Starting a Monthly Practice with a Breath of Clean Air
Updated: May 6
Starting today, my blog posts on the first of the month will be dedicated to the concept of Living Connected. The post will be a 3-step reflection on something we use regularly, maybe daily. The first step will offer an opportunity to mindfully engage the item. Step two will develop insight into the item and the ways our use of it connects us to other people and life on our planet. The final step will be an invitation to practice intentional, just, and sustainable use of the item.
After the reflection, I'll offer some suggestions for carrying the practice into the month. I find it helpful to think of them as spiritual practices. They ask something of us. It’s the difference between riding the bus (versus driving my car) to save money when it’s convenient for me; and instead, adjusting my schedule and going out of my way to ride the bus because it’s good for my community and the environment on which they depend.
A spiritual practice turns us from an inward-looking attitude of what’s good for me, to an outward-looking attitude of what’s good for all life. This transformation is difficult, counter-cultural, and goes against the powers that benefit from convincing us we “need, “deserve,” or are “entitled to” a life of comfort, ease, and pleasure. People of faith and people of good will can turn to a Divine presence, God, YHWH, Allah, a higher power, or their belief in a greater good to help them make this transformation. The practice then becomes a spiritual one, and what was once difficult becomes meaningful and possible.
This month, April 2021, the Living Connected focus is on something we use every minute of our lives. At best, we can only go a few minutes without it: AIR.
Step outside and become aware of the air flowing across your face. Is it windy? A light breeze? Still? Slowly inhale for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of four. Feel the air traveling past your nose and mouth, down the back of your throat, and into your lungs. Does the air feel cold? Warm? Hot? Dry? Moist? Inhale and exhale again, two more times. Celebrate receiving this life-giving air.
Air is about 21% oxygen, which animates our lives from the moment we gasp our first breath as a baby. All the oxygen in the air originated with cyanobacteria. They first lived in the ancient oceans, and their photosynthetic process was incorporated into algae and the green parts of plants. Photosynthesis produces the oxygen we breathe. Every breath we take depends on the planet having healthy plant communities.
Take another breath of air; four counts in, and four counts out. Say a prayer of thanks for the plants, algae, and cyanobacteria that make your life possible, and for people who are working to keep your air free of pollutants. What can you do to protect the air others breathe?
I invite you to try one of the following practices this month.
· Reflect on the air quality where you live by monitoring the Air Quality Index at Air Now.
· Discover if the air in your county is on the nonattainment list, which means the air exceeds health criteria at times during the year. If your county is on the list, learn about the listed pollutant. What’s its effect on you and your neighbors? Reflect on the ways your actions may be contributing to the pollution.
· Plant trees and large bushes (>15 feet). They have a net positive effect on air quality.
· Implement ENERGY STAR @ home tips to reduce your home’s energy use. Unless your home is on 100% wind, solar, or hydro power, the energy it uses comes from fuel combustion, which emits air pollutants.
· Use the transportation hierarchy when going places, in order of least to most polluting per passenger-mile: (1) Walking or biking; (2) public transportation and commercial buses; (3) high occupancy vehicles (e.g., ride share vans); (4) carpooling; (5) personal vehicle. Can you change one trip a week to reduce air pollution?
· Switch to electric lawn care equipment and stop using leaf blowers. Gas-powered lawn equipment is a surprisingly large source of air pollutants, accounting for a quarter or more of the nonroad gasoline emissions. Leaf blowers are being banned in some cities due to a combination of air pollution, noise pollution, and worker hazard. Making these changes may mean accepting nature as it is, which is a little messier than the typically manicured lawn.
· Reduce your use of home fireplaces and fire pits, and reconsider the campfire. If you don’t need it for heating or cooking, is it worth the resulting air pollution?
· Use alternatives to burning for disposal of trash, leaves, and cleared vegetation.
· Join your state’s chapter of Mom’s Clean Air Force and advocate for clean air.
· Advocate for your community to adopt a tree ordinance.
· Advocate for tree equity in your community. High density and low-income neighborhoods often lack trees and don’t receive their public health benefits, such as cleaner air.