Tag Archives: self-discovery

Eclipse

Eclipse Diamond

Last Monday, America was graced with an experience that hadn’t occurred in about one hundred years: A total solar eclipse that spanned the nation from coast to coast. Being science geeks, (Or just geeks really) my family and I had been planning to place ourselves in the path of totality for about a year. I had ordered the finest glasses, studied the best camera settings for capturing solar eclipses, and reserved a campsite right on the lunar shadow’s center-line. Once the day arrived, all we had to do was load our camping gear in the car and tiny trailer, then drive south and west through the the lonely heart of Nebraska’s Sandhills.

 For five hours, we rolled up and down miles of hills and empty two-lane highways, plenty of time for thought. I spent my time watching out the window at the pale green of little blue stem, cheery yellow sunflowers, and spiky yucca soap weed. All doing their part to anchor the sand dunes hidden underneath. Below the sand, ran a giant delta of freshwater called the Ogallala Aquifer. It was invisible, but it kept the world above alive with it’s ancient and silent running water. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d wonder what magic kept the landscape from drifting away.

Windmill in the Sunflower Covered Sandhills of Nebraska

So much of the world is hidden — eclipsed by layers of nature that both blanket and depend on what’s underneath. I thought of how, in two days, the moon would slip between Sun and Earth and wondered, “What revelations might emerge from the lunar shadow?” I couldn’t say, or rather, didn’t want to say. I wanted my memory of the eclipse to rise out of experience, not expectations.

Then, in an incongruous jump, I thought, “Really, why see an eclipse at all?” Some of my friends had said, “What’s the big deal? There’s a shadow and it get’s dark. So what?” But that low estimation was lost on me. People traveled around the world to experience a few minutes of totality. Something drew them. Something was drawing me. I wasn’t completely sure of what it was: the rarity, the beauty of the corona, or maybe the uniqueness of being surrounded in a shadow from space. Everyone held some individual idea or expectation of one degree or another.

My friend, Sofia, who traveled all the way from Maryland to Nebraska with her family, was with us, too. She is an aerospace engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope at one time and still works at the Goddard Space Flight Center, so her interest in a cosmic phenomenon is understandable. But she had other reasons.

Through a close friend’s confrontation with an unexpected illness, Sofia solidly collided with her own mortality. Her friend and colleague had been recently diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is always terminal. In looking back on his life, he saw there were many things left undone, so to fill his last months or years, he started a bucket list. He urged Sofia to do the same, but soon, and not to wait for a death sentence. She took his advice, created a bucket list, and “see a total solar eclipse” was on the list. So, here she was.

Paul, Sofia’s husband, was there largely in support of his wife, and he wanted to see, as he put it, “the solar system’s engine run with all the perfection needed for an eclipse to occur.” I have to say, that’s one of my reasons too. The improbability of our Sun, Moon, and Earth all being the exact sizes and the exact distances necessary for a total eclipse is mind-boggling. For me, that astronomical implausibility adds to an eclipse’s mystical draw.

On the day of the eclipse, we awoke under a thick blanket of fog. Everyone was a little anxious, and we attempted to get satellite pictures on our phones, looking for unclouded areas we could quickly drive to if the skies refused to clear. Unfortunately, our remote location in the Sandhills made reception an iffy proposition. Sofia was very concerned. She had invested a lot into this trip, financially, and even more emotionally. In the end, the maps revealed the the same message Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz learned — that no place was really better than where we were, so we settled in to wait.

Soon the fog lifted and clouds cleared away. Our anxiety lifted too. Paul and Sofia set up their enormous binoculars and SLR digital camera on tripods and we tracked the sun as it moved across the sky and watched the moon chase it even faster.

As the moon Pac-manned it’s way across the Sun, our excitement built as the light changed, turning slightly more yellow and intensifying the grass-green hills. The light on our skin lost some of its heat and the air turned cool and still. By the time the last sliver of sunlight disappeared behind the Moon’s stony lid, everyone in our group grinned uncontrollably, clapped, cheered, or happily cried.

At totality, The Sun stood seemingly still in the noonday sky. Its center utterly black. The solar corona wisped around it like, as Sofia said, “white hair floating in water.” Darkness had fallen like a stone. The stars lit like someone had flipped a switch. All around us, morning and evening colors painted the horizon like stained glass. I felt directionless, and no matter how beautiful, it was disconcerting.

Two minutes and thirty four seconds. That’s all we had to absorb this, perhaps, once in a lifetime event. That’s a lot of pressure. I wanted to savor every second, but at the same time, I wanted to take pictures, look all around me, actually be with my friends and family, see the totality through the binoculars. It was too much. So I sat in my chair, craned my neck back and gazed into the totality. Well, I did take some pictures.

Looking East during Totality
Sunset at Noon

A black gem ringed with silvery light, a little like a star sapphire. That’s my analogy for what it looked like. Ebon and beautiful. The fact that the gem was our Sun and Moon made it all the more magical. Since I don’t believe in magic, you could say a part of me was in disbelief. But another part was awed beyond belief. Emotions were all that were left me.

Did I cry? Almost.

Even though I fell short of tears, my feelings must have connected to an ancestry stretching back into pre-history, because, nagging in the back of my mind, there was a tiny fear that the sun wouldn’t return. Science be damned. Paul held that same niggling dread and made the observation that, “the Sun’s return seemed like a physical manifestation of hope.” I like the idea of a cosmic reprieve. We don’t deserve it, but I’ll take it.

After the Moon brushed by the Sun, and the light slowly brightened, it felt like that moment after all the Christmas presents are opened. Now what? I wanted to hit rewind, see the instant replay. It couldn’t be over.

But it was and we were finally more free to interact with one another and so we milled around laughing and saying things like, “That was amazing!” and “That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life!” Nothing Neil Armstongish, but everyone knew what the other meant. We had gone through it together.

It’s been just a week since millions of people united together in their appreciation of nature’s wonder. We all stood in the Moon’s shadow for a minute or two and gazed into the Sun’s corona for the first time — that unseen solar atmosphere is what warms our planet. Like the Ogallala Aquifer and the Sandhills, it keeps us alive, even when we can’t see it.

Much has happened in a week. Charlottesville stands out. It’s surreal in a way to live for a few days outside the sphere of the news and then to return. I’ve done it dozens of times as a backpacker, gone into the wilderness and returned to find all kinds of things changed. This time I returned to something out of the late 1950’s. But, the total eclipse has formed a new analogy of hope for me. Even as we slip into a shadow, I feel like the light of our better nature will soon emerge, and we’ll walk in the Sun again.

I’ve Lost So Much

 

Over the course of my life’s half-century, I have lost many things. Some were dropped unnoticed, others were wrenched away from me, and some I laid aside gently, like one might bury a dear friend.  And each time I thought I might lose my heart, or my identity, or even my will, but I never did—not totally. I would be changed, but not so much that there was a loss of self-recognition. And sometimes, after I put something aside, I discovered that who I had been was the lie—not who I became.

In my blog about “Letting Go,” I wrote about how quitting smoking became easier once I discovered how the habit had been incorporated as a part of my identity. It wasn’t until I quit that, unclouded by addiction, I clearly saw how false the habit was to the core of myself and who I wanted to be. As I became more connected with my new choice of livelihood, Personal Training, other things that ended the sentence, “I am a person who likes…” disappeared and different ones took their place. I continued losing things because they didn’t tell my story any more, and I set them aside.

The deepest heartaches followed having to part with friends who no longer belonged in my life. Friends are especially difficult since a true friend enjoys an intimacy that goes deep, deeper than a lover at times. Some friends grew up with me and remained loyal throughout every stage of life. We shared youthful memories of favorite teachers, first kisses, and riding bikes on long summer days lit with freedom. Unfortunately, or fortunately, everyone changes, molded by time, circumstance, and will. The time to sever ties with a friend always came late—dawning on me in surprise, but there it was, chronicled in arguments, silences, and hurt.

Falling out of love has caused me to set aside the old, but falling in love with my wife was also one of those times. The person I referred to whenever I said, “me,” underwent a transformation, a metamorphosis, as I swam deeper into the enveloping waters of Love. I am reminded of the biblical passage, “two will become one flesh,” when I recall the experience. And in the beginning, love is supremely concerned with the flesh. Oh, the savory, subtle, stormy, sweetness of love’s physical expression filled time and my memory to the brim. With this came a breaking open, a willing loss of control, a sharing of my animalness, my reason, and my spirituality. As with any metamorphosis, there is a molting; in order to be born anew, the old must be shed.

Fear made a showing then. Remember when “I swam deeper in the enveloping waters of love?” There was a shocking moment when I realized that an easy return to the surface was impossible. That meant drowning and death. And the truth is that Love is similar to death, in that—part, or even most, of you must wholly surrender before love can truly blossom. The seed you were must die before it can realize its new purpose, and as I fell in love, my heart held back in fear, but eventually it had to break open. There is a death, a burying in love, but there is also a resurrection, and oh, what a rising.

I have lost many things in my life; some of them I regret—others I should have let go sooner. Even though losing things will continue, I am more comfortable with the process now. So many things have come and gone, and I have always come through. It’s not as scary now. My identity is a kaleidoscope of people, places, ideas, activities and things and each image is lovely, even as it morphs into the next.

Orbits

outer-space
Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?

 

It’s a new year, and for me at least, it seems that here at the beginning of our solar merry-go-round, I find myself looking back along the arc of our planet’s past orbit. What am I hoping to see? To be metaphorical, I’m looking for what I myself have been orbiting. What I’ve done with my resources, how have those actions improved my life and the lives of my loved ones, and has my life’s work continued to nurture what I value?  Am I in the “Goldilocks Zone” where life is best sustained, or am I orbiting in futility?

This is very important to me.

Just like you, I only have a limited amount of time, energy, and attentiveness. Those are the foundational resources of my life, of everyone’s life, and I want to invest them well and wisely.  I strive to make sure I use those resources in places that advance my dreams and keep my spirit lifted. I want to use them in places where I feel like I’m respected and valued, and where the accomplishments I achieve advance not only me, but others as well. Instead of being, as Meghan Trainor sings, “all about that bass,” I’m all about that service and that is my primary orbit.

Every segment of my life, as delineated by my occupations, has been in some way about service: twenty years in the military, going to college and becoming a teacher, guiding people in the outdoors, being a trainer. All of these are service occupations. That’s what I love to do.

In the new year, I am also looking ahead for what new orbit can I place my service in or what can I do to improve what I am currently doing.  The finger I keep on the pulse of the fitness industry is feeling out new ways for people to reach deeper within themselves and discover the pathways for reaching their dreams. And those dreams are not really about looking good. They are about being healthy, more energetic, happier, and more adventurous. These are all things I want I want my solar system of self and loved ones to revolve around, and I find that living a healthy life is a way to gain them.

Which brings up an unusual point. People see me as a personal trainer and often think that exercise is the central orbit of my life, but that isn’t true. Exercise is not one of my orbits, nor does it fulfill my life—it is a means to living fully. The way I want to live and the achievements I want to leave behind as a memorial, are not direct results of my exercise, eating and sleep habits. Those are tools that create a body more capable of achieving my dreams.

Something wonderful
What’s going to happen? Something wonderful.

During this Year’s infancy, I urge everyone to move beyond their habits, and turn their attention to the values they have chosen to orbit. The why’s behind their hopes and dreams. Take the poet, Rainer Rilke’s, famous advice about “living the questions,” and carry into the New Year a pilgrim’s spirit:

• How can I let go of my need for fixed answers in favor of fluidity? To be comfortable with uncertainty is to gain a great peace.
• What is my next challenge in daring to grow as a human?
• How can I open myself to the beauty of nature?
• Who or what do I need to learn to love next? And next? And next?
• What new creation waits to be born in and through me?

Once your eye turns inward, you can begin to discover the values behind your orbits. “How do I spend my time? Why do I value spending it in that way? When did I give so much meaning to food? Why? When did I give so much value to watching TV? Sporting events?” Seriously ask, “Is it really necessary? Is the way I spend my time good for me and my family? Does it keep me from my dreams?  Answering these questions are as important, if not more important, than a gym membership or changing your diet. Discover what you’re orbiting and why. The answers are what will keep your diet, exercise, and health, permanent.