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Saturday, July 6, 2013
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest wall
shut out from the law of the stars.
— R.M. Rilke
Every summer, I’m starstruck , walking under — and, it seems at times, through — the night sky. There is no joy quite like it, particularly in July and August.
On certain of these nights, a humid, vegetable vapor seems to enlarge and blunt the constellations and planets like ordinary, near-at-hand studs in a child’s cowboy vest.
At other times they seem to quiver, like lit boats bobbing in a harbor. You feel you are floating among a festive, happy flotilla of cosmic lights.
On other nights, the stars plunge your vision far deeper, like piercing, clear, distant jewels. The only blur appears as the Milky Way band, arching its white expanse of faraway lights across the overhead meridian.
These glimpses make me a night walker and — like a number of people I know — a devotee of John Goss’ astronomy column.
Unlike my astronomy textbooks of yesteryear, Goss’ notes don’t pound my head with physics equations and numbers so enormous they overload my humble circuitry of neurons.
“How on earth,” Goss wrote in June, “can you find your way around the heavens?”
Hasn’t that always been the question?
Luckily, nobody has to be an astronomer to fall in love with this universe.
Even little children are naturally pulled by that love; it’s as if they recognize it — even among the stars — from an ancient memory.
That’s one reason Madeleine L’Engle recommended that babies be taken out under the night sky to gaze upward.
Teens likewise, I would add, and old folks. Residents of nursing homes could be wheeled outdoors into the fragrant summertime darkness and relieving humid silence to stargaze.
Hospital patients could be carried out from the confines of flat screens and ceilings, onto roofless rooftops. “Look, there are the Pleides! Cassiopeia! The pure balm of darkness!”
This would mean that civilized towns and cities would mandate a floodlights-out curfew, so that stars might once again bring mankind their ancient, intelligent relief.
I remember that soaring relief from a night long ago, in my third summer of life. All around me, tall adults were standing, as I looked up between them into the night.
These good figures were conversing and laughing their happy long farewells in the rich darkness. A deep tower of night loomed between them, sprinkled with distant, bone-stirring stars.
I didn’t know what the tall figures were saying to one another across that black infinitude, but it jostled loose what felt like a memory.
It seemed we had all been long part of the universe overhead, along with many others I couldn’t name but felt I would soon remember and reunite with.
We had each been stars in the voluminous, intoxicating darkness. We still were those illumined beings, while also here as people. There was no contradiction in the two-places-at-once awareness, though it’s impossible to spell out logically, here, as an acculturated Western adult.
In fact my category-bound mind today can easily dismiss that illogical memory, except that the stars always wake it up again, with their reason-bypassing, bone-thrilling, cosmic love that pulls and calls to a person’s deepest core.
It happens, likewise, when I read others’ attempts to describe a similar, culture-bypassing sense of things.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from his theological-scientific conjunction of awareness, perceived that the cosmic, star struck love one feels is the very force causing our universe to unfold.
“From the standpoint of spiritual evolution, which we here assume, it seems that we can give a name and value to this strange energy of love. Can we not say quite simply that in its essence, it is the attraction exercised on each unity of consciousness by the center of the universe in course of taking shape?”
Omraam Aivanhov, the Bulgarian philosopher, recommended bathing the consciousness in a night sky whenever possible, to restore that kind of awareness.
The ancient wise-men, he pointed out, “learned by contemplating the night sky … their souls in communion with the stars.”
Of his own frequent nights spent on star-sprinkled mountains, he wrote, “I felt and understood that the only activity that really matters in life is to become one with the cosmic Spirit that animates the universe.”
Normally, he said, we “are accustomed to stagnating on the lowest levels of thoughts and feelings, and it is this that makes [us] so weak.”
But our worldly problems and the mental confinements causing them could vaporize under the force of cosmic love, he felt, if we could but again heed “the star-filled sky in the silence of the night.”
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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