In his 1967 essay "Breathing the Future and the Past", astronomer Harlow Shapley wrote:
"Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Gandhi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper, from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets. We have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo..."argon atoms associate us, by an airy bond, with the past and the future...
"Our next breaths, yours and mine, will sample the snorts, sighs, bellows, shrieks, cheers, and spoken prayers of the prehistoric and historic past.."
"each breath we take contains hundreds of thousands of the inert, pervasive argon atoms that were actually breathed in his lifetime by the Buddha..."
To me, the thought that we are connected to everything that is, was and will be...by something so simple, vital, and intimate as our breath...is compelling.
By Shapley's math/philosophy we are in an intimate relationship with everything that breathes or has breathed. For what can be more intimate than a shared breath?
Like bears reaching their height to claw mark a tree...or cats backing up to scent mark as high as possible...or Daffy Duck defiantly wrapping his arms around a pile of cartoon gold and squawking "mine, mine, mine!"...we go to great lengths to define what "belongs" to us.
Maybe George Carlin put it best: "My shit is stuff and everybody else's stuff is shit."
What is it that makes us so determined to draw lines and build fences on the ground, in the air and in our minds?
Perhaps people long for everything to be as simple as "black and white".
From the time we are children, we begin to judge, categorize and label everything around and within us. It begins on the simplest level...Mom/Dad, good/bad, hot/cold, inside/outside, red/green. As we gather more information, we subdivide the categories further and further...simple dichotomous forks become complex systems of branches.
Black and white is far easier to grasp than the infinite shades of gray and innumerable hues of color that paint the countless planes of reality.
But what would happen if we could forget about the black and white for a moment and immerse ourselves the plethora of colors in between? If we could stop auto-labeling and begin trying to cultivate empathy and understanding?
How do we learn to find some common ground via our archetypical similarities rather than pre-judging based on race, gender, religion, fashion, politics, geography, sports, ideology or whatever?
Having compassion does not mean you have to agree with or even like someone...but rather respect that they have a different point of view and remember that they share essentially the same dreams, fears, sorrows and air as you do.
Maybe being territorial is about being afraid...a base, primal reaction to the "unknown". Sadly, many societies channel that fear into a "strike first" mentality...convert them or conquer them...and if we can't make them into "us", then kill 'em.
How sad to think of the innumerable lives and cultures lost in the name of one god or another, one political system or another, one oilfield or another, one color or another...and to what point? The fact of the matter is that, despite our best efforts to hold tightly, nothing is ever "ours" for long anyway....
And maybe, just maybe...with a little compassion and cooperation, we could channel our "superior intelligence" into finding non-violent solutions for the problems facing this planet and ALL who inhabit it.
Just take a deep breath...