As soon as we call to mind the air element within the body — the air in our lungs and other body cavities, even the gases dissolved in our blood — we’re immediately aware of the breathing, aware that air is flowing rhythmically in and out of the body.
So almost simultaneously we recall the Air element outside of us — the air surrounding us and touching the skin in this very moment, the winds and clouds and breezes that we see and hear moving branches and grasses.
We’re taking in and giving out this element right now. Right now the Air element is entering and leaving the body as we breathe in and out. Right now, air is entering, oxygen is dissolving in the bloodstream, being taken to cells to provide energy, and carbon dioxide is being exhaled.
There’s no boundary between inner Air and outer Air. There is only one Air element, and what’s within us is simply borrowed for a few moments. We can’t hold onto the Air element any more than we can hold onto any of the others. In fact we can only live by letting go, never by holding on. To hold on is to die. And so we reflect that the Air element, like the other physical elements, is not me, not mine, that I am not this.
By this point in the practice I’m usually beginning to sense in a very immediate way the impermanent, transient nature of the body. I have a heightened appreciation that what I normally assume to be a relatively fixed and solid physical form is actually a dynamic process. I often find myself thinking that to watch the elements flow through this body is rather akin to sitting by a river. I can watch the water pass “my” stretch of the riverbank, and I say “that’s me, that’s me,” but in every moment of claiming, of grasping, what I’m trying to cling to flows inexorably past. Clinging is futile, and painful. Letting go is to recognize how things are.
There’s a sense of curiosity, wonder, and openness. The world is more alive. I’m less attached to my physical form, and my sense of identification has expanded outwards; everything that has ever passed through my body — the solid matter, air, water, and energy — is now “out there” in the form of fields, clouds, forests, and soil. In a way those things are me. And because this very body is made of these same things, I am them. Having this direct sense of interconnectedness is enlivening and empowering. I’m no longer separate and small, but an intimate part of the vast cycle of the elements.