I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night”.
These are two lines from the fourth stanza of Sarah Williams’ (19c) poem “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil”.
I was deeply touched by these lines and they have resounded in my head since I heard them last Friday. I’ve borrowed them to share with you today, because I think the poem (worth reading in it’s entirety) so beautifully expresses the tensions most humans feel and suffer. One of these tensions is I believe, created between what we call ‘science’ and the mysteries we try to resolve by using it as a tool for enquiry and explanation.
OK, I sound as though I’m wandering. What has this got to do with stress and the soul? Maybe it’s just this. In an effort to reduce any event to something we can make sense of, we use our own belief systems – of course we do! And, by their very nature, these systems are limited – I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, simply as a statement of fact.
It’s important for us all to have systems and beliefs that we use to make sense of what is – at many levels – non-sense. I mean, just how does a rose come to smell so sweet – and why do new-born lambs make us feel such joy and tenderness? Is a dog just a random collection of atoms, or is it a mirror of some of the finest qualities we can aspire to?
On the darker side, why do people die cruel deaths? Why do children, innocent and undeserving, starve and suffer? Why did your best friend run off with you ex? Or your carefully reared child start to do drugs?
Stress can start to get out of hand when our head can’t come up with an answer that makes us comfortable. Better still, an answer that leads us to a solution where we get to make it all ‘right’. Yet, at a soul level (and I recognise that this may not be a part of your belief system, but to me it’s useful)- at the ‘place’ where the soul is, there is no need to answer the problem, because it’s just an experience for the soul.
Now, I am not so brave as to try to offer a neat solution to this dilemma, but I would like to share what helps me. Gazing on those stars, as I do every night when I walk with my dogs, I come back to a sense of mystery; I reconnect with a feeling that I am part of something that is way, way bigger than me. And I don’t ‘know’ what it is. I use this ‘not knowing’ in the way that I use a prop. when I am doing Yoga. Something to make up the difference between where I can stretch and where I cannot.
So, if I am in a dilemma, I can take myself out of the head loop and say, “I really have no idea why this has happened, but look, just see what needs doing to move in the direction to put things back on track, and do that”. As I learned in my physical Yoga practice, that even though I don’t know why my hamstrings are always tight, and my knees tend to point inelegantly inwards. I have to work with what “is”. After all, trying to alter my skeleton would be a mammoth task!
It sounds simplistic, and winds my “I want an answer” friends up to a frenzy, but it’s wisdom. There is a tension between my soul’s journey and my earthly one. There is a tension between love and loss, light and dark, winter and summer. And it’s actually OK not to know. It relieves us of a burden. Just accepting what is, without of course, condoning or supporting what harms, helps me hugely.
And, like the Old Astronomer in the poem, having stared at something for years doesn’t really tell me what it is, but I know love when I feel it.
As much as we need the solar light of the sun, we also receive light from the stars. For those of you that can’t get as much starlight as you’d like, I’ve made this: