main difference lies in where one witnesses this beauty emerge. When it emerges from some place outside the witness, the resultant inspiration is temporary. Whereas when the beauty emerges from inside the witness, the inspiration is permanent.

Thus all people, at times, witness inspiring stories or speeches, or beauty in the works of others. Despite being inspired, in most cases though, this beauty evaporates not long after the event ends. However, occasionally, as children, we witness something particularly stirring which then goes on to alter the entire course of the rest of our life.

In my life, for instance, in the early 1950's, at about the age of seven, I witnessed an African American man sing acappella in front of the entire student body of my grammar school. To say I was inspired is to put it mildly. Truly, I was stunned into awe by the beauty and richness I heard come out of his body. At the same time, I remember feeling very surprised by something inside me. By what? By how strongly I want to be able to do what he did; to stand and sing in front of a whole room of people, unaccompanied, and unafraid. Especially unafraid.

How did this event affect my life?

By age fifteen I was singing regularly in an acappella group. By twenty one I'd had recordings of this group featured on some seven commercially released albums. By thirty five I'd spent some twenty years writing and recording not only my own music but the music of many others. And by fifty, singing and audio engineering had been two of the major influences in my life.

Was all this inspired by this one brief event? As far as I can say, yes, it was. How do I know? Because the kind of music kids were singing changed many times during the years I recorded. Yet I always favored acappella, especially African American based gospel acappella and such. Moreover this was both long before mainstream caucasian audiences ever heard it as well as long after it had come and gone out of style.

This man's one acappella performance in front of me at age seven changed the whole course of my life. But the part that made it permanently inspiring was the part which occurred inside of me. The thought that I might stand and sing in front of such a big audience and do it unafraid.

[Question 2] What makes inspiration fade?
So what makes inspiration fade? Always it is inspiration of the temporary variety which in essence occurs when you witness someone else's inspiration. These kinds of moments always fade, from the inspiring sermon on Sunday to the football coach's words just before the game.

Moreover, because we so believe at the time that the wonderfully uplifting feelings will last, when they fade, we often feel ashamed. Or at the very least, we wonder where we went wrong.

Where did we go wrong? Nowhere. We simply did not experience the emergence of an internal desire to be the doer, as opposed to the external experience of witnessing this beauty and desire emerge in another.

[Question 3] Is inspiration ever permanent?
[Answer] As I mentioned in my answer to the first question, there are times wherein inspiration is permanent. Most inspiration however fades within minutes of it's delivery. Or at the very least, within hours.

What makes inspiration permanent? When beauty suddenly emerges inside you where none previously existed and none was expected. Moreover, the main quality of this emergence is the uplifting belief we might do this thing ourselves. Including that we might be the one to inspire this same experience in others.

Now as I think about it, this last quality may be yet one more way to recognize permanent inspiration from temporary. Permanent inspiration includes the desire to help others to have the same experience. Temporary inspiration focuses more on what will happen to the witness him or herself.

[Question 4] Do uninspired people ever do inspiring acts? In other words, do inspiring acts always stem from inspired people?
The simple answer is yes. In fact, ironically, I'd say most inspired acts are done spontaneously by uninspired people; the hero on the battle field who says later it was nothing. The fireman who saves a life and later claims anyone would have done the same. Or the high school music teacher who feels embarrassed by the sincerity of the recognition he receives at his thirty year retirement.

So am I saying these folks are unaware they are inspiring and so, do not themselves feel inspired? Yes. I am saying this. In fact, to me, I find the the average everyday man or woman who simply finds the good in the trivial or difficult particularly inspiring. To me, that they continue to find the courage to show up for a life about which most would just complain is remarkable. Yet when I have told these kinds of folks that they inspire me, I have rarely, if ever, heard them acknowledge back that what I saw as inspiring was anything special.

Remarkable, really, isn't it. How some folks find no good in life while others feel sunshine even on rainy days.

[Question 5] How much inspiration is required to create great art?
Having know quite a few great artists over my life, I've come to know that many consider the art they create the result of hard work and long hours. including that they believe many others could do just as well given the effort and training.

I myself know this to be in part true and in part untrue. The true part? That they have achieved their art mainly from great effort and long hours. The untrue part? That others who put in the same long hours and hard work might achieve the same result.

So how much inspiration is required to create great art? I'd say, only an instant. However, these instants are mighty rare and do not come simply from effort and will. Perhaps the real question then is whether great art ever comes without the artist have been inspired? Here, I'd have to say no, as one of the great talents of all artists is the "aha." The moment wherein the artist himself sees what has emanated from him and is surprised into stopping. The wow moment which signals a piece of art is done. even here though, I think many pieces of great art occur more from intuition and accident than from design and instruction.

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