Breathing in Spirit: How to Recognize and Cultivate Inspiration
If intuition is a subconscious rendering of insight born of innate intelligence, inspiration is a superconscious opening to infinite intelligence. Whereas the former is grounded in cellular consciousness (our primal gut instinct), the latter is an expression of universal consciousness.
Being connected to a universal stream of consciousness may sound as unattainable as it is mystical, but to do so is an inherent feature of a broader spiritual reality we all share. From pre-civilized shamanic peoples to modern spiritual traditions, the same theme has echoed across millennia—we are not human beings having spiritual experiences but spiritual beings having human experiences.
Acknowledging a spiritual dimension to existence is not perquisite to experiencing inspiration but is helpful to cultivate it. (After all, you rarely find what you are not looking for.) Sometimes insights smack into our oblivious consciousness as an act of divine grace, but more often they percolate to the surface during periods of introspection.
Therein lies the key to cultivating inspiration, calming the mind of ordinary thought long enough for extraordinary insight to arise. The difference between intuition and inspiration is this: Intuition arrives as a polished flash of insight, while inspiration is accompanied by a deep emotional charge. Intuition comes as a knowing; inspiration is a knowing combined with a feeling, be it peace, wonder, or a sense of rightness. Sometimes that feeling is so powerful that it becomes a preoccupation. Consider the artist or inventor whose imagination becomes laser focused with a new inspiration, shirking sleeping and eating until that vision has been preserved.
The root of inspiration is “inspire,” and this gives us a clue as to how a spiritual insight becomes embodied. In traditional Chinese medicine, the concept of qi (often translated as vital energy) literally means “breath” or “air.” This has several implications. One way to bring energy into the body is through the physical act of respiration, but we also “breathe in” spiritual insight.
Traditional Chinese medicine has long upheld that humans are amalgamations of heaven and earth. We combine yang energy (spirit) from above with yin energy (body) from below to form an existence that interfaces between the two worlds. As the qi of heaven is metaphorically represented as air, we breathe in spiritual insight throughout life.
We can also collectively channel inspiration into human consciousness. Whether via group prayer or a think tank, when we conspire (etymologically, to co-inspire, meaning breathe together) we create a flow of energy toward a shared goal. What we conceive as brainstorming is often a tapping into universal consciousness to derive unique insight. Assuredly this is so when that insight has an emotionally uplifting vibe that permeates the group.
Eureka moments punctuate life, but the quality of everyday inspiration is an insight that feels right. As a clinician, I aim to predispose inspiration within a therapeutic relationship. A problem that clinicians and patients alike face is not knowing what you don’t know. A detailed case history may fill chart notes with relevant information about how and when an illness develops but may not elucidate the why. As Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Sometimes we need an ethereal perspective to derive the proper course of action. It is a beautiful moment to behold when the clinician reflects upon a patient’s story and an “aha” moment alights upon both faces. I’ll never forget one such moment.
A patient presented with acute sciatica, a shooting nerve pain from the hip down to the leg. When asked what was happening around the time the problem started, the patient responded that she was preparing to attend a family gathering. I notated this and later in the intake inquired about general stresses in the patient’s life. She commented on a falling out with her father a few months prior. I set this piece of information aside until later when a flash of insight bolted into my consciousness like lightning.
I asked if this family gathering would be the first time seeing her father since the falling out. Her demeanor shifted as the lightning bolt struck her next, as indeed this would be their first reunion. I elaborated on the psychospiritual metaphor of the sciatica. She was attending the gathering due to a sense of family obligation, but her body was literally trying to prevent her from walking toward this man.
This association may be coincidence, but consider the course of resolution for this patient’s condition. She responded favorably to acupuncture with a marked reduction in pain, but the problem did not resolve until she healed her relationship with her father. One day she came to her appointment without pain, describing with great emotion the forgiveness that occurred between them.
When I saw this patient in the future, she reported that her sciatica never returned. I can’t take credit for that, save for being a mirror of the patient’s experience and conveying an inspiration for the root cause of her discomfort. This intuition wasn’t subconsciously assembled from pattern recognition; it was an inspiration about a causality that I could not rationally know.
Whether deep in meditation or out for a long walk, inspiration can arise when one is not expecting it or by rallying spiritual forces to predispose it. The key is to first realize the possibility and open oneself to experiencing it. Then, when an insight occurs, notice how you feel as much as what you are thinking. Does the insight bring with it a feeling of inner peace or rightness that resonates with every fiber of your being? If so, make the most of the opportunity and act upon that inspiration to bring your spiritual insight into existence.