Some Thoughts on The Collective Breath
One of the great things about teaching a monthly mandala workshop is the fun of coming up with new class ideas. As a rule, my Eco-Art Wellness workshops are not just about creating beautiful nature mandalas. They are challenging the way we see ourselves and our place in this world. In the process, we connect, find support, and learn from each other.
Last month I facilitated a new workshop, “AIR: The Great Connector”, at Blithewold in Bristol, Rhode Island and Tabor Library in Marion, Massachusetts. During the introduction, I shared some facts about air relating to the concept of "The Collective Breath". First of all, WE, being every plant, animal, and person living on this earth now and in the past, share one collective breath. This is because the wind causes air to circulate around the world every six years. The result is that in a day’s worth of breathing, we will breathe in at least one molecule of oxygen from every person who is living or has ever lived. Pause and think about that for a little while!
When designing a workshop, I like to create a mandala and complete the introspective writing myself several times before I teach it. It is always interesting to see how the results can differ each time. As we continue to contemplate and live with new concepts, our perspective begins to change.
The first time I worked on AIR: The Great Connector, I found myself humbled in a profound way. Although I believe that I am an open person, more open that many in my circles, I still felt challenged when thinking about the fact I was sharing my breath with not only the people I loved, but the people who are more challenging to love. Our breath is automatic and we cannot choose with whom we breath. From the moment we take our first breath as a newborn, we begin very real relationship with every person, plant, and animal on the face of the earth. Air is a Great Connector and a Great Leveler at the same time.
As I practiced the workshop on my own over the next few weeks, I found that gradually, my thoughts and emotions began to change from being challenged to being comforted. I began to see myself as part of the whole. I was personally facing some hard issues in my life and the last mandala I created with this workshop seemed to focus on the support that I felt from sharing my breath with those ancestors who came before me. I thought about their wisdom and the fact that they, too, had faced the same circumstances that I was facing. I felt as if there was some mysterious way in which their breath was not just giving me oxygen, but giving me support. Scientists will tell you that the more they study, the more they realize how much they do not know - how much we do not know. (Remember when people thought trees didn’t communication with each other?) So, I am going to cling on to a possibility that in some mysterious way, I am not only sharing the oxygen with those who came before me, but somehow sharing their collective memory or collective strength.
The When I facilitate workshops, I bring many boxes of nature materials for everyone to work with. Since the mandalas are ephemeral, the nature objects are used and then put back into their boxes at the end of the class. This reinforces the idea that life, too, is ephemeral with every day is different from the last or next. Objects eventually go through many hands reminding us that we are all connected.
Most nature objects can be separated again, but some start to blend. The photograph above shows the contents of a box that has changed over time through many hands. It started out as just a box of himalayan salt, but now includes lavender buds, red lentils, mung beans, green lentils, pressed forget-me-nots, status blossoms, rice flowers, peony petals, and mustard seeds. We are all connected.