Inspiration or Not, Keep Showing Up
The weight in my eyelids was a little more than I wanted to lift this morning. There was a tangible lethargy in both body and mind, a sluggishness that was persuading me to roll over and keep dreaming. Do I surrender to the warmth and comfort of another hour of sleep, or do I fight like hell against my psychological inertia, and pay my dues to the creative muse who only shows up when I do?
This is an internal debate that's been going on as long as human beings have walked the planet. As I negotiated with myself under my comforter, I remembered Marcus Aurelius, a stoic Roman philosopher born 1,899 years ago, writing about the same malaise of not wanting to give up the coziness of being in bed and confronting the world:
"At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
I felt amused at the thought of a Roman Emperor struggling with the same inner war between his drive for fulfilling a higher purpose, and wanting to snuggle up for just a little bit longer. The amusement wasn't enough to push through my fatigue and produce a laugh, but it was enough to get my ass out of bed and just start the day.
I never really want to do my morning routine where I meditate, stretch, or take a cold shower as soon as I wake up, but I know how much better I do if I just show up and do it.
Robin Sharma said "the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master" - I show up in the morning to remind it who's boss by meditating. I'll give it space to have its say, express its concerns, and tell me what it thinks we should be doing. I'll listen patiently, and promise to take care of all of its concerns, if for now, it can simply sit with me and watch me breathe. After all, it's only trying to help - but it can get a little carried away.
I never want to show up for my mobility stretches or cold shower either.
My body always aches from the previous day's training, so stretching and flowing through mobility exercises and yoga postures usually isn't the zen, relaxing activity it's made out to be. It's a painful challenge of presence, taking every ounce of willpower to not grimace and groan as I dust off the achy cobwebs in my joints. But if I don't show up, those cobwebs harden to concrete, and every movement will cease to flow with ease and fluidity.
When I'm standing in the shower and have to go from hot, steamy, and cozy to icy, shivering, hyperventilation-inducing waters, I relive the same mental block that I had when I was trying to get out from under the blankets and into the unprotected cold air of my bedroom.
But when I finally calm down enough to control my breathing, and feel the shuddering sting of cold water seeping deep into my tissues, I get a feeling of aliveness and alertness that's otherwise inaccessible if I surrender to the seducing siren call of comfort.
While each of these practices have health benefits on their own, I do them more for the practice of just showing up when I don't want to, and experientially reinforcing that delayed gratification in the face of temporary pain is a good thing.
This practice has helped me show up for my practice of writing every day, even (especially) when I don't have the inspiration or motivation to do so. It's a practice of just showing up. The biggest mental block to overcome is the idea or belief that you need inspiration or motivation in order to be creative - but as I said before, the muse only shows up when you do.
This morning, I had NO IDEA what I was going to write about. I agonized about it as I meditated, creating stories about how much I had to manage with my other responsibilities, and tried to permit myself to forgo my daily discipline of hammering out meaningful written content.
But because I'm in the habit of simply showing up, I said "fuck that", opened my computer, and just blasted it out. The momentum created by writing daily for even just the last 10 days allowed me to quickly get into a zone of focused attention and intention, and I soon found myself in a flow state producing an article whose inspiration seemed to come out of thin air.
More often than not, we'll be waiting for motivation, perfect conditions, lack of other responsibilities, a lightening strike of inspiration, or some other magical, unpredictable force totally outside of our control to stir us into action. If we rely on these ephemeral factors, we'll never be able to produce the consistency and momentum that drives us into the flow state where magic happens.
When we're in the practice of just showing up, we end up being surprised at how much motivation, inspiration, and prolific creativity shows up, too. We surprise ourselves because we create and produce in spite of our stories that say we can't.
And when that creativity builds more and more momentum, starts to snowball more and more, it becomes unstoppable - it will break through all your bullshit mental barriers, because you're in the habit of doing that shit anyways.
What are you going to show up for today?
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