About “breath on the water”

The air we breath is perhaps the commons we are most immediately and consciously  part of, breathing  it in and absorbing it into our lungs and blood and cells. And then we breathe it back out. It floats around in the air about us and then gets breathed in by somebody else – or taken in by  an animal or plant. There is something unnerving and fascinating about this for me. It is this incredibly intimate and direct connection you and I have if we sit in the same room, breathing the same air.

It is a connection we usually ignore, just the way we ignore the fact that as we sit there, in the same room, underneath our clothes, our bodies are naked – naked as the day we were born. And will remain that way till we die. As we sit there, naked under it all, breathing in bits of oxygen and nitrogen that were moments before inside each other, I find myself both entirely weirded out and yet also newly and profoundly connected to this  air here, this low lying piece of the sky that surrounds us – this commons so essential to who we are.

I want to share a song about this which I hope you will sometime have the chance to sing in a large group in the form of a round, breathing in and out with circle of others.  The words are here below but since a third of them are simply a chanted Ommmm and a third are animal calls, it probably is best to listen to the song first to get the idea. You can hear it here in a video of lecture I gave last fall in the College of the Atlantic Human Ecology Core Course. You don’t need to listen to the whole lecture. Just click on it on Youtube and then scroll along the timeline at the bottom of the screen to 1:10:50 — that is, one hour, ten minutes and 50 seconds into the lecture. Though the recording is not a studio quality sound piece, in this version you get to see how the song is meant to be sung, in a large group of folks who are learning it and having fun with it. It is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjBAx4Awcbs&list=PL35399C475DB1291A&index=8&feature=plpp_video


“An Air for Humans and Other Animals”


Take this air and pass it on,

reach down breath it all the way in.

Pass it on and share and share again.

It’s all breath on the water;

it’s all breath on the water.






~Animal calls.

~Animal calls.

~Animal calls.

~Animal calls.

~Animal calls.

For me, the image of “breath on the waters” resonates with the opening imagery in the Bible in which God is a kind of holy spirit/breath that is brooding on the waters,  lurking in the very beginning of the world as s/he began the extraordinary and continuing process of creation — breathing Life into existence.

The image also has a faint echo of the New Testament passage in which Jesus says we should “cast our bread onto the waters” and it will come back to us ten fold. Despite the fact that I never could understand why the bread wouldn’t sink and could not imagine where the extra 9 loaves would come from, I always found this a very evocative and compelling image – perhaps because of the way it was shared with me by elders who had had experiences of giving a little and getting a great deal in return.

The world we live in is in desperate crises of many kinds. Most result from the ways in which political and economic structures are destroying our commons — and destroying the spirit of the commons, the inspiration that breathes life in to the sharing and receiving that gives and gives again. In working to manage our air, our water, our forests, our intellectual commons, our cultures, our pools of trust and public spirit, our common health, our shared security . . . in managing the many commons that provide us with all the essentials of life, we will need to reach down, take it all the way in, and pass it on, again and again . . .


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