Inspiration: A New Breath

Inspiration: A New Breath

By Karen Neri

It turns out that the word “inspiration” comes from the Latin word “inspiratus,” which essentially means “breathe into.” It has been said that, before this literal meaning, the word inspiration had a theological basis that predated this definition. It initially referred to the influence of a divine entity on a person. I like to think of inspiration as the occurrence of both breathing life into and as something ethereal. When we are inspired, it breathes into us a renewed sense of energy, motivation, or the resolve to endure and persist. Inspiration can often happen to us serendipitously. At times, from an external source, it can feel otherworldly. It can also be accessible to us when we maximize the circumstances to encounter it.

Through their work, psychologists Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot distilled the three core elements of inspiration: 1) evocation; 2) transcendence; and 3) approach motivation. Evocation refers to the act of bringing or recalling to the conscious mind. Transcendence is the experience of a state that goes beyond this present moment, perhaps bringing awareness or clarity. Approach motivation is the desire to actualize the new idea or vision. All three shape our experience of inspiration. When we are inspired, it calls forth a thought, feeling, and/or sensation that takes us away toward something meaningful or profound and moves us to act.

Inspiration is helpful to us because it allows us to be open to new, and sometimes frightening, experiences. It provides us the intrinsic motivation when our energy levels seem low. It gives us the push to believe in our abilities and to remain positive when self-doubt has been all-consuming. It can also lift our spirits when we feel hopeless, while fueling our creativity and the achievement of goals. It is in these ways, among others, that inspiration can matter to each of us and support our well-being as lawyers.

Today in Lawyer Well-Being Week, the OAAP invites you all to share with us quotes or poems or any other sources of inspiration that inspire you to be, or to act.

As you are considering sources of inspiration to share, I leave you the following compilation of inspiring quotes, poems, and music that fellow colleagues and lawyers have shared with me.

Be inspired.


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music for which he hears however measured or far away.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

"I'm convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they're stones that don't matter. As long as you're breathing, it's never too late to do some good.”

~ Maya Angelou

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

~ Rumi

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

~ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience.”

~ Alex Steffen

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

~ Mary Oliver


Hope Machine by The Okee Dokee Brothers



Why I Wake Early
By Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.


Small Kindnesses
By Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

All This Is Over
By Stephanie Striffler, retired public servant attorney and poet

When all this is over, they keep saying,
imagining some real and happy life
starting up again like a car
that just needs a new battery,
snowdrifts melting into free streets,
a hospital door sliding open.
Before this all started,
they keep saying. Before this,
my friends, we were together
a long time already, tuning in
satellite dish hearts
to each other’s losses --
lost children, mothers
and fathers, lost loves
and work -- sending honest
tendrils of hope
across all kinds of distance.
You all know
there is no time or country
called over.  Always will come
some this, a next this
after this this.
When all this is over,
my friends, I will still be
banging pots and pans for you,
hollering from my front porch,
I will keep thanking you
for showing up, for saving my life,
when all this is over,
and when it’s not.

The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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