The Inspiration Found Me

by Andy P. on May 10, 2013

We often hear people talk about finding inspiration in something, and certainly there is inspiration to be found in almost everything if we know how to look at it right. People find inspiration in books, worthy causes and good conversations, but there seems to be something slightly misleading about this idea of “finding inspiration.” Though there is inspiration to be found when we go looking for it, there is another type of inspiration that is more subtle and elusive. There is a difference between the type of inspiration that we find in a book or through a Google search and the type of inspiration that finds us when we least expect it.

– Andy Paluch

Awe-Inspired

Earth

I recently found some inspiration in a short video, called Overview, which interviewed astronauts who have had the rare privilege of travelling to space and then turning around to look back at our planet floating there in the void. An astronaut on one of the early Apollo missions said, “When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon. We weren’t thinking about looking back at the earth. But now that we’ve done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went.”

Nicole Stott, one of the astronauts more recently involved with the International Space Station, said, “Awe, I think is one of those words that you have a better understanding of once you see [the Earth from space] … I felt like using the word awesome was totally appropriate when it came to describing what the planet looks like.” Another ISS astronaut adds, “When we look down on the earth from space, we see this amazing indescribably beautiful planet. It looks like a living breathing organism, but it also, at the same time, looks extremely fragile.” Those who have seen it say that this awesome experience alters their worldview and their perception of who we are as people in relation with our planet. Stott says, “I don’t know how you can come back and not in some way be changed.”

AstronautWe don’t all have the chance to go into space, look back at our planet and be inspired by the awe of that moment, but hopefully we have all been in awe of something at one point our lives and I think that the effects of that moment may not be all that different from what astronauts feel after coming back to earth. Awe is one type of inspiration that we can’t really go looking for; awe is the type of inspiration that finds us when we put ourselves in the right places. The feeling of awe is an amazing and unique thing because it seems to release us from ourselves for a moment. For a brief period of time there is no separation between where we are and who we are because we’ve forgotten ourselves in the awesomeness of the moment. This brief but profound experience of losing ourselves, particularly in nature, has lasting effects on how we feel about ourselves and the planet that we live on.

Try to remember the last time you were completely in awe of something or someone or someplace. If you are like me, you might be able to remember the circumstances in which you were awe-inspired, but the actual feeling is impossible to recreate just by thinking about it. Contrast this with a more negative and common feeling like shame or embarrassment, for example. I bet as you think about a time when you felt ashamed (even many years ago in your childhood), you can feel that horrible cold feeling creeping back into the pit of your stomach. The point here is that one moment of embarrassment or shame is enough to last a lifetime; we can relive it vividly and with the same physical effect as the original experience. However, the feeling of being awe-inspired doesn’t lend itself to being repeated and relived. It’s one and done. We all love to take pictures of awesome places and experiences with the hope that we’ll remember just what it felt like to be there, but it seems like we always wind up on that old, familiar sentiment that “Pictures just don’t do it justice.”

Beautiful SkyThe feeling of awe is something we all need, and yet it’s something that we rarely give ourselves a chance to feel. Just like the astronauts on their way to the moon who looked back to see the earth, even the briefest moments that leave us in awe of life and the world that we live in can have a profound impact on us. All of our problems, concerns and stress disappear for a moment or two when we look up at the stars on a cool clear night or watch the sun set over the ocean or rise through trees. And, in that void where all of our concerns and stress used to be there is room for a larger purpose and perspective on life to find room and start to inspire our actions. These moments of awe inspire us somewhat differently than a good book or a profound conversation. Moments of awe reset our pretenses about the world and give us access to some of the wildly creative, playful genius that we all enjoyed as children.

SunsetThink a bit about what can you do to increase your chances of being awe-inspired? As with the Apollo astronauts, maybe awe is an unexpected bonus while on a very focused journey into the great unknown. Where are you headed, and are you taking time to look around you on your way there? There is no better place to be awe-struck than in nature. How often do you take the time to just be in nature? How often do you relax or wander around in a beautiful place long enough for the inspiration to find you? When was the last time you felt awe-inspired?

Children in Nature

When we are children, it seems that our capacity for awe is much higher than it is as we grow older. The following is a passage from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods discussing the importance of children spending time in nature and some research into the effect that it has on our lives when we have the opportunity to be awe-inspired by the natural world when we are young:

Last Child in the Woods[Louise Chawla, an environmental psychologist wrote] that the developing consciousness of all children involves … a dynamic sense of relationship with their place. “Only in some children, however, is this experience so intense that it burns itself into memory to animate adult life.” Transcendent childhood experiences in nature were “never reported when a child did not enjoy freedom within an alluring natural or urban environment.” Transcendence did not require spectacular scenery, “but could be evoked by environments as small as a patch of weeds at the edge of a porch, or during freedom as brief as an escape [into nature] during a school outing.”

In her more recent work, Chawla explores “ecstatic places.” She uses the word “ecstatic” in its original meaning. The contemporary synonym is delight or rapture, but the word’s ancient Greek roots–ek statis–as some sources have it, mean “outstanding” or “standing outside ourselves.”  These ecstatic moments of delight or fear, or both, “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla eloquently puts it, are most often experienced in nature during formative years.

If we want our children to be inspired, creative and aware of the world around them in a way that will help us solve the significant problems we face in the 21st Century, it’s absolutely vital that they have access to the type of transcendent experiences that are only possible in nature. There is something invaluable about the feeling of awe and the lasting impression it leaves on who we are and how we see the world.  Consider the different perspective a child has on himself and his relation to the world when he beats a level in a video game versus when he flips over a rock and squeals with delight to find a worm hiding underneath.

The Inspiration Found Me

Inspiration Found Me WebinarWhy do we end up doing what we do? Of all of the possible life paths that stretch out in front of us when we are children, why do we end up on the one that we find ourselves on 30 years down the road? I don’t pretend to know the answer to this, and there are a lot of explanations from nature to nurture and fate to divine intervention, but there is no doubt that the experiences we have as children have a lasting impact on the shape that our lives take. And, among our childhood experiences, there are few as powerful and positive as the ecstatic moments that we can have while exploring natural environments.

If you missed it, check out the interview we did last week with three great Landscape Professionals, and listen to them talk about how their childhood experiences in the great outdoors have inspired their lives, their businesses, and their understanding of why they do what they do!

Click Here for “The Inspiration Found Me” Webinar

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy June 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I thought your article was good, I got some good advice. Thanks

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Lily Wendy July 7, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Great post. Very challenging and beautiful. I find the best way to find inspiration in life is through the core values for inspired living: opportunity, prosperity, respect, attitude, and happiness.

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