I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Breathing deeply once more

Taken Thursday at Lake Whatcom

 See all those clouds on the horizon? That is haze caused from wildfires that have been burning in our beautiful state for months. They might still be smoldering a little, but basically the air quality around our state is once again GOOD. This area has had one of the driest summers on record, and with no rain to scour out the air, plus we were under a persistent heat dome that has now moved on, giving us much higher fall temperatures than we are used to. We couldn't take deep breaths without endangering our health. I read somewhere that parts of Seattle in the past few days experienced the worst air quality in the world. That is terrifying.

But then it all changed. Our temperature dropped by about 20 degrees overnight, and here in Bellingham we've received about a half-inch of rain since Friday night. That might not sound like much, but we have been way drier than usual. I never thought I would miss the rain, but I sure did when I realized we couldn't go on our usual Thursday hike because of very unhealthy air quality. Happily, we are back to normal!

All of our apartment windows were closed up, but during the night we slept with an open window in our bedroom, with the door closed, figuring we are doing little activity while we sleep. I didn't realize how much the poor air quality was affecting me, until it improved and we returned to our usual good air. I woke early in the morning, realizing that my throat no longer felt scratchy and I could breathe much easier. I wonder how people who have real breathing issues fared during the event. You cannot get away from the air and still be alive. I don't know how people who live in Beijing or New Delhi, where this is normal air, manage to cope. I guess they don't realize how bad it is, having gradually grown accustomed to it.

In any event, we are now in a much more normal environment, with the downright chilly outside temperature making it very nice to be warm and cozy indoors. Last night as I waited for sleep to come, I finished reading a book I started a week ago, about a dog rescued from certain death because of a floppy ear, and the dog became one of the Queen's much-loved corgis. The writer used the book to explain and develop some Buddhist truths that I have been pondering lately. I have now read and re-read several of David Michie's books, since he portrays many of the tenets of Buddhism in a way that I can relate to quite easily. Not to mention that I've found that reading something relating to philosophy of any sort tends to help calm my mind.

And, of course, it's always easy for me to get lost in pondering the meaning of life, and wondering where mind and consciousness fit into my awareness. I am fascinated with the fact that still, today, we have not been able to figure out exactly what mind is. Buddhists believe that mind is separate from consciousness, and that mind continues to exist after the body dies. That some enlightened beings have conscious memories that migrate into new bodies. They call this reincarnation, and I've wondered for years whether there is any possibility it is real.

How do we explain near-death experiences, where people are able to "see" outside their bodies and can recall all sorts of things that are impossible, if we only think of ourselves and finite and limited to our present-day reality? I remember reading a wonderful book years ago, My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. She describes changes in her attention following a stroke to the left side of her brain. Immediately after the stroke, she found it exhausting to focus on what someone was saying. Once she allowed herself to rest in the experience of her right brain, however, she was only aware of the present moment. She says:

In this altered state of being, my mind was no longer preoccupied with the billions of details that my brain routinely used to define and conduct my life.... As my consciousness slipped into a state of peaceful grace, I felt ethereal.

I have experienced similar altered states of being in my own experience, and sometimes I am amazed to hear my preset alarm sound after what felt like just a few moments in meditation, because it felt like I just sat down and got started. And I am always more peaceful after my sessions. 

I have followed the saga of the James Webb telescope's amazing pictures of the universe as it existed millions of years ago, and looking at incredibly distant galaxies that we can see for the first time is simply awe-inspiring. Every morning I look at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and imagine myself being out there amongst the stars. Or at least my awareness. I am so glad that I have lived long enough to see the telescope's development, giving us a close look at the origins of the universe. Already I feel that I have been enriched by the creation of that wonderful telescope.

It also gives me a vantage point that I would not otherwise have been able to experience, to realize that life is so much more than just the small little bit I know of through my eyes and brain alone. Hey, there is a good sci-fi story percolating in my mind, thinking of somehow becoming a dust mote that can travel to the stars. Oh well, there I go again with my thinking brain going out there on a limb. No matter, it's all fun to contemplate, and it also gets me away from burying myself in the problems that we humans have created here on our beautiful planet.

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

Yes, that's it! I choose to live in joy, which means I will stay away from the news for the next month or so. Or at least limit myself in order to keep myself living in joy, rather than despair. That does nothing to make me feel better about the world, and it only brings me down. I will instead write my posts, read about what my dear virtual family is doing today, and consider it to be enough. 

My tea is gone, my dear friend John will be picking me up soon to transport me in his magic chariot that looks suspiciously like a truck, to a wonderful breakfast in Fairhaven. Then I will come home and spend some time with my dear partner. He's gotten out of bed for a moment to visit the bathroom, but will soon return to snuggle back under the covers and get a bit more sleep. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things.


ApacheDug said...

Good Sunday morning DJan. That sure is so wonderful news about the rain and your air quality being refreshed. While reading about your open bedroom window, I found myself taking a deep breath! Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the James Webb telescope too, I may be a few years younger than yourself but I too am very grateful to see these corners of the cosmos in my lifetime. Am thinking of you fondly and hope you have a good weekend. 🙂👍✨✨

Rian said...

I too welcome you into my heart and home this Sunday morning, DJan. And I too have removed the news from my daily life. I know we can't keep bad things from happening, but we can limit the amount of time we spend dwelling on them.
IMO - we need to do what we can to make others lives better - in any small way, vote - of course when the time comes, and appreciate the time we have left and the people who share it with us. Sounds simple... and it isn't always, but we can try.
So glad your air quality is better!

gigi-hawaii said...

I am glad the air quality has improved. So sorry about all those wildfires. There's lots to know about the mind, but all of it is just an educated guess in my opinion. Who really knows?

Arkansas Patti said...

As someone with compromised lungs, I am delighted that you have lost your claim to the worst air on the planet. I was worried about you all out there. So glad you are now back in the breathable status.
Sometimes when I see the telescopic views of the unending universe I wonder if earth is not just a cell in a huge being that is aging, thus our planet's struggles. Thoughts for a sci fi book:)) I like yours better.

Elephant's Child said...

I always look forward to your thoughtful and thought inspiring Sunday posts. Thank you. I am very glad that you have rain and that your air quality has improved. And hope that your breakfast was wonderful (and matched by the rest of the week).

Linda Reeder said...

I appreciate the joy you find in contemplating the universe but it seems to vast for me. This morning I found my joy in a pumpkin patch. There will be a post.
We are certainly enjoying the fresher air!

Marie Smith said...

Living in joy is definitely a choice. It is easy to get brought down by headlines. I needed a reminder today!

I am happy to hear the smoke is cleared and you had some rain again. My husband and I spent some time on beaches here this past week. The salt air is so good for the spirit as well as the body. I wish you days of clear salt air this week, Jan.

Red said...

I always think of my grandma who came to this country before any airplanes. She lived to see jets and fly to her birth place. Similar developments are happening for us.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan,
First of all, thank you for the newest bookmark to go into my Chrome browser: The Astronomy Picture of the Day. I just went over to view today’s pic … Jupiter Rotates as Moons Orbit … a 47-second video that is simply amazing. I used to think I would enjoy getting into astronomical photography, but, now, with the internet and the new space telescopes, we can skip all the equipment and observing out in the cold, and just enjoy the heavens on our devices. I am grateful for your positive and encouraging comments about meditation. In that regard, I wonder if you have tried adding some background music to your meditations? I seem to recall you use an iPad … if so, you may be into all things “Apple”, and if that is true, check out Apple Music in the category Wellbeing. Hope you enjoy the week ahead and thank goodness the smoke is gone.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you start to get lots of rain to really clear the air and put out the fires! We were lucky this summer and only had a couple of bad air days...and a couple of evenings from campfires by the lake. We will have an idiot that burns his leaves one day soon...I will drive by his place and scowl!!

Rita said...

So glad you got some rain to clear the air there. You need some more, for sure.
Yes--I choose joy, too. :) :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, so much to thank you for after reading this Sunday posting. First, thanks for the link to the photograph of the Universe. I'd bookmark that and look each day, as you do. Second, thanks for the names to two authors (Michie and Taylor) whose books I'll look for on the library website. And third, thank you for sharing, each week, what you are musing about, pondering, rejoicing in. You always arouse my curiosity about something. Peace from Dee Ready

Anvilcloud said...

You have an enquiring and open mind, I think. I believe that NDEs can be readily explained by deprivation of oxygen to the brain and/or drugs. But that’s my bias.