I was mesmerized by a recent documentary called The City Dark. In this POV film, the many reasons the night sky needs our preservation was revealed in the most provocative ways. Our access to the dark night sky teaming with stars is endangered by light pollution from upward casting light sources, especially in big cities around our planet. Like any other piece of our environment, the skies need protection. Without access to a clear view of the cosmos, astronomers can not do their important work. But what does losing the night sky mean for all of the rest of us?
Filmmaker Ian Cheney suggests that when we lose the night sky, we risk becoming a more downward-looking, self-centered species; we lose track that we are part of a huge universe.
When we stop looking up, we begin to see the spaces around us as “all there is”. When this happens we place too much importance on our limited perception of our “place” in the world. However when we are able to see the night sky without the cloud of man-made light to obscure it, we open ourselves to experience the overwhelming feeling that we are connecting to something far beyond ourselves, something greater than ourselves.
Yoga’s niyama Isvara pranidhana tells us to embrace and even surrender to this idea of living with awareness of the Divine as “complete devotion to god” or “bringing a quality of devotion to every action in our life” as a means of transforming our “self”.
In the film, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “When you look at the night sky, you realize how small we are within the cosmos. It’s kind of a re-setting of your ego. To deny yourself of that state of mind, either willingly or unwittingly, is to not live to the full extent of what it is to be human.”
I found these two beautiful passages- written decades apart from each other- that perfectly and profoundly illustrate the exchange that occurs within us at the moment we connect with isvara pranidhana while gazing upward:
“He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendors of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the Unknown…. he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him, mysterious interchanges of the depths of the soul with the depths of the universe.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
You, too, are looking up, searching constellations, dreaming. You feel again how flexible and expansive your mind can be when it’s working right. And you slip your leash to explore the vast vault of sky and great interior spaces.” ― Carl Safina, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World
When we have a steady, ongoing practice we often experience that “slipping of the leash” and over time cultivate the urge to “slip our leash” more and more and explore our own interior spaces. While holding in our places of greatest resistance, we allow ourselves to feel in ways that are different from our day-to-day grind. We slow down, we look “upward” and inward. We compare our own serenity with the serenity of moving, breathing and forming the complex and beautiful gestures of asana. We become more completely in our body yet we begin to feel that we are no longer just our body; that there is something greater than ourselves dwelling inward and emanating outward from us. It’s that same exchange that we experience when we look up at the night sky. Our experience on the mat becomes sacred. Our mind is working right.
As we begin our practice today- maybe we could set that intention. Choose to treat our experience as though we were witnessing something greater than ourselves. Look for that quality. Bring that quality to everything you do on the mat- breathing, sensing; placing our feet and our hands mindfully- like prayer. Find every opportunity to “slip your leash” as you journey inward.