Moonlight, Coincidence, and the Power of Story

It is midnight and I am miles from any electric lights. The darkness is so complete that the light from the full moon casts shadows I can walk by. It feels like some mysterious daytime. Enchanted as I am, I look up at the moon and am struck by a very simple observation, one that a child might make: the moon appears basically the same size as the sun. “What a coincidence,” I think. My mind goes blank with wonder. It is such a coincidence that it feels like it couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. Because, well, the sun and the moon are nowhere near the same size. Their different distances from the earth makes them appear so. Of all the myriad objects in the universe, all the possibilities for how things are sized and scaled, the sun and moon share the same apparent size when viewed from Earth.

“What are the odds?” I might ask. And I might be able to get an answer. If I knew the total number of Earth-sized planets in the universe, then I could determine how many of them had moons with a similar relationship to their suns. But would such an answer suffice? “The odds are 1 in 100 trillion.” That’s a lot, but plenty of things are a lot. My sense of being enamored by a great mystery would remain untouched.

By definition, a coincidence is a set of events with remarkable alignment but without a clear logical relationship. If I ask Google, I get an answer that satisfies my quest for information. But if I want an answer that touches me deeply, I need to do something like hike through the woods for several days to meet a wise woman in a hut. If I ask her about the sun and moon, she is likely to give me an answer at the level of myth. The wise woman of the woods will tell me a story rich with symbolism that resonates with lived experience.

Contemporary living has atrophied our ability to navigate mythic landscapes. Generally speaking, our innate storytelling ability has been hijacked. Instead of living and cultivating our ability to navigate myths as they become significant to direct experience, we consume our stories as part of a commercial exchange. We pay money to watch movies, and Hollywood gives us the mythic imagery and symbols we crave at the soul level. But not all stories are empowering. Plenty of mass-produced stories are as disempowering as mass-produced snack food. The magic is not in the story, but the ability to tell stories, and the ability to hear them, and to artfully maneuver in the mythic realm.

Rather than give away our natural and intuitive ability to be storytellers, we can invent our own possibilities. “Maybe an intelligent creator did this for us,” we might say. Or, “Even though everything is certifiably random and meaningless, goodness, how sublimely beautiful is this moon.” The vital fact is not that our stories are true, but rather that we step into our power to sculpt and stretch meaning from the symbols of our experience.

As far as symbols go, what could be richer than that of sun and moon? Comb through any tradition in the world and you will find a wealth of mythic imagery related to the sun/moon relationship. Is the sun chasing the moon? Is the moon a foolish wanderer? Is the sun male or female? Hatha yoga, for me, gives a ready example, since it sees that the entire cosmos can be found in the body during practice. I experience the sun in my body as the pelvis and its fiery passions, its drive to survive, win, lose, make, procreate. The moon is a symbol that Hatha yoga places in the head. It is the cool mind with its ability to reflect and also to transform.

Maybe the similar size of sun and moon for us is a coincidence. However, because something is a coincidence doesn’t mean it is random, meaningless, or without significance. Nature offers her best marvels to our direct observation. No additional scrutiny is really necessary. Better than scrutiny is heartfelt curiosity and renewed certainty that we are like children in a wild and untameable expanse. This mythic landscape is the place of inspiration, and it strikes each person differently according to their innate character. Under the spaciousness of this idea, two lovers will embrace. A musician will find a piece of a song.

So if you were to ask me why the sun and moon are the same apparent size, what would be my answer? As I understand it, the moon is a piece of the Earth that was knocked loose long ago by a protoplanet known as Theia that struck Earth. Gravity shaped the moon into a ball and she stays out there, the cool and contemplative sister to our Earth. The moon moves in its mysterious ways and works magic on the Earth’s tides and cycles. The heart of the story for me becomes about Theia. I wonder where she came from that she set the Earth and its moon into such perfect relationship. And I wonder where Theia has gone to, if any debris made it elsewhere after the collision to enact more cosmically harmonic mischief someplace else. Certainly, I know that this cosmically harmonic mischief has mixed with the Earth. It has become the fabric of reality for me.