Friday, March 2, 2012

Week of 3/4/12—Observing Life's Magic

Venus, Jupiter and the Moon prepare to align 
with my neighbor's house on 2/26/12.
Most nights, in the wee hours, you can find me out back on my deck, gazing up at the sky. But it's not the genius of the universe that keeps me coming back night after night. It's something much closer to home....

I'm like the US Postal Service in that weather doesn't stop me from my nightly watch. There doesn't even have to be stars. In fact, I've been known to accumulate an inch of snow on my blankets, at times. Only a hard rain can keep me away, because at that point, sitting under my soffit will no longer keep me dry.

When I'm out there looking up at the stars, you'd think I'd be contemplating the enormity and wonder of the universe. And sometimes I do. I wonder how far away a particular star is or think about how it could have died a thousand years ago, but I can still see it because it's more than a thousand light years away. It's like peering into history.

Over time, I've become marginally capable of spotting constellations and such. I can always spot Mars, because it really does have a redder cast than other "stars" (yes, I know Mars is a planet). And I like to look for Orion, not only because I can spot it easily, but also because its belt is made up of three stars called the Three Sisters. And I'm one of three sisters. Then, of course, there's the Big Dipper or Ursa Major. And I check for Polaris most nights, just to make sure it's still there. If it should happen to disappear suddenly, I want to know first hand.

But here's the thing...I wouldn't know any of that if it weren't for the help of a kick-ass app called Star Walk. So what truly amazes me as I gaze up at the sky each night is how ancient man knew all of this stuff without consulting their iPhones. Here are just a few of the mindblowing things ancient man did with his skills of observation of the night sky:
  • The Mayan Calendar. The long count Mayan calendar dates back to the 5th century BC. It is more accurate than our Gregorian calendar because it measures the length of a year essentially down to the second. We add a leap day every 4 years to account for this difference, measuring a year as 365.25 days. In fact, a year is 11 minutes shorter than that which, over decades and scores and centuries, adds up. The Mayans, in 500BC knew about those 11 minutes based on precise calculations made on data observed over hundreds of years. They devoted generations of observation to the sun and night sky to create the most accurate calendar known to man—over 2500 years ago!
  • The Antikytheria Mechanism. Recovered from a shipwreck in 1900 and dated back to the 1st century BC, this mechanism is known as the world's first computer. Among other things, it precisely measures the location of celestial bodies and also accounts for that extra quarter day each year—150 years before any official calendar ever did. With all our modern instruments, we still don't know how they made it or why.
  • The Pyramids, Stonehenge, etc. Whether Mayan or Egyptian, the pyramids display multiple alignments that correspond to the night sky—not just within the individual pyramids themselves, but between multiple pyramids miles apart. Stonehenge was built in 3000-2000 BC and contains astrological elements, including stones that mark solstices and equinoxes. Around the world there are lesser structures that shadow light in a certain way, depending upon where the sun is, also pointing out solstices and other celestial events. It's not just the years of observation that went into the certainty behind creating these structures, but the import placed on the sun, moon and stars that drove ancient man to find ways to create megolithic structures. We still don't know how they created those structures without modern machinery. But they found a way. It was that important to them.
In addition to all that, some believe that many prehistoric cave paintings were actually drawings of constellations, rather than animals...they were using animals to represent what they saw in the night sky. We're talking 15,000 or more years ago...before farming and "civilization" itself. Certainly those who were so attuned to their environment couldn't miss certain patterns in the night sky. But if they were actually recording them? It boggles the mind! This is stuff that we're still figuring out today and ancient man, if not prehistoric man, had a bead on it way before they had instruments to measure and observe it.

We walk through our days, focused on getting to a destination or completing an errand and we never stop to just take in our environment. As a result, our pets and children (and ourselves) seem to age all of a sudden. We mean to get around to something and years later it's still left untouched. We fail to see relationships slipping away.

Let's face it, our focus on intentional observation has diminished considerably over time, unless you're a scientist or something. And with it, we've lost that sense of mystery and awe that kept ancient man on the edge of his seat when it came to things like the night sky. Now it's just something many of us take for granted. Which begs the question...what else might be going on right under your nose that you might not be noticing?

Over the next week or so, try one of the following and see what it yields:
  • Watch grass grow. With spring upon us, now would be a great time to observe what's popping out of the ground and how fast it grows. Check one or two times a day and compare to surrounding plants. Who grows faster? Who dies faster? What can you learn from that?
  • Observe a relationship between you and someone else. Instead of viewing it subjectively, however, pull back and view it objectively. See how that person's body language changes around you. See if and when they avert their eyes while talking to you. Notice their tone and facial expressions. Is this person engaged with you? Are they on your side? Or do they have something to hide? Step outside of your body and emotions to see this relationship from the standpoint of a dispassionate observer.
  • Go Mars spotting. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, the dude is out there every night right now. It rises in the east before sunset and sets in the west after sunrise at this time of year. It will appear as the brightest "star" in the sky and it will have a reddish tinge to it. Check a few times a night to see how fast it moves across the sky. If you're viewing Mars on March 3, you should know that the earth is passing directly between Mars and the Sun on that date, which is why it's so spectacularly bright right now. It is also the closest to Earth as it ever gets. A special time for Mars spotting. 
This isn't about intuition or psychic power. It's not about hugging trees or talking to squirrels. This is about using our good, old powers of observation to see something that's been happening right in front of us all our lives, only we've just never taken the time to notice. Prehistoric man's life depended upon it. And you'd be surprised at just how important an oversight it may be in your life once you start looking.

Our ability to observe and be conscious of our surroundings is directly proportional to the amount of control we claim over our existence. You can go through life with blinders on, living in a world of chaos where things just happen to you. Or you can bring order and personal responsibility into your world by paying attention to the bits and bytes of information streaming toward you at any given time. In short, you can see stuff coming long before it smacks you in the head.

The more conscious we become of our environment, the more informed we are. It's that simple. Whether you believe in God, angels, fate, science, the Universe or nothing at all, messages and clues are streaming in toward you all the time. Some of them are wrapped in beauty and wonder, while others are wrapped in red flags. But if you have your head down plowing through your day, you're going to miss them. And you'll have nobody to blame but yourself. 


  1. Interesting. I just started something like that last summer while walking Sophie. I make a 35--40 minute circuit of the neighborhood noticing trees, wild flowers and plants, etc. I like to focus on one particular thing like tree bark, or tiny blossoms on weeds. It's relaxing and "grounding". I really feel inside my skin, aware of where I am, and amazed at what I'm finding there. I'll have to try the night vigil. It sounds pretty good.

  2. Nice, Pat. Thanks. Very good point about it being ground and really putting you in the moment. I know I can have issues with not being in the moment and a practice like this is a good way to make sure you're. Great comment. :)