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July 23rd, 2020
Is inspiration a passive phenomenon or does it require an active pursuit? Both possibilities place that inspiration in a similar place. When we are without inspiration, it is out of reach, and it’s odd to contemplate it’s location when we aren’t in it’s spell. Where exactly is inspiration when we aren’t inspired?
To be perfectly honest, this line of questioning was prompted by The Tinkered Question app, which Tinkered Thinking is developing. (Check out the previous episode - episode 829 - for a full discussion of what this app is and what it does.)
It’s been a long day, and as happens more than preferred, the daily writing has been shuffled to the end, when the creative capacity is certainly less than ideal.
That age-old question stands guard to a temple of exploration and insight: what to write about?
Well, it just so happens there’s this neat tool in the window behind the text document here, and it generates interesting questions at the touch of a button. I inputed “writing prompt” just to see what would happen.
One of the questions that popped up was: Are we trying to access something that is out of reach?
Yes, that’s exactly right, in fact. But the question illuminates an interesting aspect of the conundrum. Where exactly is inspiration when we are without it? And how do we know which direction to reach? And even more importantly: how can you reach for something that is totally unknown? It’s a bit of chicken-and-egg problem: if you knew what was going to inspire you, than you’d already be inspired.
Trying to find inspiration is a bit like trying to predict your next thought: It’s perpetually out of reach unless it’s fully within your grip - there is no in between. Thoughts, and likewise, inspiration teleport into our arena of consciousness, or so it seems. We don’t see them coming, and we don’t have a way of checking what is about to walk through the door. Our experience is simply a constant stream of life through a doorway that has no door to close.
So is it out there? Beyond that door? Is that where inspiration lies when we sit idle and unmotivated? Is our job to just wait until something worthy walks through the door? That seems to make sense, but it’s also abundantly clear from practice that Tinkered Thinking would emphatically not have 830 episodes if inspiration was something to be waited for every time. Yes, inspiration can walk through the door at any moment. But that doesn’t mean we should always sit and wait. The paradox of that door of life through which life streams is that if you try to run through it, you can’t, but instead, more floods through the door.
Jack London once said “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go at it with a club.”
He’s right, there is an important active component that inspiration responds too, but it’s not like you ever actually run through that door to go hunt down some leviathan of an idea or coax some muse back into your mind.
The orientation is all wrong. Inspiration isn’t really “out there”. Much of what seems to come through that door is really arising from within our own mind. It’s a kitchen that’s constantly cooking up mediocre meals. Inspiration is about staying right where you are and plying the tools of the mind to itself in a new way.
This is the logic behind The Tinkered Question app. The right question doesn’t necessarily provoke us to write about a potential answer - it might, but an interesting question can simply make the mind feel differently. It’s subtle, like walking into a kitchen, smelling something delicious in the works and suddenly realizing how hungry you are. A question, even a mediocre one, can wrinkle our thoughts just enough to create gaps at the edges where other thoughts and visions, feelings, hunches and shades of concept seem busy in the concealed depths of our own mind. The initial question can lose all relevance as we pull back the sheet of current thought and venture behind it in order to explore an entire new perspective, and then, before you know it, another episode of Tinkered Thinking has been written.
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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.