The solar eclipse is coming on Monday, August 21, and we can’t stop talking about it. We want to understand it astronomically, astrologically, and culturally. We want to know where and when to see it best. We even want to know what to eat and wear in honor of the event and while it’s happening.
The fervor points to an innate human tendency to respond with anticipation—and a mix of fear and fascination—to what is truly awe-inspiring. What underlies this response is our deep human need to practice reverence, to demonstrate honor and respect for something that extends beyond our powers and finiteness.
We can first practice reverence by intentionally planning to witness the eclipse in real time wherever we are, not after the fact via media. How often do we take time to connect with the phenomenal natural world we inhabit? How often will we have this opportunity? Ordinary human activity, including work, can pause for a while!
This kind of event reminds us of the spectacular, the sacred nature of the planet we inhabit. It puts our human place in the cosmos in clearer perspective, reminding us that we are part of a much larger world that is not dependent upon our human activity. The metaphorical significance of a solar eclipse, the temporary darkening of illumination, can invite deep, meaningful reflection on the rich dance of dark and light in our ordinary lives.
Our interior landscape can be transformed through such a reverential encounter with the outer landscape only if we are open and receptive to it. Here are some ways to embrace that possibility:
1. Take an inventory of your fears.
Witnessing the eclipse may evoke powerful feeling responses we anticipate, like wonder and awe. It may also inspire unexpected feelings like confusion or disorientation, dread, or overwhelm. All of these feelings point toward fear, which is a healthy instinctual reaction in the face of an actual threat to our lives. When we react to perceived threats just as strongly, though, they limit our freedom to move in new directions. What eclipsed fears are you ready to behold? Naming the fears can invite in the courage and create the interior space to move through them.
2. Reflect on your relationship to light and dark.
During the eclipse we will experience a darkening of the light of the sun by the moon. Another way to consider it is that we will witness the union of darkness and light. We can use this as an opportunity to ask deeper questions about dark periods in our lives, considering how they might actually help us grow in unexpected ways.
Meeting darkness is a part of our human experience. The ending of a relationship or something else we have cherished, the death of a loved one, or the facing of uncertainty can all hearken to a time of darkness in our lives. Reflect on how you have experienced, or are experiencing, this darkness. How did you respond? Were you quick to grasp onto the light and want it to return prematurely? How might you respond differently to those occurrences in the future?
3. Remember that light and dark are cyclical.
The movement from light to darkness to light is a natural, rhythmic cycle that we experience every day. Our lives, like the rest of nature, are rhythmic. Rather than resist the arrival of darkness or push it to pass, we have the option to get curious about it. We might even ask in dark times, and during the eclipse, "How is Spirit present here?" The ability to stand within the tension between dark and light, and to bring them into union within ourselves, reflects spiritual maturity.
4. Plan a communal or personal eclipse ritual.
Ritual can be transformative and healing. What do you want or need to let go of in your life? Release these ritually with the onset of the eclipse. What do you want or need to embrace in your life that will bring you into greater wholeness? Express these while the eclipse is receding.
5. Get creative with your eclipse experience.
The brilliant American writer Annie Dillard published a captivating essay titled "Total Eclipse" in her 1982 book Teaching a Stone to Talk. It is a profoundly spiritual, even mystical, description of her experience of a 1979 solar eclipse. Consider how you might express your experience of the eclipse creatively. You might journal or blog about it. Write a poem, paint it, draw it, dance it!
6. Do some reading on darkness and light in the spiritual life.
7. Remember the ancient wisdom of knowing your place in the order of things, and in averting your eyes.
The eclipse is a direct reminder that we are a part of a natural or divine order. It puts our daily dilemmas into proper perspective, and re-centers the universe as the source and sustainer of our lives.
During solar events as a child I remember hearing, "Don’t look at it! It will destroy your eyes!" Looking directly at the solar eclipse could damage our eyes. There are cultural traditions that teach looking at an eclipse is an intrusion on the sacred, intimate meeting of moon and sun, and that health consequences could result from not respectfully averting our eyes. I hear in that teaching the wisdom of showing reverence for what is both mysterious and holy. These two companions of reverence—mystery and holiness—are missing from many of our lives. In our attempts to control, organize, or make sense and efficient use of things, we may have forgotten that some things are so sacred they ought to be left as they are.
May embracing the eclipse invite us to rediscover reverence in ways that resonate with our own deepest experiences.