Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at the fire-folk sitting in the air!
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)
I remember one August night lying on my back outside on the grass with my partner as we watched the Shower of Perseus – star after star falling, swooping through the sky. We were in County Cork where we lived for a while, on the edge of a cliff.
I was fortunate in being brought up in the countryside and for most of my life I’ve had a second home far from the city lights where I could watch the stars without light pollution, diamonding the sky.
Joseph Campbell, in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, describes how – on opening the National Geographic Atlas of the World – he found a two-page spread depicting our solar system and the galaxy of billions of stars: ‘What those pages opened to me, in short, was the vision of a universe of unimaginable magnitude’.
When we meditate with our eyes closed it is all too easy to become self-involved rather than opening ourselves to the unknown; opening ourselves, in a very deep sense, to the realisation that neither we nor our planet are the centre of the universe. What quantum physics shows us is that each one of us is part of a vast design, that we are all involved.
And so sometimes it can be helpful to meditate with our eyes open, fixed on a certain spot. Where I sit to meditate I look out on a courtyard and the garden beyond. I fix my gaze on a small area while saying my mantra, or simply following the breath. Into that space may come a robin, or a young thrush, or a bumble bee, and I become aware also of the sap rising in plants and trees, their roots pushing down into the dark earth, while their leaves and branches reach up to the sky. As I breathe in, so I breathe in all of creation of which I am a small part.
Perhaps it goes back to the verse my mother used to sing to me as a small child:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are!