The power of inspiration

I’ve been learning martial arts for 23 years, and in the beginning I was inspired by the thought of mastering these arts.

But as a beginner I tempered my inspiration, mindful of the gap between reality and expectations.

Inspiration kept me going but “realism” held me in check. As years passed I ceased to be a beginner, but I felt further than ever from the mastery that inspired me.

Disappointment crept in, and I grew embarrassed and then ashamed at my lack of skill.

Why was I not progressing? Why did I feel like a perpetual beginner? How could I have so little to show for my years of effort?

Realism and self-sabotage

When we pit inspiration and realism against each other we unwittingly bind and sabotage ourselves.

The more inspired I was, the more harshly I criticised myself for falling short of my ideals. I didn’t know how to draw on inspiration without then beating myself up.

I thought inspiration was about realistic hopes and goals and measurable progress, and in a sense that is true; but inspiration is also the fuel and the transformative power and the inner knowing that makes the goal achievable.

Inspiration is not motivation

I’m now learning the difference between inspiration and motivation. Motivation is what moves you into action. My goal of mastering Kungfu motivated me to practice.

But inspiration is much more than just movement into action. Inspiration informs and guides action with greater insight and wisdom than we could deduce on our own.

Motivation can set you on a path but inspiration creates a path all of its own.

Rediscover inspiration

Inspiration itself is ultimately about feeling good.

When I’m inspired I feel excited and satisfied, enthused and revitalised. My body feels more energetic and alive. My mind is clearer and more alert.

And when we feel this good it means we are in tune with our desires, our own inner being, and our “God’s-eye-view” of life.

So find your inspiration, revel in it, and feel it renew and guide you on your journey.

Feel good all day 5

Caught up with an old friend and her daughter yesterday ūüĎč and we ended up talking about my work on feeling good.

Or you could say I actively took the conversation in that direction ūüėĀ

They are an amazing and interesting family and always inspiring to catch up on their adventures and stories.

And the conversation brought me some really good contrast because I found myself struggling to explain and justify the success of my focus on feeling good.

You don’t need to justify happiness

I couldn’t think of any concrete examples of how circumstances had changed for me, but what’s more significant is that I immediately tried to prove or impress the magnitude of the change in how I feel.

At the same time I didn’t want to amplify and retell an old story about feeling bad all the time. And that’s a good thing. If you’ve suddenly achieved health and vitality you don’t want to go around telling everyone how sick you used to be!

Happiness speaks for itself

Happiness doesn’t need a justification or a rags-to-riches story. Let happiness speak for itself. Let feeling good be it’s own justification.

I feel good almost all the time now, and I’m gently steering that into being all the time.

Feeling a need to “sell” that to people is just an old bit of resistance about the value of feeling good in the first place.

Feel good all day 2

The garden where I sometimes sit to write.

I love having this extreme goal, this ideal of feeling good all day.

Melancholics are idealists: it’s ideals and meaning that excite us.

Feeling good bit by bit gradually doesn’t excite me. I love all or nothing ideals, even though I know they usually contribute to gradual progress.

An outside observer might say I’ve made gradual changes over time, but the thought of gradual change just doesn’t inspire me enough to commit to it!

I want the excitement of a great ideal and an enormous goal and an absolute accomplishment to move me.

“Feel good all day” is not only all of that, it’s also vague or general enough to keep my creativity flowing without fixating on precise outcomes.

Happiness Day 29

Find your inspiration.

I can’t believe it’s been 29 days of focusing on happiness!

I’ll save the recap for tomorrow’s post because today I’m inspired to write about inspiration.

Inspiration is life, my friends.

It comes from the Latin for “breathe into” or “blow upon” like when we blow on the embers of a fire and it springs to life.

But you can’t miss the allusion to Genesis where God created humanity by breathing His spirit into the clay form of the first man.

We are divine spirit in a physical body, and when we feel inspired it’s like we’re receiving a fresh influx of that life-giving breath.

Forget about problems! What inspires you?

Today some contrast helped me to remember an old fear I’ve been keeping alive.

It’s the old fear of not understanding instructions, not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing, and so failing and falling behind and losing hope.

I took those experiences to heart at a young age and resigned myself to having to work things out on my own, in my own way.

I resigned myself to never really understanding, and never succeeding in the “proper” way.

I’m so glad this memory came up, and I’m really appreciating all the work I’ve done to feel better this past month.

Because it only took me an hour or so to allow the answer to come.

All those experiences of “failure” and “not understanding” were about other people’s tasks. School projects, friends’ games, parents’ chores: they were all about being a follower.

Never did I fail at something I was inspired to do! Never have I failed to understand something I actually care about.

Choose your focus

For years I’ve blamed myself for failing at all these “important” things. And yet the real problem all along is that I had no interest in these things in the first place. They were never important to me.

And if you live your life focusing on things that don’t inspire you, of course you won’t succeed. Of course you won’t feel good. Because deep down you don’t even care!

I didn’t care, but I thought I had to care, and so I kept pushing myself and feeling worse and hating it more and blaming myself.

Tell a new story

Well now I know, and I understand perfectly what I need to do. I need to tell a new story that omits all the useless crap I never cared about, and focus instead on what actually inspires me!

I want to look out at life and see a landscape populated by sources of inspiration only.

I want to wake up eagerly wondering what inspired activities I’m going to do today.

And I want to be very deliberately conscious of how good I am at everything I do.

Because I’m no longer going to waste my time on things that don’t inspire me.

I’m going to devote myself to things that feel good, fill me with life, and make that divine spark within me grow bright.

Count Your Blessings Day 1

Today I was inspired to start focusing on all the good things happening to me each day.

The whole point of feeling better is to feel better, but our progress can also be measured in the circumstances of life.

Better yet, appreciating the good things we already have is an excellent way to feel better about life right now.

So I thought it a good idea to begin adding up and appreciating these good things in life and posting them here to help me focus.

First up: I slept really well last night! I woke up feeling relaxed and rested.

My wife’s plans for the day changed, and instead of cleaning up the house for guests she’s gone out to a cafe and the baby is asleep so I have unexpected alone-time to relax and think about things and feel good!

I had an insight into my planned Four Temperaments book. I realised that trying to be methodical and exhaustively detached just didn’t suit me. I don’t just want to rehash what others have said; I want to share my own experiences and reflections and that means taking an unapologetically melancholic perspective for a determinedly melancholic audience!

My wife spontaneously did a couple of chores around the house that we’ve both been meaning to do for ages but never got around to!

It’s delightfully cool and windy today – the autumn weather I love most!

I roasted my last batch of coffee and ordered twenty kilos more of green beans!

We had a great Easter with a big family lunch yesterday and it all went really well!

This morning I heard an excerpt from an Abraham-Hicks talk, and it inspired me to write a blog post that really homes in on my spiritual perspective. I was really pleased with that post, and it even drew together a poem by Kabir, a passage from the Dao De Jing, an excerpt from Samuel and a bit of Theology of sacrifice and atonement. Suitably eclectic, interior and mystical!

I took my daughter for a walk this afternoon and met up with my wife. We enjoyed looking at beautiful and interesting houses on the way home.

My wife saved me some delicious churros. I don’t think I’ve had them before.

We had enough ingredients for a tasty salad for dinner, drank a beer brewed by a friend, and watched one of my favourite tv shows.

An easy, pleasant day full of enjoyment and peaceful relaxation!

A reflection

Counting blessings is an interesting process because it begs the question prompts me to wonder: what are blessings to me?

Something prosaic like my wife spontaneously finishing an old chore is meaningful to me in my life.

And it’s translatable to others in the form of: a lingering domestic burden suddenly and easily taken care of. Nice!

But more personal to me are things like: being inspired to write a post that hits all the right notes for my spiritual beliefs and experiences.

It doesn’t need to be translated to others, but perhaps I need to translate it for myself? Because things like money and property and relationships are often easier to assign value to, since their value is widely accepted (though still variable and subjective).

We can “count our blessings” financially and familially and in terms of health and relationships. But ultimately blessings are for us as individuals to appreciate, and what I appreciate as an individual needn’t have currency to others more broadly.

Like finding an article in Chinese about the martial art i practice. It’s a rare art and resources are scarce, so even a humble newspaper article means a lot to me. Count my blessings!

But even that can be translated to others.

Let me then consider a blessing the ease with which I thought of, and found online, the quotations I used in my blog post.

Let me consider it a blessing the ease with which I put into words my experience of finding God within me, and the work of soothing and reconciling worldly thoughts that take me away from that inner peace and knowing.

Let me count as a blessing how I managed to soften and soothe a painful thought, rather than digging into it looking for resolution.

If we rely on others’ real or imagined criteria for what a blessing is, we might think we are hard done by.

But laying claim to the things that I value, the things that are blessings to me, I can appreciate more fully the abundance at my disposal.

After all, I’ve been wanting and asking for unusual things like deeper understanding of prayer and mediation, greater familiarity with sacred texts, and an instinctive sureness in finding my own answers.

If I count them all they will add up to a great deal, regardless of how much store others place in them. I’m the one who values them, so let me value them properly and feel the appreciation of being so blessed!

The Happiness Challenge

A couple of years ago I wrote a super-intense, psychologically-driven diet book.

The heart of the diet was making a commitment to only eat when you are genuinely hungry, and only eat enough to sate that need for physical nourishment.

The rest of the book was about understanding why this approach works, and finding clarity around our true motivations for eating.

If you commit to the rule of only eating for nourishment, then it immediately becomes clear how often we are eating for other reasons, typically as an escape from unpleasant emotions. Excessive body weight is then best understood as just a by-product or symptom of eating for these other reasons.

Isn’t happiness the same?

Today it hit me that my desire to feel good is very very similar to my approach to diet.

The underlying premise is that we are¬†meant¬†to feel good, and that we would¬†naturally¬†feel good if we weren’t doing something to interfere with this natural state.

Just like we would¬†naturally¬†arrive at a healthy body weight if we weren’t interfering with our appetite, using food and the experience of eating as an escape from feeling bad.

The most confronting moment in my diet journey was contemplating a future of never again using food as an escape. It was an incredibly daunting thought, but I gradually saw that it was the next logical step for me. And so I resigned myself to fundamentally changing how I related to food.

The same sense of a daunting, yet logical next step is now arising in the context of happiness. Because I know from experience that I can feel good simply by focusing on better-feeling thoughts like contentment and appreciation.

And I know in theory that my circumstances cannot prohibit me from finding better-feeling thoughts.

So the situation is simple: I can choose, if I will, to focus on better-feeling thoughts all of the time.

Making a commitment

It’s a bit like committing to get up early every morning and do some exercise.

The next logical step is that I commit myself to make better-feeling thoughts my rule, and view worse-feeling thoughts as exceptional, accidental setbacks.

Without this commitment I’m liable to continue haphazardly feeling good when I remember to, and making little overall change to my consistent emotional state.

At first it’s going to take some effort, because I’m accustomed to just letting my mind wander all over the place.

But to be honest I prefer an “all or nothing” approach over an incremental one.

If this process continues to mirror my diet journey I’ll likely break my commitment a number of times over the next few days and maybe weeks.

Yet each time I break it, I’ll reinforce my intention to stay on track.

Discovering what a happy life looks like

Part of what kept me so intensely motivated during my diet journey was that I had never really been in the “normal” weight range as an adult. I’d always been 10-20 kgs overweight.

So I was inspired by my desire and curiosity to experience life differently, to see what it was like to finally be in the normal BMI range.

Once I got there and maintained it for a year or so the inspiration ran out, and other demands like a new baby changed my eating habits.

The old resolve is hard to recapture, because I already accomplished that body weight goal. I’m not curious about it anymore.

But I am profoundly curious and inspired to see what life will look like when I am consistently happy and feeling good.

Happiness is harder to measure than body weight, but my experience has shown me that small improvements make a big difference.

I also have faith that how we feel is intrinsic to the creation of our reality and the shaping of our individual experience of life.

When you feel really good, bad or irritating or disappointing things cannot insert themselves into your reality anymore.

Feeling good….feels good!

Finally, it’s actually very sensible to learn how to feel good all the time, because feeling good feels good after all!

And on reflection it’s actually deeply silly that we spend so much time either fixating on things that feel bad, or simply letting our attention drift and gravitate into whatever old patterns we have already formed.

It feels bad to feel bad, so why do it if you don’t have to?

I just don’t feel like it

The INFP functional stack looks like this

Dominant: introverted feeling (Fi)

Auxiliary: extroverted intuition (Ne)

Tertiary: introverted sensing (Si)

Inferior: extroverted thinking (Te)

The problem for INFPs is that society privileges Te and Si over Ne and especially Fi.

This means that focusing on effectiveness and outcomes (Te),

or on¬†past experience¬†and¬†“what worked before”¬†(Si)

is more rewarding than

seeing abstract connections between things (Ne),

or¬†having a deep and mysterious nonverbal inner landscape¬†that tells you what you like and don’t like¬†(Fi).

Yeah, that last one is a bit of a mouthful and I’ll have to unpack it later if possible.

So from childhood most INFPs are taught to put their tertiary and inferior functions ahead of their dominant and auxiliary.

This is¬†problematic¬†because our tertiary and inferior functions are generally weaker, less developed, and require more energy to use than our dominant and auxiliary. Depending too much on your tertiary and inferior functions means you’re not working with your strengths.

For the INFP it also means we’re not being¬†authentic. We’re living according to the imposed values of Si and Te…demands we¬†can¬†meet, but at an awful cost.

The cost is that we feel awful.

Our dominant function of introverted feeling doesn’t go away. It keeps telling us “this is bad…this is bad…” even while we persist in letting our tertiary and inferior functions drive us.

We end up in this unfortunate state because for most of our lives we’ve been asked to¬†justify¬†and¬†explain¬†ourselves in terms that the broader society will appreciate; yet the very nature of introverted feeling is that it’s¬†extremely difficult¬†to describe or communicate to others.

Sometimes the best we can say is “I don’t feel like it”, which is not considered valid by many people.

So we stretch ourselves to come up with “reasons” that actually feel (to us) like excuses. But excuses are the only language some people will listen to. And if you can be reasonable enough, you can convince these people of your position.

They might disagree, but they’ll at least acknowledge that you’re playing their game. At least you’re giving them something to¬†disagree with.

It’s a formative experience for an INFP to be relentlessly pushed for an answer, explanation, or justification, when really we were operating on feeling the whole time.

The people pushing for “reasons” aren’t necessarily bullies, they’re likely operating from a different function. They’re assuming that the INFP has clear and concise reasons for their behaviour, reasons that are easy to articulate and communicate.

So when the INFP struggles to communicate these reasons, the interrogator doesn’t understand the apparent reluctance or resistance. From the interrogator’s point of view, the INFP must be too afraid or too embarrassed or too malicious to share their reasons.

For the INFP, the interrogator’s scrutiny itself comes across as an indictment, an implicit charge that the vague, inarticulate world of introverted feeling is faulty and inadequate. The prolonged and persistent attempts to get an INFP to explain themselves just reinforce the INFP’s sense of being¬†incomprehensible¬†to others.

From what I’ve seen of other INFPs, I’m guessing I’ve gone pretty far down the road of training and depending on my tertiary and inferior functions.

But these tertiary and inferior functions are crippling when they exceed their station. I’ve begun to notice the many occasions in which Si and Te states of mind or impulses surface, to detrimental effect.

In my writing, these manifest as the internal pressure to arrive at decisive conclusions, explain my points exhaustively, be unassailable in the position I take, consider all possible objections, research everything to ensure I make no mistakes, and try repeatedly to communicate my meaning as effectively as possible.

None of these are bad things to aim for. But what happens so often is that my initial burst of inspiration is crushed and suffocated by the sheer burden of these demands.

I might have a meaningful idea I feel strongly about (Fi), that draws on some abstract connections or patterns I’ve noticed (Ne), but a third of the way in I’m already wondering “who cares about this? What’s the point?” (Te), or I’ve researched the issue in question and utterly derailed my train of thought by overloading it with new data (Si), or I’ve tried to adhere too closely to conventions of genre and the light-hearted piece I started with has turned into a weighty, leaden recount (Si).

There’s nothing wrong with Si and Te, but if what really drives you is Fi and Ne, then denying those functions is going to make you feel drained, worn out and depleted.

 

 

 

 

The writing process: attack from all sides!

I’ve been helping a friend with his writing process.

And though I’ve¬†only published one book, that’s still enough to take it from “the blind leading the blind” to “in the realm of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”. ¬†My advice has¬†some¬†merit.

By coincidence, today we were both stuck at different stages of our drafts. So I gave him the advice that was as much for me as it was for him:

Getting stuck, losing motivation¬†– these difficulties aren’t obstacles to the writing process, they¬†are¬†the writing process. And there’s no single secret or technique to getting past these obstacles, other than to keep attacking them from every possible angle, to keep pushing towards your goal.

The beauty of writing fantasy is that your own goal of publishing one, two or ten books can be viewed as a “hero’s journey” in its own right, parallel to whatever journey you’re exploring within the story. The challenges you face are largely emotional, motivational, and¬†sometimes intellectual. You can’t see the way forward, you don’t know what should happen next, the story suddenly feels very dull, you realise you have to go back and rewrite major scenes, or even cut out scenes or sub-plots that you really enjoyed.

(Looking at it this way, I sometimes wonder if fantasy stories are a kind of code created by storytellers to describe their own frustrations and victories in creating stories, but that’s a little too meta.)

But like any hero’s journey, you have to take stock of where you’re really at. Maybe you’ve finished your first book and it feels like a triumph, or maybe you’re struggling to decide your setting and it feels like a major battle.

At times like these it’s good to stand back and consider the big picture: you might feel¬†like¬†Sam and Frodo on the verge of their ascent to Mount Doom,¬†but maybe you’re actually¬†Sam and Frodo wringing their¬†hands over how soon they¬†should leave for Crickhollow?

I’m using a similar thought to help keep me on track as I write the sequel to my first novel¬†To Create a World.¬†I figure that in order to make any kind of reasonable living from self/indie published ebooks I need between five and ten of them up for sale, preferably by¬†yesterday.¬†So in my mind, I’m not hesitantly agonising over the plot of my second novel, I’m desperately¬†playing catch-up to my fourth or fifth book in the series.

I’m not the hero defeating his first big baddie, I’m the hero stalking his second, thinking about how far I have to go before i can face the final enemy.

At the same time, I have to admit that even this mindset is a little contrived or naive.¬†Real¬†veterans might scoff, or just shrug their shoulders and continue with the work. But that’s just the way the journey unfolds.

My aforementioned first novel is selling slowly. I’m not too worried, since I’m not investing in marketing at this stage. It’s more about doing what I can to have it available, and keep myself on track to finish the sequel(s).

One thing I’ve noticed so far is that the sequel feels much more consistent with the genre.¬†To Create a World¬†draws on some very big ideas that (as far as I can tell) don’t usually show up in fantasy quite so explicitly. I’m excited to see how the sequel turns out, but so far I’d have to say there’s a much higher ratio of fantasy content to mind-blowing philosophy than in the first book. Check it out on Amazon, or click on the pic for all other online stores.

Fiction update

So, I’ve found it hard to write lately – you may have noticed. Part of the problem is that I’ve been writing so much. I’ve finally discovered a meaningful, motivating, and sustainable approach to writing fiction.

I haven’t wanted to mention it in case talking about it undermined my motivation. But I’m nearly 28,000 words into the first draft, and more importantly, I have a plot!

I’m aiming for 40,000 which should qualify it as a short novel. It’s in the children’s fantasy genre, and I hope to have the first draft finished in the coming month.

I wrote here some time ago of my struggles with fiction. I’ve found non-fiction comparatively easy, but fiction challenged me. I wrote a children’s novel about eight years ago, but there was something fundamentally wrong with it, and I’d since struggled to find the inspiration to have another try at it.

Having found an approach that inspires me, it seems I may have lost my inspiration for non-fiction writing. I think it has something to do with the sense of efficacy.

In the past, fiction seemed nice but pointless. Non-fiction was more meaningful because it dealt with real issues in the real world. But now I see that fiction is, or can be, more meaningful because it frees real issues from real-world constraints. It lets us focus on an issue or a theme in a way that would be a distortion of the real world, but which makes sense in the creative domain.

I touched on this in previous posts on the limits of non-fiction, and the paradox of fiction. So I had some sense of what the answer must be, but had not yet truly arrived at it.Unfortunately, now that I’ve arrived at it, non-fiction seems uninteresting and ineffectual by comparison. It isn’t, of course, but I’ve got a word count to meet over in my other world, so further reflection will have to wait.

Metaphysics, creativity, and the tyranny of conventions

Does metaphysics undermine creativity?

I’ve noticed that I can easily get engrossed in a novel which, if I had to write it, would bore me to tears. Even LotR, I just couldn’t bring myself to care about hobbits, elves, magic rings etc., with the degree of interest required to motivate actual writing.

Nonetheless I gave fiction another go last night, and decided to focus on a positive motive – a kind of “write something that interests or excites you”. Translating this into: what is something that I would find truly awe-some?

What came to mind was the idea of contingency/emptiness, the ontological shallowness of creation. Ok cool, I’ll just write a story about that…

In principle, it’s hard or perhaps impossible to write about things we don’t care about or think important. On the level of metaphysics, the significance of the ontological gap between necessity and contingency kinda dampens down the significance of everything on the ‘contingent’ side. It’s just hard to get excited about imaginary objects when you know we are all already, in a sense, imaginary objects.

So what I tried instead was to put contingency into a story, by having a character who finds an object that allows him to pass “backstage” so to speak, and enters a kind of happy void he can sit in for as long as he likes.¬† This is appealing in a “ring of invisibility” kind of way because it feeds my melancholic desire to be able to just disappear and relax whenever I want to. It offers a sense of ideal freedom, but it also combines it with the ontological significance of contingency/emptiness.¬† I don’t know where it’s going to go, but at face value I can say “yeah that would be pretty cool”.

Forget about conventions, for now.

Last night I also spent some time thinking about the stylistic obstacles to writing fiction. Basically, whenever I try to write down an idea in narrative form, my brain kicks into “narrative fiction 101” mode and tries to force me to follow what I assume is a fairly basic and cliche stylistic model. Yet I know from writing non-fiction that the supposed conventions of the genre fill me with unspeakable dismay and that the quickest way to kill my motivation is to approach it with a formulaic mindset.

The vague and semi-conscious conventions of fiction turn writing into a clumsy, awkward chore.¬† So why bother with them? In my non-fiction I have no trouble side-stepping these “rules”. I’ve learned to follow the winding path of my inspiration wherever it leads. Why not do the same with fiction, and just write the parts I’m inspired to write, even if it seems incomplete along the way?

Besides, I’ve often found in non-fiction that after producing fifteen hundred words of inspired ideas and enthused analysis, it’s easy to tack on a brief introduction or explanatory notes to help the unfamiliar reader find his or her bearings. But if I had to start with the introduction or explanation, I would never start at all.

If you’re the kind of writer who feels his way along, then you have to start with the parts that feel interesting, exciting, or awe-some, and leave the drudgery to later – often much later when you know what is really going on.

I’m hoping this approach will also work for fiction if I combine it with the awe-some element described above – homing in on truly motivating ideas while side-stepping the major sources of friction and drudgery.