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.