The sky is growing dark. The streetlight and the curve of the hill we live on allow the artificial light from our township to spill down the curvature of our road, making the night seem less mature than it is. I look up at the sky - it’s a shade of dark blue-gray that comes before complete blackness. I won’t be awake for the north east suburban dark sky that would appear briefly in a few hours. I’m 7 years old. I have a bedtime. I’m standing outside on our front step, with my shoes on, because my mother’s anxiety would activate if I were barefoot outside. I know, even at this age, that my mother’s anxiety is its own justified reason to put my shoes on. I know, even at this age, that I’d rather be barefoot.
I’m in first grade and each evening this whole month of early spring, my homework is to pencil draw what the moon looks like, through each of her phases, putting the moon in little boxes on a worksheet my teacher gave me. After a few nights, my young eyes decide the boxes are too small to hold my moons. But I am without a solution, because my teachers won’t care if I tell them I don’t have what I need to adequately draw the moon - or at least that’s what it feels like. I wish they had asked me what I needed to draw the moon. I want to get closer to the moon. Even at this age, I can feel its pull and presence. This is my introduction to Jyotisha, witnessing Her limitlessness and being limited by Her simultaneously.
The beginning, the middle, and the end of my knowing Jyotisha exists in my lived experiences, in the recalling of such experiences, and in the intense and immense study of experience. Her characteristics of science and fact, emphasis of time and place, Her ability to be fluid, changing, and ever course creating, Her seasonality and Her patterns all create a kind of river-like flow that is ever changing, yet predictable, and yet not. All of it is alluring, inspiring, frustrating, enticing, activating, relieving, and soothing to my mind, and my heart.
I’m cold in my bones, and sort of stiff. I just slept on a Hogan floor in a sleeping bag, with multiple layers of clothing for warmth. I’m on reservation land in Navajo Nation, New Mexico on the land of a Navajo farmer, scholar, and elder. I’m here trying to understand the native Diné people. I don’t even really know my own people, but a desire rises up to know these people for whom ritual, ceremony, storytelling, fire, elements, art, and archeoastronomy are keystones.
Just last night we held a ceremony in the Hogan. When it came my turn to speak, I introduced myself by way of my parents and grandparents names - for the first time ever. My dad died just two years ago. I just transferred between top tier universities, neither do I want to be at. I can't identify a place in the world that feels like home, and yet here I am in the Navajo Womb. I’m 20. Everyone in the Hogan begins to stir from their sleep. The sky is dressed in predawn stars, but what is waking all of us is the slow beat of the drum that our Navajo host is creating steadily to wake us. Tum, tum something in me knows it’s not a ceremonial sound.
Wrapped in blankets and facing east all in a straight line, our group stands outside the Hogan quietly as Larry sings in Diné language and beats his drum according to a rhythm we’ll only ever know from the experience of hearing it, but never fully understand its meaning. At this moment, we are learning by way of our hearts, rather than by way of our minds. Among the group, this is what appears to be our commonality: a curious craving for an understanding of something beyond ourselves. We turn to face all four directions, and then we hold salt in our palm, each of us told to find our own spot of earth to say our own prayer, to welcome the day, and to offer the salt in the spirit of reciprocity.
The sun rises up over the mesa in a way that feels like a baptism. I’m relieved to not have to draw the sun in small square boxes. I’m glad for the vastness, and for the roundness of the Hogan. Despite the cold morning, I take my shoes off to be closer to the earth, closer in towards the sun. Here is where I begin to understand Jyotisha as my ‘Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ portal of my life. To escape into Her with each or any of my waking moments is a privilege, but also requires earning parts of the journey.
Her clues. They lead me to a union of intellect and experience. Directly and indirectly. Both, at the same time. “Meditate, and then go back into the dream,” one of my teachers once relayed to me. And that is Jyotisha to me, a meditation preparing me to reenter the dream that is my life.
I’m driving through the most beautiful farmland I’ve ever seen. Open lush rice fields, big skies, and animals and village life pass beyond my eyes through the window of the van. The pollution here isn’t nearly as bad as in Madurai so I have my window down and the smell of smoke, animal droppings, and food preparation fills my face all at once. I’m 25 years old.
We arrive at Sri Chitraradha Perumal Temple in Kuruvithurai. This is a temple named after and in dedication to my birthstar in Jyotisha, Chitra. I just moved into a Jupiter dasha, supported by a Jupiter subdasha. My teacher tells me this is a great time to visit India again, this time as a student of Jyotish. Last time, I was a documentary filmmaker.
Conveniently, as the science of Jyotisha provides, I notice there is a Jupiter temple right next to the Chitra temple. I’m so lucky to be here. My teacher has gone to the depths of research to even find the location of this temple. Our driver got lost a few times getting here from the city. But I’m here, and now I need to find yellow items for puja, and hopefully, I will still have enough time to circumambulate the temple in such a way that my teacher’s teacher advised her to instruct me to do. I think this has something to do with my birthday being just 10 days ago, but I’m not quite sure. I know enough about Jyotisha to know that when you know something, you only kind of know it, and only in the kind of way that you can know it. What might remain, you have to seek out, rely on your trusted sources, and rely in the Divine to provide. All this exchange is in a kind of equal measure that isn’t equal in the ways the mind knows equal to be. A different plane of equal, of balance. Jyotisha.
During puja, inside the sanctum santorum, I’m asked to introduce myself like I did when I was in the Hogan several years prior. My parents’ names, my marriage status - these things seem to transcend what we put on them, as if we can ID ourselves in front of Spirit. But I realize, our lines matter and they need naming, not for Spirit’s sake, but for our own. I think every time I’ve introduced myself in this way, I feel the fullness of what it means to be a whole and complete person. I cry.
The priest cracks the coconut as an offering to Shiva. I spend time on the temple grounds after the puja, my bare feet on the most beautiful, colorful, cool stone I’ve ever felt. Colorful stones individually placed in the cement for God. Devotion. I still have a little bit of puja ash in my palm and I fold it into a piece of paper to try and save it for later. Trying to put the puja into a little box, like I did years ago with the moon. I smile knowing that the cosmos that I’m in connection with has both a humor of irony and a subtlety of grace. Lines exist connecting all the moments of my life, and in all kinds of formations beyond that of a small box. My heart knows these jagged lines. Jyotisha is where my head meets my heart. And all I can do to prepare is to take off my shoes, literally and metaphorically, and remember that the box of my relationship with Her, is my life, and it’s actually limitless.
Now approaching 30 years old, Joytisha is revealing Herself as my way of storytelling and map making. It's the time, temperature and flavor of the experiences I’m digesting in being awake to life. Jyotisha is the view from wherever I’m standing, each stance containing the past, present and future views - like Russian nesting dolls. The more time I spend unpacking the dolls, the more dolls there are. Joytisha is neverending, and my curiosity is my sustenance. She is steady, in that there is reassurance of Her force guiding, but not quite revealing fullness until, in a moment, She does. And at the same time, fullness falls apart again into an unfathomable number of completely beautiful sherds of oneself, of myself, that are actually, separately and together, also the whole of the universe.
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Renay Oshop - teacher, searcher, researcher, immerser, rejoicer, enjoying the interstices between Twitter, Facebook, and journals.