False dichotomies routinely emerge in my head and I must regularly challenge them. The latest one is inspiration vs. structure. I’m inspired by the concept of inspiration—of taking inspired action by following the trail of what’s hot, what I have real energy for, and seeing what new inspiration results. This is largely what I mean by living a faith-filled life. As an experiment, I’ve started to loosen my grip on some structures (such as daily planning) that have previously worked well for me. This has been a good move, but now I’m ready to revisit it. What happens when I have a promise that I’ve made but that I’m not particularly inspired to act on? Do I keep putting it off? What if my target date is here (or even past)? How do I make sense of this? Do I let go of the concept of a faith-filled life? Do I “balance it out” using equal parts faith and nose-to-the-grindstone discipline?
When I try to figure something out like this using just my mind, I often get confused. So last night, I took to my bed with these questions: What’s the relationship between freedom and structure? What’s important about staying true to my word? I said this like a prayer, asking for insight. Then I went to sleep. (By the way, I recommend this. And you can double your insights if you take a daily nap!) Here’s what emerged for me this morning.
There is always structure. Moreover, your mind is always what provides it. There’s no ultimate distinction between external circumstances and internal commitments since your mind mediates and interprets both.
Staying true to promises to yourself is equally important to staying true to promises made to others. Both represent living in harmony and humility—in right relationship to the whole of which you’re a part and to the parts of which you’re a whole. Part of you may not find doing your taxes intrinsically inspiring. But all parts of you value peace. Try this affirmation on for size: “I live in harmony with every part of Myself (whether internal or external).” Every yield and adjustment promotes flexibility and subsequent ease, and is in the service of God. How so? By paving the way for and making space for inspiration.
Think of John the Baptist who “prepared the way for the Lord.” He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” You die to your false self and live to your True Self when you take on tasks that clear the decks and promote peace. Do you think John the Baptist was inspired by eating locusts? No, he was inspired by the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” His acts and his message paved the way for inspiration. Thus he submitted to structure and the intentional re-working of structure. “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” That sounds like a lot of work! Yes, but it was all connected for John. He was inspired—by the vision of what was coming.
So how do we apply this in practice? Certainly not by moralistic self-judgment. Rather, we use the ingenuity of our own minds to honestly ask ourselves some questions. Will doing this bring me more peace? Will it make me more or less receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? What will be the resulting structure? (Remember: there’s always structure.) Will it be more spacious and supportive, or more cluttered and distracting?
Then, once we’ve decided on the structure (promise, plan, or commitment), we submit to it completely. We stop fighting ourselves. We live in peace. We sacrifice the false self in favor of our true, whole selves. We go with the flow, unquestioningly staying true to our own word. We free our minds from hesitation and don’t look back. We unconditionally accept our new constraint as just another aspect of current reality—what we have to work with. We practice loving what is until, as with John the Baptist, it all becomes connected and we no longer need to distinguish between inspired actions and actions that pave the way for inspiration.
Until then, enjoy those locusts!