Home' Nova National : June 2010 Contents 15
SUN & MOON FEATURE
© NOVA JUNE 2010
sleep on average an hour or two less than
they did, which is why sleep deprivation is
now so endemic as to be "normal". We are
paying the price for too much light.
We need to dream and sleep for
psychological health. In the absence of
activity and external stimuli, the brain sifts
and files the events of the day; it does the
housecleaning and throws out the junk; it
puts things in perspective and works on
outstanding problems, and it prepares us for
the following day. It does this crucial work
in a way that is impossible while we are
awake, and it needs sufficient time
commensurate with the volume of the
previous day's input.
Nowadays, thanks to Edison's bright
inventions, we live, breathe and work in
colossal sewers of junk information. We'd
have to be saints to avoid it. We are like the
rag pickers of Manila, living on mountains
of garbage, and our brains have to process
every little bit we take in each day.
The average medieval peasant or lord not
only had productive sleep and less to think
about; he also had an abundance of time,
lying half awake in bed, to contemplate and
make sense of his life. When did you last lie
in bed, in peaceful, boundless reflection?
The kind of thinking that occurs in the
hypnagogic state between wakefulness and
dream can be profound and beautiful, and
the source of great intuitions. That state
has now largely vanished from our modern
mental repertoire, and we're so much poorer
We've now driven the moon into the
fringes of our consciousness. When did you
last even see the moon or a genuinely dark
sky? We live in the triumphant days of a solar
society: bright, fast, energetic, active, ever
onwards and upwards. We measure happiness
by the volume of our consumption. Because
we tend to unthinkingly judge one side of a
duality as "better" than the other, we don't
notice the value of its opposite.
It seems obvious that happiness is
better than sadness or despair. Yet, as Rajneesh
said, "Life consists of sadness, too. And
sadness is also beautiful. It has its own depth,
its own delicacy, its own taste. A man who
has not known sadness is shallow and even
his laughter will lack depth." Furthermore,
we need the mental silence and stillness of
the night to truly feel our own sadness.
Too much living in the light can dazzle
and deceive us. Optimism, positivity and the
effort to appear happier than we feel can
be self defeating. Sadness and despair are
not automatically "bad", or signs of moral
failure. They are often appropriate, honest
and adaptive responses. They enable us to
respond to life and the world as it actually
is, without the complicating hazards of
Good things really are good, but their
neglected opposites are valuable as well.
The glamour of hope needs to be balanced
by a sense of practical limits. The excitement
of action needs the stillness of reflection.
We need pain and stress to keep us from
harming our bodies. Disappointment tells
us when we've done something useless
and sets us up for a better course of action.
Failing again and again and again are
the natural stepping stones to any great
achievement (because success without
effort is likely to be paltry). Chronic illness
can be the inner road to self understanding.
Sadness goes hand in hand with the
tenderness of love, and gives us a stronger
empathy with others than happiness can
ever do. Without limitations, inactivity, pain,
disappointment, failure, illness and sadness,
we would be less than human. We need to
be comfortable with the darkness.
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