I was recently sent the link to a beautiful article published in The New York Times about how the introduction of man-made light has had an enormous impact on our levels of consumption. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.
In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.”
~Clark Strand, The New York Times, Dec. 19th, 2014
The article raised the point that because we are not forced into a restorative evening by the waning light, because we have control over it, we feel we can extend that control to nature itself. I had never considered the impact of our control over light and darkness. When I stop to think of it, I’m astounded at the significant role light plays in our modern lives. We are no longer bound by one of the most present cycles of nature in our lives. Could this be the root cause of consumerism? Stress? Pursuit of happiness?
I really enjoyed reading the article, feeling that it made some salient points. I often think about how as a culture we do not value human sleep enough. People will often comment about how early my children go to bed. In our home we value sleep more than most, for our children at least! I can honestly say that its difficult for me to give up my ‘free time’ in the evenings by going to bed early, but I do know that I have better days when I’ve had more sleep. The same is true for my children.
As we head into the holiday parties penciled on our calendar, a part of me cringes to think of how their sleep will soon suffer. This in turn will start an unravelling of their behaviour and ultimately get in the way of our ability to connect as well. Mount on top of that the undercurrent of the holidays; consumption, and all of a sudden I want to welcome the darkness as well!
But in my mind, this idea extends further, into how rest plays a large part in our human connectedness. We have pushed ourselves so far that many people don’t know what true rest is. With our ability to create light where there was none before, we are able to have active evenings, which is yielding quite a different result. Even an activity like watching a movie, which seems passive, is consumption and forces us outside the present. The time we normally would have used to slow down and connect to those around us has become cluttered. There are now so many options in the evening that distract from participating in community. Darkness provided space for community building. It added diversity to our lives.
Have a blessed Winter Solstice.
Read the original NYT article here.