I was looking around the blogosphere today, looking to see if anyone had caught some nice lunar eclipse photos. My own experience yesterday evening was rather disheartening. Either we caught the tail-end of it, or just the beginning. Either way, it was cold and only covered in some small section, rather than the complete darking I was expecting. Mike still took several long-exposure moon shots, and I’m sure they will turn out to be lovely. Plus, with the delay in setting up each shot, there should be a nice array of the progress of the eclipse itself, catching transitions that are not necessarily apparent to the maked eye (or human patience).

I can remember two previous lunar eclipses. Somehow both of them were cold. The first, most recent experience, was in my final year of undergrad, 2003. I was at a graduation party for a group of my friends, and my parents were also there to celebrate. At some point during the crowded apartment gathering, Sirus reminded us that it was the night of the eclipse. So we dutifully trekked outside to stare up at the sky. We had to walk almost a full block to be able to see a full range of sky, and I had inappropriate shoes on for the walk. But it was oddly nice to stand in the middle of the street and gaze up with my parents and the two other friends who’d braved the cold. The second experience, from my childhood, i can’t quite place in time. I know it was cold, and I know we were on some kind of trip. I can remember myself and my only little sister at the time being carried outside of our hotel rooms. Out in the parking lot, our parents put us down and told us where to watch. For that one I Only remember wanting to be held and warm again, but I’m still glad my parents dragged me outside, half-asleep. The waking insured the memory would stay.

There is something to be said about the delight of those waking moments, when the outside world is always chilly, my that chilliness serves mostly to make you more alert. In watching an eclipse, it seems like the air is always crisp, the world is always quieter, but somehow more vital. It seems to invoke that inner reflection that is a little sacred.

I did also uncover in my recent search a delightful little blog called “The Wiccan Scientist”. My own personal first reaction was ‘a paradox! How lovely!’ The definition of the word ‘paradox’ is “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.” ( Unabridged). There are some nice explanations of different lunar eclipse views on it here, but I will take most to heart the closing lines of the posting:

“So, I will find the time tomorrow to spend a few minutes reflecting and giving thanks. Even if you’re not a Wiccan, you might take a minute or two while you’re watching the eclipse to do the same. “

Fat Tuesday.

I had forgotten today is the day before the beginning of Lent, the day before one of the holiest seasons for Christians.  Then I was looking at people’s blogs and realized everyone was posting about ashes and pancakes and stuff.  I felt ashamed for a moment for forgetting one of the holiest seasons of the year.  But then, that’s what Lent is all about – helping us to remember.  Helping us to live a little more faithfully, and perhaps a little more prayerfully, every day.  Lent is a season of preparation yes, and of remembrance, yes.  But most of all for me it has significance in helping me to slow down the hectic pace of my life and just breathe a little bit.

A part of what Lent is all about for me is taking some time to re-evaluate.  This is not necessarily tearing down the various pieces of my life and examining them.  I do that enough on my own, worrying over what I could or should be doing.  It’s more about being generally more aware of my surroundings, possibly enjoying them a bit, and giving my mind the space to think differently for awhile.  I think this is why prayer and meditation and ritual are so important in a variety of religions.  It is in that sacred space, that time set aside for worship or other religious purposes, that allows the mind to function.  Note I said mind, not brain – this is about ontological levels of thought, rather than physiology.  I feel like the mind needs that different level of functioning, that freedom to wander, to ponder, to consider slowly or vibrate to a different pitch which religious practice gives.  I’m not sure what this different level of functioning is, or what it looks like under scientific conditions, but it’s there.  It’s there in studies that show a meditation practice promotes general health, or that prayer can induce healing for the prayer or prayee.  It’s the same kind of mind stretching that makes people say it’s good exercise for the mind to do crossword puzzles or suduko.

I’m also not saying that such a benefit is dependent on religious practice only.  The same sort of stretching is no doubt a result of a variety of activities – art, or dance, or music can probably create it.  Maybe even a good book can cause it, or a solitary walk in the woods.  As Maude says, “Ahh, life!”

Ultimately though, that still leaves me with a question about Lent.  Specifically about the day before the official start of Lent, which seems to no longer be on calendars.  The day goes by a variety of names:  Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day.  In some places it grows out to a longer-than-a-day gala event:  Festival, Mardi Gras.  Though I’m no historian, I’m pretty sure it all started with the Catholic church and the fasting that must be done for Lent – people had to get all of that old milk, eggs, and flour out of their houses before the start of the Lenten Season.  What else were they going to do?  They had a big party with lots of pancakes.  The question is, how do I fit this gluttonous, celebratory holiday in with the rest of Lent, which values reflection, solemnity, and fasting?

It all goes back to that different level of mind.  Those who practice meditation know just how distracting it can be to attempt to empty your mind.  There are always distractions crowding in, many of them unavoidable.  One common habit to overcome this distraction is to focus on a single object, idea, or word.  That focus can be intense enough to drown out other voices – gradually the focus is allowed to fade away.  The same thing can be said of Fat Tuesday – its bustle, its complications, its joyful an boisterous nature are all meant to be enjoyed and loved for what they are – a spontaneous and needed release.  And then, gradually, the focus on that joy can fade away, leaving us silent, calm, and aware, ready for a different state of mind.

A little more music.

It seems that once I get going on a topic, I just can’t stop.  So I was pondering music a bit more today, especially about the typing of songs.  All genres of music seem to have a few things in common that are almost archetypal.  There is a certain type of song that I can’t quite define – longer, more melodious perhaps, with longer note lengths and a slower beat – that seems more reflective and/or sad.  This can be true of any music genre – pop, country, folk, indie, R&B.  Even rap is more reflective and sometimes sad when it’s slower and more ponderous.  Even Chinese Opera is.  Why is that?  Why is a song with words I can’t even understand, or a song with no words at all, automatically interpreted as mournful or pensive by my brain?  What are those little wirings and firings in our head or genetics that get us all to think and feel these same things?  And how did they come about?

I get on a similar kick about language.  There are obvious parts, like onomatopoeia where a word sounds like the noise it is representing, that make sense.  But most words we use are strictly arbitrary.  Why is tree called ‘tree’ instead of ‘bush’?  In this case the words are strictly based on how you were brought up, what you heard as a child.  Still, isn’t it interesting that despite these early categories and distinctions we learn to make, there are universal constants in music and perhaps in other arts that transcend them?