“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” — Pablo Picasso
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The word inspiration is derived from words meaning to breathe in divine influence—to excite and guide reason into your soul—and today it generally refers to the process of being mentally stimulated with ideas that are brilliant, creative, or timely.
Without inspiration, you lack the creative capacity to motivate engagement, preventing you from moving forward. And yet, when you are inspired, you empower yourself with dreams and goals, fueling your motivation to continue moving forward.
The question becomes, what inspires you? And what are you doing today to stay inspired?
Experience abiding joy by mindfully transitioning through change. Questions or comments? Email us at email@example.com to discuss your challenges, goals, and obstacles.
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A Reason to Keep Looking Up
Most birds nest and sing from the trees, but larks aren’t like most birds—they nest on the ground and sing from the sky—inspiring poet William Wordsworth to muse:
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
With clouds and sky about thee ringing,
Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seems so to thy mind!
This verse suggests a longing to be inspired by that same force compelling the lark to sing among the clouds, and perhaps, if we allow it, we can also be so inspired by the song of the lark: For though they sing among the clouds, they also return to their nest.
High-flying, yet grounded.
The Portrait of a Song
He had already been painting for ten years when he realized he had gone the wrong way.
The French artist was no longer inspired by the historical scenes he had been painting, so he sought inspiration—and found it when he returned to the rural French countryside nest where he grew up.
In 1853, after spending a year workshopping a new approach to his craft, Jules Breton unveiled a series of paintings portraying idyllic imagery of rustic peasant life—a style that brought him fame and fortune during his lifetime.
Even 28 years after his death, in 1934, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt hailed one of his paintings as the “most beloved work of art in America.”
The painting portrays a young woman standing alone in a field, sickle in hand, against a rising sun; her gaze looking up, transfixed by something in the air.
In the book Stories Pictures Tell, Flora Carpenter reveals that Breton was inspired to paint this scene after hearing the song of a lark, and only finding it by tracing the gaze of a peasant girl working in a nearby field.
The Song of the Lark points to the power of inspiration and its potential influence on our lives, if we allow it.
Paul Jones, associate director of communications at the Art Institute of Chicago (where the iconic painting is on display), remarks that “It isn’t the portrait of a bird. It’s the portrait of a song presented in stillness, color, and silence.”
The young woman stands in wonder, as if pleading with the lark: “Lift me, guide me till I find / That spot which seems so to thy mind!”
A Joy Divine in that Song of Thine
In his book The Monuments Men, the author Robert M. Edsel suggests that the secret to any endeavor is “to be a careful, knowledgeable, and efficient observer of the world, and to act in accordance with what you saw.” In other words, to act well we must first be inspired, stimulated by ideas both creative and timely—and if we remain open, it may be as simple as hearing the song of a lark.
It’s not really about the lark, though; but what the lark is pointing to—what it inspires.
The peasant understood this—looking up to follow the call. The painter also understood—and by following found fame and fortune. And the poet too understood—reminding us why we need such inspiration:
I have walked through wildernesses dreary
And to-day my heart is weary;
Had I now the wings of a Faery,
Up to thee would I fly.
There is madness about thee, and joy divine
In that song of thine;
Lift me, guide me high and high
To thy banqueting-place in the sky.
The Sun’s Coming Up
Meanwhile, in 1973, a young actor in Chicago had been walking for hours when he realized he had gone the wrong way—not just in terms of the direction of where he lived, but also in the desire to stay alive.
Bill had just started his career and, by his own admission, wasn’t very good, so when his first experience on stage ended poorly, he simply left the theater and headed for the lake—so he could “float for a while” after he was dead.
But after heading north up Michigan Avenue, he found himself in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and, with nothing left to do but die, he figured he’d stop in for a look around, where he found his gaze looking up, transfixed by something on the wall.
It wasn’t a lark—because it’s not the portrait of a bird. Rather it was The Song of the Lark--“the portrait of a song presented in stillness, color, and silence.”
Bill stood in wonder, willing to see what the young woman could see, hear what she could hear, and breathe in what inspired the bird to sing its song. “Lift me, guide me till I find / That spot which seems so to thy mind!”
41 years later, in an interview promoting his role in the movie The Monuments Men, Bill Murray shared what this moment meant for him:
“I saw it that day and I thought, 'Well there's a girl who doesn't have a whole lot of prospects, but the sun's coming up anyway, and she's got another chance at it. So I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I too am a person and I get another chance every day the sun comes up.”
Keep Looking Up
When walking through the wilderness so dreary with a heart so weary, it may be tempting to simply lay down and give up; but even in the darkest of times we can find inspiration to continue looking up—so long as we remain open and engaged observers of the world with fascination, curiosity, and wonder.
Or as the poet would say:
Alas! my journey, rugged and uneven,
Through prickly moors or dusty ways must wind;
But hearing thee, or others of thy kind,
As full of gladness and as free of heaven,
I, with my fate contented, will plod on,
And hope for higher raptures, when life's day is done.
If we allow it, perhaps we too can be so inspired by the song of the lark: For though they sing among the clouds, they also return to their nest.
High-flying, yet grounded.
What inspires you? What’s your lark? What gives you reason to keep looking up?
Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.