On one of those dark and clear nights, we find ourselves with our heads back, peering into the night-sky. Met with a vast array of sparkling points scintillating and scattered overhead, we find ourselves transported. Unbeknownst to us, we’re not only left with a memorable experience. Our mental health is also soothed and enhanced. Who would’ve thought?
Getting Outside Ourselves
Like magic, our minds are suddenly centred on the recognisable patterns we can identify. We notice some of the stars that appear to be brighter. Further scrutinising, we are left wondering if they’re planets. We’re stupefied and in breathless awe of the vista before us.
Awe is a sensation known to benefit our mental health in several ways. It enhances our feelings of life satisfaction. Feelings of awe can also bolster our sense of connection to our community. Awe also encourages us to share our time and be more patient with ourselves, as well as with others.
Imagine looking into the night-sky and witnessing the aurora borealis or the Perseid Meteor shower that graces parts of our planet every August. It’s impossible to comprehend these experiences as they are vast in their scope. These experiences lift us out of ourselves, encouraging us to recognise or conceptualise how there are entities greater than ourselves. In so doing, we feel a deep connection with the universe.
While we are experiencing these sensations, another that is closely related is humility. One of those more common sentiments we often undergo is to “forget ourselves,” our attention being on this majestic spectacle before us. We are thus humbling ourselves. But what does this mean?
A quote by William Temple may help. He says “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all ….” For the moments we are watching or beholding these astronomical marvels, we, in fact, disappear. That is, all our attention is on the world before us, and no longer on ourselves.
Comfort of Constancy
In viewing something like a full moon or even something grander, like a lunar or solar eclipse, there’s a comforting constancy or certainty about it. It makes sense. Our lives in general tend to be more or less constant. We all have our routines and habits that punctuate our days. And for most of us, that’s how we like it. We’re warmed by the constancy in our lives.
Much in the same way, the constellations gradually became a part of our lives. Millennia ago, the Greeks recognised the regular movements that graced the night-sky. Soon, their imaginations reached up and embraced the stars. Suddenly, well known figures raced above—Orion, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Ursa Major and Minor, Hercules, and Virgo. Their constancy was alluring and lovingly taken for granted.
With the Help of the Stars
Not only the naming of the stars in the night-sky was a quality to which we were drawn. Very practical needs derived from that certainty. In the past, vocations such as agriculture and navigation were interwoven with the fixed nature and regularity of the stars. Acknowledging how the North Star remains fixed in the night-sky remains a key feature to navigation.
Similarly, knowing the regular movement of the stars ensured early farmers would know when to plant or harvest. For instance, simply looking to the sky would provide knowledge of the solstices and equinoxes. These pieces of knowledge were central to agriculture and they were in the stars. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is one of the more widely known purveyors of agricultural knowledge linked to the stars.
Guidance From the Stars
At times our path through life becomes murky and uncertain. And so, yet again, we look to the stars for guidance of some sort. Astrology is a practice that is thousands of years old. Nowadays, various cultures, including western astrology, Hindu astrology and Chinese astrology all seek guidance from the night-sky. Although the foundation of the latter two practices differ from Western astrology whose basis is the horoscope.
Astrology holds that the astronomical positions of the planets are able to make predictions about activities here on Earth. Astrology will be able to identify our qualities simply by looking at the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the time of our birth. Why astrology became a popular pastime over the past two years is no surprise, given the anxiety and stress tied to covid. The past two years have been undeniably defined by chaos and uncertainty for many. So, seeking guidance from the stars was an understandable response.
At One With the Stars
Looking to the stars should fill us with a feeling of peace, quietly bolstering our mental health. After all, we know deeply how we are indeed at one with the universe. Researchers have discovered how the building blocks of life—abbreviated as CHNOPS or carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur—are also widely found in stars.
In fact, every element found in our bodies is also found in another place—exploding stars. We are one in the same. Galaxies are thousands of light years in span, the distances and velocities defining our universe being, no pun intended, astronomical. Yet, when we crane our heads, a vast starburst before us, we can be comforted by an intense feeling of connection.
The universe is immense and seemingly boundless in size and scope. It seems impossible for something that great to have any effect on us at all. Yet, gazing at the sparkling points in the night-sky is able to softly touch our hearts and spirit. Many of us simply shudder at what we behold, moved by its scope and gratified by its presence in our lives. The contribution to our mental wellbeing, we gracefully accept.