What does inspiration mean to you? What inspires you? Can you pinpoint the moment when inspiration strikes, when you can hear the chorus of souls singing to you?
Long before Google first engooglated (and – I should stress – before other search engines, which also exist, first engineered any searches there were things called dictionaries. The second definition of “inspiration” in my trusty old dictionary is the most literal: “the drawing in of breath; inhalation.” The first definition of “inspiration” is more ephemeral, but more familiar to most of us: “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do with something creative.” To mix these two definitions, to be inspired can be to feel that your mind is breathing in again, that new, fresh or different air is coursing through your thoughts.
The beauty of inspiration, to me, is that I never know from whence it will come. I lose count of how many things inspire me in a given week; how many trains of thought are sparked, but perhaps not followed through. This is inevitable. No matter how uninspiring a day might feel, thoughts and sensory impressions in their millions will be teeming through your mind. Any one of those could be the one to change things around.
I would love to know if you know what inspires you, if you can identify what it takes to find inspiration, and what you might do next, to capture the thought or to act on it.
And what if we didn’t let those fleeting moments of inspiration pass by? To capture something of what inspiration is, I’m going to share here five things that have inspired (or maybe just delighted) me in the past 48 hours or so. Maybe you can do the same?
Skimming stones on the banks of the Thames
The picture within the picture at the top of this post is a thing of stunning beauty to me. It shows the Specials (presumably in the late 70s) skimming stones, smoking and dancing (well, yer man on the left of the picture within the picture may be cutting a rug) on the banks of the Thames. A fleeting, perfect moment of youth against the eternal river and the marginally less eternal yet currently ever-present Tower Bridge. It’s a still from a wonderful wee documentary about a photographer named Chalkie Davies (who is on the right of the picture above), of whom I’d never even heard until I watched it whilst encerealating this morning. Lucky UK types can watch the documentary, and it seems Mr Davies also has an exhibition on in Cardiff right now.
Twitter is an endless source of inspiration for me. Twitter, in many ways, is the chorus of souls. You can tune in to the chorus of souls whenever you want to. It may well sing to you. These five words of almost Zen-like wisdom appeared in my timeline courtesy of the great Laurie Ruettimann last night: “Nothing changes if nothing changes."
Self-doubt isn’t always bad news
Just a few minutes prior to Laurie’s words showing up in my Twitter timeline, some equally genius and inspiring words were tweeted by my friend Tash Stallard, a passing note in a conversation with Sukhvinder Pabial. Says Tash: ”[N]ever trust a leader that has no self-doubt. Amen to that.
The Zen of Wogan
When I was growing up, Terry Wogan was the embodiment and definition of naffness for me. For non-UK types, Mr Wogan is a now retired radio and TV presenter with the most calming of Irish accents and the most blatant of wigs, and a personal stillness and calm that makes statues look agitated.
Over recent years, I’ve come to recognise that what Wogan does is nigh-on impossible for the likes of the rest of us (well, more specifically, the likes of me). Is his unflappable nature a put-on, or is it really possible to be that calm, to make so little apparent effort, yet be absolutely in control of the moment whilst never letting your charm drop? A lovely story from Jeremy Vine’s It’s All News to Me that I read t’other day suggests that the Zen of Wogan is real. The scene: One morning, Mr Vine is somewhat sweaty after running in to the BBC from Hammersmith, due to a tube strike. He shares a lift with Mr Wogan:
“We get into the cramped lift. We say hello to each other. I am drenched in sweat, he is as cool as a cucumber carrying his briefcase. He is going to the sixth, where the studio is, and I am about to press for the second floor when I look at my watch.”
“‘Terry,’ I say, ‘it’s 7.28. You’re on the air in 90 seconds.’”
“He replies, ‘Yes, I’m early this morning.’”
Vine’s post-run odour becomes Wogan’s opening gag when he hits the national airwaves exactly 90 seconds later.
“I reflected, that’s the genius. He had not even thought about his show until I happened to give him the opening line.”
If that is not Zen mastery at work, what is?
When the chorus of souls sings to you
Amanda Sterling’s book The Humane Workplace comes highly recommended. It is beautifully written. She puts forward a compelling argument for how we can create and use “communities of practice and learning” to help “put people first in organisations.” There are also some superb passages about growing up in New Zealand, and the beauty of nature over there. I love her description of a dangerous and hard-to-reach black sand beach in western Auckland:
“All you can smell is the sea, and the wind sounds like a chorus of souls. In that moment you feel charged. Vastness, beauty and nature…”
Inspiration is always there for you. What inspires you? What happens when you hear the chorus of souls?