At certain times during the luna cycle the Brahmins and in later days the Buddhists, observed “Uposatha”. The word means “entering to stay” and it was the custom of the Brahmins to go to the sacred place away from their homes and families and purify themselves by leading a secluded life for a day and night, returning after the rites were finished. The times when they kept this seclusion were determined by the phases of the moon, the most important being the Full Moon and the New Moon days. It was an encouragement to take stock of the preceding weeks, to pause and recognise areas of difficulty and to commit to starting anew – a kind of rolling confession which helped to prevent the buildup of guilt and regret and encouraged the kind of letting go and living in the moment that Buddhists believe will lead to a happy and fulfilling life.
Sometimes it seems as though we have forgotten how to look up. How to rest and reevaluate, to confess and let go.
Not so long ago, when the stars told us where we were in space and time they were, as fixed points in a confusing and shifting world; our orientation, our grounding, a powerful source of wonder and a way of guiding us home. Nowadays the heavens are, in many parts of the world illuminated and indistinct and most people have forgotten the patterns of the constellations that breathed mythical significance into the universe. Advances in astronomy have made it safe to ignore the skys in a way that would have left our ancestors incredulous.
I love the skys – the shifting landscape of layers, the predictor of weather to come and at night as a small child growing up on a farm, I wandered the place with my sister, two intrepid explorers of far pastures and deep woods. I wanted to know every tree, to look beneath the hedges and find the steaming newly born lamb, knowing that every single moment of time was charged with a magic that is now largely gone from my experience of the world. A sense of connection and being at ease with nature and the elements. In particular a visceral experience of the essential living rhythms of season, tides, moon, weather, birth and death.
Although we live in a world where the phases of the moon no longer mean much, maybe it would be helpful for many of us to be reminded of the ancient ways to pause, to take stock and to rest even if just for a moment, to slow the cogs of hectic lives, to set and reset our courses. I hope that by choosing to share my personal reflections here in a cycle to coincide with the new moon and the full moon, you will be encouraged to engage in your own contemplation,and maybe take just a moment to glance up at the night sky.