from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday 19 May 2012

silence, and Caesar's last breath

Well, it's no secret that I'm not often lost for words. But here you are witnessing such a phenomenon.

It's largely because the work we did together last weekend on my Zen and Poetry retreat, despite the brevity of a 24-hour retreat, went very deep; the well of silence from which we were drawing has remained to some extent present to me despite a rather harried, or at least jumbled, week. I'm no longing drinking from it actively but the quality of energy is vivid in my memory and imagination. (This came on the back of a week on Iona which also incorporated silence over a longer period.)

I'm increasingly using silence in my workshop programme. At first, as I know people often find it difficult, I was diffident about incorporating much silence. Now I'm a great deal more confident in its healing power, and I see a level of urgency in the world that requires this meeting place with stillness, with the non-verbal. People are really hungry for silence, and there's great relief for most people, perhaps after initial resistance, in dropping into the quiet spaces it opens for us. Silence refreshes all the parts, etc. And I'm reminded of how little there is, in truth, to say, that really matters – even as there's also so much.

And in addition just now as I was brooding on a gardening blog – current preoccupation the lack of germination of so many of our seeds, and the fact that something in addition to slugs has now eaten through our third replacement planting of broad beans, and the trials of being a right-on organic gardener who won't use products that negatively affect the rest of the ecosystem, and the trouble that causes since TM might like a little more pesticidal compromise than I find comfortable – just then, right now, TM delivered me a rather boggling fact that he tells me is mathematically modelled. Working out the implications of that is taxing my braincell: although I have little trouble believing/imagining the proposition, I do struggle a little with the computations.

OK, I've spoken before, rather glibly, in my creative writing, of the fact that we are breathing air shared by every other being in history, and recycled through a myriad of lungs and leaves trillions upon trillions of times since the earth became fit for organic life. 'You could be breathing air exhaled by Julius Caesar,' I've said in passing.

Do you know what the chances are of that being actually literally true? More than 98%. That is, there's more than a 98.2% chance that any one of us at this moment has at least one molecule in our lungs of the air/oxygen exhaled by Caesar in his last breath. (The model assumes an even distribution. By the way I'm not at the moment clear as to whether that's air, or oxygen specifically, and whether it makes a difference here.) Something to do with 10 to the power of 22: any one exhalation by any one person involves 10 to the power of 22 molecules of air. The total number of molecules of air in the earth's atmosphere, including those currently involved in breathing, is 10 to the power of 44. (If you understand this, and/or can elucidate, I'd be grateful. I'll follow the link though once TM's forwarded it, and post it here later as well.)

OK, after some explanation I get that 10 to the power of 44 is a Very Big Number and not just double 10 to the power of 22 (I failed my maths GCE twice). Nonetheless, what is preoccupying me is what does that say of the oxygen load within our atmosphere vs the number of people breathing it/the exhalation of carbon dioxide? And mammals and birds and reptiles and trees and plants... ah, you're there before me: trees exhale oxygen; oh but plant matter breaking down gives off carbon dioxide, doesn't it? And there surely is a difference between 'air' and 'oxygen' in the proposition...?

TM says 'Better to keep your mouth shut and risk looking like a fool than open it and prove you are.' Hmmm. Better go and seek the information. I might need to revise this post later. But there you go – looking foolish is not something that especially bothers me.

As I ponder all this I'm also opening Gillian Clarke's new book of poetry: A Recipe for Water. I love her work, and this has just arrived today. It promises to be a good one. Serendipitously I find this line: 'Words, made of breath, our chain of DNA.' (from 'Quayside')

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