I joined a Carleton College Alumni Adventure and traveled to Salem, Oregon to experience last month’s total solar eclipse. Totality is a relatively rare event from the perspective of a human lifespan and the limited geographic area covered by a single eclipse’s path of totality. Thus, travel may be required to have a direct experience of this phenomenon.
As I had hoped, this was a worthy experience; awesome in the true sense of the word. I have written about parts of this previously in Eclipse: The Beginning and Eclipse: Totality This post is about my experience after the eclipse, as well as those of others I have encountered since then. Some of the responses come from the arts, some from my professional work, and some from my personal reentry experience.
Our group continued to observe the sun intermittently until the eclipse was entirely over. We talked about our experiences and observations. We then walked to the nearby dining hall for lunch, where our casual debriefing continued. That this was a big day was evident even in the dining hall, with eclipse cookies as the featured dessert. In a way, the small pleasure of a decorated cookie was a useful bridge between the profound experience of totality and the day to day world to which we were reconnecting.
After an afternoon to ourselves, we regrouped, first for “office hours” with Joel Weisberg, the Carleton physics and astronomy professor who led our trip, and then for our final group dinner. Comments during and after dinner reflected our experiences; with awe, wonder and gratitude being prominent sentiments, along with dreams of attending the next US eclipse in April 2024.
Up early the next morning, I helped BA load the car and she departed at first light for the long drive home. I went for a run, joined the group for breakfast, and soon was on the shuttle to the airport. I had several hours before my flight, so I caught up on email, did some writing and reading, and began seeing other’s reports of their own eclipse experiences. I was interested to note that despite the airport being quite crowded, with most flights sold out, travelers were generally in a good mood and considerate of each other.
I arrived home and spent what remained of the evening and early the next morning on “homey” tasks: laundry, cat care, grocery shopping, and harvesting enormous squashes and cucumbers from the garden. Then it was time to go back to work.
Returning to work, my first client was a woman who is quite intuitive and energetically sensitive; she and many family members pick up information that not everyone perceives. She reported that she, her daughters and her ex-husband all had felt more tired in the lead-up to the eclipse, and that they had all felt generally “off” since the event. As we worked together, she experienced herself as feeling calmer and as though her system was reorganizing itself in a more functional way.
In the two weeks since the eclipse, it has been more of a struggle than usual for her to maintain her focus and perspective in the world. She has also had some significant life stressors during this time, so while it feels to me as if some of this is eclipse-related, its difficult to say how much.
My second client that day has a son-in-law who is native American. She told me that in his tradition, they do not go outside during a solar eclipse so as not to intrude on the interaction which is occurring between the sun and the moon. Quite a different take on things, giving celestial bodies their private moment.
Its more straightforward with this next client, another energetically sensitive individual who I saw a week later. She noted the presence of some unusual physical symptoms since the eclipse, and also reported feeling utterly exhausted during the event itself. When the eclipse began, she felt compelled to lie down, curled up in her bed. Her adult son attempted to rouse her to come watch and she declined as she was completely enervated. After the eclipse, her energy improved, and although she was functional, she still didn’t feel quite right. It was in this state that she arrived at my office.
We talked for a bit, as we usually do, and then we proceeded to the table to explore things further, particularly her unusual stiff neck (some of my work is hands-on). Once she lay down, her body went into spasm, with a marked arching of her back, raising the majority of her back off the table. I supported her with my hands and words, encouraging her to continue to breathe, and this resolved within a minute. Her neck was less stiff, and now she felt dizzy. As we continued to work, this persisted, with this repeated and unusual comment “my third eye is dizzy”.
As I heard this for the third time, I had my own “aha”: she’s ungrounded–disconnected from the energy of the earth. We continued to work somatically, emphasizing her feet and the lower part of her body. We focused on grounding with hands-on work and guided imagery. Soon enough, her dizziness subsided, and as our session concluded, she walked comfortably about my office, feeling much more grounded and present than she had been since the eclipse.
As we sorted this, we decided that when the moon came between her and the sun, she had somehow lost much of her own energetic connection to the earth, leaving her in a significantly altered state. During our work together, she had been able to reconnect to the earth and felt much more normal afterwards, although also changed by her experience. I am curious to see what her experience is going forward after her own personal eclipse.
Often, art serves as a way to express experiences that transcend the facts, and as I review some of the experiences associated with this eclipse, I am aware of a sense of mystery. Yes, there is a lot that is understood, and as the experiences of my clients emphasized to me, there is a great deal that remains in the realm of mystery. Conjecture yes, certainty, no.
The painting at the top of this post was done by Hal Higdon. Yes, he is that Hal Higdon for all you marathoners. Hal, a Carleton graduate and studio art major was one of the members of our group. This painting, which he stated was “Totality as Vincent Van Gogh might have seen it” was a part of his response to the event, and he has some blog posts as well, all available at www.halhigdon.com.
Annie Dillard is a writer of some renown. I read this very evocative piece, originally published in 1982, before leaving for Salem. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/annie-dillards-total-eclipse/536148/ I was struck by a feeling of awe when I read her words, and it reaffirmed my choice to experience totality. On rereading her essay, I’m interested to notice what grabs my attention this time around. Both readings, I’m very struck by her description of the immense speed of the shadow overcoming all in the path of totality. Owing to our urban and treed location, we didn’t experience the shadow, an experience I still crave.
On this second reading, I also note Dillard’s comments about post-totality, when people quickly packed up and went on their way. She took longer to digest and integrate her experience, as did I. I’m still working on it, and I also recognize that those who quickly departed may also be processing the event in their own way. The massive traffic jams leaving areas of totality attest that many did jump in their cars to return home as soon as the “show” was over. I am very grateful, and not just for travel reasons, that our group did not disband until the following morning. Time to reenter the ordinary world was welcome.
Joel shared a link to the work of his friend and astrophotographer, Stan Honda. Honda’s photographs of the eclipse are stunning, and can be viewed here: http://www.stanhonda.com/new-work/2017totality . I marvel at his photos, and find them very evocative of my own experience. (TEM-12 recaps a view I had during totality; I’m ordering a copy).
I also found Honda’s blog interesting and enjoyable reading, including features on stuff sold for the eclipse. And how could I not feel an affinity for someone who also posted a picture of the Sinclair dinosaur as part of his travel experience? (see Eclipsed! Plan Crash)
Reflecting on all of this, a total solar eclipse is indeed a major event, and not only from an astronomical perspective. All of us, whose very existence is dependent on these intricate relationships between the sun, the moon and our planet are impacted, whether we recognize it or not. I am profoundly grateful to have had this experience. Thanks to all of you, known and unknown, who contributed.