Holden Voices: Blog

Poems, stories, and reflections, written by faculty, staff, and volunteers currently serving in the Village.

JANELLE BOUMAN: Hello Darkness My Old Friend: An Advent Reflection

December 03, 2020 at 11:17 PM

The sun is slipping behind the mountains earlier and earlier each day as we move into the darkest weeks of the year. This season reminds us to slow down, to rest, to settle into the gentle comfort of night. Exploring darkness as part of our framework for this Advent season, we are invited to reflect on the ways that darkness can provide nourishment, comfort, and growth.

Quite honestly, I love the darkness of night and of winter. As a child, I disliked the suburban streetlamp which shone directly into my bedroom window all night, so perhaps I craved darkness in response to that invasive light. Or maybe it’s because as a strongly introverted person, I gravitate toward spaces of calm, quiet solitude, and I find it easier to access those spaces in the darkness. Or it could be that all of my immediate family’s birthdays fall within the darkest quarter of the year. Family celebrations are seasonally intertwined with cozy darkness for me, and wholly at odds with sunny daylight.

Too much bright sunlight can sometimes seem overwhelming to my senses in the same way that a loud, crowded room is overwhelming. Darkness allows for re-centering, focus, and calm. Some of the most inspiring creativity and deepest conversations happen enveloped in the intimacy of darkness.

I find it meaningful that darkness is written into our very biology. We evolved on a planet with regular, predictable patterns of darkness, and our cells have adapted accordingly. Our circadian rhythms are tuned in to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark, regulating not only sleep, but also appetite, body temperature, cell regeneration, and other biological processes. We need reliable darkness each day to keep these functions on track.

Adapting to darkness is also coded in our DNA. When we’re exposed to darkness, our pupils dilate within seconds to let in more light and enhance our ability to see in the dark. It may seem as though your eyes have adjusted to the dark after just a few minutes (when the most dramatic changes take place), but the whole process actually takes much longer. The rod cells of our eyes (responsible for night vision) slowly adapt and take over from the color-sensitive cone cells, and only after 30 minutes to 2 hours do they reach their full sensitivity in darkness. The slow transition of dark adaptation in our eyes directly mimics the world’s natural transition from day to night, our bodies easing us into nighttime with all the gentleness of the twilight.

In contrast, our eyes adapt to light very quickly, in the span of about 5 minutes. Perhaps the slowness of dark adaptation points to something essential about the slow, deliberate nature of darkness itself. With a gradual and purposeful adjustment period, we are centered and prepared to live into the calm, rest, and reflection that darkness brings us. May the darkness be nourishing and comforting for you in this season.

Janelle Bouman is a Business Team Floater at Holden Village.