I’ve been fascinated with the stars since I was still playing with Barbie dolls. As a little girl, I used to look up at the sky at night and spot the first star, then instantly close my eyes, make a wish and desperately try not to look back up at the sky so as not to ruin the chances that my wish upon that first star of the night would come true. In high school I spent many nights with my best friend lying on a wool blanket on the golf course in her backyard, staring up at the sky and looking for satellites, memorizing constellations and giggling about the things high school girls giggle about. In college I took a course in Astronomy and I was fascinated by the legends behind the pictures in the sky, especially the story of Orion the Hunter and Scorpio, his nemesis, bound together inextricably for all of eternity to fight a battle neither could win. “The arms of Orion, that’s where I wanna be,” I would sing, twirling around the grass with my mind millions of miles away from what I called reality.
When we look at the sky, we see both history and the limitless future. The light we see from some stars has travelled such a great distance to get to us that by the time we see it, the star has died and shines no more. The blank space in between the stars may not be blank at all, but a birthplace for new stars and solar systems and galaxies. And the constellations we so fondly recognize, like the Big Dipper and majestic Orion, bring with each glance a story told hundreds or thousands of years ago by our ancestors who passed their tales down to new generations. The pictures they saw in the sky had real meaning to them, and they looked to the sky for guidance and wisdom. They used the constellations to remind them of who they were, what they valued and what their own existence could mean in the grand scheme of things.
One night this summer, my sons and my husband and I were camping in a beautiful and secluded little campground in the San Isabel National Forest near the shores of tranquil Turquoise Lake. After the S’Mores were eaten and our little boys were snuggled in their sleeping bags, Lancelot and I wandered outside to the campfire with an Eckhart Tolle book and a longing for peace. As we quietly chatted, our gazes lifted to the sky and we saw stars beginning to appear.
I quite quickly recognized a familiar constellation. “There’s the Big Dipper!” I pointed it out, as we settled into our canvas chairs and our eyes searched for more stars between the needles of the white pine trees surrounding us. To our delight, stars started to appear in droves. They started to wink out of the inky blackness sleepily at first, and then more quickly, until we saw sparkles everywhere we looked. They emerged at such a rate that soon I realized I could no longer see that familiar constellation, the Big Dipper, even though I had seen it clearly just moments earlier. There were simply too many stars in the way to be able to distinguish even the most distinguishable picture in the sky.
Try as I might to make sense of the sky, to form it into recognizable patterns, I could not. The stars themselves made it impossible.
I wonder if life is a little bit like star-watching on a clear night. In life, I like to have a fair amount of control over my actions and my environment. I like to know what to expect and what’s coming next so I can prepare for it and have my wits about me when things start to happen. Yet, the more I try to control my life and sort experiences and people into groups I can make sense of, the less sense I seem to make out of life.
Experiences and people were simply not made to be sorted and separated and grouped together according to my whims. Life itself is not made to be analyzed, evaluated and separated into its various parts. Life is meant to be experienced in all its wild wonder. We are meant to allow life to happen, not to label it and control it and coerce it into our own inferior meaning.
We couldn’t see all those stars when we had our iPhones out, or the TV on, or the flashlights on. We couldn’t see those stars when our minds were cluttered with the latest news report, tweet or argument at work. We had to put away all the distractions and lift our eyes to the unencumbered universe above to see more clearly. As it turns out, that universe was there all along.
When the Big Dipper disappeared, what appeared in its place was a wondrous playground of possibilities. I was no longer constrained by one little ladle in the sky. Instead, I could see more, and see more deeply. I suddenly had the freedom to release the past and allow a new present to emerge. I could simply be present with the universe.
What I experienced in my night of star watching by Turquoise Lake this summer was a moment of liberation. I was freed from my limited perceptions and given abundance in the form of stars. I was no longer confined by the stories previous generations had told about some stars. I could make my own pictures, and create my own meaning. Maybe I could see an eagle soaring overhead, or a monarch butterfly fluttering over the pines. Or I could fashion a palace of light, housing the dazzling untold fantasies of creatures never before seen on earth. The point was, the pictures and the stories were up to me, because I was no longer pushing to see a picture I had already seen. Instead, I was given the grace of space, freedom and possibility.
Too often in life, I limit my own freedom my trying to adhere to what I see as an accepted way of thinking, feeling or behaving. I place myself in a metaphorical Big Dipper and I don’t allow my eyes to see the other stars and planets and nebulas peeking through. When, instead, I let go of the artificial constraints of life, I can free myself to author my own life, the way I was meant to.
Maybe I can recreate that star-gazing experience right now, in the daytime. Maybe I turn from technology and busy-ness and turn instead to the freedom that has been here all along. Maybe I can write my own stories, and create my own destiny.
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I love showing my kids how to find the north star using the “pointer stars” on the big dipper. I’ve heard that on the cattle drives, they’d point the wagon tongue toward the north star at night so they’d be oriented in the morning. There are some lessons in that, too.
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Definitely! We have a lot to learn from the constellations just as they are, as well.
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