Bring on the Solstice Darkness

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.

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14 comments

  1. What an interesting perspective! But the points you make are good ones. Darkness does bring on rest and more intimate conversations and “connectedness.” Winter, with its longer evenings, brings the chance to relax and recharge. The day, when we feel like things must get done, is over earlier and the outside tasks are fewer. Thank you for this. You are making me reconsider my night-owl ways… 😉 Best wishes, WG

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      1. Candles 😉 Best wishes as you enter the new year and make some very important choices. I’ve shared your dream of the 10 acre space- both for farming and for the peace and privacy it affords. We ended up with a place at a little under an acre, and learned too late that we can’t have a vegetable garden here because of the local wildlife. We have a few fruit trees, but end up with little fruit. An advantage for you would be the opportunity for your kids to help manage your homestead as they grow, and learn a whole range of important skills. The chores and responsibilities (and expenses!) definitely multiply and that is a very important consideration. The social aspect- of who and what must be left behind to move is also crucial. There is no easy answer- and he choice you make shapes the remainder of your life and the nature of your family. We wish you well over the next year as you consider all of the opportunities ahead. Happy New Year! WG

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  2. Glad this made the NYT! Long backpacking trips in the 90s brought the idea to my awareness. In addition to the indoor lighting, what about the outdoor lighting? We live far enough into the country that we don’t lock our doors, but our neighbors have floodlights on all through the night. What is that about?

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  3. Very good points. Sometimes I welcome the night by sitting in my home office and playing my fiddle as the daylight fades. Those are nights when I feel more in tune with what’s real.

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    1. This sounds dreamy. I wish I had the opportunity to enjoy live music as the daylight is waning. I would love to incorporate this into our evenings..I’ll have to put the intention out there…

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