When this post goes up I will be presenting my Integrative Seminar for my program, I’m excited to be sharing something so near and dear to many of our hearts…the stars. This post is a collection of key parts of my presentation, and a video will be forthcoming (fingers crossed). Thanks for letting me share yet again my wonder with the world.
Last weekend I took myself to the California Academy of Sciences, it was a beautiful Saturn-day and I walked through Golden Gate Park excited to spend time re-enchanting myself with the mysteries of the universe (and hopefully get inspired for my final Integrative Presentation). The day I went serendipitously was also National Astronomy Day — with hours of free lectures at the museum on everything from the moon to life on other planets. I was thrilled to attend the museum exhibits and lectures, but even more eager to be enveloped in the majesty of the stars in the planetarium, something I hadn’t done in a while. I was fortunate to get a ticket in and as the lights dimmed and as the first scene came onto the screen I began crying.
I was moved to tears by sights of the stars, their beauty and my uncertain, yet knowingly important relationship, with them. Sri Aurobindo, an Indian sage and philosopher who inspired much of the philosophy of CIIS, describes humans as having different types of emotions: surface and soul. For Aurobindo the difference between the two are that when our soul recognizes a truth, beauty, or goodness in something we cannot help but feel deeply, or the other more prevalent feeling is based on thoughts and a surface level emotion. In a quiet, dark planetarium my soul felt able to easily see the beauty and truth of what stars mean to me.
When I was 24, my post-college act of rebellion was to get a tattoo. So now I have a tiny blue star tattoo near my hip. It was meaningless to me at the time, just something fun I did on my birthday with my best friend. And now, almost six years later the tattoo has large significance for me. I have since become curious about what stars represent for us as humans and why are they so important to our sense of self. We wish upon them, study them, look to them for clues to our individual futures, and even use the same word to refer to people in society we believe to be prominent. Immanuel Kant, a philosopher who has a very different philosophy from my own, and most of us in PCC, also felt a connection to the stars. He said, “Two things awe me the most, the starry sky above me and moral law within me.”
It seems starring at stars alters the consciousness of humans and reminds us of something within ourselves we needed to orient to. It’s as if we have a moment of remembering who we are and where we came from. They seem to whisper in their glistening, “we are the same you and me.” Even the English language mirrors an important relationship to these celestial bodies:
- The word “star” itself is held within the word “start,” offering clues to our fascination, for when something begins it starts, just as the beginning was made of stars.
- When we stare at something, which also contains the word “star” in it, we are fixated.
- “Stark” originally meant “complete” before it became more commonly used for meaning something barren.
My favorite philosopher, whom I sometimes refer to as my boyfriend, Plato had several beautiful thoughts on the human relationship to stars. In Plato’s Timaeus, he describes the creation of the universe that includes equal number of souls and stars in the cosmos and that upon birth we would be assigned a star that would guide us throughout our time on Earth. It’s fun to imagine that every soul that has ever existed, even non-human animals as well, has a star twin. No one really knows how many stars exist, but the numbers would be staggering. Our universe likely contains more than 100 billion galaxies, and each of those galaxies may have more than 100 billion stars. Scientists, including PCC’s own Brian Swimme, assert there are more than 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, which is more than enough to account for 7 billion people on Earth and so many other beings. I like to believe that my star has stayed the same through all lifetimes and has led me to whatever lessons I need to learn most to transform. Maybe our companion stars patiently continue to burn brightly for millions of years, or as long as it takes for their companion being to complete all our lifetimes on Earth.
I imagine ours stars directing our destiny and path as it whispers to us our desires (“desire” literally means “wait what the stars will bring”). And according to Plato, upon death if we have lived “justly” by mastering our emotions and leading a good life, we would return to our companion star. (I won’t go into the fact he believes if we didn’t lead a just life then we come back to life as a woman — I ignore this part of our relationship.) I think after enough lifetimes when we have learned our lessons and done all we can do our souls return to our star. Maybe with each lifetime when we stare at the stars we are actually searching for one to recognize us and know we’ve had a companion all along on this sometimes lonely human existence. It’s as if we unconsciously know we’ll return to them someday and look up to remember our oldest sense of self.
In many ways the stars are our oldest ancestors; scientifically we know it was stars’ life cycles that created the larger elements that made existence on earth possible – carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. We now know we are all made of stars, instead of just feeling it as Plato and the Hermetic tradition knew and stated in the famous, “as above so below.” Yet, it isn’t just the physical elements we seem to have in common; they reflect also the diversity we experience here on Earth in their colors, masses, sizes, and brightness. In fact, most of these characteristics determine the lifespan and lifecycle of a star, but like humans they all begin in the same way as each other — in a gaseous, womb-like Helium and Hydrogen cloud. Said another way, stars begin the same way and then take paths of their own separate, and also sometimes similar, to other stars. Some are brighter, larger, different aura in comparison to others, just like humans. What if the physical characteristics of humans mirror the ones of our companion stars, or visa versa? And therefore if their characteristics were similar, their life cycle would also be the same? What if our companion star moves through a similar journey as we move through our own?
Stars have two distinct life cycles depending on different factors of its original mass during its creation. While stars have a much longer life span (between 10 million to 10 billion years depending upon mass), they too go through a distinct, four-stage existence: 1) birth (protostar), “growing up” (fusion ignition – main sequence), middle age (red giant or super giant), and then death (white dwarf or black hole/neutron star). Throughout their long lives, stars strive for perfect balance with a constant conflict their inner and outer selves (sound familiar?).
The collective gravity of all the mass of a star is pulling it inward while simultaneously there is a pressure pushing back against the gravitational collapse of the star: light. The nuclear fusion at the core of a star generates a tremendous amount of energy. The photons push outward as they make their journey from inside the star to reach the surface; a journey that can take 100,000 years. When stars become more luminous, they expand outward becoming red giants (or middle aged with more life ahead of them), but if they run out of light pressure, they collapse down into white dwarfs and die. Like humans in community, stars get inspiration from outside of themselves (in the form of light and possibly other stars) to continue to expand and grow into brighter and brighter beings. If, on the other hand, they aren’t surrounded by light and contract with to much pressure they die and fade away.
With a star, the capacity for light and expansion (or in other cases light and then darkness) is mostly determined (that we know of) by its mass at their initial birth, but what about with humans? Why do some of us choose to expand and ignite more instead of die off? All of us physically grow up and move through the stages, but only some of us follow a path towards wholeness and becoming more of ourselves. For those of us who choose to seek out something more, we experience a journey within a journey, what depth psychologists describe as the individuation process and what Joseph Campbell calls the “Hero’s Journey.”
As a writer, lecturer, and mythologist Campbell spent most of his life discovering the magic of myth and dissecting its value in the everyday experience. According to Campbell, the Hero’s Journey consists of many stages within three main parts: the separation, initiation, and return. Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey follows the pattern of a process time psychologists sometimes refer to as individuation or differentiation.
The individuation process is a term created by the famous psychologist Carl Gustav Jung to describe the progression of becoming aware of oneself, of one’s make-up, and the way to discover one’s true nature. It is simultaneous separating and returning of oneself to oneself and all of totality. Jung understood individuation to be something beginning in the second half of life or after maturity, when individuals reach the zenith of their lives and suddenly find themselves facing some unforeseen upheaval. Sometimes this turning point takes the form of a crisis: such as a financial failure, a health problem, a broken relationship, or a change of residence or profession – something which upsets the status quo (this is certainly a pattern I have noticed within PCC). Sometimes this experience assumes the form of self-doubt, a loss of meaning or religious conviction, a questioning of everything previously held so dear. Sometimes it presents itself as a deep yearning or a call to change direction.
Jung’s model of becoming more ourselves has several main components and phases to it, not unlike a star’s life of course (more on that later). It begins with an awareness of our identity and persona, or our “ego,” in the Hero’s Journey it is the separation from our perceived self. Our ego is also sometimes associated with the sun (“our star”) and the masculine aspects of our being. It has an ascending quality and represents individualism (different from individuation) suggesting an imbalanced self-centeredness with little meaningful connection to others. Eastern traditions such as Buddhism focus on the relationship of the ego in our own spiritual development and have built practices around integrating it into our greater being. The ego represents the part of us we believe ourselves to be, it is what we show the world and relate to the most as our personality.
The next part of individuating includes becoming aware of and integrating all the complexities and seeming opposites contained within oneself. It owns the parts of ourselves we don’t like and attempting to integrate it into who we are free of judgment. This exploration is often considered “shadow work” as it pertains to things we usually can’t see as easily without looking more closely within. Often we associate this work with the feminine and it has close ties with the moon as our bodies and emotion selves as something we often hide from others. Campbell sees this phase as similar to the “initiation” phase of the Hero’s Journey and it is often the most difficult part of the journey where a hero faces many trials and lessons. With individuating we bring the unconscious/shadow to light and accept it as a part of us thereby cultivating a deep self-knowledge and eventually having a more lighthearted relationship to all the disowned and not as pretty pieces of who we are. We are wary of the mysterious, desolate moon in the sky and feel the same way about components ourselves.
After a person has explored, connected, and trusted the sun (masculine/ego) self we can then move towards a relationship to the the moon (or our feminine aspect and soul with its vast emotions), and finally it is possible to move into an experience of ourselves as a part of a greater reality that is both individual and universal – like a star. This completion happens and the hero, or star, returns as a transformed version of her/himself. We again have an identity like the sun, a relational self like the moon, but also an integration of them both with a connection to the whole as a star. This part of the journey represents a return for a hero. But what do we return to? For Jung it is a return to Self, and I believe our starlight.
Jung’s idea of Self is our essence and life goal, and completes a relationship that unites us with our own anima or animus (or inner masculine and feminine archetypes). Once united with the unowned part of ourself, we can then reunite with the world soul, or anima mundi. The anima mundi originated with Plato and acknowledges the connection between all living things that exists ourselves. For inevitably a journey in search of truth and wisdom leads you back where you started. It is a journey in every sense of the world, because it connotes an entire process that forever changes the adventurer. It’s important to remember that not everyone embarks upon Hero’s Journey or individuation as it is an optional path and usually the one less traveled. The journey includes hardships, loneliness, and facing parts of ourselves we don’t want to see or admit things about ourselves that aren’t nice.
PCC has been this choice to me, to embark on an expedition knowing I am choosing to grow into more of myself instead of dying off. With continuous exposure to other “star beings,” who are also willing to take a similar path I have felt continually inspired. I have thrived here being a part of such a powerful, bright constellation of people. I think the phrase “star mate” is more appropriate than “soul mates,” it seems we would learn and grow the most from people/stars whom we recognize from our immediate companion star’s constellation. I have met some of the brightest stars of my life in PCC and have grown more as a person than I ever could have alone. The woman I was entering this program is almost unrecognizable to me now. I arrived seeking knowledge and wisdom and I will complete my time in PCC with that and so much more.
In the Hero’s Journey we return as master of two worlds, becoming proficient in both the spiritual (outer/masculine/sun realm) and material (also the inner/feminine/moon realities). Stars represent an integration of this duality for they integrate the masculine and the feminine with their brightness and also their visibility in the darkness with the moon. As both night and light, they are simultaneously universal and individual. They are in the background of our existence all the time and like our authentic Self, only made visible after a period of darkness. Stars inspire us to return to Self, for when we look at stars we seem brightness we wish to have (and do have) within us. I now hope to recognize one that shoots or winks for clues to my companion star and other part of myself I’m reaching for.
Just like stars, we have two paths to choose – one of growing up and dying with some expansion and another of shining more brightly and transforming with age. The people I’ve met in my school program mirror the same journey I’ve been on. The possibilities ahead are exciting to me and I’m also prepared to mourn my intense and transformative time in PCC. I’m moving forward and not moving on, while I know I will naturally start to separate myself more, I feel deeply connected to the people in this community and am happy to know it will always be a constellation I call home. As a journey ends and I return back to the world as more in touch with my Self and true nature, I understand now the meaning of my seemingly insignificant tattoo. I believe my time in the PCC was written in the stars, and in particular in my companion star.