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Creative Inspiration

by Vivienne Silver-Leigh(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 84 - January 2003

After swimming 20 lengths this morning, my endorphins buzzed and I came out of the water feeling virtuous and energetic. I always find swimming transforms negative feelings into positive ones, proving the well known point that exercise has a beneficial effect on body and mind.

Relaxing and reading the paper afterwards, this headline caught my eye. "Swimmer will make history by racing in both streams – Natalie Du Toit, 18, South African swimming athlete, will be the first person to compete in both able-bodied and disabled events" (in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester). Last year she was in a road accident when riding her motor scooter, and she lost half a leg.

Some people might have been sorry for themselves, but she went back to serious training for competitive swimming. She intends to go on competing at the highest levels, against the able bodied as well as the disabled. I found myself moved by this story, by the spirit in Natalie. I suppose it might get called other names – courage, bravery or determination. Later I enjoyed watching her on TV, successfully gaining gold medals.

I am inspired by people who keep on working, producing books or paintings until an advanced age, acting or conducting orchestras because they need to feed their inner spirit by the actual process of working. Leo McKern, who died recently, still acting well into his eighties, became well known for his part as the Barrister, in Rumpole of the Bailey. He had lost an eye in an accident as a young man, but did not let it stop him from becoming a successful actor. It could not have been easy, and he showed great determination of spirit.

Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, inspired many by her determined attitude to life. She wrote: "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." It is often difficult to see that there is a positive side to a bad situation. With a leg in plaster, a broken ankle, and unable to move, a very active friend of mine was forced to rest, but it gave her time to rethink her values and what she wanted out of life, which was the plus side of an irritating time.

You may have seen Kirsty Howard, the little girl who is terminally ill, and who has raised millions for her Children's Hospice. Walking hand in hand with David Beckham, she seemed like a tiny smiling angel, and moved many people, inspiring them to give generously to her cause. With a heart that is back to front, she seems to be inspiration on two little legs.

Not only people, but also books, poetry, art, architecture or music may inspire us. Years ago, when I first saw the paintings of the French impressionists, I was quite bowled over by the colours and the dreamy quality. The talent of one generation inspires the next.

The word inspiration also means inhaling, breathing in, which gives us life. A person is dead, lacks spirit, when they cease to breathe.

We talk about being dispirited, when we are unhappy, or not knowing what to do and then our breathing pattern mirrors this, becoming shallow and weak. The diaphragm, in the lower abdomen holds the key to stronger breathing, and breathing strongly in this area energizes the body as well as the thoughts and feelings. Deepak Chopra writes: "Breath is the movement of spirit in its subtlest physical expression. When you breathe gently and slowly, the body relaxes, the mind finds its still centre, and the stage is set for inspiration – the flowing in of spirit."

Breathworkers, yoga teachers, rebirthers and meditation teachers encourage conscious breathing, which is one of the ways to produce calm and creative thinking. All you need is a cushion to sit on, and a lighted candle helps to create the right atmosphere. The reduction in anxiety and stress is worth the discipline of the practice, because the resulting calm and focus allows the space for inspirational ideas

You can experience this kind of soothing silence in empty churches and cathedrals, or on a quiet retreat. The Good Retreat Guide lists monasteries, convents, Buddhist and Yoga centres, in the UK, France and Spain where you can take time out from daily life, with or without a retreat guide or a programme. Climbing mountains or walking alone in beauty spots is another way to get that renewed spark.

The author of The Artists Way, suggests writing a journal, three pages first thing in the morning to start up our creative juices. A second recommendation is that we take ourselves out at least once a week, on an Artists' date, to parks, exhibitions, concerts, to get inspiration. It is challenging for us to find our creative inspiration in the frantic world of mobile phones, e-mails and negative news bulletins. The stress levels build up, which for most people means they are too worried to feel inspired.

I can recommend the wonderful new Wetlands Wildlife Centre, in Barnes, for a calm oasis in the middle of London. The Wetlands are the inspiration of the great bird painter and naturalist, Sir Peter Scott. You can see a large bronze statue of him at the entrance, where people stop and marvel at the talent of this painter and naturalist, and the influence he has had on a new generation of conservationists.

When I think back over my life, and look at what has inspired me, I think of many people, whose enthusiasm and belief in what they were doing brushed off on me.

Further Reading

Cameron J. The Artists Way. Pan Books. 1993.
Whittaker Stafford. The Good Retreat Guide. Rider. 2001.
Rosenberg Larry with Guy David. Breath by Breath. Shambala. 1998.
Chopra Deepak. The Deeper Wound. Rider. 2001.


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About Vivienne Silver-Leigh

Vivienne Silver-Leigh had a career first as a speech therapist, and then became a lecturer in English and counselling. She trained counsellors for five years, and now has a private practice, working as a psychotherapist, from a humanistic/integrative perspective. Following a strong interest in spirituality, she learned yoga and various forms of breathwork and meditation. She can be contacted on e-mail:

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