Monday, January 21, 2008

The Bliss of Stargazing

This image of Saturn's moon Titan is from NASA. Just for a moment, I want you to take in the beauty and the splendor of this amazing picture, taken from the Cassini spacecraft.

How often do you look up? I mean really look up? And not because of a plane passing overhead or a surprise drop of rain. Do you simply forget, like most of us do, that there's an up up there? That there's an out out there? That there's so much beyond right here?

I'm thinking about this today because I'm editing a science article about outer solar system exploration, and I was caught off-guard by how infrequently I remember the planets and moons and other space wonders, and yet how incredible they are when you think about them. No wonder the planets and their moons are named for gods; they command the same awe and respect.

Thinking about the natural world--the animals, the deserts, the woods, the moon, the outer reaches of space--this is my mental cathedral, the place I go when I most want to feel connected to the spiritual and divine. When I look at a picture like the one above, I lose myself in it, absorbed in contemplation of the larger riot of energy and phenomenon that is an utterly breathtaking mystery.

It's interesting, how cities have managed to squelch the light from the stars, giving us a night sky that's still dark, yes, but flat, close-in, and a kind of dull opaque gray. I've been lucky enough to have seen the heavens from a few truly dark places, and it is a deep, endless, crystalline darkness pierced through with the scintilla of stars and draped with opalescent wisps of distant galactic fog. When you see a sky like this, you want to fall to your knees and worship whatever benevolence has granted you the privilege to witness such a thing.

The advice to count your blessings or give thanks is not wrong-headed; however, I think it might be wise to start with the very first blessing, which is that which I describe above: the privilege--short and fleeting though it is--to participate in this world.

So on your path to bliss, I exhort you to look upward and outward--literally and figuratively--to take a step beyond what has your attention anchored here on earth, and remember what's up there, what's out there, and how lucky you are to be a part of it.

And while you're looking up there, go ahead and make a wish--after all, the universe is endless, and anything is possible.

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