Of the four classical elements, I think that the air is the symbol that is currently most counter-cultural. In our society which is absolutely obsessed with style over substance, with celebrity status which is unthinkingly grasped after by many and has been granted to some, often for no merit, ability or contribution to the world other than a desperate desire and energy to be seen, known and adored, what is the point of an element whose main feature is that it is invisible?
It may offend some, but I think that the air is actually the middle-aged woman of the elements: often unnoticed and unthought of, invisible to many and yet absolutely fundamental to all, often making a profound impact on the world and able to be extremely powerful both through forcefulness and gentleness.
There are many aspects of the air that I aspire to. For me the symbol represents an enormous sense of freedom, spaciousness and lightness of being. The parts of me that are so drawn to minimalism and simplicity, yearn for this ability to be free and unencumbered, to not be tied down in one place, but to move freely as the spirit leads, unconstrained. I yearn for the grace to cherish being invisible, to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that brings. I long to care more for the impact I have on the world for good than for being seen and recognised by others.
And more than anything, I long to allow myself to breathe, to stay present in this body with this current breath and to be more fully aware of the outrageous miracle of being alive. From the moment of birth to the moment of death it is this breath which separates the living from the dead. It is this breath that animates and sustains us. And it is at this simple point of noticing the air enter and leave our bodies – a point which is equally accessible to everyone – that we can become more aware of our connection to, and dependence on, the divine.
Breathe on me breath of God.
This collage is based on a photo of the roots of an enormous gunnera plant which have these beautiful, spidery pink feathery fronds growing out. I chose a palette of light airy greens, pinks and creams. I used a circle motif which felt to me like little bubbles and pockets of air rising upwards. These circles were drawn on – and scraped off – at different places on the canvas. Apart from using paper in the collage, there are layers of gesso tinted with intense ink pencils and a final coat of resin for a clear surface.
If you would like more details about the process or materials I used, do contact me.
Here are a few ideas of things you could try if you want to reflect more on the symbol of the air:
- Give yourself five minutes or so to sit on a chair with a relaxed, attentive posture. Without changing the way you are breathing, focus on your breath. Be aware of the air entering your body and leaving again. Notice the sensation of the air in your nostrils and the back of your throat. Notice your chest expand and your shoulders rise and fall. Be aware of how deeply the air enters your body. Try to notice the point at which your in-breath becomes an out-breath. Whenever you get distracted and unfocused, bring your attention back to your breath.
- When you are about to start a new task, take a few deep breaths and focus yourself before you begin.
- Go outside and try to smell the air – particularly lovely after there’s been some rain…
- Sit outside or at a window and look at the way the air has an impact on your surroundings. Notice the gentle swaying of leaves and grass, the swift movement of the clouds or the violent shaking of the trees. Think about the wide range of ways in which you can impact on the place where you live.
- Use your breath to hum. Try to hum into different parts of your body. Put a hand on your heart, your throat or your belly and hum until you become aware of that place vibrating. Then picture a warm golden light radiating from that place.
- Get outside where no-one can hear you, breathe deeply and start to sing. Either sing a song you know or choose a word or phrase you like and make up a melody which expresses how you feel. Use the air you breathe to sing out your loneliness, desire, fear, desperation or hope.
Thank you very much for reading.