The leaves have fallen and the snow has arrived, heralding the onset of winter. It is the chill air that I notice most, as I pull down my hat and pull up the scarf to protect my face. And yet, when I stop and stand and pause, I love the bracing coolness of the air.
This week, take some inspiration from Unitarian Universalist Brian Nelson’s meditation on air. Stop one day on the sidewalk and breathe and simply experience the air all around you and within you.
As the autumn air grows chill, take this opportunity to become mindful:
be aware of the air itself.
“The air is the most pervasive presence I can name,
enveloping, embracing, and caressing me
inside and out.”*
We swim in the air even more deeply then we swim in the water;
it bathes us as it slips into our lungs and fills our hearts.
Every breath refreshes us, calms us,
and yet sometimes the breath startles us.
Remember this: the word spirit comes from the latin for breath.
As we bundle up against the oncoming chill,
face the wind and feel the prickles of cold air against the skin,
an icy reminder of the invisible realm of life.
* (David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous)
Adapted from Earth Bound, daily meditations by Brian Nelson
“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” Henry David Thoreau
This week we consider the element of air through the beautiful songs of birds. Air is the home place for many creatures – birds and insects and bats. I have heard that the Haudenosaunee people say that songbirds sing about the place they live in, if we pay attention, we can learn their knowledge. Learning the language of birds is a life long process, it requires time and patience to be outside and to hear, identify and understand bird calls. Birds have several different types of call, and songs vary by time of day, weather and change of season.
If you live in an area with birds, plan to spend 10 minutes outside listening to birdsong. Find a sheltered place where you will be undisturbed. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and listen for the birds. Do you recognize any species by their song? How would you describe their songs – are they alarm calls or mating calls or something else? Can you locate them and identify them by sight? Watch how they fly and follow the air currents. Let your mind wander over any questions without trying too hard to find the answers. If you don’t know the name of the bird, simply make one up. Don’t worry about figuring anything out, just listen to the birdsong, breathe and wonder.
You may wish to check a bird identification book after the observation time, but don’t bring it outside with you. Simply sit with your wonderings.
For those of you with limited access to the outdoors, this video offers a variety of North American birdsong.
“Air is a matrix which joins all life together”, says scientist David Suzuki. “It is constantly changing as life and geophysical forces add and subtract constituents to the composition of air, and yet over vast stretches of time the basic composition of air has remained in dynamic equilibrium. The longer each of us lives, the greater the likelihood that we will absorb atoms that were once part of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ, of Neanderthal people and woolly mammoths. As we have breathed in our forebears, so our grandchildren and their grandchildren will take us in with their breath. We are bound up inseparably with the past and the future by the spirit we share.
Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things…” from The Sacred Balance, p.38
This simple breathing meditation is an exercise in thankfulness. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably, either on the floor or on a chair, with your hands lying loosely on your knees. Close your eyes.
Breathe in with gratitude for your parents, grand-parents, great-grand parents all the way back to your early ancestors. The air rushing into your lungs was their air too.
Breathe out with love, a gift to all the children of the planet, those with us now and those still to arrive. The air leaving your lungs will be their air too.
Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.
Remember that each breath connects you to all has lived, is living, and will ever live.
Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.
Sit with this meditation for five to fifteen minutes.
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens
This month our spiritual practices focus on the element of air, as we pay attention to the vital force that exists unseen all around us. This week we consider the wind. This observation practice comes from neo-pagan author and activist Starhawk’s book The Earth Path. Try this practice two or three times, at different times of the day, with different levels of wind. As you learn the various ways wind moves, you will become more aware of the earth around you.
Go outside to a place where you can sit and observe undisturbed, in your backyard or in the park. Sit with your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your legs with your palms face up. Close your eyes and sit for a minute breathing deeply. Open your eyes.
Focus on the air and wind around you. Where is it coming from? What direction? What can you smell in the air?
Feel the air on your skin. Is it moving or still, gentle or strong? Is it cold or warm?
Listen to the sound of the wind. What is it moving through? Is it moving through trees, houses, concrete walls? It will sound differently depending on the landscape.
Stand up and move around. Find a place where the wind moves strongly. Contrast that with a place sheltered from the wind.
Learn what the wind is telling you about the place where you are.
We live immersed in air. We can’t live without this most essential element of life. Air is an invisible power, we can only see it through its effect on the planet: trees bending in the wind, ripples in a pond, a plastic bag tumbling in a parking lot. This month we turn our attention to the atmosphere.
As Unitarian Universalists we honour air as a vital life force that infuses the interdependent web. Breath is part of our weekly practice of meditation within a service, it represents the greater whole to which we all belong. Even an empty chalice is filled with air. Air is both within and without, oxygenating our blood, filling our lungs, surrounding us. We are not separate from the air which we breathe, through it we are connected to all other beings.
This March, as spring begins to emerge on earth, we will explore the element of air through various meditations and physical activities.
This week’s practice is visual meditation. You may watch one or both of these short two minute videos. Consider watching the videos twice through. Find a quiet place and turn the sound up on your computer. Put the video to full screen. Let your eyes go soft as you watch the images. It`s okay if your mind wanders; the point is not to empty your mind, but to not get caught up in your thoughts, to let them flow in and out of you like breath.
Take a minute to steady your breath before you begin a video.
Breathe in, breathe out.
This first video explores the power and beauty of the atmosphere and uses instrumental music.
If you are interested in a neo-pagan understanding of the element of air, the video below provides details of its associations. The sound track is a recording of the wind and is especially evocative if you listen without looking.