Learning to trust the gravity of Light and Love
Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix'd.
--Shakespeare, Henry VIII.
A star is born when atoms of light elements are squeezed under enough pressure for their nuclei to undergo fusion. All stars are the result of a balance of forces: the force of gravity compresses atoms in interstellar gas until the fusion reactions begin. And once the fusion reactions begin, they exert an outward pressure. As long as the inward force of gravity and the outward force generated by the fusion reactions are equal, the star remains…
--Richard Brill, Scientific American.
I’ve always been fascinated with the sun. It sounds ridiculous to say that, it being the central star in our galaxy and a somewhat obvious player in our planetary existence. What I mean by fascination is not a scientific curiosity, but rather a sort of devotion. Surrounded as I was in Spain by fields of sunflowers, I must have apprenticed myself to their turning faces, unknowingly being grafted into their ancient mysticism of light.
When I was three I told my mother I wanted to be a star. “What’s that?” she asked. “When you stand in front of everyone and shine and everyone loves you,” I answered matter-of-factly.
We’ve laughed about that statement for years, brushing it aside as an obvious indication of a little budding performer. But now as I consider this childlike declaration I wonder if there isn’t more to my desire than just to receive the adoration of an audience…I wonder if there wasn’t a deeper intuition driving my words.
I remember as a child, how my brother would tell me to stop staring at the sun, catching me as he would staring directly at that blinding ball at the center of everything. I have no doubt I have done irreparable damage to my corneas from this dangerous practice. I can’t tell you why I did—and sometimes still—do it. For me it always felt like the most natural thing, which makes no sense…unless some part of my deeper memory just gravitated toward our star in deferential recognition for its key role of our joint evolutionary toil. But I think for me, it was a devotional instinct.
When I imagined God, my childlike imagination probably somehow recognized that settling on a faceless source of warmth and blinding star-light was the closest material approximation to a God-concept. I had no idea then what a radical insight this was, of understanding God as inextricably within our universe. It was just instinct. Instinct also led to a ritual around this God-light worship involving an acknowledgement of the alchemy of suffering and love.
When I think back on the memories that play themselves like notes through the melody of my life, they are all punctuated by a sort of anguish…an unbearable compression of joy and sorrow, devastation twinged by hope, tragedy held by arms of love. I remember the agony of constant moves, constant change. I remember the agony of slowly losing adoring “uncles” to AIDS, of living with the fear of bomb explosions at the hands of the terror organization ETA at the nearby civil guard base, or when I was told one of my closest friends had inexplicably hung himself at the age of nine. I remember the tears of my mother when things were tighter than I could imagine for us financially, how well they hid their anxiety when we were suddenly homeless due to rising rent. And on and on the rupture points shine, like constellations holes punched in the fabric of my life.
Somewhere along the way, I started doing this thing, this private ceremony for no one else but the sun or the stars. Like a tiny priestess in recognition of the two forces always present in all things—the joy and the sorrow, the beauty and the pain, death and life-- I taught myself to retreat into my room to be alone when things were unbearable. In every instance there was a tipping point of anguish when I would stop fighting the sensation of suffering, but instead let it come. And it would rise in me like a swell of feeling-ness until it would at last crest and shatter my heart, my vision would blur with the stream of tears, and my body would shake.
Eventually…through the shattering…something else could always be felt.
This “something else” felt instinctively like the basin of everything, the underside of the quilt of living, like the matrix of reality itself…and here’s the curious thing: it was profoundly personal. In every one of these moments throughout my life has been the inexplicable presence of an indefinable and non-localized intimacy. Out of the grief would arise the distinct sensation of being known, down to each hair on my head, down to every cell in my body.
This inexplicable “knowingness” didn’t just function in a unidirectional way. It went the other way too. It wasn’t just the sensation of being known, but the sensation of knowing would wash over me as well: a deep instinct of being far more ancient than my few years on this planet. In these moments, the veil parts momentarily, giving way to a remembering of something, a familiar recognition in having had some participation in everything around me.
And then, opening the windows so the sun or stars could see me, came the only response to this knowing I could think to offer: to dance. Feeling the weight of gravity move through the muscles of my body, pushing the emotions through into a physical offering, the tears wouldn’t stop but would take on a deeper quality. These were not the tears that had come before, these were tears born out of a sense of relief, gratitude and strength. My body moved in service to unknown melodies creating my own stubborn defiance against letting one force overtake the other in the anguish.
These were the most honest and authentic prayers. The ones that had no words. The ones that moved. The ones that were somehow just as much addressed to myself as they were to some sense of God-as-light, to the force of light and gravity…an ode to the persistence of living.
I can barely hold the tenderness of this now as a mother—to think of this small child, in countless rooms across two continents performing this ritual of hopeful belief. Somehow I knew that as I turned, that the dynamism of life itself would turn too…the sensations wouldn’t always be this acute, this was just a momentary baptism in the innermost point all things in the process of becoming. It was the intuition of a future singularity, a way of habituating myself to trusting that place where density crushes, and needs to. It’s the way of everything in evolution.
What is the cost of our arising in this life?
How is a star born?
Is it so different from our human intuition around such ideas as reincarnation, or the mythic phoenix? Do we not seem to remember that the cost of being is somehow in our dying….is this not why our native and religious rituals, our liturgies, songs and poems all indicate that the doorway of living is through death, that death is somehow the beginning of our living?
There is something about being present to our suffering—radically present—that in the surrender into its depths, whatever that depth may be (anger, sorrow, shame, confusion) our hearts beak open enough to expand our vision to a clarity we can barely comprehend. Sometimes life affords us the perfect nebular storm—a true riot of interstellar collision—of being so profoundly broken down to run out of every usual escape route of our egoic patterns until we somehow break through reality as we assume it to be. It is only in our poverty of being stripped down that we seem to emerge into a deeper dynamism that as ancient as the universe itself. Its almost as if radical presence to suffering is the only way we break through the entrenched ordinary way and we are dislocated enough to suspend disbelief enough to allow the real to be born.
The raw materials for stars exist in a vast nebular confusion. I wonder if our lives on this planet are not the same: a swirling composite of absolute raw potentiality, a chaos of experiences in which the heart is slowly being woken up…little by little…until enough gravitational force at the center of our beings causes a reaction to occur. Something falls in on itself and forms a certain kind of density.
We’ve all met people that feel somehow more solid, more dense, more here. And couldn’t you say that your experience at being by or with people like that was one of gravitational attraction? Do you not instinctively draw nearer and feel that inner sense of a recognition you can’t quite name?
I can feel it with some of the people in my life. I can feel the years and years of this quiet work of presence in their own suffering, the interweaving of light and gravity in an alchemy of soul creation. I can also feel it with certain mystics, authors or poets that have long “passed”: there is this sense that as their life ended they had amassed enough light gravity to make of their short lives a supernova—a self-surrendered explosion that expands the unique qualities of their lives outward into the universe, finding a way in death to be more present somehow in the matrix of all reality. It feels like the ultimate act of love and trust in the universe, the final act of self giving, come at the cost of the density realized in their presence in this life.
What is the cost of our arising in this life? How is a star born?
Are they so different?
What if every metaphor points to the same thing: the way to be born is to trust the agonizing fusion making of light and gravity…the interplay of darkness and density, of amassing enough density for the blinding offering of supernovas and black holes.
I can trust my own death, I’ve been in the ashes enough to trust they will eventually cover the shapes of invisible wings—I’ve had enough experience to believe and trust that I will fall into that hidden intimacy on the other side of my anguish. But shatteringly new to my experience is to trust the wellbeing of my children to this chaos…this is an entirely different kind of dance of anguish for me now. Our family’s life is undergoing a major transition, and in the middle of it, I know this is simply a crushing example of what has always been true: I cannot protect my children from pain. Their lives will be marked by changes and challenges and I can’t stop their own nebular confusion from happening. To know that some of their pain will come at my own unwitting hands is an experience of inward poverty and powerlessness that I have no categories for.
All I can do is all I’ve ever done…face it. To model for them the only way I know how to move into the anguish. Not to run from it, to let the wave crest and break our hearts. And eventually to work our way into a silent prayer of movement and trust, a hopeful defiance that is a radical dance of presence.
Somehow its this fusion work, this twirling amidst the anguishing compression of life that I believe is weaving together the real in this lifetime: something weighty is becoming, a particular density of a tangible luminous body in service to this expanding universe.
I have no idea what I am doing. I am going entirely on trust and instinct here. My only prayer is that it is a deep memory that moves me, a deep trust in the ancient alchemy that has and always will make light out of dust, and gravity from love.