Inspiration? So far I hadn’t given much thought to the meaning of the word. I tick … somehow, as we all do. Some mornings when I get up I feel happy on others not so much. Encounters and experiences that follow determine how the day ends. So far so good.
And suddenly there is this one question that compels me to think a little deeper: Who or what in my home country Namibia inspires me?
Is it that spectacular sunset or the rain that brings hope? The fascinating landscape with its vast dune fields, swept up by south-westerly winds from myriads of sand grains? Or the patch of paradise called the Zambezi Region? All of this contributes to my sense of well-being – but is it what inspired me?
According to Wikipedia, the Latin word ‘inspirare’ means ‘to breathe into’. It refers to a spontaneous burst of artistic creativity. Thus an undefined inspiration, which had a profound effect on my individual life style and still has?
The screen of my laptop stays blank for a long time. That question has my full attention now. The answer keeps eluding me because I am searching for the real spark. What was it that affected me so deeply that today I lead the life I want?
Then I remember.
A sunny day came to its end. Nature had shown itself from its most beautiful side. The sun dipped into the sea in a display of fiery red. I still stood and watched when only the glow remained and in my mind I saw a new day dawn on the other side of the ocean.
I looked around. Such a beautiful country we live in … if only people stopped littering.
My rising anger briefly subsided when my phone rang. A good friend asked how I was.
‘Gosh, what a great day we had today’, I gushed, ‘but you wouldn’t believe that garbage left behind.’
‘Tell me, do you actually hear what you are saying?’ he interrupted me.
I was taken by surprise. What did he mean?
‘You started on a very positive note, followed by ‘but’ and thereby deprecating it, criticizing everything you’ve experienced today. That negates the positive start and leaves everything after that with a negative flavour’, he breathed into me.
His words kept turning in my mind. My first thought: How can you stay positive if the day is full of corruption, discrimination, racial conflicts, crime, mismanagement and other garbage? On top of that the media and social networks are fuelling those impressions. Everybody somehow is ‘angry’ and makes his worries, fears and anger publicly known. We are sitting on a powder keg with a very short fuse!
My second thought: In a country like Namibia, with its diverse culture and the resulting different ways of intellect and living, ‘positive thinking’ sounds almost impossible.
‘Reality is what it is,’ he said. It would be up to me how I perceive it and pass it on. If you change your mind-set, your surroundings will change too.
I got the picture. I had to leave this beaten track very quickly if I didn’t want to end up being a notorious grumbler.
Research that evening taught me that our brain filters every assumption and expectation. ‘If we fear criminality, we latch onto all the related information in the media. If we fear illness, we will pick out the medical stories’, I read. The brain deals with the problems and dismisses the good. As a result of programming we now tend to see only the potential dangers and rarely the positive opportunities.
I was pleased to learn that this also works the other way round. ‘Positive expectations make us prefer positive things. The prerequisite, however, is a deliberate decision to adopt a positive attitude, exercise mental discipline or general well-being.’
I firmly resolved to avoid the word ‘but’ as much as possible, to ban the negative baggage from my mind and to accept a situation as it is. My friend’s words had become my source of inspiration.
The next day my ‘therapy’ began. With a smile on my face, I was on my way. According to science, smiling and pure beauty recognised by the brain boost the production the happiness hormone dopamine. I could really do with that on my journey to self-discovery. Grinning like a Cheshire cat I walked along and suddenly reaped a puzzled but friendly ‘hello, how’s it going’ from early risers, joggers, walkers and even learners. My body straightened all by itself. Charismatically and confidently, I now greeted all those who came my way.
Can a simple smile really have such an effect?
I continued my research: ‘In general, it is important to remember that our brain does not make a difference between reacting to an idea or a perception. The idea of losing something hurts similar to a real loss. The notion of suffering already makes us suffer. On the other hand, we feel good when we think about a pleasant holiday experience, even though we are not there or have not been yet.’
And: ‘frequencies in our brain triggered by emotions intensify. Anxiety or happiness is reinforced if other people feel the same. We infect one another with our feelings.’
I now tick in a more affirmative way. Instead of feeling offended, I accepted my friend’s observation. This boost of motivation could have taken place anywhere in the world, but since I live in the country that calls itself ‘the smile on the face of Africa’ I want to contribute that it stays that way.
As in sports, it needs lots of practice to master the art of making the best of all situations. (Occasionally my weaker self announces not sport needed, I honestly admit.)
Now I’m off … for some training … giving my countrymen a smile … and to pick up some garbage on my way …
To be continued …