Being kept in the dark can be illuminating

I am an amateur astronomer – emphasis on amateur. I do own a telescope and make use of it on clear nights. We have spectacular views of the celestial treasures in fact they are ranked as some of the best in the world.

Many people assume that viewing a full moon through a telescope would be the ultimate. However with so much light being cast over it’s surface, the effect is to lose some of the more interesting effects of shadow which often allow other features to stand out. When searching for positive metaphors in life we often find them associated with light, illumination, shining, radiance…you get the idea. Darkness doesn’t get such a spin, and yet could be one of the most underappreciated and misunderstood concepts because of its relationship with light in polarity.

We don’t like talking about darkness or are at best limited in the ways we value what the absence of light can bring forward. In fact we over do light with most things, trying to shed more light, find the light at the end of the tunnel…etc. What if we were just to be in the blackness a moment? Our eyes are remarkable, and adjust to varying degrees of light unconsciously. At very low levels of light the eye manufactures a pigment called rhodopsin that heightens the sensitivity of the retina. It takes 20-25 minutes but the effect is to allow your eye to pick up faint light. Another peculiarity with the eye is the distribution of photosensitive nerves. The majority of colour sensitive cells – cones are in the centre of the retina. Rods are distributed away from the centre of the retina and are sensitive to all visible light – and as such lower levels of light. What this means is if trying to distinguish a faint object, not looking directly at it improves your ability to ‘see it’ as the eye activates more rods. When you get good at this technique it is amazing what you can see.

I’d like to see the absence of light explored more. We could ask questions and be more curious about what we might be missing when we stay with what is most visible, bright, that draws our attention immediately. My sense is we are flooding our experience of life with ‘lightness’ without questioning what this could be obscuring or devaluing. One outcome of this I think is our current obsession with happiness, positive thinking, and general discomfort of expressions of sadness, frustration, anger and resentment. When I think about the most significant learning or turning points in my life they have almost always come from being immersed in darkness. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant or enjoyable at the time but the time mattered. Like the iris opening – parts of our awareness, consciousness and spirituality emerge and develop strength through exposure to ‘darkness.’ I’m not a big fan of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but perhaps we have become too protective around life experiences where the outcomes might be less than pleasant but not necessarily life threatening.

Not all darkness means the presence of a black hole – with all the emotional gravity this implies. Perhaps we have an opportunity to rework another cosmic phenomenon. Lets go with astronomy again! Black holes invoke a sense of annihilation, being so powerful that light cannot escape. But at the event horizon remarkable, strange and incredible things happen to light – blasts of X-rays, gravitational lensing, it’s awesome!

You don’t need to know anything about the night sky to enjoy gazing up and wondering. If you need inspiration – check out this:

Sometimes I’d rather be kept in the dark. I’m all-light with that.



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