Lately I have been very aware of the air around me — scorching heat, then the smoke from the fires. Like so many other aspects of life, my awareness is triggered only when there is something that makes me uncomfortable.

Otherwise, I am perfectly fine assuming that the air that I need will always be there and will be in a condition that I like.

It seems to be an unfortunate part of the human psyche that we will take things for granted. Too often we assume that others have the same needs met that have been granted to us without our awareness. After the last few weeks, I don’t think I will take even air for granted.

My awareness of how foul or overly hot air affects me is only the first step I need to take. I need to also be aware of the fact that others are suffering from the same air. Of course, there are other unmet needs that I should acknowledge in myself and others. The needs for safety, acceptance, and community, for example, are not equally met. And they are truly needs, not just privileges or hopes.

Like air pollution, I am aware of it when it is really bad and all around me. There are other times, however, when I can see it better when I am looking at it from a certain vantage point. Coming down from the Sierras and looking out over the central valley, for instance, I can see the haze that lingers at the lower altitudes.

Do we need to endure extreme suffering to become aware of the suffering of others? Can’t we open our eyes and hearts and see the suffering that is in the air that others have to breathe daily? There are some that will deny racism, misogyny, and homophobia as real causes of pain for others. They refuse to see it. It is true that some will become aware of the pain that others suffer from these things when they experience in part. It is also true that still others will never see it. They will deny what their own eyes see. Jesus called them the truly blind.

Most meditation techniques include an awareness of our breath. Controlled mindful breathing helps us relax and experience peace and better health. When I am concentrating on this kind of breathing, I am also mindful that it is a gift and a privilege to be able to breathe, just breathe. I want to take that awareness of the air I breathe and apply it to other situations. For others to have the privilege of just breathing without suffering racism, misogyny, or homophobia is going to require all of us to act to clean up our social environment.

Let’s do all that we can to clean up the atmosphere so we can all breathe better.