dailybell: Who Cares About How Things End?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Who Cares About How Things End?

August 1st
Total Eclipse, Rhythm and Sunrise
We went to the Exploratorium to see the total solar eclipse that occurred at (6:09 PM) in Xingjian Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. Totality was reached at 4:09 AM (PST).

It was around 3:00 AM when we arrived at the museum. There were hundreds of people sleeping on the floor, milling around looking at exhibits or watching the webcast. At 3:30 AM, the live signal from China came through and we were able to watch the progress of the eclipse. Everyone was very attentive during the time leading up to the point where the moon covered the sun. We watched the progress through 3 different telescopes as well as through a camera focused on the people and landscape on location.

At the moment the corona appeared, everyone cheered. And then, it was as if the eclipse was over. It didn’t matter that it would take another 40 minutes for the earth and moon to finish moving so that the sun was completely revealed once again. Forty minutes- the same amount of time it took the moon to cover the sun just moments before. Why is it that we consider the beginning and lead up to a special moment the most worthy of our attention?

This privileging of lead ups and beginnings also happens with rhythm and music. I remember the first time a music teacher pointed out that the end of the note mattered as much as the beginning. Simply starting the note on time was only part of the proper performance of rhythm. When we first begin playing an instrument and learn about note values, we are taught to focus on starting each note on time. In order to do this we simply count the interval of time from the onset of the note and wait the correct amount of time to begin the next note. The way we proceed from note to note is to initiate the sound and then wait. It’s a big revelation and completely different feeling to attend to the note for it’s entire value.

To listen to how a note changes and to work with it until it’s turn is over requires active attention. It’s no longer about waiting. It’s not so much about executing a series of tasks as it is about honoring the integrity and totality of each individual moment. It’s about continuity and not quantization. We are no longer dividing time into units and much as were are staying aware of the passing of time. Once we learn to remain with a note and not abandon it as soon as we have initiated it, time shifts. Somehow because our attention is involved and maintained, our sense of duration changes to include our own physicality.

So it was very familiar, if not a bit surprising after that moment of total eclipse, when everyone scattered. Many people got up and left the museum even though the Exploratorium was staying open for 2 more hours. The unified attention and silence during the moments leading to the eclipse splintered as everyone began talking to each other and stopped looking at the screen. The webcast continued but there was no more commentary from the staff at the museum. Because I wanted to ring bells with people at the museum at sunrise, I decided to wait for 2 more hours. However, I didn’t watch the eclipse as the moon retreated from the sun either. I lay down on the floor and slept until they rang the big bell 90 minutes later to alert the stragglers that it was time to leave. (They rang the bell I donated to the museum, by the way). It was a lovely way to wake up and I was very surprised that I was among only about a dozen or so non-staff people at the museum. Since there was nobody left to ring with, Norman and I left to go home. Fortunately we had to stop and get some gas, so we pumped gas and rang bells at sunrise. I even managed to convince a stray cyclist to join us.
After working at the Exploratorium running her film program for the past 13 hours, Liz rang a bell for the sunrise just before passing out at home for a few hours.

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