Go Dark

Go Dark

article by Patricia Damery

Meditation at First Light
October 18

Little Death

Is writing a poem
a little death of
long agendas,
the ones we cultivate
like invasive ornamentals?

Go Dark

In a poem, Wendell Berry states, “To know the dark, go dark.”[1]

Many years ago when my sons were 8 and 10, a group of us mothers took ten of our children camping. They were really quite an active force in the campground, probably annoying everyone within 200 feet. They wrestled, threw water balloons, laughed at ridiculous words they made up, chased each other, generally having a wonderful time.

As evening came on the second day we mothers decided to try something quiet: to practice tracking techniques, particularly walking quietly. We were camping in a redwood forest in northern California and had hiked the ancient groves of the giants during the day, so we were familiar with the well-worn, flat dirt trail that meandered through the larger grove. About the time we could no longer see in front of us, we hiked from our campsite to the grove and instructed our crew to remove shoes and hand over their flashlights. To know where we were going, we had to let our feet feel: was this the path? Is this a stick or rock? Is there a bend in the trail here?

On our way to the grove there was a lot of rough housing, but once we removed our shoes and socks, something everyone did readily in the spirit of adventure, an uncharacteristic, lively quiet settled in.

What happened is that our bodies became sense organs. It was as if we each became one big ear. As our widened eyes stared futilely into the black of the forest, our feet suddenly were infinitely more sensitive to sticks or stones, to the edges of the hard clay path. Any noise slowed us. What was that? A deer? The amazing thing was, we walked with almost no sound for over an hour, one small quiet step after another, and none of us were ready to stop! When we put our boots back on and used our flashlights to get back to camp, I felt bereft. My feet felt caged; the giant ear of my body, muffled. And yet for me this “going dark” underscored a way of perceiving in the world that felt ever more alive than my usual mode, bringing an awareness of my body and relying on senses that normally remain eclipsed by the light, and day consciousness.

Which reminds me of reflections by Irish storyteller and scholar Eddie Lenihan on the effects of technology on the human psyche. He laments that the Irish practice of cuaird, night visiting, is gone, along with the storytelling that happened on these occasions. He comments that people’s attitude toward the dark changed with the advent of electricity and the resulting immediate access to— and sense of control of— light, heat, and even communication. Television, the Internet, and mobile phones have resulted, in his words, in “the invasion of quiet, personal time and places”[2] “The factual has become ever more pressing … at the expense of the imaginative.”[3]

By the year 2000, 40 percent of our elementary and middle schools had entirely eliminated recess, this during a time that there was a 300 percent increase in spending on technology in schools. Children are spending a lot of time with the computer, and not on the playground interacting with the physical world and each other through their bodies. In fact, today a child spends an average of five hours a day recreationally in front of a screen. This is the experience of the virtual world, not the physical world, and as philosopher Steve Talbot says, it is not a medium in which a child can connect to her “inner essence.” In fact, my colleagues who teach attest to restlessness in students. Students raised on a rich diet of the media expect to be fed from the outside. Educator Lowell Monke says:

Having watched Discovery Channel and worked with computer simulations that severely compress both time and space, children are typically disappointed when they first approach a pond or stream: the fish aren’t jumping, the frogs aren’t croaking, the deer aren’t drinking, the otters aren’t playing, and the raccoons (not to mention the bears) aren’t fishing. Their electronic experiences have led them to expect to see these things happening-all at once and with no effort on their part.[4]

Monke frames this use of computers in our classrooms not as a revolution, but as a Faustian bargain.

Children gain unprecedented power to control their external world, but at the cost of inner growth. During the two decades that I taught young people with and about digital technology, I came to realize that the power of computers can lead children into deadened, alienated, and manipulative relationships with the world, that children’s increasingly pervasive use of computers jeopardizes their ability to belong fully to human and biological communities— ultimately jeopardizing the communities themselves.[5]

Monke states that a fundamental lesson of our time, one that has to do with survival of our species, is that of “coming to terms with the proper limits of one’s own power in relation to nature, society, and one’s own desires.”

One’s own garden offers an important place to muse, to observe, to feel one’s place in the natural order of things.

Farming Soul: A Tale of InitiationFarming Soul, a courageous offering that will help to reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

In addition to being the author of Farming Soul, Patricia Damery is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA. She grew up in the rural Midwest and witnessed the demise of the family farm through the aggressive practices of agribusiness. With her husband Donald, she has farmed biodynamically for ten years. Her chapter, “Shamanic States in Our Lives and in Analytic Practice” appeared in The Sacred Heritage: The Influence of Shamanism on Analytical Psychology, edited by Donald Sandner and Steven Wong, and her articles and poetry in the San Francisco Library Journal, Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, Psychological Perspectives, and Biodynamics: Working for Social Change Through Agriculture.

Copyright © 2010 Patricia Damery – Permission to Reprint this article is granted.
[1] Wendell Berry. “To Know the Dark,” Farming: A Handbook. (New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1967), 14.
[2] Eddie Lenihan with Carolyn Eve Green, Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland,(Dublin: Gil and Macmillan Ltd., 2004), 5-6.
[3] Lenihan, 5.
[4] Lowell Monke,“Why Children Shouldn’t have the World at their fingertips.”Orion, September-October 2005.
[5] Lowell Monke,“Why Children Shouldn’t have the World at their fingertips.”Orion, September-October 2005.