The words that are most dear to us are often the most difficult to elucidate. With that also comes some hesitation when asked to do so or voluntarily offering. This might be a matter of sentiment, a resistance against every analysis of dear emotions. It can also be a consequence of a historical awareness of the complicated knots in which such a word has been tangled and from which whole clusters of meanings have sprouted forwards. With the word ‘spirit’ those metaphorical clusters can be unraveled in a great number of associations, all of which are interesting and hard to understand. I think I can distinguish two groups, one that has to do with the spirit that is in us, which makes us spiritual and spirited, and one that is about the spirit outside of us and there for example blows where it will. I further think that in a language like ancient Greek there were separate words for this too, one that can be translated as ‘awareness’ and that is derived from ‘exhaling’ and ‘blowing’. ‘Spirit’ is a translation of both and that’s one of the reasons why its meaning has become so complicated.
In the first cluster ‘spirit’ refers to an ability within us, a principle of life that makes us live and be aware of that. There is a certain preference for an upward movement in the development of this word. Spirit is not only higher than dust and from that level opposite to it, but also within the inner self there seems to arise an opposition between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ in which spirit is granted a higher place, more chance of eternity and a greater intellectual weight. But no matter how high it rises, ‘spirit’ in this meaning is within us as a property. About what I have in that area I can speak of as ‘my’ spirit and I can try to use that as an instrument in my attempts to formulate what stirs my spirit with this word. I can then only hope that it stirs the same in other spirits, for what only stirs my spirit is a precarious property. If my spirit and my awareness aren’t windows that provide a view to a shared inhabited word, then they only represent my particular insanity.
In the second cluster, which is even more dear to me, ‘spirit’ doesn’t refer to an ability or something that is within me, unless I settled for the lower part of it, as it were. In the Greek ‘pneuma’ and the Latin ‘spiritus’ that is ‘breath’, something warm and dear that we have within us and every once in a while can communicate with others. But on the upper side of its meaning, where it is its most beautiful, its most divine and its most enigmatic, the spirit withdraws itself totally from our possession, our disposal and our temperature. There, it isn’t ‘my’ spirit, but ‘the’ spirit, the wind, that blows where it wants -in any case not where we want it to. It might be opposite to the letter that kills, but it is just as much an unexpected gust of storm that can swipe away letters and literalness. That spirit we don’t posses, but we say of it that it can come over us as a force we don’t know and of which we are not the proud owners. Precisely at the moment when ‘spirit’ evades our grip and sooner relates to our inabilities than to what we might be able to do, exactly there where our activity becomes an awaiting stance and a passivity, the word reaches its zenith in the development of its meaning.