On Inspiration, Meditation and Road Trips
I just finished reading a book where the author often refers to visions or revealing experiences that led to his philosophy of life. I hated the book. I have my own philosophy of life, and it is very different from his.
My philosophy has no room for visions, miracles, muses, mystical dreams, angels or other fantastical sources of inspiration. The real world, my imagination, and the imaginations of others are enough for me.
But I too have had odd experiences that have shaped my philosophy over the years. Things have happened to me that are similar to “visions” or muses pointing me in the right direction. How do I explain that if such things do not really exist?
I started to think about when these things happened to me. A lot of them occurred in the mid-90s on the various long road trips I took. Maybe most of them, in fact. Each of these trips took place at a time when I didn’t have much occupying my mind. I wasn’t in the middle of a project, or a job, or creating anything in particular.
I thought about this book again. The author seemed to always be at a point when he was down-and-out, had given up on a project, or had left his normal life to work some menial job. So not that different from my road trips in some respect. His mind was free to wander.
So thinking about these moments of inspiration, why do they happen at times like these?
I don’t think they do. I think that these moments are happening all the time. Our minds seek to find order and meaning in everything, all the time. But most of the time our minds are busy doing a lot of other things as well. So finding meaning and lessons in random events isn’t a priority.
However, if nothing else is happening, if your mind isn’t trying to solve problems or think of ideas, then it is free to observe and associate.
The world around us is full of raw material from which our minds can draw on to create these inspiring moments. Naturally, when you are on a trip or somewhere out of your normal surroundings, there is more new raw material for your mind to draw from.
The beaver building a dam becomes a lesson in persistence. The hawk circling in the sky for hours becomes an example of patience. The long winding road becomes a vision of abundance.
Sometimes I took road trips alone. Other times I traveled with a companion. Guess when inspiration was more frequent? Of course, traveling with a companion was great?—?conversation, bonding, learning from each other, sharing the experience with someone, and working as a team during the trip.
I think back then if I had the opportunity to always have a companion with me on those trips, I would have opted for that. But looking back now, I’m glad I spent a lot of time traveling alone.
I have some very successful friends that recently decided to take a break from their entrepreneurial endeavors and take a sabbatical. Just six months or so off from work. Some reading, some traveling, some thinking, some learning new things.
In general, I think this is a good idea, especially for creative types. I don’t feel the need for one right now, but if I ever do it, I would try to spend a lot of time doing nothing. I would also try to be alone.
That last bit would be tricky, as I have a family now and I don’t want to be away from them. But I think it would work out to spend a portion of each day alone?—?as I do now while working. I just wouldn’t be working.
So what would I do? I’d put myself into a flow of experiences, like I would be if on a trip. I’d visit museums and parks, things like that. I’d go somewhere different each day.
I actually do a lot of this now?—?riding my bike as a break from work most days. But an hour or so isn’t enough. And I listen to audio books while riding, which means my mind isn’t free to wander. And of course I’m working on projects, the bike ride is just a short break. So even if I switched from audio books to music, or silence, my mind would just be busy solving problems and making decisions about my current projects.
So I think my formula for a sabbatical would be:
1. No ongoing projects. Repetitive or thoughtless tasks would be fine, as long as I don’t need to think about them while I’m not doing them.
2. Be alone. By my myself for least for the portion of the day when I was “working” on my sabbatical. Replace work with not-working, and avoid filling that time by hanging out with others. An exception would be that it is fine to meet new people, as they are just a part of the environment?—?the raw material for inspiration. But family and friends are a happy distraction, and your mind won’t be free to wander.
3. Experience new things. This can be as simple as a walk down a park path that don’t regularly take. Or, it can be a trip or a visit to a museum of some subject that isn’t your primary interest. You want to surround yourself with the raw material of inspiration.
In a way, this is like meditation, I think. I don’t meditate, so I can’t be sure. With meditation I think you aren’t following number 1, but instead forcing yourself to not think about work. You are following number 2. But number 3 is the opposite. Instead of removing yourself from surroundings, you are immersing yourself in them. The fresher and richer the surroundings the better. Instead of inspiration coming from within, you are looking for it to be triggered by something external.
This makes me think of the archetypal story of a man who goes on a great journey to find a wise man, usually on a mountaintop somewhere. This mystical person then teaches him how to meditate, or be at peace with himself, or some other equally romantic notion.
But perhaps it is the solitary journey to the mountaintop that is the real source of inspiration, energy and wisdom?