Turn Out the Lights

Under the cover of night, Clark Strand discovers a lost state essential to wakefulness.

Clark Strand

Jon Shireman/Getty

Look up into the sky on a starry night and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe and very little light. So great is the invisible counterweight of darkness, in fact, that we think nothing of chipping away a bit of it in order to make a little something more for ourselves, altering the balance of night and day as if such a thing were permissible, or even possible, in the greater scheme of things. As if we could do so without tipping that shadowy but delicate inner scale that weighs the meaning and value of our lives.

Religious social critics sometimes lament the loss of spiritual consciousness in an age of 24-7 cable television, Twitter, and the World Wide Web. But they are coming into the argument much too late in the game. These things were already inevitable once the incandescent light bulb had come into common use.

Though its significance is seldom remarked upon by historians, this was the spiritual tipping point that would eventually guarantee the excesses of the twentieth century, from world wars to climate change to the widespread pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams. All of these spring directly from the overflow of human consciousness, for which the rising flood of electric light is both the metaphor and the means. Advances in science, industry, communication, and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of good, cheap light like nothing the world had ever seen—a brightness never rivaled by tallow, oil, or gas. It created a kind of universal optimism, a belief in unimpeded growth and progress, the expectation that, going forward, all would eventually become clear. The only casualty in that ongoing conquest of night seemed to be darkness, a thing of little value, an absence really, a blank space on the canvas of eternity that we could fill in as we pleased.

Or so we thought.

The time has come to rethink our relationship to darkness and all that it portends—myths, dreams, fantasies, doubts, uncertainties, and especially the bottomless well of sleep. That is what Green Meditation is for. Green Meditation recovers the balance that humanity has lost in its relationship to nature. Green Meditation is the recovery of the dark.

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ClarkStrand's picture

Thanks. I'm glad. You can find a lot more info by joining the Facebook group Green Meditation Society, where there are tons of links, articles, and videos. We're converting it to a public access "page" later this month, so stay tuned if you're not on FB yet.

The main appeal of this approach from my point of view, apart from the fact that it is grounded in the the natural cycles of Nature, is that it tends to emphasize biology over ideology.

jay7z's picture

This tells us how we can attain peace I like this article.

aims's picture

Your article is indeed very significant to me. In the world with which the advancement of technology has been the very core of almost humans, who may at times, as if, it is the essentiality of their lives rather than to commune with nature. 

I have to further read on your other articles as soon as I get back here. Thanks for this wonderful messages. 

ClarkStrand's picture

Glad you liked the article AIMS. Another article on the same subject, told from a slightly different angle, can be found here, at the Spirituality & Health Magazine site:

see-doubleyou's picture

Much like David above, I too just read, enjoyed, and was inspired by this article from the glow of my cozy laptop computer.

As a tech geek of over 15 years and a practicing Buddhist of almost five, I have found myself amongst this conundrum many times, wishing to 'live simply so that others may simply live.'  Regardless of my geekness, I seem to be the one in my household more prone to kill my television(metaphorically) or enjoy a quiet moment at night under the stars walking the dogs.  At the same time, it is my job to be perpetually on the bleeding edge of tech to ensure my family is fed.  Therefore, until an opportunity arises for me to 'unplug' more easily and to find a greener means to 'keep the lights on and food on the table,' I maintain what I deem to be the best balance of both. 

My opinion is that in this century, it is important to maintain the middle way, to know when to put the gadgets away, to turn off the lights, and to simply be one with the present.  When practicing this way, I always find that the 'lit world' doesn't miss me, hardly knows I was gone, and welcomes me to do it again.

ClarkStrand's picture

You wrote about "wishing to 'live simply so that others may simply live." That's as clear a bodhisattva vow for this era as I've seen. On its surface it seems less grand than vowing to save all beings, but if there's a better place to start that project than here, I'd like to know where it is. Thanks for your inspiritation. And, for what it's worth, I think you're right about the lit world not missing us when we opt out of it for awhile.

RosemaryGould's picture

I wonder if the author would be interested in leading retreats like this. I would like more information, if so! Very important essay. One of the best I've ever seen in Tricycle, but it only scratches the surface, of course.

ClarkStrand's picture

In fact I plan to do pretty much nothing but write and lead retreats on this for the foreseeable future. Thanks so much for your encouragement. Feel free to contact me at clarkstrand@aol.com if you're interested in learning more.

davidhersom's picture

This article really resonates with me.

I've often wondered if the light bulb is our imposition of will to break the natural cycle of night and day.  How many other bits of "progress" are simply unconstrained ego forcing our fears and desires on our environment?  The irony, of course, is that I'm using a high tech device such as a computer to bemoan the advances of technology.  Rueful sigh...


katherinemasis's picture

Excellent article! Now we have to figure out a way to recapture natural silence. The din of the marketplace in the days of yore--or even the roar of a Roman colosseum--was nothing compared to today's car alarms, boomboxes and TV's blaring everywhere. Our neurons would much rather spend their energy being mindful than constantly tuning out the constant background muzak that is rapidly becoming foreground noise. Milan Kundera once said that in the past, sound stood out from silence and that today, silence stands out from noise. Once we recapture dark nights, 8-hour sleep cycles and background silence, the green meditation project will be complete.