Monday, September 30, 2013

The Air We Breathe

A Crystal Clear Autumn Day

Autumn is a season that teaches me exactly why I choose to live in a desert. For me, there is no more beautiful place on earth than the flowing desert Fall landscape - the crystal clear blue skies and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Most of all, the air in Autumn seems especially exhilarating. Somehow everything just smells healthy and fresh, clearer than ever. 

Every day I try to sit quietly and meditate - mindful in the moment, concentrating on my breathing.  Meditation in this Autumn season is particularly wonderful as I sit in my garden and luxuriate in the  breathing in and breathing out of the desert air. Maybe that's why I was especially struck by a radio broadcast I heard the other day about the air we breathe.

I was listening to the weekly broadcast of NPR's "Ted Talks." The show was titled, "Everything is Connected." It featured several scientists who talked about the ecology of the natural world - animals, forests, the flow of rivers, the behavior of humans  - all interconnected as one living and breathing organism.

One segment of the show especially struck me - a  biologist spoke about the air we breathe:

Take a deep breath, the yogis had it right - breath does, in fact, connect us all in a very literal way. Take a breath now and as you breathe, think about what is in your breath. There, perhaps, is the CO2 from a person who may be sitting near you. Maybe there's a little bit of oxygen from some algae on a beach not far from you. It all connects us in time. There may even be some carbon in your breath from the dinosaurs. There could also be carbon that you are exhaling now that will be in the breath of your great, great, great grandchildren.

I found myself deeply moved by what this scientist had to say. I had never before understood the profound significance of focusing on my breathing as I sit and meditate. I thought of "breathing" as a meditation technique -  a way of helping me to relax and focus. Now I have come to realize that the very air I breathe is literally and physically connecting me to the universe of all that is, all that has been and all that will be. 

Far from being a meditation technique, the focus on breathing is a focus on the dynamic interconnectivity of everything and everyone - not just in an abstract world of ideas, but in a real world of physical reality.

Today as I sit in the dawning rays of the rising morning sun, the air seems especially fresh to me. 

As I breathe in,  I am keenly aware that it's not just "air" I am taking into my body. I am breathing in
the universe. I am breathing in the ocean to the west of me. I am breathing in the trees and desert flowers. I am breathing in all the creatures who walk along the desert floor and inhabit the mountain caves - the hummingbirds swarming around me, my dogs sitting faithfully by my side.

I am breathing in those people who inhabit my life - my beloved spouse, my friends, all the people in my neighborhood. I am also breathing in strangers I have never met, people who I have counted as my enemies, those who live in distant "foreign"lands. 

Today as I sit and breathe, I become aware of the reality that I am physically breathing in all those who have gone before me on this earth - the great biblical heroes, prophets, priests and kings.  I am breathing in Jesus the Christ, the Buddha, the Prophet Muhammad. 

Today as I sit in my garden, I am also aware of my breathing out. As I breathe out I am placing something of me into the mix of it all. The air in my body expelled into the vast sea of the cosmic web of interconnection. The air i breathe out to be breathed in by my fellow humans in my own time and in the generations yet to come.  

As I breathe it all in and breathe it all out, I am keenly aware that there are no "others" after all. 

There is only "us"- all of us, in the very air we breathe.

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