Last month was the first time I had no idea of my upcoming blog topic. I always have drafts in progress, but in late June, as I finished that month’s post, none of them seemed right for July. As usual, the universe’s synchronicity provided—this time in the following form:
I was flattered to be tagged out of the hundreds of people she knows. And I felt confident that I had something to share—I mean, I always have something to say. And I am always inspired. But I worried that “I’m always inspired” would sound hollow, or worse, arrogant.
So I read some responses, hoping (ironically) for inspiration. One person sugggested The Artist’s Way; another recommended taping a photo to the refrigerador; someone else used task lists. Suddenly my answer seemed foolish, and I felt undeserving of being asked.
A better answer, in my case, is paradoxical: both nothing and everything. Meaning that I do little beyond my ordinary routine for the sake of inspiration. However, everything in my life inspires me in some way; inspiration is self-perpetuating. I sustain inspiration by never escaping it.
Certainly, some things are direct catalysts to my own work (Facebook posts included). I still find much inspiration from works outside my mediums, which don’t necessarily spur direct reactions. Visual art, for example, has always been a huge inspiration—and I am a terrible, terrible artist. Seriously. My elementary students all agreed that I can’t even draw hangman well.
Not to say that I don’t have exceptions: momentous experiences, which stretch beyond their temporal existence and sustain me for much longer. Travel has always inspired me. I lived in Japan for two years, but after leaving I processed the experience for at least twice as long. I still live the lessons I learned in India, nearly seven years ago.
But when I consider what truly sustains me, the daily choices, routines, people, and experiences influence me much more than isolated experiences, however grand. When I considered June in reverse, I suddenly noticed separate occasions when other people had made me consider inspiration.
The Facebook post first made me think of my apartment, where I spend much of my time. My home space is both sacred and mundane (as in “of the world,” i.e. mundo). I always direct a lot of intention towards how I hold my living space, so that it is an inspirational sanctuary.
For example, all the art, with the exception of a print of my favorite Dali painting and a couple posters from Japan, is original, much of it by people I know. Of the pieces which I purchased, I did so directly from the artists. Photos, primarily mine, outnumber the art. My refrigerator doesn’t have any grocery or to-do lists. One side is nearly covered with newspaper clippings and notes I’ve amassed over the years. Pictures of my friends’ children nearly cover the front and the other side. Spanish magnetic poetry fills the rest. The small table on which my brother and I used to eat as children is now an altar, with wristbands from festivals, beads from a Vietnamese monk, black rocks from the Black Rock desert.
One of my favorite altar pieces is origami from a co-worker in Japan, at a party after my last day of school. In my farewell speech to the school, I mentioned that origami was my earliest exposure to Japanese culture, as well as something I never learned while living in the country. Inspired, the teacher explained that he wanted to make origami for me, for me to remember Japan. Origami is usually made from translucent, seemingly-about-to-disintegrate paper. None was available, so he used thick paper, on which chopsticks had rested on the table. Now, nearly a decade later, I remember him vividly: very inebriated and using heavy, cumbersome paper, folding in five minutes the most intricate origami I had ever seen.
I have other altar spaces: window sills, the top of my bookshelf, a space on my bedroom floor. They hold photos from travel, photos of my grandparents, a Yoda magic-8 ball (a garage sale gift from a friend, with phrases in Yoda dialect, such as “If you will it be, yes” and “It cannot be, no”), rocks from the neighborhood creek of my childhood, rocks from travels, old keys. (By this point I probably sound like a packrat, but I actually have a fairly equal proportion of used and unused space.)
I resisted for years, but I finally made a vision board, which now hangs across from my bed. So I see it first and last thing every day. When I made it, a couple clippings went on another tangent, so I made a separate one to hang in the kitchen.
Accordingly, I have always loved reading. My bookshelf has books stacked two-deep. Recently I realized the stack of books I’d like to read is too large, that I need to reduce the pile to a more realistic height. My bedside has its own stack of books, so that regardless of what happens in a day, I can reset before I sleep:
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves
David Hale and Kris D’s Medicina
Gideons provide Bibles for hotels; I have chosen my own visionary words and images.
After considering my home, I then thought backward a day, to a solstice celebration that another friend facilitated. She and I met before the event in order to plan the ceremony. She focused on Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of wealth and prosperity, usually depicted with gold coins flowing from her hands. My friend focused less on receiving Lakshmi’s wealth, so much as tapping into the source of Lakshmi’s abundance. I understood immediately—Lakshmi is not a mint. Rather, we agreed that she harnesses what surrounds her into abundance, which she then shares. So our ceremony sought to channel what can create a similar flow both into and out of ourselves.
My life certainly reflects this alignment—what I manifest is absolutely the result of the company I keep and the daily I efforts I sustain. In the words of Hafiz, “Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred.” Via work, play, spiritual practice, I have connected to many communities. My tribe overlaps in all of them; my spiritual family is always evolving.
I have always loved variety—diversity is my only constant. I don’t need direct encouragement or even direct examples for inspiration nearly as much as I need to be around other people active in their own manifestations. Fortunately, I am surrounded by intelligent, passionate, and enterprising people: chemists, managers, artists, teachers, dancers, doctors, economists, urban farmers, musicians, entrepreneurs, lawyers, therapists, bartenders, athletes, programmers, designers, writers, engineers. Their energy, their ideas, their dedication provide me with inspiration akin to the energy surrounding Lakshmi, what creates the wealth that flows from her hands.
Likewise, my daily life is full of inspiration. Every morning I make time for spiritual practice, which includes meditation, chanting, and breathwork. Indians call it puja; my mom calls it prayer time. Regardless of the label, during that time I’m reminded of all that surrounds me, on the most massive cosmic scale to the tiniest atomic distance. I breathe; I consider those inspiring connections.
Weekdays, I practice asana with many of my favorite people. Everyone there inspires me, as we all face our challenges independently, yet still together in the same space. I have witnessed people triumph over injuries and insecurities; they remind me that not only can I go beyond what seems likely, I will transcend what seems possible. One man in his fifties, though he struggles to touch his toes, does backbends that make me feel like a slacker—I see him surpass his challenges in every practice. And I remember when I first taught him a few years ago, when his legs always shook in his first sun salutation.
Off the mat, my life is a mix of work and creative projects. Over the years I’ve assembled stimulating, meaningful, and somewhat lucrative work, both paid and volunteer. I teach a lot of subjects (mostly Spanish, English, and writing), to students from pre-k to adults. Most people recognize that teaching can be rewarding—I am inspired whether students link math concepts together or reconcile breath and body in asanas.
Moreover, my teaching situations are often wildly entertaining. I have pre-k toddlers who sing songs in Spanish, other elementary kids who love to say crazy things, such as “Soy de EARWAX!” One day they were fixated on chanting “weasel mermaid swimming in your marmalade,” and I allowed them to continue only if they said the phrase in Spanish. It was better than a tongue-twister.
Other projects are variations of my work—also stimulating and meaningful, though not as lucrative. No one pays me to be the (self-appointed) social director for my yoga studio, but we needed one, for occasions when we don’t get up early the next morning.
Usually work and creativity don’t feel that different—work requires creativity, creativity requires work. Sometimes I don’t easily discern what pays me and what doesn’t—my approach is the same for everything I do. For the most part, I have a marrow-deep satisfaction. My cup runneth over.
Just as my life has a blurred line between work and play, I also lack a distinction between life and inspiration—as mentioned, EVERYTHING inspires me. So much so, in fact, that I’m much more challenged by how many things I don’t have time to pursue. I’m never bored. I wish I didn’t have to sleep. I will never have enough time to manifest all that I want to do, say, write, sing, dance, play, etc. I don’t have a bucket list so much as a ridiculous to-do list: Italian, Sanskrit, belly dance, travel, drumming, piano.
Then I thought backward again, to early June, to a conversation with yet another close friend, also a teacher and deeply creative soul. He stumped me by asking me how I find time and sustain energy for my creative projects. In other words, how am I productive, how do I sustain action on my inspiration. He knows that I am inspired nearly all the time, but that I still battle writer’s block and procrastination too. He helped me articulate some of my strategies:
~ All the tools are available all the time, in order to combat “out of sight, out of mind”—the worst that can happen to my efforts. I used to keep my computer on a shelf, but now it’s almost always on my table, where I eat, read, etc. My harmonium and other instruments are next to the table. I tend not to have lengthy bouts of free time, so having everything literally in arm’s reach means I can research, write, rehearse, etc easily, even if I only have a few minutes.
~ Similarly, I’m never without a notebook, which I learned from always carrying a journal while traveling. Another notebook stays next to my harmonium. Sometimes I type notes on my phone, for transcription later.
~ I hoard starts, catalysts, inspirations, tangents. My brainstorming list (a Word® doc on my computer) is 10+ pages, with quotes, song lyrics, links to articles, culled paragraphs from other writings, even horoscopes. My computer’s desktop is crammed with started blog posts, plus another folder of others still in utero.
~ My phone has a good camera, another lesson from traveling, when I always carry the latter. Though I started this blog primarily as a writing outlet, it quickly became a photography outlet as well. A decent camera, readily available, helped reignite my photography inspiration. (Not that I didn’t already have more photos than I can use.) But I like the motivation to notice what I see. And yes, I am an Instagram dork—the same friend hooked me on it.
~ Perhaps most useful, I plan ways to be productive during “wasted” time, such as commuting (or even showering). Before a long drive, I skim drafts or play music, so that I can think about how to develop them.
~ And even though I’ll never have enough time, I have learned that fallow time is necessary. Naps, books, walks—non-working time rejuvenates.
All in all, June was unexpectedly illuminating. (Not a coincidence that all this reflection happened after my 7-day-a-week work schedule ended.) Now, I need to post my reply on my friend’s Facebook wall….
∞ Thanks to Abby, Tirza, and Ben, in reverse chronological order, plus Suzy for the awe-some article and James for the photo.