Wealth of Relations – Moonlighting

Blood Moon
(Photo Credit: Christian Ronnel)

“Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” Jonathon Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

While playing a round of The Game of Things, I was tasked to name “Things you think about as you are falling asleep.” Players are supposed to secretly contribute a response, and then take turns trying to correctly match the responses of other players. The game can be adapted to the people and the mood of the group, so I was torn between being cheeky, transgressive, or honest. Though I ended up writing something strategic that I expected people not to match with me, any real answers would cast a beam on something that is important to my life—namely, nightly reflections.

When I prepare for bed, I don’t deceive myself into thinking that I’m being taken away from my best state—as if full consciousness is the only opportunity for value and productivity. Instead, I have made ritual my mindful transition into dreams. Whether this means reflecting on my day and affirming its successes, remembering the things that have constituted my life thus far, or preparing my mind for sleep and the day beyond, I engage in a conscious effort to spend my subconscious time better than merely “crashing” into sheets and hoping for the best.

Just as the moon is a reflection of the sun that shines in the day time, so too should our minds be at night, casting the same brilliance. We tend to think of nightlife and nocturnal states as the dark sides of our lives, but the reality is that they are more connected than we admit. Not only does the day affect the night, but what shines at night also affects the day. We often talk of the “full moon rising” as bringing lunatics to their prime, but it doesn’t take an oceanographer to convince people who live near the sea that the moon shares its tidings even when it can’t be seen. The natural component of Earth’s orbit represents an image of our mind—full or less.

full moon madness
(Photo Credit: mstollenwerk)

Aside from punny connections within nature, the moon is as important in symbolizing my nightly routines as the parenthetical sun is to my day. Even Biblical accounts considered the moon a great light, and though it is regarded as a lesser one, it is still intended to “separate light from darkness.” (Genesis 1:16).  In whatever phase or visibility the moon is currently represented, it often serves as a reminder that tangential thoughts constantly orbit in the margins of visibility, and they hold a certain importance when illuminated.

As a personal practice, I have found relief in knowing that all the thoughts I exhale during the day have a place on my nightstand, right next to the tangible objects I pull out of my pocket at the end of my day. Here is my take on the significance of the moon in its various phases. Just as they reflect light, each phase illuminates the practice of setting aside thoughts in preparation for sleep:

  • Full – Illuminated in its full glory, this phase of the moon is a classic symbol of reflecting fully on the thoughts of the day. With the greatest amount of the moon in view—omitting the dark side that faces away, of course—the moon is presented for inspection and analysis. Every crater, face, and changing blemish becomes visible for anyone willing to notice, and this phase represents the ability to perceive a maximal consciousness of the iceberg mind. It represents our reflections in the clearest view.
  • Crescent – Either waxing or waning, the crescent is an admission that there is something missing; something present, but not quite perceivable; something that would complete the concept that is more clearly in view. While there is a plentitude of scholarship on the ancient symbolism of the crescent—even shoddy sources acknowledge this—its currency establishes a certain curiosity: that beyond what can be seen, there is more to be filled in. Just as partial thoughts are carried throughout the day, the sleeping mind can fill the rest with imagination, even if we fall asleep with thoughts incomplete.
  • New – When the sky is clear and the moon is nowhere to be found, what cannot be seen can still be recalled. Just as aftertaste can recollect the amore that was formed when that pizza pie first came into view, the acknowledgement of a moon out of sight is still effective in knowing there is something in the darkness that has pull on the present. Though no thoughts may come into view as we fall asleep, the practice of recalling allows the image to return another night as the thought comes ‘round again.

Harvest – Cast in an ochre hue like the image of the god of war, a harvest moon is a popular image in photographs and pastoral myths alike. Just as the sun rising through the misty horizon can create a beautiful image as it rises or sets, the harvest moon demonstrates the effect of framing an idea in the dust of the day. Whether perceived as a symbol of plentitude or as a scientific phenomenon of sight, the harvest moon demonstrates the power of putting thoughts into perspective. So long as it doesn’t morph into anxiety and rumination, the act of recalling and releasing memories is a practice that prepares the active mind of the day to transform into the Gottschall’s storyboarding mind of the night. The process of re-collecting ideas at night may seem like a second job—the least desirable task after a long day’s work—but I find that moonlighting all that has been, is, and could be, allows me to harness the power or subvert the forces of what is presently orbiting my mind.

By perceiving the big cheese and deconstructing the significance of parts of my life, I have found that reflection is a valuable habit to enter at night. In addition to allowing my mind to orbit on, it gives me time to unwind so that my sleep can be restful. I recommend a similar practice as a space-clearing mechanism to allow your mind to rest, rejuvenate, and conclude all of the sentences you’ve left running on in the light of the sun.

This is the second phase of my reflections in the Wealth of Relations series: taking images from daily life to show how I make my days a little less banal, and how you can, too. Let me know if any of these ideas resonate with you in the comments below so we can be wealthy together.

To reflect on last week’s ideas about the sun, look here.

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Wealth of Relations – Crepesculum

Better is everything from this point forward.

I’ve made a habit of taking morning walks. Stepping into the morning air in any weather (with the air growing increasingly frigid as winter comes in for a big hug), I always have to acknowledge the reality of what hangs above me: not only the sky but also my thoughts, cloudy or clear.

One of the most resonant natural images of mythic meaning shines in the rays of light that reach from behind horizons and clouds. Weather stretching up or down, these crepuscular rays have been endowed with varied and contrasting meanings: Led Zeppelin paints them as a heavenly stairway while Connor Oberst regards them with cyclical cynicism; Christians point to them as proof of the divine while scientists use them to demonstrate the value of empirical inquiry. Whatever these rays mean in the prism of representation, they always provide me with substance in their brilliant displays.

The importance of perceiving these rays has held a particular significance for me as I’ve turned waking into a habitual activity. Deciding to keep my alarm set at 6am every day was in part inspired by secondhand mentoring, but it’s a benchmark I’ve continually exceeded—to my own satisfaction. I often wake before my alarm, disable it, and reset it as I head out the door. Part and parcel of my morning wake is my morning walk into the lightness of a new dawn. The sunlight itself is not only symbolic, but also a key factor in directing my day as I often feel connected to changes in the climate.

One of the main struggles of working at home is being too sedentary—especially when my job requires me to be at the mercy of long-winded students—I purpose my mornings with a walk to a nearby shopping center. In addition to the active engagement of my body; the re-spiration of my body that fills me with breath again; exposure to the outside world and a sample of the weather; and adherence to my commitments; this process allows me sufficient time to reflect on my relationship with myself.

The symbolic ray of light that provides the image of this clearer sense of self may only be a metaphor, but the relationship it offers reminds me that the sun is always there: we make it significant. Depending on the exact time I leave, this often allows the perspective of the sunrise, the clouds in the way, or the recognition that I’ve left too late to catch it all. These elements of my settings speak to me personally as the backdrop of a reality: that I make meaning with the day. Whether you consider a sunrise as a beautiful act of God or a natural phenomenon that may also highlight a copious amount of pollution, the act of acknowledging it brings you into yourself—back into a relationship with your conscious mind.

Having risen to plenty of mornings that highlighted my own loathing or allowed me to release my breath back into the world, I know from experience that a ray of light is as dull or sharp as we want it to be. But by committing into our own agency, the ways we constitute the world determine if our sun is rising towards opportunity, falling from expectations, or just a sedentary object we ignore.

My challenge to myself that I invite you to consider is to walk with that decision every morning, and to bring to light the consequences. During many morning walks, I have intervened in the inner dialogue of my worst critic to look directly into the sky fire; to burn up all the passive intentions my disappointments might hold me to—weighted with fatigue or lack of accomplishment—in order to make room for my rays to shine. Because each new day is bound to take us somewhere, I try to remind myself that the way forward is clear, and it is up to me to participate in that .

Every morning when I head towards the shopping center—my legs either happy to be in motion or my body angry about enduring the cold—I return to the ray of light that I hold onto: that I am able to rise with morning to become more than a fixed object in the universe. By a conscious act of waking and taking a moment to look up, I become ready to engage with whatever the day may hold. And if that means enduring the burden of a beautiful sunrise, so be it.

The first phase of my reflections will be on the Wealth of Relations: taking images from daily life to show how I make my day a little less banal, and how you can, too. Continuing next week with the sun’s counterpart, the moon, I will complement this forward thinking with backwards reflection. I hope you will join me.