The Elements: In Praise Of Air

20190919 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF AIR

Air, I should explain, becomes wind when it is agitated. (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things)

Breath

There is a school of thought that says we each have a limited, unknown, number of breaths that we will take before we expire. And, by slowing down ones breathing, maybe with focused breathing, slowing exercises or meditation we can increase our lifespan.

Breathing.

Air.

It’s important to life and our longevity.

There is another school of thought that says by regulating our breathing we can place ourselves ‘in the way’ of the Divine, The Universe, the Source of All. Breathing has a natural rhythm of its own, and something we take for granted, but in hatha yoga this pause in breathing is called kumbhaka.

Kumbhaka, then, is the pause between inhalation and exhalation when the lungs are full, or between exhalation and inhalation when the lungs are empty – I prefer the latter. Then, in that pause there is no breathing. All things being well, the pause should only last for a few seconds – it’s not a competition to hold ones breath until one metaphorically bursts, but it is a gentle cessation of breathing for a short while, and then a return in inhalation/exhalation, ready for the next pause. In that way we ‘jump out’ of ordinary time for a split second and move closer. An ever-so important exercise that we can use in our own time ritual or group ritual.

Breathing.

Pausing.

Air.

It’s important to deep meditation and encountering.

Exhaling air we can speaks words of wisdom, and words of encouragement, and yet the same breath can be used destructively. I went on a march to Parliament – yes, I must be one of the oldest protesters around, but I felt so strongly about the case. A group of ten thousand of us chanted, ‘Save our democracy, stop the coup’, outside a prorogued (‘suspended’) Parliament. A positive, heartfelt response to a dire situation. At one point, heavily surrounded by police, a small opposition group of about forty fascists marched by. The jeered, they snarled, they pointed their fingers accusingly. It was as though a dark cloud of hate and confusion had closed in, almost. They chanted, ‘We’ve got a lamppost just for you’. Our words have consequences.

Breathing.

Air.

Giving our voice the power of positivity, and sadly, we have the option to be negative.

Also, lets not forget (though I’m a not-so-good clarinet-player and flautist), that with our breath, with air, woodwind musicians can make delightful tunes that can move us deeply within ourselves, and move us closer to the Divine.

The Druids, the Ancients, and other tribes (and ‘tribes’) knew of the importance of air to their lives, of breathing, and celebrated it in song, liturgy and ritual.

All praise be Yours, my God, through Brothers Wind and Air.
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods,
By which You cherish all that You have made. (Francis of Assisi)

Air, in Welsh is awyr (pronounced ah-weir, and preferably ‘rolling’ that ‘r’), can also mean sky, and was important to those Ancients, and to discerning and fellow ‘deep’ followers of today who revel in nature and the Spirit.

In ritual, many would turn to the east to celebrate or think deeply of air. To some it represents the intellect, is understood by the colour yellow, and others associate it with several constellations. To others it represents spring and life, new life. It is the only natural element that is invisible.

The letters of the Name of God in Hebrew are Yod, Hay, Vav, and Hay. They are frequently mispronounced as “Yahveh.” But in truth they are unutterable. Not because of the holiness they evoke, but because they are all vowels and you cannot pronounce all the vowels at once without risking respiratory injury.

This word is the sound of breathing. The holiest Name in the world, the Name of the Creator, is the sound of your own breathing.

(Rabbi Lawrence Kushner: Eyes Remade for Wonder)

Don’t you find that so profound and so comforting? That the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing, and is on our lips constantly.

Ritual / Air

And, so there we were a few of us, Druids and Christo-Druids (or Druidic-Christians) deep in the forest at sunset, a liminal time. Part of the ceremony had us facing the four cardinal compass points in turn.

As we all face east, hands were raised in the orans position (ie  the position one would adopt, say, if someone was pointing a guy at you and said, ‘hands up’. Your hands would be about eight inches from each ear and at ear level, and that’s the orans position, and was used in antiquity in prayer, praise and blessing).

I recited a blessing:

Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you,
which fans your face on a sultry day,
the air which you breathe deeply rhythmically,
which imparts to you energy, consciousness, life.
Deep peace of the flowing air (be) to you.

Everyone responded with the word ‘amen’ or Awen’. Interestingly, I find that when I talk about the Awen to others, the Welsh word and notion for inspiration, the Spirit, I use a two-syllable sound, ie ah-wen. Here, in this ritual they and I, and for formal liturgy we used the more correct three-syllable sound ‘ah-woo-un’ to invoke the Spirit.

Later on, in unison, the group exhaled slowly, five times, and each time used the word Awen, this time ‘aaahhhhhhh-wooooooooo-uuuuuuunnnn. It was a wonderful and powerful expression of deep spirituality resonating though the ether.

At one point, one person was to be ‘commissioned’ into a certain role. Words were spoken, promises made and I reached out to touch that persons shoulder in mutual blessing and others did the same.

As I was leading this, I was in front of the person and gently got them to lower their head, and breathed on the crown of their head. It felt the natural and seemly thing to do, a good ritual of blessing, conferment and consecration.

Interestingly, shamans would do similar when healing others. But, it is something that many ancients did, and though it might seem odd to us, it wouldn’t appear so to them. ‘And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”‘ (John 20.22, the Book).

Shortly after, we all went home.

But, air is not just our breath, important though it is. It is around us and is witnessed as wind. Invisible wind, and yet we see and feel its effect.

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind.
Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation.
Suddenly, you know you are alive.

(Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration)

Experience

A few years ago, I spoke about experience the blustery wind on that wonderful and remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. The wind picked up on that Iona beach, and a storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that, but the wind blows where it wishes. To read more of that encounter on Iona, see this link.

 

We Live In An Ocean Of Air: Connectedness

20190115 we live in an ocean of air

And so, I and five others waited in that darkened room. Suddenly startled, my eyes saw a myriad of trees around me and in the distance. Deep, dense green. Wonderful. There were birds flying around me and above me in this tropical rain forest, and I could hear their birdsong. Golden airborne seeds seemed to be wafted towards me on the wind,  and then away. Bliss.

To one side stood an old, thick, majestic and immensely tall tree. It was a sequoia tree, ancient and gnarled, standing over 200 feet tall. I moved towards it. As I did it got larger in my sight.

‘If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.’

air cBreathing out my breath was a myriad of blue bubbles – about the size of garden peas. I inhaled. Exhaled, and there they were again. I moved my hand through those blue bubbles and they swirled about, affected by my hand’s swishing movement. My hand consisted of thousands of red bubbles denoting my blood supply, but always forming a handshape as I moved my hands about.

I was concerned about the other five people. Where were they?

I looked behind and to the left, and human shapes passed close. Millions of red bubbles, in human form, showed the outline and exact place of the others. Living cells of blood came closer. Male or female, local or foreign, black or white? I didn’t know.  It made no difference. Red cells full of oxygen and life, representatives of humankind, were coming close, then moving off, in some slow dance. And as they moved, their hands moved to experience this event. They seemed to be doing tai chi. Tian.

As they breathed out, so many tiny blue bubbles filled the air in front of their faces. I breathed out and moved my hands to show them where I was. I saw them, they saw me. No words were exchanged, but we communicated in some silent, deep, ancient and primal way. Summerlands.

’It’s like a ‘wood wide web’.’

air aI moved even closer to that large, splendid tree. Suddenly, as I looked down I saw winding ‘cables’, about six inches thick – some wider, some smaller, ‘cables’ with yellow light emitting from every inch of it. I could see the mighty tree’s root system, moving nutrients from the distance to its trunk, under my feet. I was in awe. My feet were it its root system!

I turned to see the tree roots become entangled with other trees in an amazing network of connectedness and mutual support. I turned back towards the thick trunk of the tree and stretched out my hand as if to touch it, and walked forward. Eden.

My sight changed. Around me were now a myriad of luminous ‘wires’ embracing me, and running down and up. I looked up and saw them disappear high above me. I looked around and moved my hand to touch these spaghetti-like ‘wires’ of luminous light – phloem, the trees ‘vascular bundles’ which draw water in and deliver it to all parts of the tree – those ‘wires’ of pink and white, yellow and light blue gently moved in response to my touch, and then they moved back.

I was ‘in’ that ancient tree. Part of it. Connected.

‘If a giraffe starts eating an African acacia, the tree releases a chemical into the air that signals that a threat is at hand. As the chemical drifts through the air and reaches other trees, they “smell” it and are warned of the danger. Even before the giraffe reaches them, they begin producing toxic chemicals.’

I remained there, in that tree. It was divine.

As I stood motionless, I could see light pulses moving up the tree, could see my breath as blue bubbles, could hear the tree moving water around its trunk and branches, and could hear my own heartbeat, could see the tree discharging oxygen: the tree and me (us) in a harmony of light and sound, together. Jannah.

But, it was time to explore, more so, and so I walked around.

A few minutes later, this green vision of that ancient forest disappeared and my vision went black. I stood motionless. The experience was over, but what an experience to remember!

air bAn assistant, one of two, who invisibly, were in the large room to assist fellow sojourners during this experience, took off my headgear which projected that ancient Gaia forest scene and which monitored my breathing. Next, she took out the earpieces throughout which I had heard birdsong and lovely forest sounds. Then, the wrist attachments, which showed me my hands in that ‘vision’, were removed. The strap around my chest which monitored my heart beat (and let me hear my heartbeat sounds) was unstrapped, and finally the backpack (which presumably contained battery and some kind of computer, and which weighed about 15 lbs) was removed.

I was ‘back’.

Along with the other five we discussed this moving and spiritual experience, and later, as I sat on the top deck of the number 22 bus in London I looked around at people – red blood vessels of light; trees containing ‘wires’ of light and wondered about the wonderful world we inhabit.

‘When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines. Machines’

I marvelled that humankind, animals, plants, the local and cosmic environment are one: we are all connected.

 

This ‘immersive’, thought-provoking and spiritual event is ‘We live in an Ocean of Air’, a virtual reality experience where the invisible connection between plant and human is revealed through breath. Visitors are invited to step through the canvas to explore a magical world where the invisible exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is beautifully brought to life. The event takes place for a few weeks (more) at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, London.

The indented quotes above all come from the book, ‘The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World’ by Peter Wohlleben,

 

The Elements: Air: A Word Spoken In Season…

20170307 a word in season CELTIC THOUGHTIn this season, spring, air is the remembered and celebrated element. Something so invisible,  so powerful, sometimes so forgotten, and yet so vital for our existence.

Here’s a few thoughts about air from a Celtic, Christian (Celtic), Druid point of view.

So, take a breath, maybe a deep breath through the mouth and hold it for two seconds, and then release it. Maybe, do that again…and then return to normal breathing. We often take breathing for granted, and yet that simple exercise is such a momentous thing to do. Air. Dare I call it a miracle?

Air. There is power in breathing.

‘Spoken words have power beyond measure.’ Debasish Mridha

When we’re sad our breathing becomes heavy, and we emit heavy sighs. When we’re joyful we can laugh so much that it seems our lungs will burst or we’re likely to hyperventilate and get giddy. When fearful, we hold our breath and concentrate on listening to the environment. And, when we’re about to do something hard or spectacular we take a long deep inhale of a breath as if to prepare ourselves. Breathing then, and in the short exercise above, is a kind of prayer, a celebration of life, an exercise in ‘being’ and a thanksgiving of (and for) the gift of life itself.

Air. There is life in breathing.

In one of my tribes’ stories, it is often said that Moses timidy got the better of him, and he  never asked the Source of All his (or her) personal name, but that the Source of All was gracious enough to reveal it. Over the centuries that name, being so special was never uttered in full, and so we’re left now with the (usually unpronounced) name YHWH (and which, when you add vowels, becomes YaHWah (pronounced ‘yah-way’) for those that want to pronounce the name). Scholars, however, were quick to realise that the letters YHWH represented breathing sounds, aspirated consonants. Add some vowels, and you get the name YaHWeh. But, ‘breathing’ consonants.

‘Breath is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.’  Amit Ray,

So, could it be that the name of the Source of All is the sound of breathing? I will be more emphatic and say…

Air. God’s name is (the sound of) breathing.

I have stood in Clackitt’s Wood and between tall high-rise buildings in London and with the air quite still at ground level, have heard the wind skim and distort the tops of trees, and over those trees and those tall buildings  heard the wind ‘groan and moan and wail’. Power.

Some years ago I was on a school’s governing board, and coming late to it, I was (as were other governors placed on a subcommittee, too), put on the ‘Exclusions sub-committee’. Along with two other governors I herd my first case of a very young student who had been excluded and through this ‘hearing’ the school was frantically trying to put into place measures to ensure the pupil got ‘back on track’. The childe sat in the chair, as her parents told the governors, ‘It’s a pity she’s not as bright as her sister!’. I watched as those words took hold, saw the child’s head droop, shoulders curl as her ego reeled from that ‘battering’. (Negative) Power. I’m happy to say the governor chairing that subcommittee gently rectified the situation, encouraged the parents not to be so negative or compare that child to anyone else, and ‘built up’ that child’s confidence, and I’m pleased to say that measures put in place led to that pupil returning to achieving good things. Power.

Air. Words have the power to ‘crush’, or ‘build up’.

What we say does have an effect. We can use our words, in relating to others, to ‘crush’ their ego, or encourage and ‘build them up’. Of course, I’m advocating the latter. In our rituals (and our ceremonies etc) whether in a group or alone, our words have energy, and do make an impact. In that sense this can be a cautionary word, to be careful in uttering negatives.

‘When you realize the awesome power of words, you can change lives.’  Tammy Kling

However, I like to think of it as an encouragement for us to utter positive words – whether in a group or individual prayer, ritual or ceremony, or whether we’re talking to friends, families, strangers or whoever we encounter. I’m advocating, that we use words of encouragement, or even a blessing (and we’ll look at that word, blessing, in a few days) toward others.

Air. With a word of command the universe sprang into being.

Air reminds us to use our words wisely both in talking to others, to ourselves or ‘into the air’ in a solo or group ritual etc. Your words have power. Use wisely…but do use!

‘Words have magic. Spells and curses. Some of them, the best of them, once said change everything.’  Nora Roberts, Jewels of the Sun