Friday, September 26, 2008

Darkness has Descended

Darkness has descended here in the Southern U.S. For whatever reason touted at the moment (or whichever one you believe), we are having a gas shortage. Most gas stations only have regular gas and the prices range from $3.74 - $4.29 per gallon. Frequently gas stations have no gas at all, which means that consumers are lined up when the pumps are working. Planning ahead is a good habit, but in this age of convenience, many of us have taken availability for granted and are getting frustrated with the wait. Just a few days ago, I watched as individuals waiting in line screamed at each other, attempted to block people who were trying to leave the station (because they thought they were trying to cut in line!) and even witnessed a few threatening gestures. By now we should all know that if we need to stop for gas, we need to leave the house a little earlier. But for some reason, we seem to think that the world will stop for us. Certain gas stations I will simply not frequent any more because I am sure that violence is eventually going to break out on their premises.

Additionally, a cool front, bringing thick, dark clouds and lots of rain has also moved in. It is expected to be here for a few days and it has created a natural darkness in the area, too.

But neither of these situations is necessarily bad IF people will learn how to use them to their advantage. I am driving back and forth to work, planning my grocery shopping to coincide with those trips, and basically, staying at home. We are a land of people who are used to doing what we want, when we want. If we forgot some small something at the grocery store, we think nothing of jumping into the car and running to get it – even if we could do without it. Right now, if I forgot it, we do without it. There are other alternatives. I have found that by staying at home I have extra time to clean the house, work on taming my kitties, tutor the little girl next door in algebra, read a few books for pleasure in addition to studying, and even catch up on a few movies I have wanted to see for a long time. As for the disappearing sun, well, this semi-darkness is soothing for a time. I love the feel of the misty air on my face when I take my walks. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year because of the cooler weather, so I don’t begrudge this cool front for bringing it in early. I am enjoying my coffee on the back porch both mornings and evenings. And I pulled out one of my soft, lap blankets to snuggle into as I watch television or read in the evenings. It is a taste of a promise of what is to come – and I am enjoying.

I know that these clouds will lift – both the cloud over the pumps and the physical clouds over the Southeast. But until they do, I think that I will enjoy the change and the forced confinement by reclaiming some activities that I had abandoned in my search for “convenience.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Finding Balance

Past, present and future. Time is a mystery, often seemingly looping back – or forward – upon itself. Some say that time is a continuum; some believe that past, present and future exist within the same plane. Still others believe there are alternate realities with varying impressions of time. All I know is that time – at least the time we have – is too short to waste one precious moment.

Déjà vu; past lives; regression therapy; retrieved memories. Have we forgotten how to live in the moment? Why do we need to “reclaim the past”? Tarot card, fortune tellers, palm reading and second sight. Why do we need to “predict the future”?

We spend so much time in the past and future that we waste what we have right here – in the here and now.

My daughter is a high-stress, always-by-the-plan person. Often I talk with her and the sound of her voice is strained and almost painful. She forgets that life is not always about future plans. I recently wrote to my daughter:

“Learn that sometimes we must live in the moment.

The only moment we are guaranteed is the one in which we are currently living. Yesterday is gone. You cannot change anything that happened in that time. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. The best laid plans can be laid to waste on a whim. But today, this instant, is ours. Make the most of it!

When you begin to stress, take a deep breath and claim the moment as yours. And then do something worthwhile with it. Don’t stress over what you haven’t done or what you have left to do. Concentrate on what you can do right now. And don’t forget to smile because it can change a life and that life might be yours!”

If I had to describe a picture for what I was trying to say it would be as follows:

Picture a continuum, a time line. There is a small block in the middle that is bathed in the most beautiful sunlight. To the left, the sunlight fades gradually into complete darkness. To the right, the sunlight fades less gradually into complete darkness. That small block in the middle, bathed in sunlight, is the crux of the balance in life, the balance between light and dark. Live in that moment!

May you find balance and peace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why do we Fear the Dark?

Growing up, we used to attempt to scare ourselves silly on ghost stories and scary movies. Invariably, the setting for such tales is often at night or at least in a dark alley, a dark warehouse or some other dark and scary place. I suspect that this is one of the ways that we – as a society – support the notion that darkness is scary. I think of the movie, Darkness Falls, where it was necessary for those who had seen the “Tooth Fairy” to remain in the light or fall victim to her wrath. Our myths of vampires lead us to believe that we are only safe from them during the daylight hours, a time when they are not able to prowl. Werewolves change on the night of a full moon. Demons make deals at the crossroads on the same such nights. Why this predominance of “evil” activity in the dark?

Humans rely heavily on their sight in order to navigate the world. While we learn in infancy that our tactile senses are invaluable in exploring our world, we lose this tool quickly as we are almost constantly instructed “not to touch.” Noise pollution is a strong deterrent to our sense of hearing. Our sense of smell is most often used in the modern world simply for pleasure – the aroma of an excellent meal, the tantalization of the scent of a lover, or the easy pleasure of the smell of fresh-cut grass or rich, dark earth. Taste has been relegated to the simple act of appetite. Where does this leave us? Only with our eyes. Which leads us to our fear of the dark, because for most of us, the dark makes it harder to see.

I never understood this concept until I began to experience a phenomenon called “night blindness” a few years ago. Night blindness predominately refers to the limited vision that many experience when driving at night. The combination of the darkness, the reflective quality of headlight, the harsh overhead light from street lamps and the various others forms of light such as neon signs, etc., clash upon each other and cause a distortion in our vision that creates limited vision and/or problems with depth perception. It is a frightening experience and one that is difficult to overcome. It is even worse if one wears glasses, as all these light sources then reflect off the lenses. For the first time in my life, the darkness was not a friend.

Luckily I found that there is a coating for glasses that will reduce light reflections and I also found that contact lenses decrease the problem significantly! The experience was worthwhile, however, because I began to understand why so many people were “afraid” of the dark. In addition to not “understanding” darkness, they are unable to successfully navigate in the dark, causing stress, anxiety and often fear. However, if we train ourselves to better use our senses, we can overcome such fears and become comfortable night beings.

Sit in the darkness a few nights a week, giving your eyes time to adjust to the dark and re-learn how to pick apart shadow and solid objects, using the shades of light to distinguish your surroundings. Find a quiet place outside to sit and listen – just listen – to all the noises around you. Close your eyes; separate the noises into individual sounds and identify their owners. Crickets, cicadas, various night birds and the gentle !ping! of a bat’s sonar. Even if you must sit indoors, try the same experiment and notice each drop of water from the kitchen faucet, the noise of the icemaker refilling and the gentle whir of the ceiling fan down the hall. Hone those tactile skills! Concentrate on the experience! Notice the texture of the sweater of the next person you hug. When chopping vegetables, feel the differences in weight, texture and density. Learn to identify favorite earrings or your best linen skirt by feel instead of sight. Take notice of the next bite of food you place in your mouth. The acid of tomato, the mellow ripeness of cheese, the firm texture of al dente pasta, the crunch of salad greens – sometimes bitter, always crisp.

Reconnect with all of your senses and learn to enjoy the darkness instead of fearing it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Darkness Reunion

I feel like it has been forever since I’ve had time to do any writing just for me. In the past month I took one child off to college and dealt – via phone and text messages – with all her adjustment woes, began a new semester in my job at the local university, and began my own fall course in the road to my own degree. While it has only been five short weeks, it feels as if it has been an eternity. Of course, during that time I also dealt breast cancer scares for a good friend and for my sister, the loss of the air conditioning unit at my home, a strange problem with my car threatening to run hot for no apparent reason, and an odd little pain in my wrist that wakes me up in the middle of the night. I guess that leads to full days that might give the impression that more time has gone by than in actuality.

With my air conditioner defunct, I have been enjoying the night – and the dark. I have opened all the windows and doors to allow in the evening coolness and the night breezes. The crickets are singing me to sleep at night and my kittens are enjoying lying in the windows sills to get a closer look at the birds and squirrels. I have a few fans running throughout the house and, for the most part, it remains bearable. Thunderstorms have been prominent over the past week, so in the evening, before the sun would normally withdraw its light from my humble abode, the coolness of dark descends. Sometimes I will simply sit in the dark to watch television; sometimes I light a candle and listen to the crickets and birds; sometimes I turn on the smallest of lamps by which to read. I know that the heat generated by a light bulb won’t change the temperature in the house, but the truth is, I enjoy the dark.

Darkness is soothing and peaceful. You know how people instinctively scream when the lights go out? Well, I laugh. For as long as I can remember, I have able to find my way through the darkness as easily as I can navigate in the light of day. I am comfortable with night noises and with night creatures. Several of my kittens are nocturnal and I can understand their joy when night descends and they are ready to play. After a long, hard day at work, darkness relaxes my body and mind. A walk in the dark can be exciting. Quiet footfalls, carefully placed, can allow you to see much that you will never see in the light of day. An owl with his midnight dinner; a raccoon scavenging for food; glow worms on the bank of a quiet river.

Who knew the loss of an air conditioner was going to bring me such communion with the darkness?