Practices From the Inside Out: Looking Up Into the Night Sky

Practices From the Inside Out: Looking Up Into the Night Sky February 15, 2020

Looking Up Into the Night Sky

The dance of lights and darkness in the night sky can be entrancing.

We do not seem to have as much time for contemplating the night sky as we used to have. I remember when I was a child I would go outdoors after dark just to look up into the sky. My father tried to show me the constellations, but my eyesight was not particularly good even then.

My interest in looking up into the night sky was not about learning the names or locations of everything. I was not particularly interested in mapping or organizing the sky.

What drew me out into the darkness was how vast the sky was. It was immense and incredibly far away while it felt like I could reach up and touch the stars.

Now it almost feels like a nuisance to step outside and look up into the night sky. We seem to have too many other things we need to do. Sometimes we are comfortable and it is inconvenient to rouse ourselves and look into the sky. Other times we have places we need to be and are driving to get there.

The sky does not seem to draw us the way it did. We may have become better at resisting its temptations. Or we might have forgotten what it has to offer us.

It can feel like we have lost our focus on the night sky. We pay so much attention to what is on the screens in our hands we forget to look up into the sky.

Here, in the season between New Year’s resolutions and Lent intentions, looking up into the night sky might be our next practice to begin.

We could practice looking up each day.

When We Look Up Into the Night Sky

One summer when I was in college and far from home I remember looking up into the night sky.

It was a clear night and, even though the stars were in new places, the sky was still there. That night the sky gave me a new sense of its vest immenseness and its immediacy. It was intriguing to look up into a foreign sky and see familiar lights in the darkness, calming and reassuring to put things into perspective.

Even when experiences were new and confusing I knew the night sky was still there for me.

When I make a retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, the night sky captures my attention.

Spending time at the hermitage is a way for me to reset my internal clock. I return to immerse myself in monastic time, to remember and be restored.

Monastic night is often the most challenging adjustment for me in returning to New Camaldoli. I love rocking in a chair, reading and reflecting, and watching the sun slide into the ocean. As my room grows darker, it is tempting to turn on the lights and continue reading. There is so much I want to read, to write, to consider.

It takes time for me to realize how tired my body, my mind, my spirit can be.

Monastic night is the deep heart of letting go, of contemplative practice. We struggle to get quiet, to stop being distracted, and listen to stillness.

Night is often when hidden nuggets of pain demand our attention. We may have forgotten them throughout the day. Monastic nights reminds us.

Outside, the stars in the night sky, usually obscured by city lights, shine in the darkness. Opening our hearts and our hands we can almost touch them.

Lights and Darkness Dancing in the Night Sky

Looking up into the night sky reminds us of truths which are easy for us to forget.

We like to think our lives are stable and sturdy and we have both feet on solid ground. Some of us see ourselves as the center of our own universe.

The night sky helps us remember we are whirling through space. The space all around us is filled with stars and planets and moons, all whirling around.

We watch the lights and darkness in the night sky dance in their patterns, each taking their own steps. The dance reminds us of all the things we take for granted, to which we do not give our attention.

It is not possible for us to control, or even understand, the lights and darkness in the night sky. Some of us can begin to appreciate the intricacies and wonders of the dances we watch.

The dances, and the night sky, are beautiful because they are beyond what we can do. Light from distant suns, including our own, create patterns in the night sky.

We look up and pay homage to what we see,

Wonders in the Night Sky

The night sky is filled with wonders which spark our reflection and our imaginations. The phases of the moon and the stars, meteor showers and planets, and the darkness itself.

Looking into the sky at night reminds me of spiritual life. For as long as I can remember I have looked up to see what I could see.

We are not able to see the lights in the sky when they are obscured by artificial lights, or daylight. They are still there, even when we are cannot see them.

The lights in the sky show us our place in the universe, on the earth, and within ourselves. They help us navigate spiritual life as well as our everyday lives.

Stars we see in the night sky are far from us. In their light, even traveling toward us at the speed of light, we see events which happened years ago.

We look up into the night sky and see things which happened before we were born.

The sky at night shows us something larger than we are.

What will we see when we look up into the night sky tonight?

How will we practice looking into the night sky this week?

[Image by Chris Sorge]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.


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