In a well-done and needed essay in The Aspen Journal of Ideas, Scott Barry Kaufman, the Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, challenges us to move beyond our culture's obsession with "evaluation" (tests, entrance exams, and constant measurement of our talents and abilities in regular job performance reviews). He suggests we open ourselves to a culture where the catalyst is "inspiration."
This psychological and spiritual quality shines forth in the work and writings of ancient Greek philosophers, Hebrew prophets, poets, and contemporary artists of all stripes. According to Kaufman, there are three core aspects of inspiration: evocation without intention, transcendence of our more animalistic and self-serving concerns and limitations, and approach motivation, in which the individual strives to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea or vision.
Inspired people are more open to new experiences than others and are motivated to master their work. Kaufman makes it clear that inspiration is not the same as positive affect and that it is a springboard for creativity. It also facilitates progress toward goals and increases well-being.
We agree with Kaufman's call to a shift from a culture of evaluation to a culture of inspiration. This quality cannot be willed but it can be wooed and welcomed. All the spiritual traditions provide roads of access for inviting inspiration as well as practices to sustain this genuine mystical state of being.