The Path of Totality: A Meditation on Time after the Great American Eclipse

Eclipse photographs courtesy of Walter W. Stroup, an author from work, who took them from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photograph of child overlaid with scythes of light courtesy of a local friend and science journalist.

As with all of life’s paths, I’m not sure as I sit here typing where the path of this entry will lead, nor why I have felt for the past week that I must write something with the Great American Eclipse as theme, occasion, and symbol. Seasoned writers rarely begin with outlines and plans. Normally, the more interesting parts of any draft are, after all, the digressions from what was originally intended, which then become the main, which is why English composition teaching no longer begins with outlines.

Even more so these days, writing for me is an affair of automaticity, a magical synchronization of the Deeper Intelligence with the instance of my fingertips dancing over the keyboard. My draft manuscript is being written this way, powered by prayers and meditations to be an open channel. I incline only to lay aside personal style for simple clarity. May reality have its way.

August 21, 2017, and Special Coincidences

Total eclipse viewed and captured in Lincoln, Nebraska

Five days ago, as you know, a total solar eclipse had the moon casting a shadow across the United States, with the Path of Totality traveling from Oregon to South Carolina. My family traveled to South Carolina to experience the totality, but I stayed at home and read the Aspirational Prayer of Kuntuzangpo aloud to my dharma friends in my private group, the Innermost Courtyard, while one of the members showed us what he was seeing through his telescope setup. The Prayer of Kuntuzangpo is supposed to be recited aloud by yogis to aspirants during a solar eclipse, for purportedly 100,000 times the usual karmic power supporting realization of full buddhahood within three lifetimes.  

The most remarkable coincidence making the total eclipse possible is that the moon is 400 times as small as the sun yet 400 times as close to the Earth—meaning the two orbs consequently appear to be identical in size. So the moon’s passing in front of the sun, with this precise calculation made manifest, yields the stunning crown of light, the corona in the sky, with its pink spikes. How amazing is that? Pretty amazing!

More personally, this occasion marks other coincidences. Back when everything went bust on the MCTB2 collaboration and I was banned from the Dharma Underground, I spent some time and energy in running around and trying to build a replacement for the Dharma Underground, one not beholden to Daniel. My idea was to create a small, intimate, private sangha that emphasized in-person events, video conferencing, instant chats, and a forum to serve as repository of fruitful and unique discussions. This attempt failed because the would-be members were all in various manifestations of scatter. My teacher told me at the time to stop running around to try to forge groups and movements to replace Daniel and the DhU. He said simply, “The true sangha is always already right here, so stop, go inward.” He emphasized, “you need to feel these losses.” He went on to reassure me, “If you stop seeking the right people, then the right people, at the right time, will spontaneously appear.”

As with everything that comes of his mouth, this was high wisdom and proven truth: I needed to retreat inward for my practice to profoundly deepen and finish. I needed to feel my losses without avoidance, repression, or attempts at substitution. This teacher taught me that bravely feeling my searing grief was the essence of Christ’s liberation through crucifixion. This path inward, the harrowing loneliness of self-sacrificing love, is the way. When he said so straightforwardly, it was epiphany.

I began in earnest, like I never before had, to practice descent into my own pain, layers and spiraling ever-more-subtle layers of it back into early childhood. That descent into darkness is the bravery intrinsic in lucidity. Its result is refinement and stabilization of the spacious expanse, which networks the true sangha, the true lineage, the Deep Intelligence, the interbeing of the wheeling whole.

I retreated this way into a virtual cave for more than a year, entering nearly total seclusion from the dharma world. I set aside dharmic ambitions and dependencies alike, and began the true unraveling of my codependency and abandonment issues. The most exquisite paradox is that letting go of everything is empowerment of everything. This most fundamental paradox is the mystery of path walking. I descended into solitude to meet the path in personal darkness, totally.

Before the day of the solar eclipse, one of my colleagues mentioned this: “During a solar eclipse, most people look up, but looking up is not as nearly as interesting as gazing down at the earth, at the little scythes of light and color in your shadow.” Likewise, awakening is transcendence, a journey upward and outward, but integration is a descent. It is a descent back into the remnant subtle identity structures, into embodiment, and finally into human relationship. So it is that my teacher’s prophetic words came true: Behind the scenes, forces were already in motion that would become, about 2 months ago, the Innermost Courtyard, a circle of Pragmatic Dharma friends exploring the Essence traditions of Tibet, Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

The Pied Piper from 1970 to Now: A Path to Nonfollowing

Looking up you see the obscured sun. Looking down into the shadows, you see a million little crescent moons, scythe-like projections of the sun.

When my colleague mentioned the little scythes of light in the shadows, she delivered back to me a lost detail from a key childhood memory: When I was 5 years old, I had witnessed the total solar eclipse of March 7, 1970. I remember that day so clearly, its having been imprinted into my collection of lasting childhood memories. My mother had taken my friend Sharon Patterson and me to a children’s theatre production of The Pied Piper, in downtown Tallahassee. When we went into the theatre, we moved from blazing sunlight into a dark cool “cave” to watch the show up on the stage. When we exited after the show, we moved from that darkness to near darkness outside. I remember my mother’s admonishing me not to look at the sun directly until totality.

What I had forgotten until my colleague’s mention were the little scythes of light, the show beheld by gazing downward into the shadows. Shadows have a way of reemerging from memory, however, until they are paid the attention that penetrates patterns. As I contemplated all these patterns, symbol synchronities bridging distant time points, I became curious about the story of the Pied Piper. So I researched it.

The story, a simple one, is set in 1284 in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany. The town was suffering from a rat infestation when a piper dressed in a multicolored coat appeared and agreed, for a price, to rid the town of the disease-causing infestation. The community agreed to the price, so the piper played his pipe, seducing all the rats to follow him out of the town. When the piper then demanded his pay, the community refused to fulfill its end of the agreement. The piper vowed revenge for their refusing to compensate him as promised. On July 26 he returned and led the community’s children out of the town forever in the same way he had the rats: by seducing them away with his sweet music. As some versions of the fairy tale go, three children remained behind: one who was lame and could not keep up, one who was deaf and could not be seduced by music, and one who was blind and could not see where he was going. Interestingly, their inherent physical deficiencies saved them from deadly seduction. In their weakness was their salvation.

First known illustration from around 1300 AD of the creepy clown-like Pied Piper of Hamelin

What many people do not know or remember about this story is that its main events are true. Although the rat infestation is unlikely to be true, in 1284 some 130 children born in Hamelin were indeed seduced by a man dressed in bright rainbow colors and were lost at the place of execution near the koppen. This is hardly your blithe fairytale; instead it is a horrific account of child abduction. Reviewing this narrative instantly made me recall a dream I had after the Mahamudra awakening of July 2015, as well as my discussion of the dream with my teacher and the practice focus that it introduced, that of clarifying my own power.

I audio-recorded this remarkable dream, which features me in an elementary school classroom where I naively followed after deceivers and bluffers: a teacher who faked death, a clown in bright clothes like the Pied Piper, and finally Daniel in a disguise and driving a caravan into which I was led by the clown. When I recognized Daniel as the driver in disguise, I became lucid in the dream.

When I discussed the dream with my teacher, he said, “No offense, but why the . . . did you get into the back of that van!” He stated, “This is a tale of abduction of a little girl.” This discussion led to months of dreamwork in which I paid attention to how my dream ego was seduced, led along by others, with a view to strengthening my lucidity and power, both in dreams and daily life. This was about the codependency that marks my Enneatype, the Helper. In my esoteric practices, accordingly, the Buddha Family that comes up is Padma, whose obscured manifestation is seduction and obsession, and whose enlightened aspect is discriminating wisdom.

This entry is all just to pause and to acknowledge my deepest obscuration and its path from childhood to current insight. On this occasion of the Path of Totality, the true Path of Totality is therefore remarked by these multiple scythes of light that illuminate themselves in the shadow side of my being—to the tune of interbeing and plain dealing.

For details on the Enneagram and the Five Buddha Families as personality typologies, see my post on the tantric Paragon Practice:

The original dream recording I made is here:


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