Maybe you’re wondering why this website and my astrology practice are called Awake at Dawn.
It’s a phrase that captures some stories about my life-long dreams and quest.
For starters, there were few books in the home I grew up in. That’s a bit odd because Jews are known as “people of the book.” It’s not odd when one’s parents were not well educated and had little disposable money.
In 1972, someone gave my mother a pocket edition of a book called The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, the revered Lebanese mystical poet. I was 14 years old and just starting out on a path of yoga and meditation. No one noticed when I took the little book to my room and kept it there, reading it again and again.
In the book, a Prophet of God named Almustafa has been stranded on an island far from his home for twelve years. He has become a beloved figure among the people. One day, he sees in the distance that a ship is on its way to claim him and return him to the island of his birth. Before he leaves, the island people ask the Prophet about the big subjects of life, beginning with love and ending with death. He answers them in a series of prose poems about each topic.
About Love, Almustafa tells the people to “think not you can guide the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.” He goes on to tell them that if you love, let it be your desire “to wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”
I copied these two lines from The Prophet onto index cards and tacked them to the bulletin board on my bedroom closet, right above where I had pinned the photos of the four Beatles that came inside their White Album.
At about that same time, at the age of 14, I figured out that I could avoid some of the family dysfunction by scheduling my morning yoga and meditation practice for 5 a.m., an hour or more before anyone else in the house was awake. And then because I was getting up so early, by eight or nine at night, I had to excuse myself and go to bed. I wanted a respite from drama and to be awake at dawn.
This became my life-long practice, to get up before the sun.
A few years passed, and at age 18, I became an initiate in a Sufi Order whose symbol is a winged heart. Inside the heart is a crescent moon below a five-pointed star. The symbol means: the heart that is responsive to the light of God is liberated. I continued to awake at dawn for meditation practices with the intention, following Khalil Gibran, of letting love guide my course.
More years and more twists and turns of my life path later, at the age of 40 I became a student of the teachings of the Buddha.
He was born into royalty, a prince. His name was Siddhartha Gautama before he became known as the Buddha, which means the Awakened One.
As a young adult, Siddhartha left the sheltered palace environs of his royal birth. Once out on the streets, he was astounded to see people who were aging, people who were ill, people who were dying. He then saw monks and yogis, who had taken up a path of practice toward enlightenment. He took up with various groups of these devotees and tried innumerable ascetic practices of renunciation and self-denial. He became exhausted by his spiritual quest, and he finally sat down under a Bodhi tree and vowed to sit in meditation until such time as he would reach the state of “nibbana,” which means “blowing out” or “quenching,” as in the cessation of fire or thirst.
The Buddhist scriptures tell us that Siddhartha sat for 49 days and nights, during which he was visited by demons who tried to seduce him with various delusions and temptations. On the final night of his sitting, Mara, the lord of the demons, confronted Siddhartha and demanded to know by what right he thought he was worthy of enlightenment. In response, Siddhartha held silent and simply touched the ground beneath him. The earth itself was his witness. This mythic moment tells us that perennial, nature-based wisdom is simple and available to all.
After claiming his right to become free from grasping, Siddhartha sat a final night in meditation. All of his past lives, his eternal nature, were revealed to him.
Then, in the predawn hours, Siddhartha, the spiritual seeker, looked up into the sky and saw the Morning Star. It was upon seeing the Star that he received his final realization of the essential unity of all beings. He cried out: “I am awakened together with the whole of the great earth and all its beings.” Not him alone, not him separate from anything else. The Buddha, the star, the sky, the earth upon which he sat, the whole of Creation and the Cosmos — all are One. He awakened at dawn.
When it came time for me to think up a name for my ongoing adventure with astrology, I heard a familiar voice inside, reminding me of a phrase that has carried me through life. I thought of all the teachers I’ve had along my path and all the people I study astrology with now.
I thought about my wish that you, and I, and all beings, each on a path of our own, may claim our right to touch the earth, to know the sky, and to become awake at dawn.