In the world of modernity the air has indeed become the most taken-for-granted of phenomena. Although we imbibe it continually, we commonly fail to notice that there is anything there. We refer to the unseen depth between things—between people, or trees, or clouds—as mere empty space. The invisibility of the atmosphere, far from leading us to attend to it more closely, now enables us to neglect it entirely. Although we are wholly dependent upon its nourishment for all of our actions and all our thoughts, the immersing medium has no mystery for us, no conscious influence or meaning. Lacking all sacredness, stripped of all spiritual significance, the air is today little more than a conveniently forgotten dump site for a host of gaseous effluents and industrial pollutants. Our fascination is elsewhere, carried by all these other media—these newspapers, radio broadcasts, television networks, computer bulletin boards—all these fields or channels of strictly human communication that so readily grab our senses and mold our thoughts once our age-old participation with the original, more-than-human medium has been sundered…

Phenomenologically considered—experientially considered—the changing atmosphere is not just one component of the ecological crisis, to be set alongside the poisoning of the waters, the rapid extinction of animals and plants, the collapse of complex ecosystems, and other human-induced horrors. All of these, to be sure, are interconnected facets of an astonishing dissociation—a monumental forgetting of our human inherence in a more-than-human world. Yet our disregard for the very air that we breathe is in some sense the most profound expression of this oblivion. For it is the air that most directly envelops us; the air, in other words, is that element that we are most intimately in. As long as we experience the invisible depths that surround us as empty space, we will be able to deny, or repress, our thorough interdependence with the other animals, the plants, and the living land that sustains us. We may acknowledge, intellectually, our body’s reliance upon those plants and animals that we consume as nourishment, yet the civilized mind still feels itself somehow separate, autonomous, independent of the body and of bodily nature in general. Only as we begin to notice and to experience, once again, our immersion in the invisible air do we start to recall what it is to be fully a part of this world.

—John Fire Lame Deer
The Book of Nature: A Sourcebook of Spiritual Perspectives
on Nature and the Environment, S
elected and edited by Camille Helminski