How to get Inspiration17 min read

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The music here is in the prelude to Wagner’s Rheingold. The purpose of this piece is to depict the motion of the Rhine river. The pedal creates a constant drone and steady a framework for the rest of the orchestra to “flow” over top of. Although the river is in a constant state of movement, the actual concept of the river is solid and steady, which is being reflected and held down by the pedal point.

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As a matter of interest, the music we have just been listening to, it has strict rules of harmony and counterpoint. There is one case in which all the rules are ignored, or can be ignored, and that is when there is what they call a pedal base, a steady, long, deep note unaltered in the deep register. Then all the rules which have guided the harmony in the counterpoint can be disregarded while that pedal-base continues. Well, it’s a little bit like the situation in life today. We are disregarding the rules which have been established by experience and tradition, as were the rules of harmony and counterpoint. It generally sounds dreadful when you break them, but in our modern life we have lost the deep unchanging pedal-base, so to speak, which would otherwise hold together all those irregularities.  And Yoga is the search, a series of experiments – an experimental search, not simply an intellectual search – to find that pedal-base. There is something which continues and if we can realise it and establish it and sound it, so to speak, then all the difficulties on the surface will be resolved and brought together into an integration.

Generally we think of the events of life: “What’s happening? What I’m thinking. What you’re thinking. What has happened? What’s going to happen?”  If you ask people generally to give some sort of representation of a tree, with no artistic skill particularly, they will just [draw the part above the ground].  But the Chinese character for ‘tree’ is: 木and the origin of this character was the branches and the roots. Traditionally the Chinese thought of the whole tree – branches and roots, which are often much bigger than what’s above the ground. We tend to think only of what is above the ground and in the same way, in our personalities and behaviour, we tend to think and modify and try to change, improve or control what’s above the ground.  We don’t know what the roots are from which our behaviour, thought and inspiration come.

Freud thought the unconscious can only wish.  But that doesn’t account for the cases, the very many cases where, for instance on rising from deep sleep, a writer or a scientist or a musician, suddenly finds there is a new inspiration. It wasn’t with him when he went to sleep and he has the conscious labour of struggling to express this inspiration. He may turn his back on it. Berlioz records in his diaries that he had, on waking from sleep, a brilliant orchestral piece, full orchestral colouring.  It was wonderful.  And then he thought of the immense labour of getting it down and he turned over and went to sleep. He said it came once more and the same, but never again. But the inspiration was there. It can’t be accounted for by supposing the unconscious can only wish or that the unconscious is driven by power desires.

Now, Yoga seeks for what is deeper. One of the key words is purification. We tend to think: “Oh Lord no, not that. That means sort of sweeping things under the carpet, that’s all – and saying: ‘Isn’t my room beautiful’”. But that’s not what is meant by purification. I’m not a cook myself, I don’t know – but cooks tell you that before you begin to cook you must have the utensils perfectly clean. It’s no good, I gather, trying to make a delicate consommé when the wooden spoon with which you stir has got a lot of yesterday’s gravy on it. You’ve got to make everything perfectly clean. In a laboratory, the things have to be clean and pure and then meaningful treatment or meaningful experiments can be conducted, but not otherwise. This is the sense of purification. We must be able to clear our mind of all the rubbish of memories, anticipations, hopes, fears, dreads, ambitions and have it quite clean, like the cook when he is going to begin. Then these things can be utilised meaningfully – the different elements of our personality can be utilised.

People think: “Oh you can’t do that, it means cutting away part of yourself”. Not at all. These things are not part of ourselves. The remnant of yesterday’s gravy is not part of the gravy spoon. You can make gravy again but it must be clean to start with. I saw in Japan, my neighbour, in the garden. There was a little boy of about three or four and he was playing with a bucket of water and mud and his grandfather came out. Well, the Japanese are very, very good to small children. They know what’s going to come later and they are very kind to the small children.  And Grandpa said to him: “Oh, you don’t want to play with that dirty mud, you’ll get all dirty”. The little boy was splashing about with the water and said: “I’m washing it clean”.

People feel, “You can’t purify our mentality, our personalities, our complexes.  They can’t be purified; it is like trying to wash mud clean”. But that’s not the yogic experience. There is a technique for doing it. When we begin a spiritual piece of research and thinking, it is a good idea to bring the mind and attention and feeling to one of these points and this one is between the brows. If you touch or tap with the finger or press the finger nail, or you even pinch there, and use the after-sensation to bring the mind to this point, bring your feeling to this point.  Discard the other things, come back to this point.

If you would like to just try. Sit reasonably upright and then just press the finger nail or just touch here and use the after sensation. Take your hand away, use the after-sensation and just bring the mind back to this point. I’ll say the name of God ‘OM’.  So just touch here.


This technique is well-worth practising.  Times of crisis come in life, when there is no time to philosophise, there is no time to think of the rights and wrongs.  But if we have practised occasionally, just to make a little break – I am writing furiously and, just for a moment, put it down. Then to take it up again. Learn to make this very small break. An athlete knows this. Even in a very intense contest, there is just a moment, a few seconds sometimes, where nothing is happening and it is possible to relax and then some of them can go again into action. It is a very useful thing. It has been called the 10-second break. You can make it 10 minutes if you are waiting for a bus, yes, but it integrates the body and the mind and has a calming effect.

When Western people – and not many Western people – read the traditional texts, there are many things where we feel: “Oh, this can be discarded.  These are modern days.  There’s no need to bother with that”. Well this is an instant I was aware of:  A young chap was vaguely interested in Yoga and had read somewhere about a particular sect of Tantrism who have a rite at the full moon.  And there they meet and they have a sacred ceremony which culminates in sexual intercourse. But it is blessed by the gods and by nature and it is done in extreme reverence.  He and his girlfriend discussed this and they thought that it might help to revive their own affair and prevent it just becoming mechanical.

So they asked a Yoga teacher who said these things are not in the main traditions, but the young chap persisted. He said: “Well, won’t you tell me about it?” So the teacher finally said: “Alright. I’ll tell you”. So he gave him just a brief description of the ceremony which takes about 2 hours.  And then the teacher said: “This is on the full moon night and before that, of course, there is no [intercourse] – you mustn’t even discuss these things.”  So the chap said: “What?”  The teacher said: “This is for the full moon.  Before that there is no sexual intercourse at all”. “Oh!”  The teacher said: “You people think these things are a license, but actually they are for people of very uncontrolled passions and they form a restriction. And it is to limit this and to try to make it elevating that these ceremonies are held.  But they are not in the standard orthodox traditions.

Well, that was an example, you see. He had thought that we can just take one part of that particular branch or sect and everything else is free and easy.  But it wasn’t so and when he found out about the restrictions he somehow lost interest.

The point of it is that it’s necessary to study some of the philosophy but not necessarily very much. If we don’t study some, we’ll never have the energy and resolution to practise. Briefly, there is the body consciousness and the mental consciousness. Then there is what is called Karana-Sharira, causal consciousness from which the thoughts, for instance, come. We don’t know where the thoughts come from. We are sitting here, suddenly a memory comes up and something quite unexpected comes up. We don’t know where they come from or where they go to. There is a layer which is not accessible to the ordinary man’s consciousness. Where, for instance, the hidden memories remain, where the complexes and the memories and the dynamic impressions join up. But beyond that there is a deeper level, which is an area of light – and from that area of light, the inspirations will come.

Now we have to realise that we have to study enough to make it seem credible that my anger, my passion, my fear, my greediness are not me – this is not myself – but that there is an ‘I’ which is free of these things – that can take them up as we put on clothes and can take them off as we take off clothes. And this is the central doctrine of yoga.

It’s meant to be experimental. If it is all guesses and inferences and reading holy texts and feeling exalted for the time being, that’s not enough and will never be permanently satisfactory.

One can believe with faith always – “I’m sure.  I’m sure.” – for 10 years and suddenly wake up one morning and think, “Well, I don’t know.  How do you know?”  And there is a sort of Mephistopheles in us which whispers, “After all, how do you know? You don’t know, do you?”. We have to study enough and to read some of the biographies which give the accounts of the experiments that have been made in the past. It’s not simply a question of believing: “Oh I am sure it’s true, they all say so.”, but of using these accounts to make our own experiments. Just as we do, for instance, in science. We are told of some of the experiments of the past but we are asked, to some extent, to confirm them ourselves. And as matter of fact, when we try to confirm them they very rarely work. Not exactly – but they work enough to give us the impulse to go on.

I knew a literal-minded, very intelligent Russian and he had educated himself.  And one thing he’d studied was mechanics and he studied all these pulleys and so on. He was very good with his fingers and he made little models of the pulleys – and then they didn’t work as predicted. So he told me: “I went to the teacher and said: ‘Teacher, it doesn’t work.’  And I showed him my model and he said: “Oh, well. You see, in the textbook, friction is disregarded. If friction is allowed for, then it’ll work.” He said: “Well, sir, how do we know what the friction is?” and the teacher said: “Well, you know what the friction is, because it is the difference between what you actually get and what the theory says you ought to get.” Well, he persisted – there was at least some result and it was near enough to make him persist.

Now in the same way with the yogic experiments. If we persist with some resolution, there will be some result and it will be enough to give us the impulse to continue.

While one is comfortably off, one thinks: “Oh, I don’t need these things.”  But one teacher used to give the example, he said: “When your ship is sinking it’s too late to learn to swim. You should have done that years ago when you were safe.”

Well in the same way, it is worth practising Yoga, some Yoga, so that when a crisis comes, when the real disaster comes, when I am diagnosed that I have an incurable disease, when everything I have relied on has been shattered, when something I have worked for, have made great sacrifices for, is viciously kicked to pieces in front of my eyes by someone just for sheer devilment, these are the times. If I had practised some Yoga, then I would not be crushed by it. Something will arise and then I will be able to practise intensely during that period and so solve the crisis.

Well, this is one of the presentations we’re given. We’re asked after a while, “What is the evidence of these things?” There are partial evidences which are recognised by us in our ordinary lives. For instance, I mentioned before, these moments of inspiration. Somebody like Pauling, the American chemist who made a number of discoveries in a long life, which many scientists don’t do. They make one discovery at the beginning and then they live on the fame of that for the rest of their lives.  But he was consistently productive, like Helmholz who was another one. Pauling said: “When I am confronted with a problem that defeats me, I deliberately make use of my subconscious mind. I concentrate intensely on it for at least three weeks and then I deliberately dismiss it. That’s not so easy but I dismiss it. And then sometimes weeks or months later, as with the structure of alpha-keratin, suddenly the answer pops into my head from nowhere”.

If we read biographies we shall see how often these things happen. They are documented in the case of famous artists and writers and scientists but as a matter of fact nearly everybody has had some experience like this and it can’t be accounted for in the ordinary way and it’s uncomfortable. Bertrand Russell, who was a great philosopher of science, he had such experiences. He describes in his autobiography he had to give a series of papers and he couldn’t see how to fit his material together and he was getting desperate because the deadline was approaching. Then he became exhausted.  He went for a walk and said: “As I came in through the door, suddenly the whole thing was clear, how it should be arranged. I don’t say it was perfect, but it was far better than anything else I could have done at the time.’ Russell says: “Well, to account for this, I suppose I sowed the seeds by my concentration on it, and then the seeds came up. This is not a very intelligent remark for such a brilliant man.

As a close parallel with the French – also philosopher of science – Poincaré, he speaks of these experiences but he points out that it is a new order that comes out. It is not just sowing seeds. When you sow seeds you know what’s going to come out, no new order comes out. Poincaré says: “The problem is that it is possible to imagine that the subconscious, as it was called then, simply tries many combinations.  But the point is, there is something which evaluates them and presents one of them as the solution, and it is something entirely new and unforeseen. This means that there is something in my subconscious which is more intelligent than I am. I should hate to admit that.”  And he sought to get round that by saying: “Well, it is possible that beauty is an index to truth, and that this subconscious entity can evaluate beauty and select it on that basis.

At least he saw the problem and faced it. Russell doesn’t. Russell says: “I sowed the seeds”.  But it is as if he was sowing seeds of blue, white and red at random, because he says that there was no order in his mind and then he came back, with his moment of inspiration, and it was as though the seeds had come up in a Union Jack.  It was sown at random but something underneath the soil has brought them into order. Russell didn’t see that. Poincaré saw that – much more intelligent at that point.

Now, there are these experiences which otherwise can’t be accounted for. They’re common, they’re embarrassing, if you are a materialist – but they happen and the Yoga says this is a partial, but only partial, evidence of this light of intelligence which is beyond our conscious mind as we know it now. They have it in science but it is not an inspiration for everyday life. Pure concentration in science makes the clarity, cleans the instruments of prejudices and preconceptions and then it can come out, but not in everyday life.  And as we see with, for instance, Einstein, he had these wonderful inspirations very, very early in life, but he spent the last 30 years of his life fighting against the implications of them which he didn’t care for. So it’s a partial indication and a hint, but it is not a full account of inspiration.

Yoga says we must try periodically to clear the mind so that this light will shine through, and the clouds to clear away. Now, if you would like to try this experiment. This was developed by the fencers in Japan to give them inspiration in the duel and some of them who became expert in it were almost unbeatable. To sit up reasonably upright, not uncomfortable.  Now to feel one is on a hilltop under the blue sky. In your lap you have a cloth full of pebbles. Now a thought comes up – something which happened yesterday – and I mentally pick up a pebble and throw it and the thought away, so it goes rolling down the hill. Then another thought comes up – a row that’s brewing – take the pebble and throw it away with the thought. Gone. Not wanted. Another thought: “I wonder if this will come….”.  Throw it away. Another thought:  “Oh, these things always happen to….”.  Throw it away. Now mentally sit there.  You need not move the hands at all, but as the thoughts come up, mentally throw the thought away with the pebble. No thought can remain long in the mind if we don’t support it with our active interest. Throw away the interest in these things and simply remain sitting on the hilltop under the blue sky with fewer and fewer thoughts. [Perhaps] you would like to try…


© Trevor Leggett