Why Dark Is Also Good

Light and brightness have often been glorified. Not just for the physical qualities they bring along with them, but metaphorically as well. Further, the virtues of light vis-à-vis darkness get further eulogised for what they symbolise. So, we typically think of light and darkness as opposites that represent positive versus negative, or good versus evil — light is life-affirming, joyful and good while darkness is undesirable, harmful and evil.

In real life too, we often struggle with the concept of a contrast between light and darkness, because it seems to propagate the idea that light is better than darkness. We tend to determine that one is good and one is bad. Light almost always represents compassion, awareness, wisdom, divinity, peace and hope, whereas darkness symbolises hatred, ignorance, isolation, suffering, fear and ungodliness. We also often acknowledge and value the light and attempt to evade or bury the darkness.

However, light and dark are merely opposites, polarities that exist in our world and human experience. And as humans we contain elements of both darkness and light. Our light and our darkness is the duality that makes us whole and balanced. In our lives and in our natural world too, we need both, especially the contrast, and both light and dark make us who we are.

Darkness and the light are omnipresent in many areas of our human experience. Each day turns into night and at the end of each day we always welcome the transition. We calm down, retreat into ourselves and rest. Along with us, the animal and plant world also rest while importantly, another set of nocturnal living beings become lively during the night. As the seasons change and autumn unfolds, the days get shorter and the night gets longer. Darkness and light gently return to balance and thus darkness fulfils its purpose.

We each have darkness and light within us too, and we experience them in different ways throughout our lives. Along with all our positive feelings are our negative emotions. We should not deny it for it’s natural, inevitable and valuable. It is through our feelings and experience of darkness that we learn to be humane, resilient and creative. The contrast between light and darkness is what makes them distinct from each other. The light becomes lighter when held up to darkness.

Unlike our common perception, darkness is not negative or damaging. It is good for us in many ways. Have you wondered how even a chink of light shining through our heavy curtains or seeping through cracks in our blinds late in the light, disturb our sleep and restfulness? How harsh artificial lights during night bothers us? On the other hand, a dark night sky full of twinkling stars fills us with peace and joy, and a fitful sleep in a dark night rejuvenates us.

Paul Bogard has written extensively on the importance of darkness in his book titled ‘The End of Night’ and his TEDx Talks say that the dark is good for our sleep, biology and the ecosystems, creativity, safety and security. Humans have a circadian trough from around midnight to 6 am and the absence of darkness and sleep during this trough adversely affects our health causing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, depression and cancer.

We hardly think of light as polluting but light pollution is now being recognised as one of the growing pollutions adversely affecting our health and ecology. While examining the night sky, we hardly see the stars or the constellations due to light pollution and nearly bright white. Light pollution is an unwanted consequence of outdoor lighting and usually occurs due to excessive and inappropriate artificial light. In fact, light pollution has become a global issue which came to light when the World Atlas of Night Sky Brightness, a computer-generated map based on thousands of satellite photos was published in 2016.

So, light at night is important only to certain extent, and too much of it is detrimental. Protecting the night sky from light pollution is important as it is connected to human biology and the ecosystem around us. Innumerable nocturnal animals are dependent on darkness to find food and mates in uninterrupted darkness. Light at night disrupts the body’s production of melatonin required to keep us healthy.

Proper lighting should direct illumination towards the ground and not towards away the sky and out of the eyes of those nearby. Choosing proper lighting for each situation is important to make an area safer, save resources, promote sleep and to protect the dark night sky.

Sky glow is the brightening of the night sky in urban areas because of electric lights of cars, streetlamps, buildings, offices, outdoor advertising etc. which turn night into day for people to remain active late into the evening. Astronomers are particularly concerned with sky glow pollution as it reduces their ability to view celestial objects.

Artificial light can wreak havoc on natural body rhythms in both humans and animals. Nocturnal light interrupts sleep and confuses the circadian rhythm. Increased exposure to light at night lowers melatonin production resulting in sleep deprivation, fatigue, stress, and other health problems. Artificial light cause major sleep disturbances in humans impacting brain wave patterns, hormone generation, cell regulation and other biologic functions.

Light pollution also impacts animal behaviours like migration patterns, wake-sleep habits, and habitat formation. Large numbers of insects, a primary food source for birds and other animals, are attracted to artificial lights perish after coming in contact with light sources. It also decreases the chances of finding food and mates for of nocturnal animals and exposes them to predators. Excessive unwanted lighting not only cause visual discomfort but poorly positioned outdoor lighting sends wasted electricity up into the sky.

Several organisations have now started working towards reducing light pollution and are taking action to reduce light pollution and restore the natural night sky. People are being asked to use outdoor lighting only when and where it is needed and to make sure outdoor lights are properly shielded, directing light down instead of up into the sky.

So, darkness is a necessary part of the spectrum of existence and we do need it for our health, emotions, creativity and also to protect our planet. As human beings, we need both light and darkness in a balanced manner. By confronting and embracing the darker parts of ourselves, we are true to ourselves and others. The rhythm of light and dark is what sustains and nourishes us.

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