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Karen-Claire Voss No 28 March 2003

Dear Reader,

I’m late with the column—again—and my head is still turning and turning about this bloody war in Iraq.  All the efforts to halt it came to nothing and bombing began this morning.  That must mean it’s time for those of us who care to do something, but what

The main topic of this column is breath, so the censors, if indeed there are any, can relax.  Of course, it’s going to take me a bit to actually get to the part where I talk about breath, but bear with me.  I’ll get there.  I said that the censors could relax because I’m not about to advocate a revolution or anything like that.  Well, I am going to advocate a kind of revolution, but it isn’t the kind that will upset anyone.  My idea is way beyond politics.

 The idea came to me when someone forwarded an email to me about a speech that Dr. Robert Muller made.  Robert Muller is the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, and is now Chancellor emeritus of the University of Peace in Costa Rica.  At a ceremony in San Francisco where he was being honored for his writings about peace and his work in the United Nations, Dr. Muller, now eighty years old, said:

“I'm so honored to be here. I'm so honored to be alive at such a miraculous time in history. I'm so moved by what's going on in our world today.

"Never before in the history of the world has there been a global, visible, public, viable, open dialogue and conversation about the very legitimacy of war. The whole world is in now having this critical and historic dialogue---- listening to all kinds of points of view and positions about going to war or not going to war. In a huge global public conversation the world is asking - 'Is war legitimate? Is it illegitimate? Is there enough evidence to warrant an attack? Is there not enough evidence to warrant an attack? What will be the consequences? The costs? What will happen after a war? How will this set off other conflicts? What might be peaceful alternatives? What kind of negotiations are we not thinking of? What are the real intentions for declaring war?'

"We are not at war. We, the world community, are WAGING peace. We're in peacetime. Yes, troops are being moved. Yes, warheads are being lined up. Yes, the aggressor is angry and upset and spending a billion dollars a day preparing to attack . . ..”

 He continued by saying that as all this was going on, new alliances are being formed. For example, we have seen that Russia and China are both against this war.  They are actually on the same side.  It is also a fact that perhaps for the first time in history, people are actually protesting a war that has not yet begun.  Someone commenting on Muller’s speech pointed out that now, “The largest peace demonstrations in the history of the world are taking place!”  

 I really appreciated his remarks and was especially struck by Dr. Muller’s concluding remark:  “So this is a miracle. This is what 'waging peace' looks like."

 “Waging peace.”  A really good phrase.  I certainly hadn’t thought of the current situation in these terms before, and I continued to think about the implications of it for a few days.  At the same time, always in the back of my mind, I was thinking about what to write for this month’s column.  Then, just this morning, I received another email with a link to what the sender described as a very beautiful website.  I visited it, it was indeed very beautiful, but it was only after what I found on this site came together with this very powerful idea of waging peace, that I finally saw what I had to do for this column.   

The site takes a few minutes to load but once it’s up you watch a series of phrases about peace, all of them appearing against a background of multi-colored spirals. (1) The most significant phrase is this one: 

Breathing is peace

Here the words go in and out just like breath does.  Then we are told to imagine everyone in the world breathing.  It continues like that for a while and then closes and gives you the option of forwarding the link to friends.  I forwarded it to two dear friends of mine. (2)  

What is breath?  Regular readers know very well how much I love etymology and it turns out the etymology of the word breath is really something.  I actually did a short study of the etymology of the word breath a few years ago.  I won’t reproduce all of it here, but some of it is interesting.

 Start with the fact that the words ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are connected to each other.  Beyond that, there is a whole cluster of related meanings etymologically connected with those words.  For example there is the word inspired, meaning the act of being inspired, or something conveyed to the mind when under extraordinary influ­ence; aspiration, meaning to hope for something; and inspiration, meaning, the act of inspiring, the drawing in of breath, influence emanating from any object, the state of being.

 That was a noun form for just one of the related words.  The verbs are even more incredible.  Inspire’ means:  to (literally) breathe in, to breathe into, and to draw in breath, to inhale air into the lungs. It also means to communicate divine instructions to, to infuse ideas or poetic spirit into, and to animate in general.  Taking this a bit further, let’s think about the synonyms for the verb ‘inspire’: please, gladden, delight, encourage, enjoy, hearten, animate, enliven, brighten, cheer up, incite, liven, quicken, resuscitate, vivify; support, bolster, amplify, encourage, en­hance, enhearten, hearten, increase, reassure, strengthen, excite, stimulate, arouse, electrify, fire, incite, rouse, spark, tantalize, thrill, titillate, turn on, whet; convince, persuade, affect, assure, impel, incense, induce, influence, instigate, motivate, move, pressure, prompt, stir, sway, talk into, touch, win over; instigate, provoke, agitate, anger, arouse, encourage, foment, ignite, incite, induce, inflame, invoke, motivate, mus­ter, prod, propel, raise, set, sent on spur, stimulate, stir, urge; educate, train, coach, communicate, condition, convey, cultivate, develop, discipline, drill, edify, enlighten, exercise, explain, groom, imbue, impart, implant, improve, inculcate, indoctrinate, inform, infuse, inseminate, instill, instruct, perfect, practice, prepare, ready, school, teach, tutor. 

And we mustn’t forget the synonyms for the noun ‘inspiration‘: motivation, encouragement, the act of imbuing with courage, incitement, stimulation . . .

 Now, finally, back to the main topic—breath.  Remember that all of these qualities and actions are connected with breathing.  Breathe in, breathe out . . . Breathe in, find peace in yourself.  Breathe out; bring peace to the place you are in.

Well, there you are.  Wage peace.  Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out . . .

LIFE is this.  And LIFE goes on. 


1.  The site address is:

2.  The first is a woman who is a paralegal with an M.A. in Islamic Studies.  She lives in Istanbul and every week prepares and sends out an email newsletter full of information about the “Current Mess We Are In” with links to relevant articles.  The second is a woman who lives in Australia and has been my friend for more than thirty years.  She herself is a Quaker and has been a peace activist for around forty years.  (I know that the concept of thirty or forty years is hard for some of you to imagine because they are more years than you have been alive, but if you try, you can.)  Anyway, I chose to send the link to these two because their powers of dissemination are fantastic and I wanted information about the site to get to as many people as possible.  


No.1- April 2000 No.11 April 2001 No. 20 July 2002 No 29 April 2003
No.2 June 2000 No.12 May 2001 No. 22 September 2002 NO 30 MAY 2003
No.3 July/August 2000 No. 13 June 2001 No. 23   October 2002  NO 31 JUNE 2003
No.5 October 2000 No.14 July 2001 No 24 November 2002 NO 32 JULY 2003
No.7 December 2000 No.15 August 2001 No 25 DECEMBER  2002 NO 33 August 
No.8 January 2001
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
NO 16 September 2001 No 26 January 2003 No 34 September 
No.9 February 2001 No. 17 April 2002 No 27 February 2003 No 35 October 
No.10 March 2001 NO 19 JUNE 2002 No 28 March 2003 No 36 January 2004

No 37 February - March 2004 No 38 April 2004


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