Josna Rege

274. In the Dark

In Books, Childhood, Inter/Transnational, Music, Nature, parenting, places, Stories, Words & phrases, writing on May 18, 2014 at 3:36 pm

dark night sky []

dark night sky []

On this glorious Spring morning, with a cloudlessly blue sky, the dew freshly evaporated from the glowing grass, all Nature breathing and growing before my eyes, and the sunlight too bright for me to see the print on my computer screen, why am I moved to write a paean to darkness? Most people who live south of the tropic of Capricorn or north of the Tropic of Cancer crave the light and languish during the dark days of winter, longing for the days to start lengthening again. We know that without light there would be no life on this Earth, so we have come to associate darkness with Death. The English language has internalized the love of light and the demonization of dark so that, metaphorically, light stands for intelligence, purity, and freedom both psychological and spiritual (note the word light in Enlightenment) while darkness signifies degradation, depression, Evil itself (as in the Dark Ages, the Dark Night of the Soul, and the Prince of Darkness). But an unthinking recourse to such metaphors troubles me. For one thing, it allows an easy slippage into a racialist association of light skin—”Whiteness”—with virtue, dark skin—”Blackness”—with vice. On a still deeper level, it places the two forces or principles into a hierarchical, even oppositional, relationship. Yet one cannot have light without darkness.

I have always had a special affection for the dark. As a girl I used to dream about how exciting it would be go to school at night rather than by day, and have always associated getting up in the middle of the night with adventure (see TMA #28, Pre-Dawn Adventures). A cherished memory from my twenties is of skating freely on the smooth surface of Concord’s White Pond in the dark, utterly unafraid. And nowadays, when I finally turn in for the night, I cover my eyes with a soft, opaque cloth so that I can drift off to sleep in velvety darkness.

Nikhil has been the same as far back as I can remember. For the first week or two after he and Eric, nearly-two, started sharing a bedroom (our pipartment, Nikhil called it), there was high drama every night when we went to turn the lights out. Eric wanted a night light and would cry until one was switched on. Nikhil on the other hand would cry if a single ray of light penetrated his field of vision: he wanted complete darkness. It was some time before we were able to come to a compromise solution, with Eric facing a little night light on the wall nearest his bed and Nikhil turned on his other side facing the wall. He did not fear the dark; quite the contrary, he craved it.

In Aldous Huxley’s little known book, The Art of Seeing (1942)based on the Bates Method (proven effective by Andrew who, after reading that book, moved from wearing John Lennon glasses to wearing no glasses at all and passing the driving test without them, no less), Huxley describes an exercise, one among several (including ‘sunning’ and ‘palming’) that is restful and restorative for one’s eyes: closing them in a darkened room and imagining a black ball. Now that ball cannot be shiny, or it will be reflective, so one has to keep re-imagining it in different matte textures, so as to prevent one’s imagination from introducing light into the picture.

Light and dark are not mutually exclusive; far from it, they are mutually dependent. It is only in one of the rare remaining places on the planet where true wilderness reigns that the sky is dark enough to see the Milky Way in all its glory (see TMA #51, Getting Out of Silver City). Seeing the light requires darkness.

As sure as night follows day, both darkness and light are essential to human existence. We are diurnal creatures, which means that we are normally active during the day and take our rest at night. Night, then, the time of darkness, is a time to rest and replenish ourselves. It is not a state of sorrow or of sin, but one of deep serenity. For me, to be in the dark (listen to Toots and the Maytals sing it here) is not to suffer in isolated ignorance, but to release all the tensions and distractions of the day and return to myself again.

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  1. Really nice piece, J – I loved the mysterious, full-of-possibilities feel of your opening line – it seemed I could feel a fraction (or all, who can know?) of the inspiration that drove it, and whether it was my imagination or not, matters not, for it served its grand purpose.
    But in this piece I recognized I was initiated and am heavily steeped in the black of dark, and I’ve never thought of shaking the creeps, let alone giving it a go – never thought about a line of logic from light, life and purity to dark, death, and evil – never thought perhaps it’s because we humans love to create myth that we have created each side as we have. And this in turn makes me wonder how much freer to imagine I might be if I were not limited by so many “unknowings”! This is just another of a growing number of reasons I love the things you set down in this blog : )

  2. Really great essay on the possibilities of the dark.

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