Last night at Chris Kopka’s birthday party, we sat at a table set for nine and partook of delicious food prepared by local chef Patrick Weber. Patrick made blueberry pie, which was perfect and even more beautiful than the one pictured above. My mouth is watering as I write this.

This meal was Chris’ gift to us. And our gift to Chris? He asked us to share what inspires us. And so we did. He eventually had to kick us out because we found so much to say.

Which reminded me of all of the thinking and writing I have done recently on the subject of inspiration.

Since some of you may not have followed the link to my guest post on Gina Sekelsky’s Rich Inner Life blog a few weeks ago, I thought I would repost it here. Gina had selected five women to share on the same topic–What inspires you?–and the resulting collection of reflections was interesting and profound. Click here if you want to read the unique contributions of Gisele, Chel, Amelia and Melissa.

And here’s mine:

What inspires me?

Oh…I could write for days and days on this topic.

So, so many beautiful things. Actually, I seem to find more things inspiring these days than not. Maybe this is because my focus has shifted so dramatically over the last few years. Because I am doggedly surrounding myself with things that bring me great joy.

Here are just a few things that light my fire:

Beautiful photos paired with insightful words…I love to put the two together such that the sum becomes much more powerful than either of its parts. Just like this one:

Guest House by Rumi

My garden…its strength, surprises, passion for growth, and for forcing me to let go.

The unique gifts and ideas of the people I meet. I love to bask in other people’s creativity…their vision boards, entrepreneurial ideas, websites, blogs, art, poetry, prayers, products, and Etsy pages.

The women I know. Their depth and passion, resilience and unique beauty.

Boldness. Authenticity. Compassion. Hope. Gratitude. Silence. Audacity. Love. Generosity. God. Much more.

And here is what I believe about inspiration. This, the start of my own creative manifesto.

1. Everyone is an artist.

Our definition of artistry is far too narrow. My mother-in-law Jane is an incredibly artistic person, yet she has said on several occasions that she is “not creative.” Huh? This amazing woman designs tile mosaics, does stained glass, sews without a pattern, knits, quilts… When exactly did we start believing that only painters were actually artists? Anything, and I mean anything, can be artistic. Start referring to yourself as an artist and you will be surprised at what emerges. This belief was affirmed to me by a wonderful book Naomi Wolf wrote about her father, Leonard. The Treehouse is not only a tribute to her father; it’s a treatise on creativity. I highly recommend it if you are interested in this topic:

“I have met so many people who are artists in some way but do not realize it (Leonard believes that everyone is an artist); or who, even if they are struggling to do creative work, feel erased as artists by a culture that picks losers and winners on a commercial basis and gives the rest the message that their creative vision does not count.”

2. It’s all a gift.

Life is both incredibly sad and insanely beautiful. When you recognize that all of it is a gift, your creativity will soar. As Rumi’s “The Guest House” (pictured above) has inspired me to ask: What has violently swept into your house like a crowd of sorrows? Or arrived as an unexpected joy? Have you found it within yourself to welcome them all?
 At least eventually? Like me? I couldn’t see it before. But now I can.
 I once was blind, but now I see. It’s all a gift.

Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. – Epicurus

When I reflect on how much I really, truly enjoy, rather than how much I have, I experience the deep abundance of my life.  It is all a gift.

3. Creating is a spiritual act. It’s a reflection of God in each of us.

We are divinely intended to create. To add beauty to this world in our own unique way. There is something unique for you to share, so don’t hide it. Be bold and audacious, even more so as you age. Know that you have a legacy to live into, because you do.

4. Work can be play.

One of the greatest joys I have discovered over the years has been finding work that is so satisfying to me personally, and is such a good fit with my natural skills and interests, that it feels more like play than work. This has been one of the major sources of increasing happiness in my life. And I wish it for everyone.

5. “Percolating” is an essential part of the creative process.

I have learned that when it comes to focus and inspiration, it is not particularly helpful to force things to go according to a prescribed timetable (though obviously sometimes I don’t have another option.) I can pay attention and absorb what’s happening around me, but the actual inspiration is out of my control. I have to trust that it will arrive when it’s ready. In the realm of creative pursuits especially--this percolating time is an essential aspect of the process. Not usually billable, but necessary nevertheless. And if we anticipate this, we can temper some of the anguish we feel while waiting for inspiration to strike.

6. Perfectionism will strangle creativity.

I am a recovering perfectionist.  One of my former bosses and dearest friends used to remind me that :“The ideal is the enemy of the good.” I needed this reminder that sometimes it is necessary to just do something, as opposed to attempting to do something perfectly. Anne Lamott wrote that “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” Since I have let go of the ideal, I have done much more good in the world.

What have you been putting off in hopes of a more perfect day, more perfect circumstance, more perfect you? Maybe today’s the day to be bold. To begin it. Whatever “it” is.

7. Authenticity is energizing and powerful. It is fuel for your creative self.

I have found that being fully authentic, living an “undivided life” (read or listen to Parker Palmer for more brilliance on that topic) is for me, essential to being creative. If I don’t expend energy trying to hide myself, I can practice being unafraid, bold, courageous, forthright, and true. I can hold my head high even when other people don’t understand. I can put my energy into creating beauty and offering compassion.

And, I have seen that laying myself bare sometimes gives others the courage to do the same. Exposing your true self allows you to unleash your creativity in new and powerful ways.

8.  Surround yourself with what is life giving to you.

This is similar to what Gisele’s daughter said about being an artist. As I have become more aware of what gives me authentic joy and energy, I have made more room for those things and those people. A natural result has been that there is less room for negativity and sadness. The irony is that there is also more space for generosity and more energy to care for others, as well as more creative activity. Though I was trying to do these things before, I was doing it from such a place of scarcity that it was not joyful for me, nor for the people I loved.

So, now I go out of my way to schedule time and make space for people and experiences that will encourage me to develop my spirit, give and receive love, and affirm a more balanced approach to my life: Friendship, family, faith, art, beauty, community, health, generosity, meaningful work, caring, authenticity…these and more deserve my focus.

Soon, there’ll be no room here for anything else. (No vacancies!) And I’m grateful.

9. Inspiration can be found everywhere, if only you look for it. Pay attention to the signs and symbols pointing you in your intended direction.  Today I was driving to Home Depot and some native grasses blowing in the breeze took on an ethereal quality. The stems looked like graceful, unencumbered dancers. It made me want to paint, which I haven’t done for years. To have the capacity to notice and absorb this glimpse of beauty in the course of a mundane, urban errand…how blessed am I?

Now here is a wish and a prayer that I extend to you, in the words of the Dangerous Old Woman herself, Clarissa Pinkola Estés:

I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.

Now, won’t you tell me, what inspires you?