In my senior year of high school, I drank the juice of inspiration, and all of a sudden everything in the world started to matter. I used to think inspiration could be found anywhere, but I learned there are indeed bad books, pointless movies, and invites worth turning down. These comprise the “cold zone.” They take energy from you, as compared with the “hot zone” people and activities that you leave with more energy. Our task is to fine tune our spiritual antennae to detect the hot zones that charge us.
Our end goal is not to be perfectly rested or on an artificial high. The goal of the inspiration addict is that we can do good works, pour out positive energy, and give inspiration wherever we go. Just as we need food to keep our bodies going, we need inspiration-“food” to keep our souls burning.
With fake inspiration, we run between counselors, movies, books, and houses of worship without ever feeling spiritually satiated. But with deep human inspiration that truly touches and changes us, we leave the experience overflowing. Personally, I tend to be very inspired by deeply human stories—those who overcome obstacles, those who commit their lives to serving others, the limits of human possibility, self-transformation, love, etc. Most recently I have been inspired by Margarita, the leader of a movement to support the poor in rural Argentinean villages. As an inspiration junkie, I found myself writing down every word she shared about how she would work for the re-distribution of wealth. My notepad again was full of scribbles when I recently went to hear the young talented writer Jonathan Safran Foer describe his reasons to write a new haggadah to reconnect with his Jewish roots.
Our bodies instinctively transfer food into energy. But we must learn how to intentionally transfer inspiration into energy. Otherwise, it remains entertainment and not inspiration-food that we pass along and truly live by. The art of living inspired is to learn how to keep our inspiration tank full enough that we do not burn out, yet outpouring enough that we live with the holy fire.
I would identify three primary types of inspiration: moment-inspiration, encounter-inspiration, and soul-inspiration. In moment-inspiration, given the conditions of one’s life at the moment, one is uniquely able to understand a truth more deeply. In encounter-inspiration, one experiences an event that is transformative. In soul-inspiration, the most powerful, one does not need a particular moment or experience to have a deep inspirational moment. Rather, it is self cultivated. One gains the tools to provide self-discovery and self motivation without external stimuli.
At one time, the Jews relied upon G-d for inspiration. The prophets would be filled with ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) and the ability to understand higher truths. But the rabbis teach that this type of inspiration ended with the deaths of Chagai, Zechariah, and Malachi (Sanhedrin 11a). The root of inspiration is spirit, since it is a spiritual process that also has a respiratory connection. G-d breathed the first breath into man to provide the capacity for inspiration, one that is deeply internal. Today, we must take it upon ourselves to open our hearts and allow ourselves to be inspired each and every day by infinite possibility.
When you find environments and people that inspire you, hold them close! Also, we can learn to generate our own inspiration wherever we are if we cultivate the right life lens. When you find that you just cannot get enough, you will know that you have become an inspiration junkie!
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Director of Jewish Life & the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available on Amazon.