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Reply To: The Air We Breathe

Richard Sumpter

    On this “Sun”day my meditation led me to reflections about the sun as both reality and a metaphor.  The reality it is this: the sun is about 5 billion years old and will last about another 4 billion years.  It is mostly hydrogen.  It is our source of energy, and thus life.  In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year.

    Shel Silverstein once wrote a book called “The Giving Tree” which depicted a tree as a metaphor for giving of self for others.  Today I thought of the sun in the same metaphorical way.  I know there are billions of suns, but only our sun directly gives itself for us.  Every second it consumes (burns) 5 million tons of its hydrogen fuel to give us energy in the form of light. The sun’s hydrogen is converted into useful energy which in turn becomes the fuel for our planetary life.  It is an outpouring of generosity rivaled only by the religious person’s concept of God, the difference being that the sun will eventually “die.”

    Another reflection relates to our discussion board on “the air we breathe.”  A lot of the discussion has been about the air, as both reality and metaphor.  Today I would like to think about the breath, the act of breathing.  Like much of reality, we view it through a lens which sees duality.  Though breathing is one thing, we view it as having two components: inhaling and exhaling.  In order to live you must do both.  This can be an analogy that helps me to think about the concept of the individual and the community.  Just as breathing requires inhaling and exhaling, a functioning and flourishing society requires the interaction of the individual and the community.  The individual can be seen as the act of inhaling; the community is the exhale.  Taking in is for the benefit of the individual; the giving back is for the benefit of the community.  Just as you cannot only inhale, you cannot privilege self over other; likewise, you cannot be a flourishing member of the community if you do not attend to the needs of self.
    As individuals, we cannot ignore our duties to the community.  It would be like inhaling and holding our breath.  And that would cause the demise of “the individual,” not the community.