For the past few months, I have been having a little love affair with the ether element. Since my prakruti (ayurvedic constitution) is pitta-kapha with the dominant elements of fire, water, and earth, this could be a case of opposites attracting—a little exotic voyeurism. Yet my love affair with ether has opened fresh pathways of experience, surprise, and understanding. Here is what I’ve learned:
As the first of the pancha mahabhutas—the five universal elements ofakasha (ether), vayu (air), agni (fire), apas (water), and prithvi (earth)—ether is expansive without resistance. It's clear, light, mobile, soft, vast, immeasurable, and all-pervading. It holds all creative capacity. It is the mother from which all the other elements are born. It has no form, but holds all creative potential, and is pure intelligence—mahat/buddhi (universal/individual intelligence). It is home to all objects in the universe. It is space itself. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, ether brings a “descent of intelligence into the heart of the matter.”
In the body, all spaces are governed by the ether element (this includes the spaces in the mouth, the sinus cavity, pelvis, respiratory tract, thorax, and capillaries). Most importantly, ether is the true nature of the mind. Like ether, or space, the mind (not to be confused with the physical organ of the brain) has no solid form. You cannot pinpoint its location through the senses, and it has the capacity to fearlessly transform us through the context of our life experiences.
In his book Ruling Your World, Sakyong Mipham writes, “The nature of the mind is pure, like the sky. Like space, it has the quality of accommodation. Like water, it is clear, with no obstructions or opinions. This is basic goodness, the indestructible nature of our being.” My love affair with the ether element has reminded me of my own limitless capacity to hold, accept, and find unique beauty in all the objects of the universe—which brings me to my two favorite qualities of this element, the greatest gifts it has given me, both of which revolve around relationships:
1. The Ability to Hold Without Grasping
Ether, as space, holds all objects in the universe. Yet it does not impose itself on the planets, comets, and astral formations that it contains. All these objects of the universe are born from ether’s manifestation, and ether delights in the theater of their existence and expression. It does not spend itself trying to change or manipulate them into some static formation. Its amusement is the ever-changing play of energy and matter through time.
This element has inspired me to try (again and again) to open to this type of delight in my own relationships. Applying even a beginner's understanding of this concept to the dynamics in my immediate family has helped me stay in a less judgmental space to witness them as individuals in their own little orbits, with their own individual gravities. It has encouraged me to sit in a space of wonder, witnessing the unique manifestation and development of my loved ones. In this way, I've been freed from the yolk of wanting my family members to transform into who I want them to be, in time frames that are convenient for me, with attitudes that are to my liking. Needless to say, even the temporary cessation of my efforts to mold my family members into who I think they should be has allowed ether's qualities of clarity and expansion to manifest in my heart. What a relief!
With my lovers, embracing the ether element has helped me to release my tendency toward the desire for exclusive ownership, jealousy, and insecurity. Returning back to the example of the macrocosm, space has no jealousy over the planets and their attractions to their moons. Applying this to the microcosm, all relationships and unions are unique; they do not exclude or minimize each other. This element has helped me to understand that each relationship exists for its own purpose. Just as space delights in the cosmic theater, I can enjoy the manifestation of these partnerships without my former tendency to own, to tie down, or to make my bonds with friends and lovers solid and static. This has allowed freedom for my relationships to expand, mature, change, and die with less attachment to the outcome.
2. The Power of Intention
Secondly, my love affair with the ether element has awakened me to the vast, immeasurable nature of consciousness. My devotion has opened the gate to the mind's playground. Ether, as energy, expands across all time and space. It is limitless and immeasurable in its potential. As Pratima Raichur beautifully explains in her book Absolute Beauty, “Thought itself is a subtle energy whose influence extends beyond the physical limits of the nervous system, and its messenger molecules, by means of our touch and attention. Thoughts themselves have a subtle vibratory effect on the physical world—each one is an impulse of energy—a consciousness that sends a ripple of influence through the universe like a grain dropped in a cosmic pond.” This is just to say that ether, in the form of the mind, holds the highest potential for creation and manifestation.
For me, this realization offers great encouragement to work directly, honestly, and humbly with the nature of my thoughts and intentions. It has helped me open to the understanding that all of my relationships and experiences are birthed from my own manifestation, for the purpose of my own transformation. And I've discovered that even without the solidity of physical action, touch, or sound, a thought can send out sweetness, admiration, and deep respect to my loved ones and to my environment—ultimately expanding across and beyond the universe. I am truly grateful for this reminder of limitless delight in all variations, and for the validation that healing and devotion can be spread with non-resistance throughout the universe.
Thank you, ether, for the gift of expanding love.