Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again.—Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence
We eat light. No, really we do. A seedling strains against the ground, pushing, pushing, until its little head pokes through. At that moment, a remarkable thing happens: the tiny plant takes its first breath. It starts with a single molecule of carbon dioxide, which, reacting to the sun’s light, splits apart, and the carbon mates with hydrogen in the plant’s cellular structure. And it grows. And then we eat it. Light makes food.
So if we are creatures of the light, what purpose does darkness serve? Why do we need to sleep, to close our eyes against the very thing that creates us? Why is sleeping in the dark so much better than sleeping in the light?
Because we are also creatures of the dark. It is in the darkness that dreams come, that love is made, that our bodies and minds are renewed to face another day of light. Darkness is as sweet as light; it nurtures and re-creates us.
Dark is not evil, nor light good. They are each necessary to each other and to our understanding of the world. Leonardo DaVinci, in his Notebooks, once explained how he painted in such remarkable detail through his balance of darkness, light and shadow:
The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.
Unfortunately, our artificially-lit, fossil-fuel powered world pulses with light. Light pollution is so bad in so many places that we can only see the brightest of stars, even on the clearest of nights. We are not going to turn the lights of the world out, at least any time soon. But we can flip the switch to “off” in our own little space and try sitting for a moment in the dark, aware of its embrace.