The silent stars

I do yearly short silent retreats for two to four consecutive weeks on a regular basis at Gaia House in Devon and this November the skies have been particularly clear. Star light takes on a specific meaning when there are so many of them they light up the whole sky rather like sunlight and moonlight. (And yes when I was a hippy I moon bathed on rooftops in Crete). In Devon I’d stand outside Gaia House with my binoculars gazing upwards, breathless at the enormity of that starry silence. Thinking about how they burn and burn at huge temperatures for lengths of time I simply cannot grasp. Even when they explode into birth or death their sound can’t carry through the cosmos because, unlike radio waves, sound waves can’t penetrate a vacuum. So space is relentlessly, completely silent.

And the numbers of stars are mind boggling. Language doesn’t, can’t encompass it. With some descent binoculars on a clear Devon night I knew in theory I could see 4,500 of them but if I were an astronomer with a good telescope that’d escalate to seventy thousand million, million, million. More than every grain of sand on our entire planet. That made me feel like those who first encountered Robert Hooke’s work in his ‘Micrografia’ where he drew the things he saw in his newly invented microscope and the world saw the monstrous and beautiful appearance of minute things like fleas through his perceptions. And let’s not even start on dark matter which makes up 70% of the cosmos. We don’t yet know what it does, invisible, immeasurable but nevertheless there. That suggests silence so dense and heavy it takes on materiality.

Standing there glued to the heavens, disturbed momentarily by a crepuscular Barn owl, I felt like Thoreau ‘in a naked condition in front of the universe’ starbathing nude in front of God.

Try it one night in an unlit space. Just try standing still and looking up. It may surprise you.