Can we be inspired by our life? What does that mean to each of us? We can become distant from this deeply human phenomena of feeling inspired. The distractions -- of suffering and pain in our lives, the lives of our loved ones, and the lives of so many whom we do not know -- can feel overwhelming and impossible to deal with. We can feel the 10,000 sorrows of this life and forget that each life, regardless of who we are, has both the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows -- that there is no life immersed in only the joys or the sorrows.
In meditation practice we are invited over and over again to notice the detailed sensations of our breath -- the in-breath and the out-breath. We become more and more aware with greater refinement and curiosity an action in our lives that we usually totally take for granted. We hardly give our breath a second thought (much less a first thought) during our usual day -- that is, until we have an illness or impairment that arises. Then, we realize how precious this energy of breath is in our life. We only appreciate its value by the absence of its continual, unflagging support of our existence.
The root of the word "inspire" originates from the same root as the word "respire." Spirare means "to breathe." Re-spire is the ability to breathe again, while in-spire refers to the in-breath -- the inhale -- itself. To inspire is to infuse our being with the energy of Life. As we engage in our meditation practice, we see how the body breathes itself without any extra effort on our part. We inspire ourselves moment-to-moment. To breathe is a wondrous fundamental process that we could not exist without. In that sense of awe, in the ability to touch this experience with amazement -- there is inspiration. If we notice. If we are aware.
I just came back from teaching a month long retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. To see 80+ committed meditators, creating stillness in lives that we know to be over-the-top hectic, busy, and filled-to-the-brim, was extremely inspiring. For a month (and some folks were there for two months), people from all cultural backgrounds, gender identities, orientations, ages, educational experiences, and different paths in the world, came together in a sacred container of silent contemplative mindfulness practice to create peace -- peacefulness in their lives, but of even more impact, peacefulness in our world. In how many venues, of our familial, social, political, or cultural activities, do we have an opportunity for that many people to create peacefulness and kindness for that long a time period? It was a very precious experience.
The Buddha said that living 24 hours with mindfulness and awareness is more precious than living 100 years without it. In the month-long retreat, practitioners were able to experience, each in their own way, how precious this life is -- and how we so frequently take our lives totally for granted and become detached from the ability to be inspired by own experience. As awareness is cultivated through the stillness of the retreat, a connection with life emerges that can include smelling of the sun rising in the morning landscape, or feeling the inexplicable connection between the slightest breeze of chilled air crossing the crisp rays of the sun streaking over unfolding grasses, or being captivated by the infinitesimal splatter of raindrops upon the earth into scores of tinier droplets before merging into a cascade of water rushing in a spring storm. These are not synesthetic experiences arising from an altered state of meditative consciousness -- these are the openings of our hearts and minds into the awe and wonder of an incredible life that is unfolding in front of us -- not matter how small the event.
We sometimes depend upon or expect inspiration to come from some more elevated source outside of ourselves, maybe with an unspoken assumption that it is wiser, or more experienced, or somehow more creative than whom we are. But who can possibly "in-hale" for us better than us? Who best can "in-spire" us on an ongoing basis? Inspiration often comes from our own detailed awareness of how precious this life really is -- because we so easily forget and overlook it. As Tom Hennen writes in his passage "The Life of a Day":
For some reason we like to see days pass, even though most of us claim we don't want to reach our last one for a long time. We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn't the one I've been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will start for real.
The practice of meditation is not a passive, navel-gazing luxury for people looking to escape the rigors of our complex world. Mindfulness and meditation are about deeply changing ourselves so that we can be the change that we see needed for the world. This is what all the great social activists and change agents have encouraged us to endeavor. It is a wisdom that crosses all traditions, cultures, and even time. We can work to change the world because we hate the injustice, because we cannot stand the harm being caused, or because we are enraged by the unfairness. Or we can be inspired to change the world because we love it so dearly, because we hold it with such wondrous awe, and because we realize how precious it truly is, that we cannot do anything else other than to alleviate suffering with our hearts open as wide as they can be. These are two very different experiences. The peacefulness that the month-long practitioners cultivated for their lives is not just for their own benefit. Their experience will emanate into the ever-expanding circles in their lives, affecting and changing people known and unknown to them.
We all have been inspired in our life, whether it is through our own experiences or through those of others. Part of mindfulness practice is the capacity to remember that being inspired is part of our deepest humanity to feel life. And we all know what to do when we are inspired -- we give it away. It is not ours to keep; there is no benefit to holding onto it. So, be an inspiration -- pass it forward, share with your world how precious our world is. She can only return it back to you a thousand fold.