Breathing Life into the Holiday SpiritSource:Habitat Quarterly
By Jason Earle Google+
As I write this, it’s that time of year again. People divide up into their respective sects and celebrate various iterations of a similar theme among like-minded friends and loved ones. Regardless of what, if any, religion you align with or adhere to, it’s a special time of year.
It’s a period of reflection. The days darken faster and reach their shortest length as the process of renewal, which emerges into spring, begins anew. The New Year waits just around the corner, beckoning us to shed the recent past and look into our respective futures with optimism and enthusiasm, which most of us gladly do.
During the holidays, I spend a fair amount of time pondering the most recent year. This is one of the natural byproducts of the season. It’s a time in which I find myself waxing philosophical, perhaps more than most. I’m not sure why this is, but perhaps it’s driven by my own personal idea of the holiday spirit, which is what this article is about.
My company, 1-800-GOT-MOLD?, is usually called in when something very basic is threatened: the ability to breathe easily. More often than not, mold or other allergens are at the root of it. We detect and help correct these problems in unique and efficient ways. In short, we fix sick homes, and we’re very good at it.
It’s no accident that I’m in the business of helping people live healthier lives indoors. My childhood was one where breathing was often a struggle. It got so bad that I was falsely diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was four years old. As you might have guessed from the line of work I chose, we had a moldy basement replete with chronic dampness and musty odors, the hallmarks of an unhealthy subterranean domain. Upstairs we had a veritable menagerie of pets - whom I adored - but which added to an already substantial allergen load where I, an asthmatic boy, spent much of my earliest years. Needless to say, it was not the healthiest home.
In light of my vocation and personal history, I think about breathing a lot. Like our heartbeat, breathing is autonomic, meaning it doesn’t require thought. It just happens…until something goes wrong. This is when we realize how truly precious breath really is. Breathing is one of the things all of us take for granted, at least some of the time. The average person breathes somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 times a day without having to think about it. Amazing, isn’t it?
As we begin to endure the first cold gusts of winter, we are simultaneously prompted to look forward to the first warm breaths of spring. It’s the world breathing, in and out, cold and warm, wet and dry. With this idea in mind, I began to think about breathing and the holiday spirit, and was inspired to write this piece.
I was raised by a wordsmith, a professional editor, who encouraged me to examine words and their roots more than I would have otherwise. I forget where this all came together for me, but it was one of those “Aha!” moments. At some point the common root of the words inspiration, respiration and spirit caught my attention — and I immediately began looking deeper. With a bit of research I confirmed what I had suspected: spirit and breath are the same thing.
I am not a linguist or theologian, so please excuse me if you are, because you’ll surely have much to add, but the correlation between spirit and breath among very different languages, religions and cultures is profound and worthy of further examination.
In Latin, the word “spiritus” means breath. Similarly, the literal translation for the Chinese word “qi” (pronounced: chee) is air, breath or gas, even though it’s often loosely translated into life force. But then we’re still talking breath, aren’t we?
As you look into other languages and cultures, you’ll see more of this theme. The Sanskrit term “prana”, which is often used in yoga, means breath. In ancient Greek, the word “pneuma” meant spirit and breath too, and is found 385 times in the New Testament. In Hebrew, the word “ruah” means both spirit and breath and is found throughout the Old Testament. Even the ancient Hebrew unpronounceable name of God: YHVH, is sometimes attributed to the sound of breath. The Hebrew “H” is called “heh,” which is said to be the sound of breath. Interestingly, the Arabic word “rouh” mirrors this theme as well.
Is it any surprise that the most ancient languages connect breath to spirit?
These ancient cultures saw breath as the connection between the physical and the non-physical, union of the two. The word “yoga” means exactly that in Sanskrit: to join or unite. Yoga uses breath to unite the body and mind. This is hardly a new idea. It’s as old as the ages.
Like most people’s idea of spirit, breath is invisible yet unmistakable. Human life is of a similar nature. We know someone is alive because they are breathing. The doctors of old used a mirror held close to an unconscious person’s face to detect the faintest fog of breath.
The Latin translations illuminate this connection beautifully:
Inspire: To be full of spirit/breath
Expire: To have the spirit/breath leave the body
Respire: To inhale and exhale spirit/to breathe
Conspire: To breathe together, to share in spirit
What’s the first thing to enter our body when we’re born?
Breath! We inspire, by inhaling then begin to respire.
What’s the last thing to leave the body when we die?
Breath! When respiration stops, we exhale our final breath and expire.
Ironically, it is the word “conspire” which I find most inspiring, for it incorporates life and cooperation in a single word. I am conspiring with my coworkers, investors and vendors to help our customers live healthier lives and to improve our own lives in the bargain. It’s a word with a negative stigma to some, but also one with many positive meanings.A real estate agent recently commented to my father that he is a “mold agnostic,” meaning he was not sure whether indoor mold growth actually made people sick.
“When you find people in a mold-infested home who are sick, and you help them remove the problem, and they get well, you’re a believer,” he was told. He had no argument with that. Perhaps his “mold agnosticism” expired.
When we do a mold assessment for a customer, we conspire with the customer and with our dogs to find the problem, assess the extent of the mold growth, find a qualified remediation contractor and make sure the remediation is done right — that the home is returned to a normal condition.
The usual result of this conspiracy is that the family’s health is returned to a normal condition as well, restoring their peace of mind. And that’s truly inspiring.
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