The other night I was watching “Cosmos” on Netflix with my kids. In this particular episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson was explaining how it takes eight minutes for the light of the sun to reach the earth, so when we look at the sun, we’re really looking at the way the sun looked eight minutes ago. We never see it in real time. By the same token, when we look at a sunset, we’re seeing the image of the way the sun set eight minutes ago; what we’re watching has already happened.
The episode also covered astronomer William Herschel, and his son John, who amongst many other contributions, advanced the science of photography as we know it today. He grew up hearing about the stars from his father, who also explained to young John that many of the stars in the sky were not really there any longer. If the sun we see is really the sun from eight minutes ago, and many of the stars we see are no longer there, it’s all too understandable that we’d want to uncover what is real, and that the son of a man who spoke of such things would want to learn how to capture a moment in time.
Anyway, I’m sure I learned about the eight-minute time lapse at some point, but I guess it didn’t stick in my mind the way it did this time. I was aware of the sun a lot today, and kept thinking, “I’m looking at the past.” I mean, if we look up and the sun we’re seeing is the sun of eight minutes ago, how can any of us think we have a second to waste? Everything in the universe is in a constant state of motion. The earth, the sun, the stars the galaxies, our feelings, relationships, and us, ourselves—we come and we go.
It made me think about Instagram and our obsession with documenting everything. Some people are a little more obsessed than others, but it seems we’re all trying to say, “Look! I’m here, right?” And, “Here I am!” You go to watch your kid playing soccer or baseball, or you go to the Glee Club concert, and you wonder, “What must the kids think?” They look in the stands, or out into the audience, and they can’t make eye contact with their parents. They can’t even see mom’s or dad’s faces, all they can see are phones.
Of course it’s fine to document things from time to time. Most people enjoy looking at pictures from their childhood, or the meaningful moments in their lives as they grew into adults. But now, it’s like we’re documenting everything, all the time. “Look at this juice I just drank! I’m here! I exist!” The thing is, the second you’re talking about what you’re doing, the second you’re thinking about it, you aren’t in it anymore. You’ve taken yourself outside the experience.
I chose the quote on the poster because it made me laugh, but also because there’s a reason people (not all people, but let’s say a decent majority), love sex. You lose yourself. At least, you do if the sex is great and there’s a lot of feeling between you and your partner. You aren’t taking yourself out of the experience to document how you feel about it. “Hmmm, I’m enjoying this. This is great. Let me try to catch it from this angle so I can tweet about it.” Well, maybe some people are, but if we’re talking about truly great sex we are completely in and of the moment. Sex is not the only place we can experience this, obviously. You can get lost in nature on an incredible hike. You can unroll your yoga mat and get lost in the breath and other sensations in the body. You can get lost in a great book, you can become immersed in creating a delicious meal, you can salsa dance your way into losing yourself.
The thing is, it’s vital that you find a way to do just that, and frequently. Because when you lose that small self, that self full of ideas about who you are and who other people are and what you need and what you should have and how life should look and what that other person said or did and why that movie actually really sucked even though it won an Oscar and everyone else seems to be seeing something you aren’t, and also he looks like he gained weight since last season, and don’t you really deserve that raise, and Oh.My.God. When you can actually shut all that down and just join the flow and be present, you can also experience your true self. Your open, curious, engaged, immersed self. Your should-less self. And that is so important to do, because when you do that, you. YOU. You are present. You are present enough to recognize that the earth is spinning and some of the stars are already gone, already gone and the sun is shining the way it did eight minutes ago and you. You are part of all of that. You’re made of the same stuff as that sun and those stars and you are also spinning and moving and changing, and one day there will be a glimmer of you, a spark of you, a mark left by you, because you are here and you do matter, even if every moment of your life is not documented you are here. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.
Sending you love,