If you live in the US, chances are that you spent at least part of Monday, August 21 viewing the eclipse that traveled across the country; you may even have traveled to a location where you could see the totality. No matter where you are in the world, you have almost certainly seen stunning images from the event. This is no surprise. For centuries, humans have marveled at solar and lunar eclipses; this interesting history tells us that the Babylonians and ancient Chinese were able to predict eclipses as early as 2500 BC.
I thought it would be fun to see if I could find some resilience lessons hidden in the experience of the eclipse.
1. Before humans understood the movements of the stars and planets, eclipses were mysterious phenomena. They were often seen as bad omens, and they appeared without warning, leading to fear and superstition. Now that we have scientific models that tell us—right down to the minute and second—when an eclipse will begin and end, these events are occasions for wonder and celebration. Resilience insight #1: Prediction reduces adversity. When you can envision what’s going to happen, it feels less frightening than when you are surprised. The better you understand how things work (nature, your body, organizational politics, weather, and just about anything else), the more you will be able to prepare for future events.
2. Looking at the sun can blind you. Fortunately, the media did a great job of making this point, and glasses to enable people to safely view the eclipse were widely available. Unfortunately, some of the glasses people ordered were later recalled for failing to meet safety standards, and many local distribution sites ran out of glasses. As a result, a number of people ended up without the glasses they needed. Resilience insight #2: Planning ahead helps, but it’s not foolproof. People who planned ahead of time were more likely to have glasses, but even some of those people were disappointed at the last minute and needed to figure out a new solution. Resilience insight #3: Draw on your network. I saw many online requests for glasses, and most of them were met with very generous responses. “I have 2 extra pair…I’ll leave them out on my porch for you.” Reaching out and asking for assistance is not always easy, but there are many helpful people in the world. Resilience insight #4: When all else fails, get creative. People who could not find glasses came up with a variety of solutions for viewing the eclipse: cereal-box pinhole “cameras obscura”; high-density welding masks; even colanders and crackers!
3. Traffic was terrible for many people who decided to travel to a place where the eclipse would be total. One neighbor spent 4 hours traveling to a viewing site and 5 hours coming home on a route that would normally take 2 hours. Others booked hotel rooms months in advance to ensure a place to stay. Long lines, portable toilets, and inadequate food supplies were common in small towns that are not prepared for large crowds. Yet everyone I talked to who traveled to a totality site would do it again in a heartbeat, and many are already planning for the next total solar eclipse in the US, in 2024. Resilience insight #5: Know your priorities and be willing to pay the price. If there’s something rare and wonderful you want to experience, like being at a place where the sky goes black for a couple of minutes and your perception of the world shifts, go for it! Just understand that there are likely to be trade-offs. This insight also applied to parents whose kids’ schools were not planning to let children view the eclipse live because of concerns about eye safety. Some parents decided that the experience was most important, and took their kids out of school for the day, even if it affected their attendance records. Resilience insight #6: Don’t regret the road not taken. I decided to stay home with my husband and watch the 97% eclipse from our front yard. Although it was interesting, it was a bit anti-climactic compared to the stories I heard from people who experienced totality. It was hot, and there weren’t other people around to share the fun with. But I’ve decided not to spend any effort wishing I’d done it differently. It won’t change anything, and it would drain some of the emotional energy I need to use on more important challenges.
Did you watch the eclipse? Did you encounter any challenges? I believe that everyday situations like these are the perfect place to practice becoming aware of how you deal with small frustrations and setbacks. The patterns and habits you establish in these circumstances will influence the way you deal with larger issues and problems.