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The Air We Breathe

Viewing 15 posts - 61 through 75 (of 83 total)
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    Hi Richard,

    I appreciate your thought-provoking post!

    I think that in the photo “Earthrise” as earth is seen from space, there is finally the idea of things being “one” and less opposites for the new myth. However, people are often also slow to change and do not give up their ways of seeing too readily. Perhaps the oneness could be absorbed into only those individuals who were ready.

    I really enjoyed your post. While I would like to think I can see things as one, I do still see in dualities every day with the sunrise and the sunset, with the dark of night or the light of day, with the moon out either full or new, with the season hot or cold (of course there are those degrees in between) and to a point I do see this as inherent dualities on earth, yet see them at the same time as the yin and yang in the circle separated by the wave in the middle meaning that they flow into one another and the opposite color of the dot inside each half-circle of the light or the dark or the one inside the other. For me, I find the contrast of dualities things that beautiful poetry or shadowplay in films are made of; yet if that is all we see and do not see they are part of the circle of continuum that then it is indeed oppressive. I find lines or curves of division beautiful in a painting, for example. One quality of Air is its discernment or division as in the ancient 4 airts or the 4 winds of the 4 directions. The compass halves the circle and then quarters it and goes even further to make the 4 more minor directions of NE, SE, SW, and NE.

    Just musings here, free-associating in this moment.

    In a way too it seems to me almost like the dots within the semi-circles of the yin and yang suggest some of that  enantiodromia of which James speaks of.


    Hi Joanna,

    Can you also write to us more about Odin as breath? I really loved your beautiful post and your sentiments. I do wish we in America were being more kind to one another and respectful. It is so refreshing to read your post about how different it is in Germany. I do wonder if more of Europe is like that or mostly Germany due to its Odin deity. I am also wondering if you could tell us a bit about how prevalent the recognition of Odin is today in Germany whether in the collective unconscious (or archetypal psyche) or consciousness and if no longer religious then how common in the folklore?

    I have spent the last three days being very sad about this mask situation and people who will not wear them and how the people who do not want to wear masks treat the people that do want to wear masks. I also see a lot of deceptive behavior and people even breaking off their relationships because they are fighting over wearing masks or not or one person feels the other person isn’t protecting them and thinking of the “other.” Jung did say that in humans there are two basic instincts: the will to live and the will to die. I can understand that a body that is old and weary will feel its death instinct and be ready to die in its own time, but I also now see with the corona virus presenting itself (and also have for years in the lack of regard for the health of our environment) see people behaving as though they really want to die or want to kill humanity. It perhaps is disguised as denial, or defiance, but it is foolish to laugh in the face of death–unless someone just really doesn’t care and is suicidal. I think that some people are just so mad about losing what they feel is their freedom that they just want to kill people with their breath. I know how horrible it sounds, but it’s like the mythic “kiss of death” though the “mist of breath.” Or, “kiss of breath.”


    Richard Sumpter

      Hi Mary,

      I hope you don’t mind if I piggy-back on your comments to Johanna, particularly the second section regarding masks. I have seen in the news several commentaries on how the pandemic has been politicized.  The most visible sign of this has become wearing or not wearing a mask.  TV news outlets have aired numerous accounts of people who refuse to wear a mask.  I have heard them say things like, “This is America.  They can’t make me wear a mask,” or “It’s a free country.  Wear one if you want but don’t force it on me.”  People who do wear masks have tried to reason with or respond to non-wearers with a fairly consistent message: “It’s not just about you.  Not observing the rules can endanger others.”  Those who refuse to follow the rules are often self-identified Trump followers, and/or conservatives.  The others are largely liberals.

      Over a year ago I wrote a lengthy essay trying to determine the major principles that differentiated liberals from conservatives.

      Essentially, I concluded that the fundamental difference is that conservatives privileged individual freedom over the common good, a case of self vs other.  Liberals privileged the community over the individual and made the common good the higher priority.   The mask wearing issue is a clear illustration of my contention.  It is further borne out by the rules promulgated by Republican governors compared to those mandated by Democratic governors.  (These thoughts were what gave rise to my earlier post regarding integrating the hero individual with the community to which he returns.)

      Pundits in the TV news described the unwillingness to require masks as an example of how Trump followers deny science.  I think they are actually denying that they have any responsibility toward the common good when it impinges on their own personal freedom; and denying the science behind the pandemic is a necessary step to permit them to privilege individual freedom over communal good.

      Another of the ways our current identity politics is described is by the use of the word “tribal.”  This use gives the word a negative connotation.  That’s the opposite of its prehistoric usage, but more in line with Biblical usage.  In prehistoric times tribal living was how homo sapiens survived.  Humans existed as hunter/gatherers in small nomadic tribes of about 25 to 40 people for nearly a million years (Swimme).  It was a very successful model.  They were bonded together by both kinship and necessity.  To be outside of a tribe was practically a death sentence.  That’s why banishment was such a severe penalty.

      It wasn’t until humans discovered agriculture about 10.000 years ago that many hunter/gatherer tribes abandoned the nomadic lifestyle and settled in the fertile river deltas around the world.  When walled cities were developed and division of labor came about, tribal bonds were less necessary and were frequently replaced by loyalty to the city because it was the city that provided protection.

      In the Book of Genesis in about 1200 BCE we read about the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Each traced its lineage to one of the 12 sons of Jacob.  After leaving Egypt, eleven of the twelve were given specific territories and so the tribe’s bonds were based on kinship and geography.  The tribe of Levi was given the priestly role of tending to the Temple in Jerusalem.   As written in the Book of Exodus, in order to bind the 12 tribes and establish the Israelites as God’s chosen people, Moses was given a covenant from Yahweh.  Part of that trans-tribal covenant included rules of behavior.

      While Christianity later adopted these tribal rules and called them The Ten Commandments, they were originally Israel specific.  The covenant rules only applied to the 12 Tribes.  That’s why we find no contradiction in Exodus with Yahweh saying “Thou shalt not kill,” and in Leviticus Yahweh calls on the Israelites to annihilate other competing tribes.  The covenant means “thou shalt not kill another fellow tribal member (Israelite).  The rules were inter-tribal, not universal.  To make this clear, they used circumcision as a sign of the covenant (The original litmus test?).
      So far Republicans and Democrats have not gone this far.  But I’m not going to bet against it.

      Richard Sumpter

        Hi Mary,

        Thanks for your comments on my conundrum regarding the one and the many.  I really appreciate your free-association.  Your comments to Johanna regarding Jung and death many contain a partial answer.  I don’t recall who sad it, but a quote that helps is: “In birth I became a part of the many; in death I join the one.”  While still alive, the means of dispelling the illusion of multiplicity and seeing all as one is at best transitory.  Any approach requires a contemplative mysticism which engages the soul much more than the mind.  I suspect that even the mystic who achieves a sense of union may be also dealing with an illusion – just a more satisfactory one.

        The other day news channels were reminding us that there are only 100 days left until the election (THANK GOD).  That fact got me to thinking about the concept of time.  Is it linear or cyclical?  Those raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition mostly treat it as linear – with a beginning and an end.  The Book of Genesis starts with the words “In the beginning…” and we frequently hear the phrase “the end of time.”  I believe the Book of Revelation speaks of “the end of days.”  Thus, it would seem that our religious context treats time as linear.  Other belief systems – Native Americans for example – see it as cyclical, based on recurring natural events; the phases of the moon, the seasons of the year, the equinoxes and solstices. I’m not sure if they think of time as being “timeless” – having no end.

        Even though the Christian tradition holds that time is linear and will eventually end, it observes the cyclical idea as well.  I visualize it like a slinky – a circular shape stretched out over a linear plane.  It goes from beginning to end but with repeating cycles, largely based on nature.  Before the invention of the digital watch, our time-telling devices were indeed circular, marking the recurring hours of the day (I’m an analog person trapped in a digital world) .  And time and religious celebrations are based on recurring natural events.  While Christmas is anchored to December 25, it was originally tied to the winter solstice; and Easter is a movable feast, being calculated each year based on the first full moon of the Spring equinox.  So, our concepts of time and its measurement is a mix of both linear and cyclical.

        But that leads to the question “Is there time after time?”  Christians talk about “eternity.”  But we almost always think and speak about eternity as if it were a very, very long time.  But eternity has nothing to do with time.  Time is defined as the measure of matter in motion.  If God is pure spirit – non-material, then eternity is a totally other dimension that transcends time.  Within the time dimension Einstein speaks of the space-time continuum.  We measure space in three dimensions: width, length and breadth.  But Einstein postulates time as a fourth dimension.  Eternity exists outside of time and space.  These are categories of thought which we have created in an effort to understand reality.  They are human constructs.

        The same is true of the concept we call God.  The word God stands for an idea that transcends reality.  All of the attributes we ascribe to God are human constructs we have devised to speak about what is fundamentally unspeakable and beyond understanding.  St. Augustine said, and I paraphrase, “If you think that you understand God, then it’s not him.”

        So as you opined earlier, death may be the doorway to understanding.

        I apologize for monopolizing so much “time and space” on this platform.


        So many rich exchanges from everyone! I would love to respond to them all, though that’s hardly possible (nor desirable, given my tendency toward excessive verbosity).

        One housekeeping note for everyone: when posting a link, please don’t post the raw URL (our site sometimes interprets raw URLs as bots posting spam, and then the post is held for approval). Instead, give your link a title (whether the title of an article, an internet page, or just saying “visit this link” or “here” or some such), then highlight that and click on the hyperlink icon in the menu at the top of your post (looks like a diagonal paperclip). Paste the URL into the field provided, and click on the gear icon at the end of that field, which gives you the option of opening your link open in a new window (please choose that option, so folks can open the link without navigating away from the forums).

        Since, as admin, I do have some superpowers, I have tried to fix that when it happens, but I’d really rather not make changes to posts other than my own, so thanks in advance (there should be instructions as well in our FAQ, pinned to the top of every forum).

        Also, please keep in mind the Forum Guidelines, which are pinned to the top of every forum as well – particularly #5:

        Avoid Contemporary Politics – Given the volatile nature of contemporary political discourse, we ask that members steer clear of candidates or current political controversies. Forum members come from across the political spectrum. There are other fora across the internet for discussing myth and politics.”

        Richard, I’d like to thank you for the care with which you have danced around this subject. I appreciated your article on differences between liberals and conservatives (though I’m a bit younger than you, I do remember when there were conservative Democrats, as well as a very vocal liberal wing within the Republican Party : e.g. New York Senators Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating, Governor/Vice-president Nelson Rockefeller, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith – who served from 1939 to 1973 – Congressman and New York Mayor John Lindsay, etc.). You delineate the differences well, which is fine as long as we exercise care to avoid the appearance of favoring one party over the other (again, I believe in general you carefully thread that needle).

        Times have indeed changed. Tribalism (“my team, right or wrong”) does seem to be resurgent today, and not just in politics. Campbell believed this was inevitable on the way toward a more global society. Here are his thoughts on the subject, from a yet-to-be-published Q & A manuscript I’ve been working with:

        We’re in a period, in terms of history, of the end of national and tribal consciousness. The only consciousness that is proper to contemporary life is global⁠. Nevertheless, all popular thinking is in terms of loyalties to the local communities to which all are members. Such thinking is now out of date.

        What we face is a challenge to recognize one community on this earth, and what we find in the face of this challenge is everybody pulling back into his own in-group. I don’t want to name the in-groups, but we all know pretty well what they are. In our country we call them pressure groups. They are racial groups, class groups, religious groups, economic groups, and they are all tangling with each other⁠.

        For any people to say, “We are it and the others are other”—these are dangerous people. And there are religions still doing this. The new thing that is very difficult  for people to realize is our society is the human race. And our little suburb is the globe. Spaceship Earth⁠.

        Will we be able to surmount those obstacles, cross that bridge? For Campbell, the jury was still out. From the same manuscript:

        Now the horizon is the planet⁠. The only question, and this is a big one, is whether this great new heritage of man will finally dissolve away as the building of the pyramids did when Egypt lost its power?  . . .

        How long that next movement will endure is the question that arises out of what we’ve just been talking about. Is it going to be a phase that will disappear,  and then will all these separate cultures go back into their own little boxes again, or is it something that actually represents the beginning of a totally new age of man on the planet⁠?

        In recent years, especially given the nature of politics discourse, there may seem little cause for optimism. We are even politicizing medical advice these days in the middle of a pandemic!

        But that same global crisis may well prove a game-changer in the long run. We have plenty of evidence of transformation after sweeping catastrophes. Perhaps the most obvious is the Black Death. Society wasn’t “challenged to change,” and certainly there was no conscious intention to create a different world in its wake, no coming together as a human society to make a choice – but the plague created the conditions that gave rise to the Renaissance. Nevertheless, the Renaissance didn’t burst fully formed on the scene all at once at 4:32 a.m. on the first Thursday following the final death; rather, it’s a process that unfolded gradually over the course of a generation or so.

        I sense the same dynamic in play today.

        Sure, partisan and in-group attitudes are remaining the same for so many – but much of that is driven by my generation and older (the demographic for whom this coronavirus is most lethal). We were already on our way out, clearing the stage for succeeding generations. The pandemic is not only hastening that process for some, but underscoring the inadequacy of troglodyte attitudes in a variety of areas, including race relations, taking scientific evidence seriously, etc. It may take many more deaths before this touches everybody, but the most stubborn among us will bear the consequences (e.g. Herman Cain: Covid may have been the instrument that dealt the fatal blow, but his death appears directly attributable to his rejection of science.).

        Covid has already changed the world – permanently – and will continue to do so, albeit in ways that aren’t immediately apparent in our day-to-day lives, and likely won’t be a fait accompli until long after my cohort is dead and buried. And it won’t appear a conscious choice: the UN isn’t going to hold a global vote where everyone agrees on a new direction – but, whether we consciously want to or not, I suspect humanity will move in that direction (which is not to say utopia lies dead ahead – there will be new problems, new crises, new forms of suffering, for that is the nature of our mortal existence).

        I tend to agree with Campbell when he tells Emilios Bouratinos that he is “pessimistic with respect to the present or the day after tomorrow, but optimistic with respect to, let’s say, fifty-odd years from now.”

        Perhaps we can find some comfort in this New Yorker article, which looks not just at the Bubonic Plague, but also the game-changing effects of pandemics throughout history: How Pandemics Wreak Havoc and Open Minds.

        Richard Sumpter


          Thanks for your gentle remonstration regarding politics.  I must admit I hadn’t read the guidelines.  Your Campbell quote regarding national and tribal consciousness seems a bit premature – given the resurgence of nationalism.  I attribute it to the predatory capitalism as practiced on a global scale.  Business has developed a global view resulting in a form of industrial colonialism.  But that has driven many citizens deep into nationalism.  Until we come to grips with the vast global (and national) economic inequality I don’t have much hope for his vision.

          You say, “I tend to agree with Campbell when he tells Emilios Bouratinos that he is “pessimistic with respect to the present or the day after tomorrow, but optimistic with respect to, let’s say, fifty-odd years from now.”

          Isn’t the present day about 50 years from the time of the quote?  I wish I wasn’t so pessimistic today also.



          Hello Mary and All,

          Mary-it is Johanna. It is the German spelling. I would like to respond to your query about Odin and his relationship to the word breath in German-Atem or breathe -Atmen. Yes, it is related to the mythic figures in Norse lore. It is the gift that Odin gives to humans-the primal gift and yes, life. Out of the breath comes the life-he [Odin, Othin]  breathes us into existence. I think of another idea here -wyrd , word and Johannes’  Gospel and what he so poetically speaks in the opening lines:

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

          There in is the connection between the word and primal life and breath. What at once also strikes me is that it is the first and the last thing we do-draw our first breath at birth and our last at death. And all of this is connected to time -corporeality and temporality. In another sense too, then the gods are connected to us-they who spoke the word of life into being are there too at the beginning and the end. Odin in Norse lore brings destiny to us humans and that is given by the word-all that can be communicated by breathing-we must do this to be able to speak. That in turns leads me to consider how wearing masks does the opposite-I cannot speak with it on, it is a kind of censorship that silences any future birth of thought and being. We also create masks all the time-hidden behind them, although Campbell notes that  behind the masks of the gods  we can experience transcendence.

          This one small item to protect ourselves from an even smaller living danger has stimulated so much thought about the profundity of life. Ironically, without this gift from Odin, we could not have this conversation. I think I and we shall return to this consideration over and over again.

          Richard Sumpter


            In quoting from John’s Gospel you have touched on one off my favorite books. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.)   I think scholars have suggested that he is emulating Genesis:  (In the beginning God created the heavens nd the earth.  The earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.”

            The Latin for Spiritus is: breath, breathing, air, soul, life.  In some translations “formless void” is translated as chaos, and the breath of God brings order.  Interesting that in Greek the opposite of chaos is cosmos.  God’s next act is to banish the darkness by creating light.  Another interesting point is that in John, what we translate as “word” in Greek is telos which means purpose or end.  So we could read that “In the beginning was the end (purpose).  This would indicate a divine plan of sorts.

            Lots to think about here.



            That is such an interesting statement that reads like a question. I agree that there could be more simmering under the surface. Many people are seeing it now as a sort of synchronicity constellating so much of the ills of the world that then culminate into the manifestation of this corona virus (a name I refuse to capitalize so as to not give it a “proper” name or title!); however, for all we know there is much more that could surface; after all, the “I Can’t Breathe” archetype surfaced first with corona virus and then with the death of George Floyd after years of warning about air pollution/global warming and all the raging wildfires in the western U.S. and Australia as if our minds all raging. I do believe in the collective as well as the individual un/conscious. ANd here in the un/conscious is so much conscience or, with many, lack thereof. In The Power of Myth, Campbell stated,

            There are dimensions of your being and a potential for realization and consciousness that are not included in your concept of yourself. Your life is much deeper and broader than you conceive it to be here. What you are living is but a fractional inkling of what is really within you, what gives you life, breadth, and depth. But you can live in terms of that depth. And when you can experience it, you suddenly see that all the religions are talking of that.”
            ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

            Religion aside here, we can think in terms of “the human spirit” instead, that people could all work together, ideally.

            There has to be a training to help you open your ears so that you can begin to hear metaphorically instead of concretely. Freud and Jung both felt that myth is grounded in the unconscious. Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the Muses—or, in biblical language, “God.”
            ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

            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.



              Your thoughts here are so important to consider as I begin my day. I have been rather “sick” of seeing the sun-we have had no rain for so many days now and I see the sun “destroying” the grass, the flowers, the trees. It reminds me of two thoughts I have considered over time-one is that nature is ambivalent and that as Campbell said-“all life in the field of time is dual.” The forest fires raging in California at this moment attest to the destructive force of nature and the heat is not at all life -nurturing/nourishing.

              How are we to see this side of that star in the sky admired by the ancients-source – revealer in some sense. That is to say revealer of the gifts that would otherwise not be seen. It is difficult to “see” in the night-the darkness. And yet, I crave the darkness-thing that is only seen because it reflects the light. It gives a moment of quiet -I am always happiest at the approaching night. So much of the energy that is pulled away by the constant appearance of the sun-the light , does not inspire as Apollo would have had it; rather I am left empty of the energy that really inspires contemplation, art and music.

              As for your words regarding breathing and community-it makes me think of singing with the choir , we must breathe together, to produce sound as in one voice , as in the one breath that will produce the sound. I like to think of the universe in its creation as one breath, and sound brining into existence all that we see and cannot see. Breathing and sound join and we can hear the music of the spheres. Certainly, all that is earthly produces sound/music-a breath that we hear in the wind, the rain, the persons we encounter, the falling rocks, the rushing waters. Hildegard von Bingen suggests that music is the one way for humans -both in body and soul to incarnate the heavens-the universe and in this way we participate in the harmony of everything that is alive. She argues that the arts as “the arts as the breath of as the breath of God, the breath of God flowing through the human body…”. So, your suggestion regarding, Just as breathing requires inhaling and exhaling, a functioning and flourishing society requires the interaction of the individual and the community. [ Richard Sumpter], That kind of collective/ cooperative breathing ,might just save us all.

              Thank you for these thoughts

              Richard Sumpter


                I am totally familiar with the feelings about the scorching heat of summer.  I’ve lived in Kansas all of my life except for 8 years in Denver.  I have lost my fair share of lawns and know the feeling of wondering if it would ever rain again. The sky was more bright white than blue.  In times like those the  sun seems to drain the life from you rather than infuse it.  Darkness is  a respite, sort of.   And in the morning when you wake at dawn, sheets wet with sweat, it is already 85 degrees.  It really made me appreciate the crisp cool days of October when the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes.

                The sun is indeed a mixed blessing.  How did the Egyptians make Ra a deity?


                Hello Mary Ann,

                Picking up on this thought of yours:

                . . . after all, the “I Can’t Breathe” archetype surfaced first with corona virus and then with the death of George Floyd after years of warning about air pollution/global warming and all the raging wildfires in the western U.S. and Australia


                Timely that you mention the raging wildfires in relation to the “I can’t breathe” motif. I live in Modesto, in California’s large Central Valley. The second week of August we endured ten days of a heat wave with highs ranging from 105º to 111º, and overnight lows never reaching the point where it was cool enough to open the windows and let in fresh air. It wears on a soul having to keep the air conditioning running 24 hours a day 10 days in a row.

                Then, the day before the heat wave broke, what has now become the second largest fire in state history erupted in the southeast corner of our county (Stanislaus), some 20 miles from my home as the crow flies. It’s an isolated area – grasslands, scrub oak, and the low hills of our coastal range separating our valley from the Bay Area – but that corner of the county butts up against Contra Costa and Alameda counties, which include large cities (San Jose, Fremont, Oakland, Berkeley, etc.) with millions of inhabitants the other side of those hills.

                So just as temps were falling and we we were looking forward to breathing fresh air once more, smoke poured into our skies – and not just from that fire. What has become the third largest fire in state history ignited to the northwest, close to wine country – a bit further from us, but also funneling smoke in our direction. And a day or two later, up in the spectacular Sierra Nevada range, which forms the eastern wall of our valley, lightning sparked a huge forest fire outside Yosemite, and more smoke from that conflagration also filled the air.

                We had to keep our windows closed and not spend any time outside at all – not because of summertime temperatures, but because we could not breathe the air! ( . . . and so the theme of the year continues . . . )

                Here is a graphic on my phone registering the air quality those first few days:

                Air Quality Modesto, CA

                I’ve never seen it in the purple zone before! (You’ll notice at the bottom of the image that the day’s original prediction was in the yellow zone, and the following day was supposed to be green; alas, the fires proved too fickle for forecasters.)

                I wish I could describe the atmosphere – at best, the air outside the door was thick and visible, brassy in color – looked as if we were on the surface of another planet, or perhaps residing in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Pictures weren’t able to capture the reality; during the day light shining through our windows glowed a cherry red. Here is an image taken outside my home several days later, after the air had improved dramatically (“improved” is a relative term – let’s just say it was somewhat less toxic):

                orange skies in modesto

                By the end of the first week the skies turned gray in a perpetual overcast (though absent any legitimate clouds), the air still heavy with the scent of smoke and chemicals.

                When I did go outside to take out the garbage or change the kitty litter I was masked, but still had problems breathing once I returned inside.

                Naturally my mind turned to the topic of breath and spirit touched on in my MythBlast essay, and the resultant discussion here. Our triple-digit summertime heatwaves, along with the extended annual fire season, have increased in frequency and intensity the past several years, in large part a result of human-induced climate change. It’s “as if” – those two words that Campbell relates to ritual and myth: “as if” – Gaia were underscoring the effect of our action on the planet, and reminding us that what we do to the Earth we ultimately do to ourselves.

                On a personal level, I’ve spent much time focused on not just the mythology of Breath, but the very act of breathing – in and out (Richard’s observations could not be more timely or relevant on this topic!). Breath is a bedrock archetype, for in its absence, nothing else is possible – there is no progress, no comfort, no prosperity, no self-actualization if we are not able to perform this simple act common to all humans, all animals (even those with gills in place of lungs), and even plants (which take in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen).

                The best way for me to process this most recent crisis followed the same prescription as with Covid and the widespread protests in June: just sit and follow my breath: in and out, deep and slow, riding it into a meditative state. We could call that a spiritual prescription.

                That also suggests what is missing on the collective level: whether the polluting and profaning of the planet, the racial divide, and even the failure, at least in the United States, to mount a cohesive national response to the pandemic, all strike me as symptoms of a widespread spiritual crisis.

                Mother Nature is doing her best to get our attention. As you point out, Mary Ann, we have ignored her warnings for so long – so she’s turned to harsher methods. If we continue to ignore the obvious, I can’t begin to imagine what comes next . . .


                  Stephen; I am so sorry you and your family and friends are having to deal with this awful situation; I’m sure it’s stressful; especially concerning being able to breath well because of the air quality. I hope the firefighters are able to get some kind of control over this; (what little news we’ve been getting about the fires you are suffering through lately in the South doesn’t sound promising).

                  As you mentioned Mother Nature has been trying to get our attention; (let’s hope the coming election provides more encouraging efforts towards dealing with Climate Change and Global Warming). The last report on this I heard gives us a window of around a decade or so and then the tipping point will start to get closer.

                  In China and India it seems I remember hearing there were days when car traffic was either restricted or cut back on alternate days; and factory pollution was cut back somewhat as well. But that was some time ago so I’m not sure what you are hearing to this effect. All and all since the US has pulled out of the climate accords there doesn’t seem to be the kind of push forward towards newer restrictions there once was. (On the world stage I think science has kind of taken a back seat to economics except for people like Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, and Jane Goodall.)

                  I know there is more going on behind scenes but it just doesn’t seem to be generating the kind of political will that’s needed to get anything done. Btw; where is Al Gore? He doesn’t seem to be as visible as he once was. Like I said; I’m sure there is more going on; but it just doesn’t seem to be front and center like it should be!  Hope things improve very soon where you are!



                  I am so sorry to hear about what you are going through with the air quality there. It is such a sad and troublesome state and I send you and your family and all those affected in CA good thoughts for the ceasing of fires and ability to breathe fresh air. I hope there are places you can go to where the air will be better, even if for a reprieve. When I see the fires on the news, just as the last large outbreak of fires, it breaks my heart for all those living near the fires, and the animals and the trees and plant life. Global warming, climate change, wildfires, they all remind me of a song I wish that more people and businesses would have heeded years (decades by now) ago: “Nature’s Way” by Spirit. In the images in this video, at a certain point in the video the bright white sun and air reminds me of what some people were saying above about the relentless white sun and air. It is not the best recording of the song, but I chose this one due to the images it contains.

                  Wishing for healing for the air and for you and yours, Stephen; I wish you and your wife could come vacation here up north in Ohio to the lake where the north winds are blowing in from the lake–or at least get out of that area of CA for a while. If you ever need a reprieve, you and yours are welcome.

                  ~ Mary Ann

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