The eclipse as metaphor

One of the most common things I hear people say when they see an eclipse is, “I am so small and the universe is so big!  It made me feel insignificant!”

This has always perplexed me.  My experience is completely the opposite.  Eclipses make me feel huge.  And they have since day one.  So I have always been very curious about this effect. What is it about the TSE experience that effects me this way?

It turns out it is all because of identification.  Identification is when you select something from the outside world and say “I am that.  That represents me.”  Through this process – and others – we build a concept of self.  Eclipses are one such element for me.  Eclipses make me feel enormous because I identify with them.  When I confront how grand and sublime a Total Eclipse is – when I confront beauty and awe at such a majestic moment – I recognize that it is only because these elements are present within me to begin with that I can discover them in the world around me. The eclipse is grand because a part of me is grand.  The eclipse is beautiful because there is beauty within me.  This never-ending construct of subjective identification is critical to who and what you believe you are.

But it is even more intricate than this.  The eclipses not only show me a part of myself – they are also a metaphor for life in some very interesting ways.

Consider how solar eclipses are like life –

As Mystery

The cloak of mystery that has shrouded the eclipse experience will never be fully lifted. The eerie motion of the Moon, the coming of the shadow and the darkness at midday are all akin to confronting your own mystery – your own shadow.  Psychologically this connection can not be ignored.  The ancients certainly made it.  You are as mysterious as any eclipse.  The metaphor of confronting the mystery within is potent stuff.

As Connection to the Past

The dynamics responsible for creating eclipses go back to the Big Bang itself and as a result have been working on Earth since before humans were around.  Once observed, eclipses began to perplex monarchs – influenced battles – alter thought – influence art  – and weave their way into our consciousness.  Being in the shadow one can sense a subtle timelessness.  This connection to the past represents our own tendency to filter what is happening now through what has happened in the past.  We rarely approach any situation as if it were new.  As humans, we can not function without our histories.

Like Family

As far as the Saros is concerned, there is no separation between eclipses.  They are never isolated events.  There is a family – belonging.  Each one connected to another at a deeper level. This is exactly the same as me.  I have a family.  I seek belonging and connection.  I am connected to my ancestors.

In a Greater Context

They may transform a tiny location on Earth but eclipses have their home on the universal stage.  Celestial mechanics.  This is the realm of eclipses. A local effect of vast non-local forces.  I am equally not the individual event I appear to be.  There is a greater context to my existence as well – as I am tied to my community, my country, my species, my planet in an ever-broadening reality.  The cosmic origin is inescapable.


By any calculation, TSEs are brief in the extreme.  How to ignore the metaphor for human life that the eclipse is so intense yet so short-lived?  During an eclipse – just like in life – if you are too busy, not paying attention or staring at your shoes you’ll miss all the good stuff.  Life is fleeting.  Live for the moment.

In the twenty years of reflection on the eclipse experience it has been impossible for me to avoid the glaring metaphorical content of these events.  Eclipses are much more than a scientific event – a mechanical curiosity.  They are symbols, representations for subtle realities.  After all, what is a human being but a meaning-making machine? Objective and meaningless to subjective and meaningful all in a deep thought or two.  So if you are open to the more subtle, subjective interpretations of events it turns out that eclipses can teach us about ourselves.  And if you bring these eyes to your next eclipse experience too, you’ll feel yourself expand – not contract.

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