THE AIR THAT WE BREATHE

The invisible combination of gases that we call air is one of the foundations of life on Earth. Circulation within the atmosphere is the basis of life; as the winds blow freely across the surface of the Earth, so air circulates in the lungs, and blood in the veins. This symbolises a universal truth that free circulation in all aspects of life is the way to health and the sense of unity and wholeness.

And of this cocktail of gases which we call air, there are three gases in particular which are intimately involved in living processes - oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour. Oxygen is the main ingredient that, when combined with fuel and heat, gives us the flickering flames that have helped humanity move from dwelling in caves to leaving the Earth’s surface. Carbon dioxide is produced when any fuel of organic origin, such as wood, coal or oil, is burned. And water vapour is also often a product of such burning. Strange as it may seem, a very similar chemical reaction is also going on all the time in humans and animals - but this reaction is controlled in such a way that no flames or great heat is required. Instead, the marvels of biochemistry mean that the carbohydrates we eat combine with the oxygen we inhale to produce carbon dioxide and water. The carbon dioxide is then exhaled though the lungs. The beautiful reciprocity between the kingdoms of nature means that this carbon dioxide can become the fuel for yet more carbohydrates and oxygen, through the processes in plants known as photosynthesis. So the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are constantly cycling into and through the kingdoms of nature (including also the mineral kingdom), and back out into the atmosphere. Some spiritual writings suggest that the process of transformation – through the agency of water and light – which the plant kingdom undertakes on the carbon dioxide coming from the human and animal kingdoms symbolises the transformation of materialistic desires into a more enlightened perspective.

Sadly, this picture of balance and free interchange does not tell the whole story. As we know, when burning is done incorrectly, or with the wrong fuels, the result is a choking smoke. “Smoke” might serve as a symbolic label for all of the many different kinds of pollution which pour into the atmosphere, the result of human­ity’s reckless dash to exploit the Earth. Acid rain, ozone depletion, and photochemical smog are just some of the symptoms of a gaseous circulation system which is inflamed and out of kilter on every scale. Atmos­pheric carbon dioxide levels have now been rising for at least sixty years. So far, the will of nations to tackle air-borne pollution has been, with one or two excep­tions, insufficient to produce much impact. This can be traced to a fundamental mis-calculation of values - of profit versus human life, of easy short-term gain versus more rewarding long-term involvement, of thoughtless domination of nature versus sensitive cooperation with nature. In this newsletter, we will be examining some of the individual and collective dimensions of air and breathing, to better understand the responsibility of all people of goodwill to contribute to the great collective change of heart and mind that will shift the bal­ance back towards a more healthy circulation.

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