A Total Eclipse of the Mind

A meditation on astronomical events and mental projections

A Total Eclipse of the Mind
An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object or spacecraft is temporarily obscured, by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer.

According to some credible-enough sources on the Internet, in November 2022, before T and I said our goodbyes, there was, a total eclipse. One of our in-jokes throughout the years was that we called our interactions—whenever we would find ourselves orbiting each others' lives from a distance—eclipses. We had, on several occasions, despite never having met, even discussed getting tattoos to commemorate said eclipses. As I write this, I am aware that it may be unthinkable for someone who has never been in any kind of parasocial relationship, to picture two strangers, talking about getting tattoos together. But this sort of thing happens. Not just conversations about getting inked, but all sorts, held in the neither-here-nor-thereness of the Internet. Ours is not a unique story by any means, the length of time we kept in touch without ever meeting was perhaps something to note, and how a small part of me was, up until late last year, still caught in the lure of the metaphors we perpetuated.

Between when I first met T on MySpace in 2008 and the day we finally met in real life at the end of 2021, I had lived many lives and befriended many different versions of myself. I believed in change. In growth. In being a better person. In accountability. In apologies. In commitment. In gentleness. In self-love. I felt ready to love, but also felt no pressure to find it. I was, also, more cautious about naming our interactions "eclipses" and felt that in higher concentrations, nostalgia can easily snowball into escapism. By the time we met, I had become less attached to abstractions and had greater awareness and gratitude for things that were actually present. I preferred facts over feelings and my heart was set on meeting T and finally sharing real memories together and that was that.

"When you are really there, you have the ability to recognise the presence of the other. To be there is the first step, and recognizing the presence of the other is the second step."

We climbed an old lighthouse, explored sand dunes, finished a couple of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns with our friends, caught a handful of gigs (including the goddess, Ani Di Franco's and newer band, Indigo de Souza, who was coincidentally on one of my flights in from New York), a baseball game, and a Bull's Game in Chicago. T also drove us to visit one of the book fairs in Virginia that we had only ever talked about online as well as many-a-hardware store (one of my favourite things to do in America). Even as I retrieve pieces from that time, the memories with T stick out with a puzzling heaviness, amidst some spectacular encounters during that period and the little joys shared with the lovely folks I met. Two weddings happened to perfectly book-end our time spent in reality, but the everyday we shared in-between, was not quite as poetic. We tried our best to get to know each other, but I soon learned one of our fundamental differences was that we had very different ideas of self-knowledge and more importantly for me, very different priorities when it came to matters of care. I spent a lot of time sitting in T's sprawling backyard, tuning in with G (the loveliest American Akita and my soul son), processing the last decade, and what had changed.

"If you love someone and you continue to ignore his or her presence, this is not true love."

Whenever, T and I were in the same room, I would be wrapped in an unnameable blanket of loneliness. It was unlike anything I had ever felt. When I finally first named it, I would refer to it as being emotionally catfished, because I initially felt I had a close friend whom I knew and also felt known by until we were together in the same room and I felt unknown... but there was also something else. Words are words at the end of the day. You can label feelings all you want. You can write and think or express something as much as you want, but your lived-experience is what stays in the body. How your words translate into actions and into the lived-experience of another, is ultimately what remains in our bodies. And a lot of what had been written and uttered between T and I, was simply not where we both were in the same space and time. It was as if they got stuck in The Cloud, in a huge warehouse facility in the middle of nowhere, but not there in each others' presence. In a YouTube video I came across recently, where the commentators of the show were talking about our era's love for spectacle (they were discussing the AmH and JohnnyD trial), one man described it perfectly: "We [are] the creators and the consumers of deception in [this] digital era that we're living in and the harder we try to build a persona, the more we lose our identity." I felt I had not been able to know T as a person, just his persona and projections.

"Recognising what is there in the present moment is attention."

As it turned out, T bore witness to the feelings I felt. But in his view, I was the eclipse. His body passed in the shadow of another—mine. It is still so funny to me to put it that way, because, I stand smaller than most and he in contrast, is taller and bigger than most. But, it wasn't as funny when it was spoken to me the way it was, because in the moments when I had believed that a shared future was possible, I hoped that beyond our eclipses, whatever love had blossomed between us, would move us away from obscurity and into the real. But, it did not. I thought I knew this person and that he knew me, but my body felt this was not true.

"When we are loved, we wish the other to recognize our presence, and this is a very important practice."

The stories we choose to tell ourselves hold more power over us than we care to admit, and this one had me blinded. Nostalgia is said to "hold a mirror to the past", but it is tethered to nothing in the present. It is all in the mind. As evocative as stories can be, they are fleeting and vaporous. Even if our connection was predominantly virtual, how does one turn away from thirteen years of friendship and then face the question of whether there was even a friendship at all? T had become a mountain of accumulated promises and dreams in my mind, a gigantic all-consuming idea obstructing my view of what is. The mind can eclipse so much when we let these enormous feelings take over. I finally recognised that the situation was not one for me to fix or solve, but to let go of.

"To love is to recognise; to be loved is to be recognised by the other."

Upon my coaxing, T eventually agreed to play some of his songs before I left. I had only ever streamed or watched very old videos of them. It meant a lot because music was one of our gravitational pulls, and I never wavered in my awe of his talent as a musician. It was electrifying to witness up close. Whenever he would play an instrument, a veil would lift, the shadows would disappear and I would catch a flicker of something. It would be the closest I would ever feel to his heart.

A month after the aforementioned total eclipse (December 2022), while sick with COVID for the first time and so very much in my body, I dragged all the things we'd ever talked or written about into the present by combing through all the messages and e-mails T and I sent to each other. What was there alongside the shadows? Only thoughts and feelings. Fact: Shadows require a source of light and an object in question. Fact: In that time we spent together, T and I did not look from the same light source and thus, beheld and noticed very different things. And that's okay.

In the aftermath, I cried more than I thought my body was capable of. For a week I was in a cycle that went as follows: Read, cry, delete, and repeat. At some point I stopped reading. And I stopped crying. Delete. I embraced the grief of losing a friend and being unknown to them. And I caught myself.

"To be loved is to be recognised..."

Many moons (and recently, even a partial eclipse) have passed. The more I encountered joy, it became evident that whatever it was I was still grasping, does not exist. It does not fit with these cells in my body, these newer parts of myself that I have carefully rewired with consciousness, to be more connected to life and everything. Still, it had been a challenge to shape this peculiar experience with the right words. A lot of feelings have passed through. They come and go, but here I am with a bigger and brighter view, in time to celebrate a new moon.

When the mind appears, reality disappears. When the mind disappears, reality appears.
— Bodhidharma, “Bodhidharma’s Teachings”

All quotes interspersed in this posts are taken from True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh.