Meditation on Air

Author: 
Kat Liu

The very first thing we do after we are born is to take a breath. We inhale. Our bodies extract oxygen and release CO2. We exhale.  Repeat. Breathing comes to us so naturally that we don't need to think about it.  We take for granted this essential cyclical exchange.

 

Tis' the ancestors breath
When the fire's voice is heard.
Tis' the ancestor's breath
In the voice of the waters.

- Birago Diop

 

 

Take a deep breath, slowly.  Feel your lungs filling with air.

Exhale; feel the air rushing back out.

We breathe because our cells need oxygen, and they need to clear out the CO2 that they've created.

Take another breath.  Imagine the oxygen molecules in your lungs boarding red blood cells. Now imagine these red blood cells rushing along your arteries and capillaries to other parts of you body, to deliver the precious oxygen to every cell, even the farthest reaches of your toes.

Exhale slowly.  Feel the carbon dioxide leaving with the air in your lungs.  Our cells "burn" carbon chains (carbohydrates) to release the energy within, creating CO2 in the process.  Imagine each red blood cell picking up CO2 from your other cells, and traveling along your veins to transport the CO2 back to your lungs where it is released out into the wider word.  

Picture it, every animal alive is doing the same thing that you are doing right now.  Cows and foxes, sparrows and whales, beetles and trout, every animal.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  Breathing in O2; breathing out CO2.  

The air would eventually have too little oxygen and too much CO2 if it weren't for plants and trees keeping us in balance.  Plants, trees especially, breath in CO2 and breathe out O2, using sunlight to extract the carbon and create long chains (carbohydrates).  

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

Now, imagine back to a time when animals did not yet exist.  For millons of years there were no animals on Mother Earth.  The air was thick with carbon left over from when the Earth herself was born.  Too much carbon in the air for us to exist.  But the plants and especially the trees appeared.  They breathed in the carbon and stored it in their bodies, and then breathed out oxygen.  Breathed in CO2, stored the carbon in their bodies, then breathed out O2.  Breathed in CO2, stored the carbon, breathed out O2. 

Eventually, Earth was able to sustain animal life.  We breathed in O2 and breathed out CO2, but there were many more plants than animals.  

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

The animals ate plants and other animals, making their bodies out of the carbon stored by plants.  Imagine the food you ate this morning, your body breaking it down into smaller pieces.  Some of the carbon chains were burned for energy to keep your body running.  And others were used to create your bones, muscle, and other organs. The carbon stored by plants are now in you, as they are in all animals, including the dinosaurs. When the ancient plants and animals died, many decomposed to become the nutrients in soil.  Still others became the oil and coal and gas that we burn for energy today.  All of that carbon was in the earth, not in the air.  Picture the millions of years that it took for Earth and her trees to take tons of carbon out of the air and put it into the ground, until finally the conditions were right for us to thrive.

We breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2.  
Trees breath in CO2 and breathe out O2.  
Balance.

We breathe in the O2 that the trees breathe out.
Trees breathe in the CO2 that we breathe out.
Balance.  

Now, picture us digging up all the carbon that had been sequested in the ground, and burning it, sending the carbon back into the air.  Picture us cutting down acre after acre of trees, and burning them, sending all their carbon into the air.  Picture our atmosphere filling with carbon, trapping the heat of the sun, and our earth getting warmer.  Picture us undoing in two hundred years what took millions of years to do.  

We are not in balance.  
But we could be again.

Imagine a better future.  

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