By Eve Tetzlaff
I never want to take a flashlight at night. I love the night uninterrupted by any light it did not choose to shine upon itself. I love the feeling of my eyes adjusting to whatever dimness of shape and shadow they can discern, love the way of walking extra-sensorially, feeling ahead of my physical body, sensing the ground with my feet, my mind testing itself for memories of where things are, recalibrating to the surprise of their unfamiliarity when shrouded in darkness. I especially love to walk outside at night. I don’t mind being spooked momentarily by the rustle of a tree, or taking a different pace because I can’t stride as quickly without the full power of my eyesight. Alone in the dark, I feel held, and somehow enhanced. I am not scared of night. Why would something bad happen? The world feels cloaked in spaciousness, quiet but alive. Fewer of us are out and moving about, so the whole place is ours….
And then, the stars. On a clear night, the night is not dark at all – unless you have a flashlight or a streetlight, messing the whole thing up, insisting on consigning night to contrast-blackness. Without a light, stepping into night on its own terms, it brightens all around you, showing you itself and welcoming you in. Exponentially so, should the moon be out. The bright night brings luminosity so far beyond, so infinitely preferable to, the sharp and limited, and distracting, artificial light.
We are primarily day creatures, so night is an alien and wonderful planet. How extraordinary that earth can give us this otherworldly experience of everything we thought we knew by daylight. Considered that way, it’s exceptional.
What a gift to get out of our own minds, to take a new shine to things, to go a little mad by moonlight. I confess, I need it. I’m quick to get so serious, prone to worry. About what? It hardly matters. Worry finds its fuel and chews it up, then scurries to find the next thing to gnaw on. It’s omnivorous; anything will do. It takes vigilance to eradicate it. Though, not exactly vigilance, since that too (like worry) is sharp-edged. You need the softer stuff. Trust is worry’s antithesis, wave after wave bathing off the sharp little sand particles. Trust, once hatched, is as relentless as worry, only a much better ride – needing only the slightest breeze to lift its wings and take you to a soaring new perspective. And humor! Worry implodes the second you giggle at it. Call it a goofy name, and it’s gone.
My husband gave me Epictetus’ Handbook to read. Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher whose essential teaching is: don’t worry about anything that is not in your control, and all that is in your control is how you respond to things. “Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.”
I told my teacher, I worry. He smiled at me. “Just don’t worry,” he said. “The divine is with you.”
Trust takes wing on promises like that. It sees nurturance showering in moonlight, sparkling in stars. Trust rises like heart, like a face shining back up at the moon. It prays: bring it to me, bring me to it. It believes: that it is already, always, happening. All is in order, I just must adjust my eyes to see it.
I love the part of me that trusts and plays. That part has adventures and feels creative and alive. That part sneaks away from the official agenda to do things that are nobody’s business. Once, on a work trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai, I had a weekend in between, so I took a Chinese bus and ferry to Putuoshan, an island with one of the sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism. One of the shrines there held a worship service in the pre-dawn mornings. Walking briskly on the boardwalk in the darkness, surprising anyone I happened to pass (there have been about 4 blondes on Putuo Island ever, not exaggerating by much), and arriving to the candlelight and chanting, I felt like me, at home in the world.
On New Year’s Eve, I went out to stoke the wood furnace, opened the fire chamber and filled it with logs, flames leaping like an offering, like a crematorium, like something that you do with fire in solitude at night. The moon was full and brilliant, the stars were out in a clear sky, and all around was a landscape of deep, fresh snow. The wind chimes sounded like prayer gongs. My two dogs, bounding in unfettered joy, raced across the shining white yard.
Moonlight like that is a flood of wonder. It makes me feel: yes. It makes me feel: wealthy, alive, free. It illuminates the nature of everything. Yes, we’re human, but we’re also animal and spirit. We’re light itself, like the stars. We’re mystery, like the darkness. We are limitless.
So then, why don’t I feel this way all the time? Why do I lose it? What is wrong with me? The feeling that I I’ve lost myself, or can’t find it, or can’t hold it, is unbearable. It’s yearning mixed with disappointment in myself. I stand in the saturation of moonlight and both experience the fullness and notice the parts that don’t feel that way. That other part of me makes me sad.
Sadness: is so serious. Seriousness and worry, running in my mind, the opposite of two dogs at play on an exquisitely moonlit night. The opposite of the me I love to be.
I told my teacher, it bothers me that I worry. How can you worry, when you have a life like mine? He smiled at me. “Laugh at the mind’s behavior,” he said.
Is it silly to talk to the moon? To make promises alone in the night, and call them sanctified by a council of tree shadows? I’m silly, then. Thank god! Seriously, I trust that silliness will save me. I will play my way out of myself, as moonlight plays over snow. Trust and humor: take my mind and shake it free, like two dogs racing crazily with one stick, unspooked by the magical night, not worrying about a thing in the beautiful world.
To whom else to make promises if not to the moon? My wedding was witnessed by fire. My days are bathed by the sun. Light is my eternal friend, and light in darkness is my most private and cherished confidant. And anyway, whose prayer is it? Moonlight is not just witness; it is source. The prayer comes not because I promised it, but because it moved me to express its own joyous truth.
A New Year’s Resolution: to remember this, to be more this way. To play and be free. To stop trying so hard, looking for what is always, already, finding me. To be light of heart. To be the moonlight version of myself.
A flashlight is great for looking at things. Night seems less like something to look at, more something to look into. I’m grateful for my mind. It’s sharp, sensitive, bright. It’s so good at looking for and at things, a powerful flashlight. But sometimes, I’d like to leave the damn thing in the drawer.
In Putuoshan, soon they’ll be walking on the boardwalks in the darkness to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Year of the Dog, no less! Here at home, two great Masters of love and playfulness are always ready to help me dispel my pesky human solemnity and tease out my inner canine.
So let’s sneak out at night, like kids and dogs do, to play in the moonlit yard. Tell anyone who asks, we went to check on something important. But while we’re out here, what we do is nobody’s business. We won’t be so serious. That is the gift of the night. We don’t have to stand up to scrutiny, to the light of day. The gaze of the moon is affectionate. The embrace of the night is a secret shared in love. We can be wild and weird, under cover of darkness. I won’t tell if you don’t!