Maybe it is the inspiration of India that has prompted this post – the thoughts crystalised whilst practising pranayama (breathing exercises) near the Indian Ocean this morning. Whatever the reason, the etymology of inspiration is fascinating. It contains the cross fertilisation of many related concepts: from the Old French inspiracion “inhaling, breathing in; inspiration,” from Latin inspirare “inspire, inflame, blow into,” and spirare “to breathe” also spiritus “a breathing (respiration, and of the wind), breath; breath of a god,” hence “inspiration; breath of life.”
So the word inspiration is closely related to the word spiritual and they both relate to breathing, our means of metabolising life giving energy from the universe.
On one hand the etymology demystifies the words. On the other, when you start to think about the logic of the concepts these words symbolise, it jolts you into a deeper awareness of the flowing energy that is our experience of life.
When you sing, your inhalation makes the song possible; the thoughts and expression you are communicating (now possible for scientists to view as electrical activity in the brain see:, http://vimeo.com/57444237 ) are composed of energy metabolised by oxygen from this same air.
Imagine what is really happening at the beginning of an inspired performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
The baton goes up – and simultaneously the conductor and every single member of the ensemble breathe in together. They may not notice consciously, but they are plugging into the life giving power of the universe as a community rather than as individuals. This same life giving power, through respiration unleashes the metabolic energy needed to begin the work absolutely as a unit – united by their common breath. When the chorus enter in bar 22 they breathe together on the first beat and use this very breath to create the sound of the word Kyrie “lord” on the second beat. Whether one is religious or not, there is no denying the wonderful circular symbolism of this – inhaling – connecting to an external power source that sustains one’s life, to utter the word “Kyrie” that over millennia has come to symbolise a an external power source that sustains life…. Inspiration indeed!