I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Cheryl Bartky's reflection, "Eclipses and Shooting Stars."
The solar eclipse may be a forgotten memory for many of the millions of people who watched it on August 21st. But for me, it is still alive: the slow progression of the moon’s shadow sweeping across the Sun. The moments of complete darkness. The shimmer of the Sun’s corona surrounding its now blackened center. The re-emergence of the Sun’s light with a dazzling diamond flash. The progressive unveiling of the Sun’s radiant orb until it resumes reign over the day sky. I savor it still. And it fills me with the sense of child-like wonder that I feel is my essence—the very best of me. Nature has always been my favorite temple. As a youth I aspired to be an astronomer and to this day it is in the awesome expanse of the sky that I still feel a deep connection to the magic and mystery of life.
This year’s total eclipse of the sun captured the imaginations of millions across the USA and the world. Yet nature is around us all the time—in the weather we enjoy or suffer, the trees we climbed as kids or shelter beneath in the heat or rain as adults, the clouds we watch morph into angelic or demonic shapes, the weeds that thrive even in sidewalk cracks. But it can take spectacular events like a rare solar eclipse to grab our attention. Just as it takes sudden miracles that cause us to cry out in relief or amazement to alert us that grace indeed exists. Events like an eclipse give us pause. To register its magnificence, we actually have to stand or sit still to notice it. Just as we have to stay still at times to absorb the gradual change that is always happening in our lives if we only pay attention. A solar eclipse awakens our ability to be mindful. To be present to the magic that unfolds in life. As a person whose adult career choices include dance-movement therapist and spiritual director, noticing the movement of spirit in daily life is what my life centers on. Nature grounds me in this awareness. It keeps me hopeful. It rejuvenates me. It keeps me present.
As an avid reader all my life, I remember poring over astronomy books as a child, inspired by the origins and images of the planets, the moon, and the stars. A city born and bred kid with night skies hidden by street lights and apartment buildings, these books fed my nature-yearning soul to the wonder and awe of the universe. To this day I vividly remember a dream that visited me decades ago: the brilliant planet Saturn is just beyond my New York fire escape—so close I could sit on its glorious rings, my legs swinging in the brisk night air.
Last August, I sat, not on Saturn’s rings, but on my deck in the San Francisco Bay area. Blessed with a rare clear night sky, I tucked a blanket around me against the chill of the evening and looked up, awaiting the annual Perseid meteor showers. I watched and waited. And waited. And waited. And then, gasping with surprise, a picture perfect shooting star streaked across the complete canvas of the sky. Several other shooting stars danced across the sky as I watched and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. They were all exquisite. But I have to say, that first one—which caught me by surprise—was the best. Because of its suddenness, its unexpectedness, it felt like a gift—a grace.
The Perseids are at their peak for at least two nights. So I attempted to indulge in a second night of sky watching. But instead of shooting stars—or even “still” stars—all I was able to see was fog. At first I was annoyed. I mean seriously, of all nights, couldn’t God give me one more clear night? But soon, I was bedazzled by the dance of the fog. It flowed along in waves and tufts and streams and was deliciously beautiful. I didn’t see the show I had hoped for, but the show I got was delightful nonetheless.
The total solar eclipse was something—because of modern science, we could prepare for, we knew exactly what time it was destined to happen. But this isn’t the case with so much of everyday life. We plan, we work hard, we pray, but then, it’s often like searching for a shooting star—we might know the general time frame and we might know the general direction, but still we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait and hopefully our eyes are open when the miracle finally happens. Or, while we’re waiting for a shooting star and life brings us fog instead, hopefully we can muster the resilience to transform our disappointment into appreciation for the miracle in the dance that is.
Maybe it’s because I was born on the first day of spring that nature and its wonders are so significant to me. Or maybe it’s because my Jewish faith is based so deeply in the seasonal cycles of life. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m human and unlike faith traditions which can divide and separate us—nature belongs to us all and we are all a part of nature. Nature teaches us that we all live in this one world—this one Earth—this one universe. And so, when I watch a solar eclipse, or search the night sky for a shooting star, or sit on Saturn’s rings in my dreams, while I can’t deny feeling so small against a backdrop so huge, rather than feeling insignificant, those are the times I feel most whole. Those are the times I feel most connected to the majesty and enigma of the All. Those are the times I feel like my largest and truest and perhaps most divine self.
Cheryl Bartky is a licensed counselor, board certified dance therapist, board certified life coach, an experienced spiritual director and supervisor. She’s the author of Angelina’s Prayer and the creator of The Moving On Dance Project and the popular online program Re-CHARGE Your Life Now! Visit her at www.Counseling4theSoul.com.