We often use the word “inspiration” to indicate that some superhuman or divine spirit has given us a great idea. But even if you are not spiritually inclined: when we are inspired, we feel like our mind and our heart are synchronised. They strive to achieve the same end and are moving together in a harmonious flow. When we are inspired, we are reminded of who we really are and what we really are to do.
This is a very nice ideal, of course, but in reality we have often drifted away from this state of being. Our minds and our hearts do not speak with one voice. Especially as scientists we tend to focus on doing what is rational. With an eye to growing our careers we make sure we choose prudently where to publish, with whom, which conferences to attend, etc. We are keen on underpinning our actions, conclusions and decisions with sound arguments and clear evidence. This way we try to rationally maximize our chances to securing that next grant, that next position. And we largely ignore the voice of our hearts.
Moreover, we live and work in a social environment where a deep passion for research is taken for granted. Where it is taboo to admit that, maybe, your heart is no longer fully into it. You might even find it scary to contemplate the idea that you might no longer honestly love your academic work. Or you have convinced yourself that you are following your heart while you are actually confusedly taking the voice of your mind for that of your heart, and all the while you wonder where you will find fullfillment in your work.
Many academics reach a point in their careers where they can no longer move around their disappointment. You hit a seemingly dead end and suddenly realize that you have forgotten what real inspiration feels like. You just missed out on that top funding. You did not get that permanent job after multiple postdoc positions. You were passed over for that promotion to associate professor. Or you have made it to ‘the top’ but everything has become a repetitive, sort of dull grey routine.
The way back
Because we have drifted off, we need to take two steps in order to live an inspired life and to work with inspiration:
- Return to ourselves, i.e. accept who we really are so we can align our hearts and minds with that.
- Live in full connection with this deepest self and express it in our work.
When we feel inspired, we are invited to walk the second path in life. Expressing who we are in the world. Creating.
When you have ignored your inspiration for a long time — as researchers who have reached a dead end in their academic careers are likely to have — reconnecting to your heart can come as a surprise. When considering the unexpected new options that come with this heartful perspective, understandably some tend to swing radically to the other side of the balance. They have ignored their hearts so thoroughly, that they now risk thoroughly ignoring their rational minds. This happens for instance when the biomedical researcher is trying to escape her desparate working situation by dreaming of opening a bakery and an anthropologist of establishing an exotic B&B in a faraway country. I am not saying all dreaming is bad, but it is if you are just fantasizing to avoid facing your situation. If positive dreams tug at your heart and you want to stand a chance to realize your dreams in a succesful enterprise or a career move, you need to keep your rational mind on board. Besides, most of us have additional responsibilities in our lives, such as raising children or caring for elderly parents. So we cannot afford to ignore prudent rationality.
Balance heart and mind
What should you do if you want to bring more inspiration into you life as an academic? Stop ignoring the voice of your heart. But simultaneously do not do away with that wonderfully developed mind of yours either! Rather, focus your attention on that part in yourself that feels inspired. Keep focussing on that feeling untill it grows — after all, everything to which you pay attention grows. What if there were more inspiration inside you? What would that feel like? Keep focussing, keep growing. Now that you have connected with this feeling of inspiration inside, transfer this to the outer world. Pick something you can do at this moment, however small, that relates to this inspiration. This is the first step onto your new life path in which your mind and heart are in sync.
What is your first step? Email it to me and I will celebrate with you!
(Inspiration for this article from De Emotie Encyclopedie by Vera Helleman.)