This morning I’ve noticed that many accounts of yesterday’s total eclipse contain a statement along the lines of “I was not prepared for how beautiful/spiritual/amazing it was,” with which, having been fortunate enough to witness totality first-hand yesterday, I wholeheartedly agree. Why is this reaction so apparently universal? I don’t know, but I can guess.
On the surface, an eclipse is just math, one of many inevitable outcomes of orbital mechanics and such. Impressive, of course, but not particularly moving. There’s obviously something deeper than respect for mathematics that inspires this surprisingly emotional response. The attempt to explain this response is where everybody diverges: its the beauty of god’s creation, its proof that we are all insignificant, or that we are all together, or it demonstrates the everyday miraculousness of the world around us. I posit that these explanations are, just like the mathematics describing an eclipse, too cold, too awkward, too removed from what we are really feeling to properly explain our response. These feeble grasps at vocabulary are not deep enough, or rather, there is no hierarchy of meaning here, no shallow understanding, no deep understanding. Indeed, these attempts to cleave the physical from the emotional from the spiritual are in vain, because all these meanings are the same.
After all, the math that governs the motion of planets, the refraction of light, the change of illumination of the air and grass and trees, and the way the cicadas stop buzzing, in short the structure of whole world, is coded into our lives, our actions, into the functions of our own bodies and minds. The stunning realization hiding in the black disk of the moon when it is circumscribed by the light of the sun is that this math, and our gods, and our purpose, and the apparent and overwhelming miraculousness of everything, are all actually the same subtle reality. The motion of the moon, which occurs as the result of no agency beyond billions of years of physical laws, is reflected within each of us, who, despite firm convictions otherwise, are largely rushing through countless repetitive orbits, hopefully toward our own sublime moment of glory, which, just like the eclipse, will pass all to quickly for far too few people. Not to discount free will, etc., but the choices we make are not uninfluenced, they do not occur without limitation or within some vacuum. We are undeniably the result of the world around us, and we act according to the understanding we have developed of this world, according to strange and unnamable spiritual laws we have derived from our experience and environment, and which, just the like physical laws that set the moon and earth and sun into their spinning dance, usually go unnoticed in their essential nature: the tides, the light of the full-moon, the sunsets, the edicts of churches and governments, joy and fear and love and anger, indeed our very existence, all readily taken for granted as the sole structure of the prevailing order, but once in a while the inevitable occurs, everything lines up remarkably, and a reality so beautiful it seems, erroneously, unlikely, is created from a set of simple rules, a set of simple thoughts, a set of complex attempts to explain, bred within us over thousands of years of attempting to arrive at an understanding, recently de-emphasized, of our smallness, of our lostness, of our hopelessness at any power beyond that unique ability we have to see and feel beauty, even if we don’t quite understand the reasons it touches us so.
So my guess? We are as miraculous and inevitable and impermenent as a solar eclipse, and somewhere, deep down inside, we know it.