Earlier this week there was a total lunar eclipse. And, of course, in these internet click-driven days it wasn't just any old lunar eclipse, it was a Super Flower Blood Moon. By all accounts it was quite spectacular, though here in the Pacific Northwest it was, er, cloudy and gray.
I love lunar eclipses so I was a little sad that we weren't able to see it (but secretly relieved that I didn't have to get up at 4am to watch!) Lunar eclipses aren't that rare, but they are always lovely. Over the last few years they seem to have caught the imagination of the public, and the media have realized that if they give each one a name then they can drum up more enthusiasm (clicks). The formula is simple - mix a few terms from astronomy with a few from astrology and add a full-moon name (all cultures have names for each of the full moons of a year so there are plenty to choose from) and you have a way to make the current one look special. Personally I feel they missed a trick this year and should have called it the Super Milk Flower Cornplanting Hare Blood Moon (yes, those are all valid names for the May full moon).
Despite all that, lunar eclipses are still a wonderful time to remind ourselves to look up. We all go about our lives looking out or down, and often have to remind ourselves to look up. There is something special about building that connection with what is above us. So if nothing else, I hope that this will encourage you to go outside and look up. You won't see an eclipse this week, but I promise you will see something that can enthrall you. Even here in the Northwest.
When I think of the heavens I an often reminded of the lovely Karaniya Metta Sutta. Many of you will be familiar with this as a version is often chanted in sanghas, but a slightly less familiar version is the Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation:
As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:
Above, below, & all around,
unobstructed, without hostility or hate.
Whether standing, walking,
sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.
This is called a sublime abiding
here & now.
So a practice we can all do is to go outside, look up, and with good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart.
This is exactly what we do in the traditional Metta Bhavana (cultivation of lovingkindness) practice. At the end of the standard form there is a section known as 'sending to the ten directions.' The ten directions here are the four cardinal compass points, plus the four intercardinal points, plus 'downwards to the depths and upwards to the skies.' As we do this we practice taking the lovingkindness and goodwill that we have cultivated and offering it to all sentient beings, wherever in the cosmos they are.
When we look up we see objects in a solar system and a universe that all of us on this earth share. It can teach us that we are not-separate, that we inhabit the same universe. Let's all make 'looking up' a part of our practice this week.
PS: As I am writing this I have Monty Python's 'The Galaxy Song' going round in my head. There as a wonderful live version from a number of years ago that I love. Even if you are very familiar with the song I highly recommend watching this all the way to the end! Academic rivalry at its best.
PPS: I have linked below a fully guided meditation where we practice sending lovingkindness and goodwill to the Ten Directions. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm on Sunday 30th May - you are welcome to join us then if you wish, or of course to use this in your practice in any way that is helpful.
Image credit: Greg Diesel Walck
"Karaniya Metta Sutta — Good Will" (Khp 9), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/khp/khp.1-9.than.html