By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 1, 2019

Inspiration is a very positive word and concept in our culture. Nobody doesn’t want to be inspired. The word, in its origin, conveys a “breathing in” – but not so much of sucking air into your own lungs (though that is never a bad idea) as of being breathed into by some benevolent power which makes you feel better, and motivates you to do good things, especially creative things.

Those who wait for inspiration before acting often have a long – perhaps interminable – wait ahead of them. But sometimes it comes like the proverbial flash of lightning, or the cartoonist’s light-bulb suddenly illuminating a balloon emanating from the mind. I myself once wrote that “The true artist waits for the right moment – But the right moment never waits for anybody.” Indeed, the very phenomenon of creativity is, to say the least, erratic, and there are skeptics who mistrust the whole idea, offering instead their version of the process, with cynical remarks about “ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.”

Most writings which are supposed to be “inspiring” or “consoling” leave me cold – but I do personally find comfort, if not always actual motivation, in certain poems, of which one of my favorites has always been Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life.” Probably one of its most memorable images is that of our leaving “footprints on the sands of time” to hearten those who come after us. Never mind that I think he was confusing two notions here – the story of the marooned Robinson Crusoe coming upon footprints in the sand of the island of which he had until then thought he was the only inhabitant – and the “sands of time” as represented by the sand trickling through the narrow waist of an hour-glass, whose whole purpose is of course to mark the passage of time.

Another poem in which, like many millions of others, I have found inspiration, is Kipling’s “If,” which, though often satirized, can be fairly characterized as a prescription for ideal manhood. Its very first lines have often reverberated in many situations of my own life:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you –
If you can trust yourself, when all men doubt you, 
Yet make allowance for their doubting too. . .

But words alone, even if uttered aloud in eloquent tones, are not always enough to inspire. Some people are affected more deeply by the silent majesty of a sunrise, or the mysterious beauty of a starry night, by animals and plants, and other wonders of the natural world. Some derive inspiration from the miracles of Science and the endless possibilities of Technology. Some of us, at least occasionally, feel inspired by our own dreams. And what can be more inspiring than the emotions arising from true love, or close friendship, especially in time of need? In this connection, there is no more meaningful communication than a warm handclasp, an encouraging smile, or a pat on the back.

The supreme source of inspiration for many people is their religious faith. I am sorry to say I never felt very inspired by the Jewish religion, in which I was brought up. But some of the Christian hymns I learned at school performed that role for me as movingly as anything ever could. One, in particular, still echoes in my mind as a model of its type. Written by Isaac Watts in 1719, with lofty music by William Croft, it celebrates a God who is timeless, but still has time to care for us. Its first stanza says:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Protector from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
If I need a God at all, that’s the kind I want to have!

Finally, I might as well confess that I myself am guilty of having occasionally written lines which others consider inspirational. Some examples, for what they’re worth:

Not being able to do everything is no excuse for not doing everything you can.

Life is no joke – that’s why we’ve got to keep laughing at it.

You’re never a total failure while someone believes in you – even if the only someone is you.

Hold on to what’s necessary – Let go of what’s not – And, when in doubt, let go.

The only way to improve: Keep making yourself attempt things which at first you can’t do.

We’ll never get everything done today – That’s why there’s a tomorrow.


You might also be interested in...