Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A conspiracy theory . . .

I'm sure you've seen the photos from Malaysia and Singapore, the poor people who are currently suffering from problems of severe smog.
Blazing forests in Indonesia send their smoke haze spreading across the region, closing schools, affecting the vulnerable, and forcing a large percentage of the population to wear face masks.

Without going into the rights or wrongs of forest burning, it's unarguably detrimental to air quality.

Not only that, when it comes to air pollution we were told last week that London has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in Europe.   It's hardly a distinction to be proud of.

However, except when such occasions hit the headlines, we give very little thought to the subject of air.

I saw a cartoon the other day, it featured a puzzled fish swimming in a pond, "Water . . .?" the fish was enquiring, "What's water . . . ?"

It could be said that we are equally oblivious to the vital life force that surrounds us, "Air . . . ?" we could well be guilty of asking, "What's air . . . ?

If you're wondering what gave rise to these thoughts, it was a talk I heard the other day.  Not on the subject of air pollution, but on meditation.
As an exercise in stilling the mind, the audience was given a seemingly simple exercise.  We were asked to relax in our seats and give our whole attention to watching our breathing . . . not interfering, not commenting, just watching.

Simple it may have sounded, but it was far from easy.
Try it for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

But this exercise taught me something else, it showed me how little thought we give to this vital procedure that continues quietly in the background throughout every moment of our lives.  The life-maintaing act of breathing is something we take for granted.

More than that, as I realised, we take the air itself for granted.  We give careful consideration to the food we eat . . . to the liquid we drink . . . to any health supplements that we consider beneficial . . . but rarely, if ever, do we stop to question the quality or the components of the air we breathe.

You can't go to the super-market in search of a canister of top-quality fresh air.  Unthinkingly, we inhale and exhale the air around us, changing its structure as we do so.
Do we ever go to bed worrying whether the air will be there in the morning?  Of course not . . . why should we?

I'm no scientist, and I've no wish to be an alarmist, but isn't that trust of the highest magnitude?  Could it be that, like the fish, we are so identified with our natural element that we fail to recognise its vital importance . . . and thus fail to appreciate that, like everything else in creation, the element air is in a constant state of flux and evolution?

Climate change  . . water shortage . . . food shortage . . . all these are factors that regularly hit the headlines.  But the availability and reliability of the air we breathe . . . ?  Such a question rarely gets a journalist reaching for his pen.

Yet, as we know, every living thing breathes . . .  every living thing from a blade of grass to an Olympic athlete.
And, as nothing has been added to, or detracted from, our planet since the universe was created, you and I are breathing in the air that circulated in the lungs of the dinosaurs . . . the air that filled the sails of Cleopatra's barge . . . the air that inspired Shakespeare.

I'm sorry . . . I'm in danger of getting blown away by the subject of air!  
But may I share one last thought . . .  something that I learned the other day?  Do you know the derivation of the word 'conspire'?  I was surprised to find that it means 'to breathe together'.

Let's end with a conspiracy theory . . . the concept that in acknowledging the air around us, in acknowledging our breathing,  we are, in fact, acknowledging and endorsing our basic unity.
I'll settle for that!