wreck beach, vancouver, UBC, sunset, oceanHas this ever happened to you: you are hiking, or climbing, or kayaking. You are surrounded by natural beauty and the majesty of the mountains/ocean/vast landscape all around you. You breathe it in, ready for the sense of limitless possibilities, of being a tiny part of something huge and mysterious -the magic that comes with being in it that pulls you back again and again. The fix. But the high doesn’t come. Instead, you kind of want to be back at home, where it’s a bit warmer. Because you have a book you want to finish, and that dirty laundry is gnawing at you, and when, exactly, are you going to get your grocery shopping done?

Usually, being in the wild provides the inspiration I need to go through the not-so-wild days. But sometimes, it doesn’t work. I need the mountaintops to carry me through the bad viz days, when I can’t see my own feet, let alone where I’m headed, and life has less colour, fewer sharply defined features. But what will carry me to the trailhead when even nature itself isn’t enough to overcome the blah?

The problem with inspiration is that, like lightning, I don’t get to decide where or when it will strike. Luckily, there are places, seasons and actions that are far more likely to attract these things than others. I have friends who were climbing in the rockies years ago. They were making their way along a ridge as a storm began to brew and they had to walk with their heads bent low, because when they stood straight, they could feel the electricity tickle their scalps. They were basically human lightning rods.

Obviously, with lightning, this is not an ideal situation. But when you’re looking for inspiration, it’s the perfect place to be.

I can’t make inspiration happen, but I can tell when something is brewing and I can put myself in situations where I’m more likely to be struck. Often, it is a combination of life being particularly difficult, my being open to new possibilities, and getting outside of my regularly scheduled programming. A couple of years ago, on my Red Rocks Trip of Many Epiphanies, I was burnt out, and questioning what to do about my career and my relationship. On the fiery red desert rock, as I hashed out the first few lead climbs I’d done in years, the steps I had to take next came to me, along with the energy I needed to actually take them. Literally and metaphorically. It was a subtle shift, but suddenly I could see the holds that had been invisible moments before.

I wish I could live this way all the time, but it doesn’t seem to be possible. Things haven’t been easy lately, but inspiration is finding me, slowly and surely. It started in Tofino, and picked up speed at the two VIMFF showings I went to last week. The shape I want my life to take for the next little while is starting to come clear, in that way that seems haphazard, but feels absolutely right -decisions made on the fly that feel like they have been waiting to be made my whole life. Last weekend, for example, I realized with absolute clarity that I need to get a haircut. And also, that I need to be in the rockies this July (if you have any advice on either of those points, I’d love to hear it).

Once I start to make those decisions that are asking to be made, all the other things in my life that won’t change or don’t need to (day jobs, chores, writing) start to look shiny with meaning again, because they belong to something bigger.

I know that I’m on the right track because being inspired is like swimming in bioluminescence -your path seems lit by magic, and every movement feels right.

Where do you look for inspiration? And what’s your backup plan when that doesn’t work?