The Human Search for Meaning

“Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.”
- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

The Solar Eclipse in Virgo on September 1st might be the kind of day that Arundhati Roy describes above. Eclipse cycles, which we go through every six months or so, are often packed with meaningful events and surprising revelations. But sometimes, we aren’t aware of what is happening to us until later. The month ahead will be littered with small things, those few dozen hours, and little events which later we come to realize were of utmost importance to the unfolding of our life stories. When we are faced with such extraordinary possibility, what should we do?

Open our attention completely.

To open one’s attention requires trust. If you open to the moment, you can accept whatever life has to give you. Opening attention to what is, rather than what could be, allows you the freedom to meet life on its own terms, summoning your resources and skills for the task at hand.

Virgo knows how to do this: to be present to the moment in all its perfection. The idea of perfection that Virgo carried sometimes gets obscured by ideas invented and cemented in the mind. When Virgo is operating at its best, it integrates the ideas into the body. When we ground the idea into practical experience, we understand what actually works and what is only an idea.

Pragmatism means using what works and taking small, patient steps toward the changes we desire. When Virgo is afflicted, we refrain from taking action out of the fear that we aren’t good enough. We are paralyzed by self-doubt or by inappropriate expectations.

If we follow the best path of Virgo this month, a small idea may reap colossal rewards. Take notice of, well, what takes your notice this month. The small things that grab your attention are gateways to deeper wisdom and experiential understanding.

To experience life, Virgo reminds us, we have to be humble. The word humble comes from the Latin root humus, which simply means "earth." To be of the earth, we have to take time to be with the earth. Find the space and time to be with the Earth this month, to remember the simple pleasures of life, and to practice being present to the moment through mediation, prayer, or ritual.

The Solar Eclipse is linked with the planets Saturn (in Sagittarius) and Neptune (in Pisces), creating a t-square relationship. This configuration is challenging us to revise our beliefs, to examine our illusions, and to become suppler in our truth-seeking. This energy will build up as we head toward the Full Moon Lunar Eclipse in Pisces on September 16th. Be prepared for unexpected insights and events. The insights generated will focus on topics of meaning and purpose, and illuminate the relationship between the small actions and big visions.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching this past month. I’m thinking about who I was eight years ago and who I am today. In light of the current election, my old radical self is fighting with my more pragmatic self. All of the inner turmoil has me wondering, for the millionth time, how to face the enormity of problems we as a species are currently facing. Homelessness, Climate Change, racial injustice, misogyny and rape culture, violent wars, the refugee crisis, the prison-industrial complex, the struggle for indigenous rights across the globe. I don’t know what to do anymore. Even when I face the struggles of my own life, I recognize that I am cushioned from real deprivation. I see how my own life is indeed built upon the suffering of others. Not metaphorically. No, it’s real.

I want change. I feel it in my bones. While I refuse to cave in to the spiritual pressure to just “tune it out and focus on the positive,” I also seem unwilling to make certain trade-offs. A small example: I want my daughters to go to theater classes and basketball practice. So I have to drive them there. Small action. Big consequence when you add up all the people driving and contributing to Climate Change.

Yet I’m coming to understand that these are trade-offs that all of us make every day. I see how every action has a consequence, and I have to learn how to hold all of them in my mind and heart before acting. Action out of ignorance and safety is not an option for many – for black bodies walking down the street or driving a car, for a school girl in Nigeria or Afghanistan trying to get an education. I want to be safe, but as the climate changes irrevocably, none of us are safe anymore.

This afternoon I heard an interview with Sebastian Junger whose book Tribe just came out. He’s been a war correspondent, journalist, and documentary filmmaker for decades. I haven’t read the book, but in the interview, he gave examples from anthropology to social science and psychology, which served to convey one overarching idea: that when we have tribe, we are healthier. Studies show that an increase in suicide rates accompanies an increase in wealth. He says that this can be explained by the lack of community which also accompanies wealthier societies.

“Tribe is about why tribal sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It’s about why—for many people—war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary.” – Sebastian Junger

This eclipse cycle holds the potential for us to rediscover meaning, a higher purpose, a sense of belonging - even as the world falls apart. Or maybe because of it. As my teacher Joanna Macy often says, “The problems which face us are mind-made; they were created by the human mind and they can be unmade by the human mind.”

I would add to this that they can be unmade only when we combine our efforts with others. Imagination, skills, intelligence, compassion – these are all resources that are plentiful in the humans that you see every day. So maybe, the most important thing you can do to deal with the problems we face, is to reach out. Join with others – in whatever way you can – to help ease suffering, to aid in a common cause. Because what we want is to feel necessary. And there are so many ways to do this.