Friday, October 23, 2009

The Four Elements: Air Born

Part 1 of 4

© 2009
by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

As a concept, the elements are ancient. Many philosophies and most major spiritual traditions have used the archetypal four elements to describe patterns in nature. That goes for human nature as well. “Know thyself” is the cornerstone of spirited living. This is the first of a series of four posts exploring our elemental nature. (For more on this topic, read The Vast Lane to Elementary School ). Let’s start with some examples of the part the elements play in various traditions.

Native Americans align themselves with the Four Directions in a medicine wheel to invoke the Spirits of the Four Elements. Each spirit rules a direction: East (Air), South (Fire), West (Water) and North (Earth). By attuning themselves with elemental energies, they create the space to pray, heal, and commune with the natural world and the universe. They call this walking in balance with the Earth. Heaven only knows how badly we need that right now.

The astrological Air Signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.

Indigenous cultures view air as the universal power or pure substance. Even in our high-tech, modern world, we know the power of air. We are born—considered to exist independently—from the moment of our first breath, whether or not the cord has been cut, whether or not we are detached from our mother. In the Medicine Wheel as in life itself, Air comes first and last. We are Air Born. When we are no longer able to breathe—to take in air—we die.

Yet breathing, our most personal experience of air, is something we often take for granted—unless or until we suffer from the flu, a bad cold, asthma, or other respiratory diseases. How fully do you breathe in the breath of life?

Stress and other environmental factors tend to lead to shallow breathing and diminished oxygenation and mental clarity. Think of the word inspired, something we all hope to be in our work, play, and life in general. Inspiration is breathing—to inspire or breathe in. What is your relationship to your own breath?

We worry about bad breath, but halitosis is the least of our problems. The really “bad” breath is not drinking in life to our full lung capacity. Yoga, the gentle exercise that focuses on breathing, means union—union of spirit/air and our entire physical being. We have a lot to learn from this ancient practice currently enjoying a renaissance in the Western world.

But if chanting om and sitting still are not your bag, there’s runner’s high and a host of other ways to drink in the breath of life. There’s nothing like hot sex to get you panting and appreciating how we’re wired for extra air, just when we need it most. Another example of air conditioning comes when you have to run from danger, or God forbid, for your life. Who knows where it comes from, that extra oomph to heave your chest and make room for the surge of fear and expanded lung capacity. Who cares? It’s an elemental miracle.

Simply being quiet and focusing on your breath either sitting still or walking in nature can be a centering ritual filled with startling revelations. It is only when we “listen” to our breath that we can hear our spirits speak.

The breath of spirit can also become, as the practitioners of Ayurveda call it, deranged. Too much air is unsettling—one reason we are discombobulated after a long plane ride, flying around through so much air space. We don’t like it when something is “up in the air.” It’s undecided and out of our control. When wind whips through the trees and stirs up pollen, we don’t just sneeze. We often become downright cranky. Excess air causes a myriad of conditions that simply ask us to return to the inner barometer of our own breath, our trusty medium of life and spirit.

Experiment: Simply take time to breathe—to notice your breath. Consider learning some yogic breath exercises. If you like to sing, do breath control warm-ups. Explore the edges of full and empty lungs. Donate to the Lung Association. Consider a visit Chicago, the Windy City. If, like me, you live within driving distance of windmill fields that create alternative energy, watch them spin. Go to a toy store; buy a pinwheel or kite. Blow up a balloon. Let it fly, or make music by stretching the mouth and letting out little bits of air. Play with this element. Journal the results.

When we are completely high on life, we say, “I’m just flying!” Find out the full meaning of this metaphor and know when you’re living it. It’s the essence of being alive. 

Or to quote the lyrics go of an old song, The Air That I Breathe  by The Hollies, "Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.


Photo Credit: DANDELION WISH © Mircala

Four Element Series

Fire - Hearts Afire 
Water - Wetting Reception
Earth - I Dig Earth!


Pop Art Diva said...

You're going to laugh but halfway through your post I started to breath deeper and instantly felt a wave of relaxation hit me!

You're right - stress and everyday life do lead to less effective breathing - I actually have caught myself holding my breath during really tense moments and even while working on a difficult area on a piece of art. Of course, then I notice tension building in my neck and shoulders!

Good post and thanks for the moment of relaxation!

Joyce Mason said...

Hi, PopArt,

Wow, there's an unexpected good side effect! It's strange how we tend to hold our breath at times when we actually need more, not less oxygen. Glad you could "take a breather" with me. You're welcome!

Susannah said...

I was just watching out of the window as the very strong winds whipped and shoved the huge lilac bush outside. I can see the big trees in the distance bending in the wind as the clouds scurry across the blue sky. The fence is creaking and shuddering and I can hear the whistling wind through the closed windows.

Then I clicked on the link to visit your blog and found your excellent post on the element of air!! Synchronicity - I don't think so. ;-)

The Air element sure wants my attention today!

Nice post Joyce. :-)

Eileen Williams said...

What a great post reminding us of the vital importance of something we almost always take for granted. Breathing deeply and fully is a way of, not only nourishing the cells of your body with oxygen, but connecting to the universal spirit. Thus the word, "inspiration!"

Joyce Mason said...

Susannah, I love when art imitates life! Your description of the winds sure added to this post, better than a You Tube clip! Great descriptions.

Eileen, so true. Writing this made me more aware of my breath. Now if someone thinks I'm full of hot air, I'm apt to be more grateful than insulted! :)

Susannah said...

Is that new hair I spy in your blogger profile pic???

Joyce Mason said...

Susannah, my observant friend! The hair isn't new, just the pic. The previous one was over 3 years old, and since then, I've gone back to my most classic hair-do. I wore a shorter version of the same style in my late teens and early twenties. Not that I'm trying to recapture my youth or anything, LOL! Of all the ways I've ever worn my hair, it's the most "me." Looks darker than in real life, but my photographer is going to adjust the lighting and give me a new copy soon. Look for the more auburn version, and if you're the first to spot it, I'll have to give you another prize!