"Hidden by a Palm Tree"
- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -
Unfortunately, the recent “total” eclipse of the sun was unable to be viewed in the region where we live. We only saw a 60% eclipse out here; however, I did listen to the National Public Radio station that offered “live” reports from the places where people were able to experience “totality,” as the sun was blacked out, day became like night and stars appeared in the middle of the morning.
As I listened to those “live” reports, I heard people literally cry out in “ecstasy” when the event happened, many were in tears, some actually fell to their knees. Afterwards, when asked what they had experienced at the moment of the total eclipse, many people said they had no words to describe it, the event left them speechless and most people were quite surprised at the strong feelings of awe the eclipse elicited in them.
As I see it, that moment of “totality” was indeed a profound spiritual experience for lots people a few days ago - it was a moment of transcendence.
Back about 100 years ago, Rudolph Otto, the renowned philosopher of religion, wrote his now-famous book: The Idea of the Holy, in which he talked at length about the human experience of ‘transcendence.” When we encounter “transcendence” we are pulled out of our own limited individualized ego and we are connected with something (or someone) far greater than our tiny little separated self. Otto suggested that this encounter cannot be rationalized or explained or even named and the only response to such an experience is “awe.”
Otto further suggested that our “awesome” response to transcendence is an experience that is “wonderful and terrifying” both at the same time:
An encounter with the “holy” elicits awe,
an experience of an intimate and also a majestic beauty
that is so intense as to leave you speechless and makes you want to tremble.
As I think about it, that’s exactly what many people were feeling at the total eclipse of the sun. They were being pulled out of their tiny myopic self and connected to something far more cosmic and it elicited a sense of “awe.” It was all so beautifully tender and also so majestic and incomprehensible. It left them speechless and made them want to tremble.
The Buddha once described something of his own “enlightenment” and his encounter with transcendence:
I saw stars within me, sunrise and sunset, full moon nights
everything within me not without me.
It was my boundary that had been keeping them out.
Now the boundary is no more.
Now I am the whole.
Interestingly enough, that precise moment when the sun was totally blocked by the moon was referred to as the moment of “totality.” I wonder if the word goes beyond a reference to the instance when the sun was “totally” blocked? Maybe "totality" refers to an experience of "wholeness" by those who witnessed the event - a moment when there were no boundaries and for just an instance people felt cosmically connected and whole. It was wonderful, it was terrifying, it was awesome.
You don’t have to view a “total” eclipse of the sun to experience “totality.” We are all cosmic beings, we are all connected and when we come to know this truth, we are always left speechless.
The Sufi poet, Rumi, once wrote:
The whole universe exists inside you.
God writes spiritual mysteries on our heart
where they silently wait for discovery.