Following along my “journey through the elements” from Earth and Water,I have been spending time recently developing my connection to air. In some ways, this has been the most difficult element to work with yet, as it seems so ephemeral and insubstantial. It literally slips through your fingers if you try to catch it.
Yet in other ways, it is the element that we are all most intimately connected with at all times. Like a fish swimming in the ocean probably doesn’t notice the water, so it is easy not to notice the air all around us and our breath in and out as we exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide and fill our lungs with the breath of life.
In some Hindu myths, the universe is the exhalation of Brahma and it will fold back into itself on Brahma’s inhalation. This link with breath, air and creativity is found across cultures, from the Hindu prana to the Chinese chi, the Hebrew ruach and the Druidic nwyfre. Even the word “spirit” simply means “breath”. “Inspiration” is literally “breathing in”. Breathing meditations can provide a simple yet effective way of connecting with the very air we need to live.
Sitting under a tree makes this more effective, as we exchange in a relationship of mutual giving. The tree consumes carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, and we consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. We inhale, the tree exhales.
Another way of connecting with air is cloud-watching. And, since air is traditionally associated with reason and the intellect, rather than mere daydreaming, it’s worth spending some time learning about the different cloud types and how each one is formed. Doing that can help you learn what the predominant clouds in your local bioregion are, and what they tell you about your region’s meteorology.
Cirrus clouds are delicate and fibrous and appear in patches or bands, sometimes called “mare’s tails”. Cirrostratus are thin veils of cloud that often cause halo effects around the sun and moon. Cirrocumulus clouds form the “mackerel sky” well-known to coastal folk. The big fluffy clouds of children’s drawings are Cumulus clouds, and the featureless thick grey layer that so often covers British skies and brings inevitable rain are Nimbostratus.
Learning about these types, and the science behind them, can help you connect with the great powers of the air and sky that in ancient times were mythologised as sylphs, and a modern, scientific understanding does nothing to diminish their wonder. If anything knowing more about the skies enhances the sense of awe and humility I feel when gazing up at the ever-changing clouds.