Archive for the ‘Daily Inspiration’ Category

Inspiration Challenge 27: Enjoy the magic of twilight

February 27, 2009



Inspiration Challenge 24: One Free Pass

February 24, 2009

Day 24 Challenge: One Free Pass

Not one free pass from participating in these inspiration challenges, but one free pass from life.  From obligations – other people’s obligations, other people’s “should”s.  It’s easy to get caught up in external benchmarks.  They’re easy to identify, come with no self-doubting strings attached, and they’re everywhere.

I also have this long list of internal “should”s.  Should get started on my next homework assignment.  Should look for alumni to make contact with.  Should bake cookies for friends to thank them for cheering me up.  The problem with a long list of shoulds, though, is that it becomes hard to differentiate the true priorities from the ones that can wait.  The everpresent list of things that “need” to get done weighs down o me, so that eventually I don’t want to do anything and sit in front of the Internet in a rebellious stupor, but a reactive stupor at that.

So instead, last night I tried something different.  I gave myself a time deadline to finish my paper due tomorrow, plopped myself in the library, and when I was done I decided, “That’s it.  No more work for the night.”  Instead, I grocery shopped.  I multitasked in the kitchen.  Improvised pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Watched my favorite Chinese soap opera.  Did some Internet trolling to look for summer internship ideas, but with no strings attached beyond information gathering.

It felt great.  It’s going to be a busy week (then again, aren’t they all?), but sometimes it’s necessary to proactively put away the list and give ourselves one free pass, whether that is a couple hours, an afternoon, or an entire weekend to just do whatever we want.  It rejuvenates.  And oddly enough, it makes us more productive when we pick up the list again.  More importantly, it gives us enough perspective to prioritize and eliminate the unnecessary items from the list.

So take a free pass!  What will you do instead?

Inspiration Challenge 23

February 23, 2009

Day 23 Challenge: Live like your hero for a day.

This should be interesting.  One of my heroes is Anne Shirley ala Anne of Green Gables.  I love the spirit with which she approaches life and the people who surround her.  There’s a certain optimism and “Anne-ish” philosophy that I could use right now.  I feel that negative thoughts constantly slip from my mouth or into my mind, that though I see myself as a generally positive and optimistic person, this is not reflected in my day-to-day conversations with people.  I want to bring the face I present to the world into greater alignment with my inner world.  So I’m going to only say positive things all day today, only think positive thoughts.  There is a silver lining to every incident.  I may have to squint hard to find it on a blustering New England morning, but I’ll find it – oh, I’ll find it.

Inspiration Challenge 16: Make a Play Date with Your Inner Child

February 19, 2009

The first thing I think of when I think of my inner child is “Harry Potter,” because when I was 15 Harry Potter brought me back my childhood.  My young childhood, the one taken with fairies and magic all around us, just waiting to be discovered by the right pair of eyes.  But simply rereading Harry Potter feels like an easy way out of this challenge, so I pushed one step further.  What about that younger child?  How was she doing?  What would she want to do now?

And then I remember the creek fairies.  Actually, I’m not quite sure what they were called, but they lived in four marbled folders stuffed full of paper that I used to carry around with me everywhere, scribbling notes for the novels I had planned for their adventures, one for each folder.  The fairies were about three inches tall and lived by a creek, though they were eventually forced to move to an island and into the forest, among other places (hence the subsequent novels).  Their adventures were the first novel-length story I planned, and I faithfully sat down to my father’s computer at the tender age of 8, typing away for 20-odd pages after school and on weekends before I stopped one day.  I think the words stopped flowing, and I stopped typing.  It was my first run-in with writers block.

I wish I had that manuscript now.  So instead of putting Harry Potter on audiobook as soundtrack to the dishes, I sit down to recreate the story of the creek fairies.  There are few details I remember now, only that they could fly (all my fairies could fly), and that they were gatherers, making do with nature’s provisions for sustenance and household goods.  It was idyllic for sure, no hunting or conflicts with neighboring tribes of creek fairies, maybe a close call with a fox.  The fairies of my childhood were always sweet, without edge, the type of people I wanted to surround myself – the type of person I wanted to be, I suppose, living in harmony with beauty in the world.

The stories, too, never had much plot.  I was usually too enamored with creating the details of their context to think about action.  Imagining the details of a house in a log inspired me more than friction to move a story along.  I much preferred to imagine how many rooms they would have, how they would furnish it, where they would play and cook and sing and befriend a gross hopper or friendly mouse.  I can think of very few details now in the fogginess of adulthood, only, perhaps, a hollowed out acorn for cups or bowls, but even now the adult censor kicks in, asking if they would harden the acorn shells with fire for durability, how they would find or tend such a fire, whether the cups would really be waterproof.  Perhaps it is this voice of “common sense,” this inner critic, that silences the imagination now, for it has been challenging to recreate these details that I loved so much in childhood.  My mind does not operate on the same scale or see natural objects with multiple uses anymore.  I wonder if I am rusty, or if my mind is too filled with “big world” matters like plot and characterization, to hear the voice of the young child calling through the darkness.

I think the creek fairies must have coincided with my Borrowers phase, because I read many similarities between the two.  The tiny scale (though most my fairies were this small), fashioning daily goods out of found objects, moving in and out of nature.  How I loved nature, even in those days!  How I loved making daily objects from found items, improvising a boat out of a large leaf and a stick!  How I loved stories like Stuart Little, reading about improvising for tiny creatures or for living out in nature.  I loved books like the original Bobsey Twins books, a complete set from my mother’s childhood.  Those books featured activities like experimenting with jelly cakes or making houses out of cardboard shoe boxes.  Making.  Doing.  Creating.

I see now that theme has always been inside me.  Those were the stories that most drew me because they wrote of activities that fascinated me.  Today those are the very same activities I prefer.  Instead of creating small worlds where my protagonists occupied center stage, I’m now taking these activities and using them in my life instead.  What’s missing is the magic and the imagination.  Or perhaps they are merely expressed in a different format, magic and imagination framed in grown up terms like recipe improvisation or the sheer joy of a beautiful sunset.  But I do miss that young child.  I think she still has lessons for me, if only I can cut through the din of the world to hear her whispered fancies.

Day 17 challenge: bring fresh flowers into your life.

Day 18 challenge: Do something new.

Day 19 challenge: Reconnect with an old friend.

Inspiration Challenges 15, 16

February 16, 2009

Day 15 Challenge: Look up.

Day 16 Challenge: img_0013

Inspiration Challenge 14

February 14, 2009

Day 14 challenge:


Inspiration Challenge 12: Revisit an old artistic medium

February 13, 2009

Inspiration Challenge 12: Pick up an artistic medium you haven’t touched in awhile.


When I was cleaning up the other day I came across this Chinese saying written in some odd corner of an old notebook, along with little notes about the type of drawing I wanted to make out of it.  The saying literally translates as, “Take a step and look around,” which roughly means to take life one step at a time, or that life is a constant recalibration process.  My friend said this to me while I was in China, uncertain about the future and what direction to head with my life.  “It’s not as big of a deal as you’re making this out to be,” she was telling me with this phrase.  “Nothing is set in stone.  Try something out [take a step], then see how you feel about it [look around] and make adjustments accordingly.”

I think about this now that I’m several steps along from that initial conversation.  I’d taken several steps into a field I thought was a perfect fit, but when I took that larger step [an expensive one at that!] I discovered it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be.  So now, true to her word, I’m looking around.  What else is possible from here?  Three steps from here?  Five?  Where should I veer?

It’s similar to what Angela said.  It’s important to test our your dreams.  Make the first move, get to know them better.  In the case of this blog, I’m finding it’s a lot harder to develop my voice and a steady posting rhythm than I thought it would be.  I never realized it would be so difficult to write about inspiration, and to be honest, I’ve questioned whether or not I want to keep this up for another ten months.  I think I’ll do it, but I need to rethink this space and what I offer to the blogosphere that is different or interesting.  In the case of my professional life, I’ve discovering that I love the philosophy and approach of public health, but not necessarily the way that translates to the day-to-day work.

If I hadn’t started this blog, if I hadn’t gone to this program, I wouldn’t have known this.  Writing daily about wellness [in academia-ese I think of this as “building human capital”] would remain a dream, something to moon over in class as we talk about regression coefficient.  It would be my default pie-in-the-sky dream job whenever I got frustrated or disillusioned with school work, causing greater and greater hopes to be pinned to it until it became so bloated with unrealistic, grandiose expectations that it would be too daunting to ever try to pursue, lest the bubble burst and I discover I’m holding a frog, not a prince.  Likewise, these past 6 months have helped me pinpoint what, exactly, it is about this field that I absolutely love, and which surprisingly large segments are perfectly fine but now what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.  More than that, it’s forced me to reflect on my past jobs to find the underlying themes that gave me greatest satisfaction and which parts of the job burned me out, the types of tasks that I am drawn to, my strengths and my weaknesses.

Back to the challenge, I went through a “doodled abstraction” phase towards the end of college.  I’d take a concept and translate it into symbols or a Chinese phrase, then abstract the symbol, characters, and images and work it up over the entire page.  An example I dug out of the archives:


This is my last name in Chinese, over and over and over again.  I haven’t doodled in over 2 years, so when I plucked the slip of paper out of the jar yesterday morning I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Finally translate that saying to paper.  Dust off the black pen and give it a go.  I’d put this off for days now, afraid it wouldn’t be perfect or that I hadn’t thought through the concept enough to get it down on paper.  And while this isn’t exactly what I envisioned, it felt really good to dip back into an old hobby, dust off the cobwebs an back towards once-familiar terrain.  And just as the saying says, you won’t know what you need to tweak until you make that first move.

Switching mediums for a day stretches creativity in new directions.  Fresh perspective generates new ideas, just like the change in perspective achieved by focusing on one sense.  This is particularly helpful when stuck in a rut, but even as a weekly or monthly exercise it works to keep our projects fresh and keep us exploring new directions.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll take a step in a new direction, look around, like what we see, and keep moving.

Challenge 13: Research your hero.

Find out their life story.   What motivates them?  Where do they get inspiration?   What challenges did they face?  How did they overcome them?

The importance of inspiration

February 11, 2009

Everyone has a list of things they’d like to do before they die. Maybe it is to write the next great American novel, act in a play, see the pyramids, start a business. Far too often we put these off for “later, when I have time.” Meanwhile life slips by. We rush from obligation to obligation, and at the end of the day we’re too tired to do much more than flop down on the couch and decompress for a couple hours in front of the television.

The problem is that we could fill three lifetimes with work and household chores and still not be done with everything we’re “supposed to do.” In other words, we could spend three lifetimes on tasks that are less important to us, and less meaningful, than our dreams and passions. But it is our dreams and passions make us unique, not our jobs, not our ability to wash dishes or pick up dirty laundry. You may be wonderful at your job, but chances are you didn’t create your job. You may have molded someone else’s description into a job that fits you, but at the end of the day someone else could still take over and the organization would continue functioning. Your dreams and passions, on the other hand, are unique to you. Even two people who share the same overarching passion will find differences in the details, because our dreams are defined by life experience and personality.

To honor our dreams and passions is to honor what makes us unique. This means acknowledging our dreams and actively pursuing them. It may feel impossible to carve out time for them, but I’m sure you can think of a couple minutes ach day to devote to them. Pick one. Start small. Give your dreams half an hour a day, or fifteen minutes, or even ten or five. Aren’t they worth it? Aren’t you worth it?

Just start. Think of fifteen minutes you can squeeze into your day. Maybe it’s during lunch. Maybe it’s right after dinner when the TV shows aren’t that good anyways. Or maybe it means setting the alarm clock 15 minutes earlier and starting your day off on a positive note. It’s helpful to identify a consistent time each day. Think through the small details – where you’ll be, what supplies you’ll need, ways to avoid distractions and other obstacles. Make the commitment in writing, tell a friend.

Inspiration is the starting point. Inspiration is the day-to-day reminder to work towards the big dream, and why it is so important. It is also encouragement, a source of new ideas and solutions to the problems we encounter along the way. Inspiration is the flashes of insight into how you will carry out the dream – it is the seed of an idea, a novel new approach, the way around a stumbling bock. Inspiration keeps us moving forward. It reminds us to stay balanced and stay focused on what’s important.

Most of all, acting upon inspiration is exciting. Acting on one good idea unleashes a wellspring of new ideas that tumble forth, pile up, cross-fertilize to create even better ideas. You’ll notice this spill over into other areas of your life. Work won’t feel as tedious, and inspiration will help you find faster ways to get work done, or new ideas to contribute at meetings. It gives you something to look forward to as you do your chores. As your project grows and develops, it encourages a broader shift in thinking: what is worth my time? Am I enjoying life? Can I reshuffle my obligations to increase the time I spend on the things that matter? This creates an even larger snowball effect. Acting on inspiration leads to working on our dreams, which inspires new ideas and possibilities that lead to even more time and energy spent on our dreams, which leads to even more ideas and positive energy.

Inspiration Challenge 10: Focus on one of your senses.

February 11, 2009

I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late, dipping in and out of dark moods of despair, isolation, and self-defeating thought patterns.  All is not lost among the dense fog of gloom; indeed, there are many, many moments of sunshine that break through – though do not dispel – the threatening clouds that loom overhead.  Yesterday was another low, one which has been building for several days now and peaked around 2PM, sitting there in class, frustrated that the entire conversation was way over my head, frustrated that this school wasn’t what I wanted or needed, frustrated, most of all, that the conversation was perfectly manageable for half the class and that this school was exactly what that half wanted and needed.

Or so it seemed.  I’m not sure what’s more frustrating, being caught in circular thinking or the recognition of the circuitous path of your train of thought coupled with an inability to break the cycle.

You’re being really negative.  Jamie’s words, directed at herself not too long ago, but dead on nonetheless.  It’s funny how much negativity can seep out into the rest of your life, so quietly and unobtrusively that the coup is total and complete.  My ambivalence has infected all areas of life and dragged them down: my classes, my relationships, my moments alone with the activities i most enjoy, even my mornings at the keyboard.  It has been damn hard to write this past month.

You’re being really impatient.  Jordan’s words, advice to Lisa that she shared in passing a couple conversations ago.  Even now, Lisa and I find ourselves at similar crossroads in life; despite the thousands of mile between us, her life lessons still cut through my tangled webs of circular thinking that choke off rational thought.

Help comes, as it so often does, from an outside source.  Or in this instance, from two outside sources, both of whom have shouldered a disproportionate burden of helping me through this latest funk.  But from here, I know, I must shoulder the burden myself.  And so, just as I turned to daily inspiration challenges to fight February’s gloom, so too I turned to it yesterday to combat the additional shadows that have haunted my mind for so many weeks now.

Day 10 challenge: focus on one of your senses.

Touch.  The sensation of water running over potatoes, the warmth of the gas stove as it heats up a pot of soup.  Cooking can be remarkably therapeutic or it can be a messy sprint to throw together enough calories to get me through the day.  Last night I chose the former, mental sanctuary in the rhythm of the knife against vegetables, the soft glow of the kitchen light against the fading remnants of day.  The gritty unevenness of potato skin.  Bumpy, tangled ridges of kale.  Granules of salt, cradled in the palm of my hand before released into a bubbling pot, the gentle heat meeting arm and wrist for brief seconds in time.  And dishes, a chore I detest second only to cleaning the toilet, last night even the dishes were sanctuary, smooth porcelain and rivulets of water and the occasional soap bubble dancing on the surface.

Sometimes inspiration comes from the editing process.  Our senses tell parallel strands to the same story, but the mind becomes bogged down by too many details so it filters them out.  That richness of detail is an untapped source of inspiration.  So focus on one sense.  Let the voices of touch, taste, smell, and hearing tell their untold stories.  Last night meant letting go of my passive, reactive, self-victimizing internal dialogue.  Focusing on touch was a metaphor to balance my perspective with multiple voices, and also that we have power over which voices we edit out and which ones we let in.

Day 11 challenge:


Inspiration Boards

February 8, 2009

Inspiration sparks new ideas and keeps us going through tough times.  Any endeavor that is challenging – weight loss, a job search, a creative endeavor – benefits from constant inspiration to spark new ideas or encourage us to work through the task at hand.  Daily inspiration challenges are one way to generate constant inspiration.  Visual inspiration reminders is another way, particularly if they are integrated into the spaces in our life where we are most likely to need inspiration to keep us going.  The still life I created is one example of this.

Another format I really like is an inspiration board.  A simple board hung on the wall, it is fast and convenient way to create a display of inspirational objects and ideas.  Pushpin boards are cheap and make it easy to add in new items, but be creative!  I’ve seen metal wires with slips of paper attached by clothespins, or a narrow shelf above a desk lined with a few well-chosen objects.  The idea is to keep inspiration visible and keep it close.

What goes on the board is completely up to you.  A dream vacation spot, quotes or phrases, a list of restaurants to try, that couch you’re saving up for, a striking color combination to work into a new design.  Change it up.  Keep it fresh.  Most of all, keep looking for inspiration.

Inspiration Challenge 8: If money was no object …

Take out a piece of paper.  Across the top, write the phrase “If money was no object …”  Now complete that phrase in the phrase below.  What would you do, where would you go?  Would your days be different from how they are now?  How?  How would you really spend your time if you didn’t have to work for a living?