Today’s delight came early, before dawn. I was about to settle on to my meditation cushion in the living room. I have my cushion situated so that my view, while meditating, is through a large window looking out to the front garden. The view is generally eastward, with generous access to the southern sky. I sit on the cushion at more or less the same time every day. Totally dark in the winter, brilliantly bright in the summer. The skies are not always clear over Olympia. They have been clear for the last four days, though with a little early morning fog. Today it was totally clear, and in the pre-dawn dark sky I first noticed the Moon, southeast from my position on the living room floor. It was bright in the sky over downtown Olympia, the last bit of the last quarter of this cycle.
I’m intrigued by conjunctions of celestial bodies. I know there is a formal definition of conjunction, and I don’t find it helpful. I’m intrigued when I can see several bodies in our solar system “close” together in the sky. A few years ago, when I was on Twitter, I used the hashtag #knowingwhentolookup to tag my observations of celestial phenomena and occasional terrestrial phenomena. I just meant, “pay attention to what’s present.” In the case of celestial phenomena, the Moon is always involved (for me). Like an anchor store. First, the Moon. Then, one or more planets. Of course, the main planets easily seen from Earth are Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. I don’t use a telescope. #nakedeyeconjunctions. Mercury might be visible sometimes low on the horizon to the east, but for me the Cascade Mountains obscure that view. No matter. The cycle of arrangements of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars relative to the Moon are sufficient.
This morning, March 19, 2020 I saw the Moon, and up a little and to the right I saw Jupiter. Having consulted an app on my phone, I knew that Saturn was somewhere between the Moon and Jupiter. I stepped outside to the front porch (cold, 38 F) and adjusted my head to access the appropriate segment of my blended trifocals. There was Saturn, “above” and “to the right” of the Moon, faintly yellow. My feet were cold on the concrete of the front porch. My head was cold. I felt alive and connected to a cycle that has repeated for thousands, millions, of years. Then I stepped back inside and settled on the cushion for 30 minutes of meditation.
When I see something like this conjunction this morning, I reflect on the relentlessness of natural phenomena. Whatever is happening on this Earth right now, we in the northern hemisphere are moving into spring and those of us in the southern hemisphere are moving into fall. Day length is increasing or decreasing, as it has done for millions of years. If I want to grow certain plants in my garden to feed myself and my family, I need to pay attention to this cycle. And I do.
In November my wife, Janet, and I were in the Cook Islands for two weeks. The Cook Islands are in the same time zone as Hawaii, and the same distance south of the equator as Hawaii is north of the equator. On November 27, 2019 we walked down to the beach at sunset, curious to know what a cloudless night sky in the southern hemisphere would reveal. The Moon was visible in the northwestern sky, a mere sliver low in the sky. over the ocean. Waves crashed over the outer reef as we waited for the sun to disappear. As the sky darkened, we first saw Venus bright above the Moon. Then Jupiter became visible, above the Moon and below Venus. Finally, the increasing darkness revealed Saturn above and to the right of Venus. A spectacular conjunction.
So what is the Delight? Well, it is the practice, the habit, of noticing what is happening in the world around me. Noticing that there are other phenomena besides my personal drama that are continually unfolding. I feel delight in establishing my connection to celestial phenomena and to related cycle on this Earth, where I reside and try to thrive.