Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lloyd Dobler Guide to Courting Inspiration

To court is “to woo and pay homage.”

Which means it’s more than just holding boom-box outside of a girl’s window.

No offense, Lloyd Dobler.

Courting means inviting openly.
Courting means pursuing proactively.
Courting means honoring consistently.
Courting means acknowledging publicly.

AND THE COOL PART IS: Courting isn’t limited to your dating life – it’s also an essential element of your thought life.

Because when it comes to the creative process, treating inspiration with respect and love is the only way to make it lay itself at your feet.

Here’s a collection of strategies to help you court inspiration:
1. Greet life with openness. When readers and audience members ask what inspires me, I respond with one word: Everything.

Movies. Interviews. Nature. People. Books. Graffiti. Abandoned parking lots. Everything. All you have to do is pay attention. That’s all creativity is anyway: Active listening.

You don’t have writer’s block – you have hearing damage.

To court inspiration, salute all you encounter with a posture of deep democracy. That means say yes to all of it. That means reject nothing and take in everything. And that means choose to treat everything you experience with unconditional positive regard. What’s more, developing a deep love of do. Refusing to stand for the idle moment.

That way, interesting things don’t happen to you – you happen to them. You have to be approachable to the world. And you have to allow the world to be approachable to you. Because if you harbor a hardened heart, inspiration won’t think twice about returning your calls.

Remember: Feared, creativity atrophies. Saluted, creativity blooms. What will you have to change about your attitude to become inspired by everything in site?

2. Seek out the inherent novelty in all you perceive. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, founder of the flow movement, has written volumes on courting inspiration. In his book, Creativity, he suggests the following:

“Participate as fully as possibly in the world around you. Fascinate yourself with the ordinary. Evaluate critically every novelty you encounter and study ordinary things intently.”

It’s a beautiful thing. Like when you’re so engrossed in flow that you don’t realize you’ve spilled hot tea down your leg or spattered blood all over the fret board. That’s when you know inspiration is close.

And the good news is: Each of us has our own personal and emotional response to existence. We simply have to make the conscious choice to tap into – and create a personal dialogue with – our immediate environment. What’s more, we have to constantly look for recurring cycles of activities or repetitive patterns in our surroundings.

As philosopher Ferris Bueller once observed, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” How much time are you spending becoming more interesting?

3. Stay in touch with your aesthetic sensibility. Beauty is always relevant to something. And when you surround yourself with things that bring peace to your visual eye, inspiration isn’t far behind.

My girlfriend, for example, reminds me that the environment is the world’s biggest art museum. Do you have a lifetime pass? If not, get out of the house immediately. And as you experience what nature has to offer, look past what you see. Don’t just notice it – not why it exists. Don’t just think it – think about why you think it’s beautiful.

The goal is to enter into an engaging relationship with the world around you. To sit with studious attention and become an audience to the symphony of life. Nature, after all, is an endless source of novelty. A glowing source of inspiration wait to infect you with its beauty. Are you human enough to let it inspire you?

4. Accept divine timing. If you’re good, you can be creative anywhere. For example, nothing bad ever happens to a writer – it’s all just material. Having your heart broken by someone you thought you loved? Missing your flight and getting stuck at a shitty airport hotel? Spending a week in the hospital with a tube in your chest?

Sounds like the perfect experience to activate a creative awakening to me.

The secret is, you have to let it. You have to make yourself vulnerable enough to life a life wholly surrendered. Because it’s that brand of humility grants you an all access pass to where your ideas might take you.

My suggestion: Merge with the energy that urges you forward. Choose to gently move toward what scares you. You’ll discover that the capacity to be delighted and diverted – and the ability to put yourself at the mercy of the moment – is what lets life sing through you. Are you willing to ache with it all?

5. Practice cognitive receptivity. According to Dr. Susan Nash, this is a state of mental preparedness. It is a combination of cognitive readiness – the learner’s levels of development – and of psychological openness – how the learner views the environment.

For example, Keith Richards sleeps with his guitar. Has since the sixties. According to his autobiography, he wants his instrument to be readily available to him. That way, he’s prepared to harvest inspiration when it wakes him up in the middle of the night.

Take the song, Satisfaction. The main riff was something Richards sang to himself in a dream. But instead of rolling over, he woke up, wrote it down, called his friend Mick and made history.

Your challenge is to organize your creative impulse into a systematic approach that fertilizes your mindfield. A unique process turns anywhere into a starting place. That’s the prerequisite of originality: Being a better parent to your brainchildren.

Without that kind of preparing and receptivity, it’s extremely hard to absorb the whispered suggestions life sends to you. Is your brain ready?

6. Welcome the unusual. Aussie novelist and playwright Morris West is famous for the following observation: “One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing.”

To incorporate this practice into your thought life – not just your life, but your thought life – try this: Experience something that completely takes you out of who you are. Be an mental omnivore. Cease never from exploration. View things from as many angles as possible by engaging every sense and fully taking in ideas with their whole being.

By broadening and sharpening your sensitivity to alternative types of aesthetic value, you’ll make yourself available to new types of inspiration you would have otherwise missed. Remember: When you look with all of your eyes, love cannot be far behind. Good ideas are waiting. Are you willing to let them sneak up on you?

7. Embrace the virtue of volume. The amount of ideas I have swirling around in my head – at any given moment – would frighten the average person. As such, inspiration is unavoidable by virtue of my enormous input and constant stream of stimulation.

It’s simply a matter of probability. You don’t write seven hours a day and read five books a week without getting a few ideas. And the best part is: It doesn’t require a heavy workload or significant stressful activity to accomplish this.

Creativity is a highly relaxed, incremental process. And if you want to get there, here’s my suggestion: Start your idea factory. Practice freezing what happens to you, extracting the inspiration from your life and documenting your experience along with your reactions to that experience.

Soon, inspiration will form a line around the block just to get five minutes of your time. If you deleted one hour of television from your life, how would your creative volume change?

REMEMBER: A life without inspiration is existentially dangerous.

Court it. Woo it. Pay homage to it respectfully and lovingly.

Who knows? Maybe you won’t even need that boombox after all.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How many ideas did you execute yesterday?

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* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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