Yoga and Humanity under the Stars

 Indoor lecture session -  *red light preserves night vision*

Indoor lecture session -  *red light preserves night vision*

  Snack time! Amanda Doucette - the culinary artiste extraordinaire - at centre.

Snack time! Amanda Doucette - the culinary artiste extraordinaire - at centre.

  At the Telescope! Blankets were provided as the dampness and chill intruded.

At the Telescope! Blankets were provided as the dampness and chill intruded.

  Tim with one of the "moon lights" from the onservatory store. They're pretty cool and people are taking them home to enjoy the lunar detail.

Tim with one of the "moon lights" from the onservatory store. They're pretty cool and people are taking them home to enjoy the lunar detail.

Last weekend, under rather inconsistent skies, a group of yoga practitioners gathered in the Night Owl camping area of the Deep Sky Eye complex. Under the guidance of Kate Giglio, from Super Nova Power Yoga, these seven individuals placed their mats on the good earth and spent an hour or so in the calm of summer dusk.  The Quinan River sang quietly to itself and crickets drowsily accompanied the water's music. Human breath joined with the wind and the evergreen incense in a blend of absolute peace.

Because I am not a yogi, I chose not to intrude into their space. Instead, since the observatory area was set up for a reception and sky session, I cheerfully hung out there. With Amanda's delectable munchies and the group's enthusiastic chatter, this break unfolded in happy harmony. I hadn't seen Kate for awhile and was glad to touch base with her, and get an update on her puppy's current medical situation. He'd experienced some earlier distress that meant a vet call; fortunately, it proved to be easily treated and the dear fellow (dog, not vet) went home to recover.

The usual observation routine was changed to accommodate both the overcast and the group, who spent time gazing through the large telescope and enjoying an informative lecture given by Tim. There was no outdoor skywatching because the mist had closed in. We could see Mars, glowering balefully through haze, and Jupiter flirted briefly with us - but not much else showed up. Still, no one seemed to mind. 

Speaking of "mind", since yoga embrace mindfulness and awareness of both self and cosmos, it's appropriate to point out that both stargazing and yogic exercising can lead to a state of expanded consciousness. One original meaning of yoga was "to join", as with a yoke, the root word. When we practise specific forms of movement or meditation, we reach both inside ourselves and outside our own bodies. I did pursue basic Tai Chi and found this to be true for that context. When I stare upward, and the galaxies wheel through the vast universe, I feel somehow connected to this inconceivably distant light. During a "sky tour" session, as I retell old myths and legends associated with various star formations - from Cassiopeia to the Summer Triangle – I sense a connectedness with the ancient people who once stood as I do now. They must have released part of themselves to the cosmos, imagining flight to or among the deities they believed to inhabit it. They probably identified with the jealous betrayal of Callisto by Juno (Ursa Major), the warriors' rivalry of Mars (Ares) with Antares, or the swan's flight (Cygnus) by which a transformed Orpheus plays his immortal lyre (Lyra) until the world ends. 

Yoga, from my understanding, disciplines the mind as well as unleashing its potential. We cannot progress without the former.  Randomness becomes chaos.  Entropy nudges thermal energy – stars or body heat – into fragmentation and disorder. We need a sense of wholeness, both above and within. Our bodies are microcosmic. Sagan has called us "star stuff" and indeed, we are exactly this. Molecular dust clouds form the Great Rift running through the Milky Way, and from this dust come new stars. Apparent randomness moves toward predictability. Entropy is a quality as opposed to a process, although it causes processes to occur. Can it be reversed? It's linked to time, but our concept of time is linear and moves in one direction: past to present. But what if time can be reversed? Would the character of entropy then change? Would it initiate, instead of destruction,  the steps toward unity and creation?

I wish Stephen Hawking were here to further debate these questions. He was, after all, the authority on temporal processes and concepts. Even wrote a "brief history" of the whole idea. I miss him. As my husband was dying of ALS, we watched the wonderful movie, The Theory of Everything, which starred Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. We pondered huge questions of mortality, infinity, hope against despair - and our own place in all of this enormous, unknowable lemniscate. We came to no conclusions. Perhaps there are none for ordinary mortals to reach. David departed into the cosmos a month later - back to the stars whence he had come. 

Being an artist, and not a physical scientist, I have no idea what much of this highly technical information actually means. I can read about it, translate it according to my own understanding, relate it to my personal experience - but I'm incapable of viewing it knowledgably. It is, literally, beyond me. All I can do is celebrate the night, the inexorable turn of our galaxy, the pivot of constellations and star clusters around Polaris. The ecliptic determines where the planets can move, from our earthly perspective. We each possess our own ecliptic as well, which prescribes our individual path through the world. Can the practice of yoga assist us in discovering where that ecliptic is located, how we can move along it? I don't know that either. Kate could probably tell me and perhaps she'll comment to this blog post.

At any rate, the evening was a beautiful experience – personally and collectively. I could judge this by the eagerness of the participants, there laughter, the joy in their eyes. When they left, I paused to assemble my own thoughts and drove slowly home. Cats were on the road as always, stepping cautiously along the shoulder, gleam-eyed like embers. I always take care so I won't end their lives. The same goes for the clumsy porcupines, the raccoon family clustered on the centre line, the ash-coloured fox loping past me on my own road. They matter to me. We are connected, and while I look upward, they cannot, so I must do it for them.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day                                                                                                                                                                   I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;                                                                                                                                         While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,                                                                                                                                                  I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 W.B. Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree

  My favourite photo from this yoga and stargazing night ...

My favourite photo from this yoga and stargazing night ...