New Year's Blessings! I am happy to declare 2019 to be the Year of Inspiration. According to the Chinese horoscope, this year will bring love, joy, and abundance your way. All of these blessings are predicated on your inspiration.
What does that mean? For your whole life, you have been sharing a body with a powerful entity. While you sleep, work, and play, this entity is busy regulating all kinds of physiological processes, including breathing, circulation, and metabolism. The birth and death of cells through your body falls under its influence. Your co-tenant is also looking out for your, offering guidance in the form of intuition.
In Hindu tradition, this entity is called Ishwara, which can be defined as "embodied spirit." Inspiration happens when you allow this embodied spirit to take its rightful place as the primary creative agent in your life. You can always create with your mind if you so choose, but Ishwara can access knowledge that your mind never will. Whereas your mind is good at connecting the dots through logical inference and other reasoning processes, Ishwara can envision new realities through the power of imagination.
Your mind can be resistant to the force of Ishwara. Einstein was referring to this dynamic when he observed that "great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." The great spirit and mediocre mind are both living inside of us at this very moment. We become inspired when the battle between them ceases. This requires the mind to surrender control, at least for a few moments.
This year, I will show you how you can tap into greater levels of creative inspiration by helping your mind get out of the way. Once that happens, you create an opening so that Ishwara can do what it does best: allow fresh ideas, images, and insights to flow in ways that can lead you in productive new directions.
I will be offering a wide range of materials this year to help you in your journey of inspiration. On January 19, I will be giving a presentation, entitled "The Art of Inspiration," at the TEDxTucson "[r]evolution" conference. This talk will be available on video, and I will be expanding upon the same topics in a series of blog posts you can find here, as well as a workbook that will provide practical exercises to elaborate on the ideas I shared with you in Deep Creativity.
One of my New Year's resolutions is to help you master the art of inspiration, so that you can truly make this the Year of Inspiration in your life. Happy New Year!
Two millennia after his death, Jesus continues to have a profound impact on the world. Over two billion people in more than 160 countries will be celebrating Christmas this year.
What makes Jesus such a compelling figure? For me, it is neither the circumstances of his birth or of his death. Rather, the greatness of Jesus lies in his simple, direct message about the nature of humanity.
"The kingdom of heaven is within you." This is one of the greatest teachings in human history. Here, Jesus is affirming that the Divine is an indwelling presence in all of us. Whether we know it or not, the kingdom of heaven lives in our hearts in the present moment. Here and Now, Baby!
And this is not just true for ourselves. That which is infinite and eternal abides in everyone. That is why Jesus urges us to love each other as ourselves. What is sacred in us is also sacred in our friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, pets, and even our adversaries. The only thing that can make anyone our enemy is ignorance. Once we are able to embrace the basic truth that Jesus offered the world, we come to see the fundamental bond that underlies our apparent differences.
We can honor Jesus properly during this holiday season by giving the only gift that really matters: pure, unconditional love. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Since earliest childhood, I have been drawn to experiences in which I lose myself. This is not poetic license; I mean it literally. For extended periods of time, I disappear. I am not aware of any thought—not even a thought of myself. My sense of time vanishes. Nothing is lacking. I have no concern about hunger, thirst, hot or cold. All I know is the pure feeling and sensation of the present moment.
The experience is luscious and joyful. There is nothing traumatic or frightening about it. I learned early that when I lose myself, I gain everything. The entire universe opens up to me at these moments. Here is where I find my connection to spirituality, fulfillment, and creativity.
So, how do you lose yourself in this kind of experience? It all starts with emptying the mind. You can do this through concentrative meditation techniques, which have you focus your attention on one thing. This could be a visual stimulus (mandala), sound (mantra), physical pose (asana), or gesture (mudra). If you focus on one thing long enough, your mind goes blank. For me, chanting is an especially powerful tool for this.
In Deep Creativity, I draw the analogy between concentrative techniques and an obscure visual phenomenon called retinal image stabilization. The natural tendency of the eye is to jump from one image to the next in a series of movements called saccades. In the 1960s, researchers discovered that if you stabilize a retinal image, meaning that you hold it perfectly still relative to the eye, it eventually disappears from view.
Similarly, most of the time your mind jumps from thought to thought, like a monkey swinging from one branch to the next. If you hold a single thought in mind long enough, the mind shuts off. You are disrupting your stream of thought just long enough to find that delicious silence which lies in the space between thoughts. And where there is no thought, there is no YOU. That is because your self-concept is just a thought, made up of other thoughts. So, when you silence your mind, you lose yourself.
Most people who learn concentrative meditation techniques struggle to master them. A far easier way to go is to immerse yourself in play. Of course, it has to be the right kind of play. In The Way of Play, I recommend play activities that are simple and non-competitive, requiring no strategy and little effort. You will find a list of 108 such activities inThe Way of Play, including walking in nature and soaking in a warm bath.
So, here is how you can lose yourself in the moment:
As a kid, you probably knew how to savor the moment while immersing yourself fully in play. But as an adult, you may have forgotten what that feels like. You might be preoccupied with all kinds of worries and concerns. Your responsibilities and to-do list may seem so urgent that they demand your constant attention. But in truth, these things are not as important as they seem. And taking a break from them—even for only a few minutes—will let you come back to them with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
You don’t have to learn how to lose yourself. It’s more a matter of remembering--and making it a priority in your daily routine. When you lose yourself in play, you gain everything.
My whole life, I have followed the trail of inspiration wherever it would take me. This quest has led me to sacred chanting, divine play, Repose, and Deep Creativity, all of which have inspired me endlessly.
Today, I pay tribute to a most astonishing and delightful source of inspiration in my life. This past year, I fell deeply, passionately in love. I must confess that I never saw it coming, which makes it all the more wonderful. Now, December 12 has become one of the holiest days on my calendar. Not only is this the Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe; it is also the birthday of my beloved Maria--the woman of my dreams and the joy of life.
Through Maria, I have learned so much about the sacred power of shared love. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to sharing some of these lessons with you. I have come to the conclusion that if you are fortunate enough to have a great love in your life, you have everything you need to experience inspiration on a daily basis. And if you cultivate that love, it will only grow more inspiring with each passing day.
In honor of this auspicious occasion, I offer the following prayer:
My love for you is holy. Let there be no doubt. I am the humble peasant climbing the Hill of Tepeyac, and you are an apparition far more resplendent than anything I could have imagined.
From the very beginning of my life, I have been searching for you. In your joy, I am born and reborn again. And in your love, I am annihilated gladly. I dissolve in your embrace until there is nothing left but you.
I am the devoted pilgrim finding redemption at your altar. Since the moment my heart started beating, it has burned with passion for you. My adoration for you is complete, Beloved, and it can never be extinguished.
In the barren desert, I gathered roses and placed them carefully in my cloak. Today, before the eyes of witnesses, all these flowers fall away, leaving only an imprint of you on the fabric of my being. Your beauty would be no less miraculous if mine were the only eyes that could see it. But many a dream has been illuminated by your radiance.
I honor and celebrate the inception of you. In your effervescent smile, I have found my calling. After eons of wandering through this dream world, at last I am lucid. In answer to your question, I say: “Yes, you are here, Beloved. And I am here in you. I live to fill you with delight.”
What would happen if we faced our "inner self"? Who would we find? What would that self be like?
In his classic essays, Montaigne claims that we fail to discover the inner self out of fear. But maybe we just don't know what to look for or where to find it. Searching for the inner self might be the ultimate adventure. We are stalking something mysterious and intangible that lives within us. When we find it, we may discover the deepest and most substantive answer to the age-old question: Who am I?
The inner self lies at the core of our identity. But what exactly does that mean? We could say that the inner self is what remains when everything else get stripped away. For example, we are not the titles and degrees we have earned, nor can we be defined by our possessions. Why? Because we would continue to exist without them.
Same goes for the roles we assume in our lives, as spouse, parent, friend, student, lover, boss, teacher, rival, coworker, or assistant. We may switch roles many times over the course of our lives, and yet something of us stays the same.
The circumstances of our birth seem to stay with us for our entire lives. These include our birthplace, family of origin, culture, race, ethnicity, sex, and religion. Yet each of us varies in the extent to which we accept and embrace those circumstances. For example, we may choose a spiritual path that differs from the religion in which we were raised, or we may immigrate to a new homeland.
Some would argue that there is no such thing as an inner self. Social psychologists maintain that who we are is more a function of the situations in which we find ourselves than some lasting, stable disposition or set of traits. Buddhists tend to embrace the doctrine of anatta ("non-self), which states that there is no such thing as an unchanging, permanent self, soul, or essence.
If this is true, then the search for an inner self seems pointless. And yet, Buddhists also believe in reincarnation, implying that something within us continues beyond this life and transcends our death. One Buddhist master stated, "I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing and I am everything. Your identity makes all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.”
The one thread that runs through our lives is: I AM. This is the experience of being, of consciousness, of pure essence. The form we take is constantly changing. One day, we say, "I AM X," and the next day, "I AM Y." But regardless of what we identify with or how we define ourselves, there is always I AM.
When you contemplate this simple statement, "I AM," you will find your inner self. And when you do, you will discover that it has nothing to do with what you think, how you act, or who you know. Your inner self runs much deeper than that. It's time to uncover this greatest of mysteries.
What if there were no such thing as spirit or spirituality? Suppose that we stopped looking for anything beyond the material realm. This intriguing premise was proposed by the late Michael Stone in the TEDx talk shown above. Would there still be room in such a reality for yoga?
Stone defines the Sanskrit word yoga as "intimacy." But what is intimacy? The Latin root of intimate means "inmost" or "intrinsic." In yoga, the objective is to recognize our connection to a greater whole, experiencing true intimacy with that whole. If the material world is all there is, then intimacy means that we are each an intrinsic part of the material world. At the same time, we can make the case that the material world is intrinsic to us.
The natural processes and physical laws that are unfolding in the universe around us are also abiding within our bodies. None of us is a closed system. All of the boundaries of our bodies are permeable, which means that there is a constant exchange of materials happening between ourselves and our environment. With each breath, we take in the atmosphere and also add to it. Eating is a truly remarkable act in which we transform plant and animal matter into the cells and tissue of our bodies while capturing some of the energy contained in that food so that we can fuel our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Every atom that exists "out there" has the potential of ending up "in here" because the distinction is arbitrary. The matter that makes up our bodies is changing from one moment to the next. Did you know that the food we eat and the water we drink was probably excreted by some other organism at some point in the past? And everything we excrete--sweat, piss, poop, spit, snot, and cum--will be vital to another organism at some point in the future. There is no such thing as waste, except in our own minds. Absolutely every particle that makes up our bodies right now will be cycled through the greater whole. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and all the other elements that comprise us at this moment have their natural cycles. They are constantly moving through the natural world.
Yoga can exist in perfect harmony with a materialistic worldview. You do not need to believe in anything beyond the material universe to have an intimate relationship with that universe. You just have to embrace one simple idea that is based on scientific fact: What is in me is in you as it is in all things. We live in a universe that is governed by the principles that all matter and energy are conserved at all times. The "stuff" that makes up that universe simply flows from one place to another in a dynamic and continuous stream. If you and I are in the same room for any period of time, we will exchange matter and energy. There is no doubt we will share parts of ourselves with one another.
This leads to what Martin Buber called the "I-Thou" relationship, which is the idea that whatever I love or revere in myself I must also love and revere in you. Why? Because there is no separation. The boundaries between us are relatively meaningless. They change so constantly and inevitably that we would be foolish to enforce them.
Virtually every yoga class ends with the greeting Namaste, which literally means "I bow to you." The reason for this greeting is the recognition that we are made up of the exact same stuff. By saying "Namaste," we are expressing our aspiration to see beyond the mental distinctions that appear to separate us. These distinctions are not consistent in any way with the teachings of physics, chemistry, or biology. If we are going to embrace materialism to the fullest, we have no choice but to assume our natural place in the universe as yogis. Namaste!
Thanksgiving is such a great holiday. Not because of turkey and trimmings or family and football, although these may add to the enjoyment of the day for many of us. No other holiday places such a priority on gratitude. On Thanksgiving day, we give thanks for all of the gifts that continue to stream into our lives on a daily and yearly basis.
Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful and graceful. These two terms are related. They both have to do with receptivity. Everything in our lives is a gift, starting with life itself. A gift comes to us, ultimately, from a mysterious source and without us having to earn it. Why were we born in the first place? The chance to experience the richness of this life is a gift. We may not know where we came from or how we got here. Chances are we did nothing to earn the privilege of life. Neither did we have to earn the affection of those who have loved us from the beginning. Love is a gift that keeps enriching us from moment to moment.
To be graceful means to receive the gifts that come our way fully, completely--with open arms and an open heart. No struggle. No questioning. No wondering if we got dealt a good enough hand or why we didn't get more. It would be wise to begin any meditation or visualization regarding abundance by acknowledging the fact that we have already attained it. Whether we know it or not, abundant gifts have already been bestowed upon us. For one, we have made it this far. If we have food, clothing, and shelter, we are gifted. If we have talents that we know how to use in the world, we are gifted. If we have people whom we love and who love us in return, we are gifted. And if we have the use of our faculties and relatively good health, we are especially gifted.
We admire those who are graceful. These exceptional people move through the world artfully, creating beauty and warmth wherever they land. At the heart of such grace is gratitude. Let's give thanks for every gift that comes into our lives, even those that may be disguised as challenge or hardship. In retrospect, some of the greatest obstacles that we encounter turn out to be our greatest opportunities. That is why one of the nine intentions in The Pledge, which many of us recite on a daily basis, states:
On this Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for the extraordinary grace that has been bestowed upon me. Every day, I wake up thinking, "Wow! How can it get any better than this?" And then somehow, it does! Last year, I thought my life had reached its pinnacle: Deep Creativity was about to be published, 30 years after its conception. This was the culmination of my life's work, and I felt complete. Global Chant, which I started in 1996, had built its own momentum, with several groups running themselves happily and independently of my efforts. People were contacting me on a regular basis to report the benefits of Repose, which I consider to be one of the most remarkable gifts to come into my life and that I have been able to share with others. My life was not just good; it was wonderful!
And then, out of the blue, I met the woman of my dreams. A year later, I am engaged to be married to my beloved Maria Mendola , who is my match in every regard. If I had asked the universe to find me a partner that is perfect for me--my equal and my complement in every regard--it would have been her, without a doubt. But I didn't ask, I didn't pray, I didn't visualize. Maria found her way into my life and my heart with no effort on my part. She is a true gift for whom I give thanks on a daily basis--sometimes many times a day. I am grateful for this blessed life I lead, which includes the presence of supportive individuals like you. So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, all I can say is: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
This morning, I came across the beautiful calligraphy you see here. This is a depiction of the Japanese word kaku-sei, which means "awakening." Drawn several years ago by my dear friend, Rev. Henry Ajiki (who recently lost his remarkable wife and spiritual partner, Michi; like everyone else who knew her, I share in that loss), it depicts one of the central themes in my life's work, which is the experience of spiritual awakening. But what exactly does that mean?
If you follow this blog, you know that I am a proponent of the dream argument, which is the position that that life is a dream. That being the case, we can learn a great deal about spiritual awakening by considering what happens when we awaken from the dream state that occurs during a normal night's sleep.
In our dreams, you and I are the protagonist. Essentially, we are the lead actor playing the part of ourselves in a drama that unfolds in our mind's eye. While immersed in this drama, we may be unaware that the experiences and adventures we are undergoing are all a fabrication of our own imagination. For instance, I recently dreamed that I was the lead guitarist for a blues band--a wonderful fantasy that appeals to my innate passion for music.
Because this was not a lucid dream, I was totally caught up in the role I was playing. In other words, I didn't know it was a dream until I awakened from it. Then I realized that it was all something I created. Not only was I the lead actor and protagonist in this imaginary play, I was also the producer, director, and playwright.
This brings us to the heart of spiritual awakening. When you awaken from the dream of "objective reality," you transcend the role you have been playing in that dream and align your awareness with the "dreamweaver," to borrow a term from John Lennon (3:46 mark of the video for the song "God"). This is the important shift from creature to creator. Rather than just acting as a character in a play, being moved by forces beyond your control, you begin to recognize that the one who envisioned that play in the first place lives and breathes inside of you. When that happens, you come fully into your power as a human being. That is the true nature of inspiration, which is why I write and speak about this topic like none other. It is the reason I devoted 30 years of my life to writing Deep Creativity.
My intention for you, dear friend, is the same one I set for myself on a daily basis: May you awaken fully from the dream of objective reality in this lifetime, discovering your fullest connection to the dreamweaver that abides in you. Here and Now, Baby!
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Head, one of the most bizarre and wonderful American films to come out of the 1960's. Featuring The Monkees in a wild departure from their popular TV series, Head breaks free of cinematic conventions in spectacular ways. The storyline is circular and the actors shatter the fourth wall so often and so dramatically that viewers have no choice but to give in the experience rather than try to make sense of it all.
Directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) and co-written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, Head challenges viewers' ideas about reality. This is why it holds a special place in my heart. Creative inspiration requires an element of "lucid waking," which is the ability to realize that our waking reality is as illusory as the dreams we experience when we sleep at night. Inspired art draws our attention to the dreamlike nature of waking reality by blurring the lines between "real" and "imagined." In this sense, Head qualifies as inspired art. I am not alone in this view. Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright rank it among their all-time favorite movies.
But don't take our word for it! You can watch Head right here:
If you took part in last Saturday’s “Stay Inspired, Play Inspired” workshop, you know what a special day it was. Together, we took a journey into the heart of creative inspiration. By the end of the day, many of you made important discoveries that could have a profound and lasting impact on your lives. Now, the question becomes: What do I do with this new understanding?
In the days and weeks to come, you have a chance to deepen that understanding and to integrate it in ways that continue to inspire you. The reality is that inspiration begets more inspiration, as long as you make room for it in your life. Here are a few ideas to help you do that on a daily basis:
1. Set your intentions for the day. Like anything else, inspiration is a practice. An important part of that practice is to aim high. When you establish and express the ideals to which you aspire, you will begin moving towards them. My own aspirations are captured in the nine statements that comprise The Pledge. I have been reciting these statements every morning for the past decade. Each time I say them, I can feel an alchemical change within myself. The Pledge has the power to transform and inspire. Give it a try, or create your own set of aspirations.
2. Repose. As you know, lying in Repose for seven minutes three times a day has all kinds of mental and physical health benefits. For me, the most compelling reason for incorporating Repose into my daily routine is that it opens me up in ways that are conducive to my experience of inspiration. As you discovered on Saturday, receptivity is an important component of inspiration, and few tools I have ever encountered are more conducive to receptivity than Repose. Immediately after awakening every morning, I lie in Repose. And I encourage you to do the same.
3. Self-care. Inspiration is a full-body experience. So it is vital to take care of your body. My fiancée, Maria Mendola, taught me a set of morning ayurvedic rituals for cleansing and purifying the body. These include tongue-scraping, irrigating your nostrils with a neti pot, exfoliating your entire skin surface, and oiling your skin. I also wake up my digestive system by drinking a cup of warm water with lemon. Every day, I set aside time for exercise, which includes stretching, cardio, resistance, and breathwork. If you have limited time, space, and access to exercise equipment, you can still get in a good workout. I recommend using one of Andy Petranek’s Living Room Workout videos, which are free on YouTube and can be done in about 10 minutes.
4. Creativity time. If you want to channel your inspiration into a creative pursuit, make time in your day to create. I set aside about three hours every morning for my writing. Rarely do I write beyond 11 am, and yet I have been able to publish four books, with two more in the works. Mornings are best for me because I feel fresh, energized and focused. Listen to your own body rhythm and be as resourceful as you can. You may have to find creative ways to work around your other responsibilities, but it can be done. It is simply a matter of priorities.
5. Open your heart. Inspiration is about passion. There is a reason that Deep Creativity includes an unconditional love invocation (pp.179-182). All great creative breakthroughs begin with love. Then there is joy. Make sure to do the things you enjoy and to enjoy the things you do. I consider all of the activities I have listed here as forms of play that I enjoy to the fullest. Make sure to savor each moment while you are eating, creating, exercising, lying in Repose, or engaging in any of your other daily rituals. And express your gratitude, both through silent forms of grace and by acknowledging acts of kindness by the people in your life. There is no more powerful way to open your heart to inspiration than by saying, “Thank you.”
These five suggestions are a great starting point as you enter this new phase of your life. In other blog posts, I have written about cultivating intuition and imagination, both of which are important elements of creative inspiration. You may want to check out these tips, as well. And you are always welcome to send me your questions and comments. May you know what it is like to live an inspired life!
I want to hear from you! Please share your questions and comments. And sign up for my newsletter, where I will pass along the insights, ideas, and inspiration that come my way.