When entire forests go up in flame and you live down wind it can be unsettling. Sunsets take on gorgeous hues – to be present in their presence, though, one can sometimes sense the price paid.
Similar to current political and cultural tension, smoke stings and can make it hard to breathe. Both can feel relentless and especially brutal for the more vulnerable members of our community. Also like our socio-political climate, pervasive smoke gets a lot of people questioning. This summer’s fires have brought climate change more front and center for more people. When Seattle begins to resemble a Blade Runner film set, we’re more motivated to contemplate how to be a stronger part of the solution.
I suspect, though, that there’s something else going on these past couple of weeks. Consciously or not, breathing in the devastation of the B.C. fires for days on end can inspire questions of loss and generosity.
Death has been permeating the air. The residue from the demise of thousands of trees has literally been in our air. Lauren Kite (our Operations Manager and a teacher here) was relaying to me the difficulty in asking students to breathe deeply in times like this. Physiologically, breathing in particles of smoke may compromise our lungs. Walking through hazy streets and looking out into windows into heavily filtered daylight has though also been about breathing in grief for some. Grief for these trees. Grief for a city that may be growing faster than we’d like. Grief for lives that really do matter. Grief for when our own ideals, dreams and wishes go up in smoke.
Nestled in this smoke too I suspect, for some, there may be a layer related to generosity. Forests have buoyed the Pacific Northwest’s economy for decades. Trees establish vistas throughout our neighborhoods and the region. They soften our acoustics, offer us bits of shade, and purify our air. They house entire micro eco-systems and give us something to lean against. What would life be like without trees? If they all went up in smoke? What happens when the things we most cherish about life go up in flames? Our freedoms, privileges, safety? When beings and institutions that have given us so much go away? What is it like to breathe all of that in?
Sitting with with these subtle and smoky layers takes me back to a favorite childhood book of mine, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. (If you haven’t read this book, or it’s been awhile, I suggest checking it out!) A bittersweet story of unconditional generosity, it gives readers a taste of what happens when there’s lots of taking without tending to in return. I suspect many folks have been feeling something similar to what our insides feel like by the end of that book. Beauty, loss, heartache, love. All at once.
Like Lauren, I don’t want to encourage any of you to consciously breathe in smoke. The full eight limbs of yoga, though, have taught me that bringing presence to life’s full cycle and our full potential within that cycle can be one of the most generous things we can do for ourselves and others. And so I do encourage you, with compassion, to breathe in your life’s bittersweet moments, those moments when what feels sacred to you goes up in smoke. Just keep in mind, it might sting.