How do we comprehend Gaia? Perhaps that’s as impossible as a single human cell grasping the entire body. Gaia may be vast beyond ordinary human comprehension, but through metaphor and other techniques we may gain some sense of Her greatness. The following meditation is such a technique. You can also use this meditation to foster a sense of interconnection.
While this meditation can be performed anywhere, it is ideal to be outdoors or at a window, so that when you open your eyes at the end you can see land, sea, or sky.
This meditation can be quite brief once you’ve learned the steps, which are designed to be logical and easy to memorize. It is essentially a series of breaths with an expanding mental focus.
Before going into the meditation, a few details about our atmosphere may be helpful.
- The air that you are breathing now is mostly nitrogen, with a good quantity of oxygen, a wee bit of argon, and many trace elements and compounds.
- Each breath is about half a liter of air, which contains a very large number of molecules. The number is so large that it can’t be expressed in standard English. We have to use scientific notation (about 1.25×10²² molecules) or words like sextillion. We might say “one hundred twenty-five followed by twenty zeroes” or write it out: 12,500,000,000,000,000,000,000. And that’s just in one lung! But the precise number of molecules is not the point, as you will see.
- The layer that contains most of the atmosphere’s mass is called the troposphere. It is only a few miles thick, about four or five miles thick at the poles, ten or twelve miles at the equator. It is the only layer of the atmosphere that can sustain life as we know it.
- The oxygen came into our atmosphere during the Great Oxygenation Event, which began three billion years ago and lasted for a couple billion years. This is when the outpouring of oxygen from bacteria conducting photosynthesis began to accumulate.
When you’re ready, listen to the audio recording. The transcript is provided below for reference, but it’s probably best to just listen the first time.
Audio Version of Nine Breaths with Gaia
Transcript of Nine Breaths with Gaia
- Sit or stand comfortably, but with good posture — an erect spine. You may wish to close your eyes. For this meditation, breathe in and out slowly, deeply, and gently.
- Consider the air that you are breathing now, a mix of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and various trace elements and compounds. Each breath contains an astonishing number of molecules, more than all the grains of sand in all the beaches and deserts of the world, more than all the stars in the observable universe, in each breath.
- And with your next breath, consider how these air molecules are entering into your lungs, how the oxygen molecules in particular are flowing into your bloodstream and being carried to every cell in your body, literally becoming part of you.
- On your next breath, expand your focus to encompass the room where you are now, and the larger building. Consider how the air is circulating through the rooms of this building, how this same air, these very same molecules which you are breathing now, have circulated and will circulate through the bodies of the other beings in this building.
- On your next breath, expand your focus to encompass the surrounding neighborhood, or campus, or city, the larger community where you are situated. Consider how the air is circulating through this larger community, over a larger time-frame, how this same air, these very same molecules which you are breathing now, are circulating through the bodies of the other beings in the larger community: humans but also other animals, as well as plants, who take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
- On your next breath, expand your focus to encompass the larger biome or ecosystem, the larger ecological community, be it swamp or forest or prairie or mountain. Consider how the air is circulating through this larger community, over a larger time-frame, how this same air is circulating through the bodies of the even more diverse beings of the local ecosystem: these very same molecules which you are breathing now have been and will be exchanged by animals, plants, even fungi, and innumerable bacteria. Even the fish are breathing oxygen which dissolves from the air into the water where they dwell.
- On your next breath, expand your focus now to encompass the entire continent where you are. Consider how the air is circulating over this larger landmass, comprising numerous different but interconnected ecosystems. It takes several days for the winds to move across the continent, yet still this same air is circulating through the bodies of the beings who dwell here: these very same molecules which you are breathing now.
- On your next breath, expand your focus to encompass the entire planet. Consider how the air is circulating over the surface of the Earth, permeating the soil and dissolving into the oceans. This same air is circulating through the bodies of virtually all the beings who dwell here: these very same molecules which you are breathing now. It takes only a matter of weeks for air to circle the globe.
- And on your next breath, expand your focus even further in time. Consider that this same air, these very same molecules of air which you are breathing now have been circulating through the atmosphere for hundreds, thousands, millions of years. With each breath, you are drawing into your body molecules of air which passed through the lungs of Cleopatra, as well as countless dinosaurs, indeed of virtually every living being that has drawn breath on this planet. And this atmosphere not only sustains life, it is a creation of life. Living beings create and sustain the atmosphere. “This air we breathe is a gift of the early ancestors. With each breath in, we take in the results of their great creativity. With each breath out, we give back.“
- Hold this image, of the swirling, interconnected, living Earth. Hold this image within you. To know is to love. And on your next breath, slowly open your eyes. As your mental image dissolves into sight, carry this vision forward. You can bring your knowledge of interconnection into your daily interactions and dealings with others. Thank you.
This meditation is inspired by the work of Starhawk, Glenys Livingstone, and of course the ever-present respiration of Mother Earth. The passage toward the end about “the early ancestors” is a quotation from The Earth Path (2004) by Starhawk. Thanks to Wendy Gaudin for her editorial insights and Tiera Coston for her encouragement.
This meditation has had a long gestation. It was composed slowly, for the most part mentally, through practice, over the course of 2016 and 2017, and was only written down in January of 2018. And now in 2021, it’s being shared with the Gaian Community.
- How many trees does it take to produce oxygen for one person? (BBC Science Focus magazine)
- The Surprising Ways Your Breath Connects You to the Entire Planet (Wired magazine)
- The Air You Breathe Is Full of Surprises (National Geographic magazine)
- How long does it take air to circle the world? (Stack Exchange)
- Deep breath (New Scientist)
- The event that transformed Earth, namely the Great Oxygenation Event (Oxidation if you are British — and the BBC certainly is)