Dark Skies Show Us Stars

Bear Guerra

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One of my earliest childhood memories finds me waking from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, during a family road trip. Far from any city lights, I look out the window toward the sky above, and for the first time, I see what seemed to be an infinitude of stars. I’ll never know for sure if I was actually dreaming or not, but I still have the distinct recollection of becoming aware of the immensity of the universe in which we exist. I still recall the intense mix of awe, fear, and hope that I felt, unable to look away until the stars faded with the first light of day.

I often think back to that night and the deep connection I felt to the natural world. But in recent years, the memory has also taken on a metaphorical connotation, reminiscent of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words of hope, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Today it is not uncommon to read or hear or believe that we are living in “dark times”—such is the state of the world, and our need for hope in the face of many challenges: climate change, inequality, isolation, pandemic, to name only a few.

I, too, have spent most of my life thinking of darkness as a problem demanding more light—in both the literal and the symbolic sense. But perhaps this fear of the dark has been part of our collective problem.

For all practical purposes, most of us now live in the perpetual glow of a world that never sleeps. As essayist and poet Mark Tredinnick has said, “Cities are factories for unmaking the night.” We are driven by commerce, for which darkness is just another inconvenient obstacle in the path of production and consumption; we rely on the latest technology to offer the facade of a connection to one another. But more light is not what we need; it’s more darkness.

Given the myriad ways in which we humans have all but severed our connection to the natural world, perhaps none will prove to be as profound as the loss of the night sky and of our connection to the dark.

The loss of our connection to darkness and to the night sky is emblematic of our deeper separation from the natural world. We need to question our blind acceptance of a world bathed in artificial light; to not fear the night but to reconnect with it, to be awed by it, to know that if we are patient, we will be able to see through the darkness. As I ponder how the technology to which we are now tethered is affecting me and those closest to me; as I wonder how I can guide my own child to embrace the night and understand that without darkness we are not just incomplete … we fail to dream.

I think back again on the voice of Martin Luther King Jr., the famous dream maker, who saw stars through the darkness. 

Bear Guerra is a photographer whose work explores the impacts of globalization, development, late-stage capitalism, and the contemporary human condition. Excerpted from Emergence Magazine.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that 'without darkness, we are not just incomplete, we fail to dream'? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to embrace darkness and see the stars because of it? What helps you embrace the night?

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7 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jan 10, 2021 Tony Mai wrote:
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    On Jan 5, 2021 Zillah wrote:
    Oh! So beautiful -- the infinitude of stars. Thank you for the reminder.

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    On Jan 1, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    My belief is that darkness is the other side of light and together they make a whole. Without darkness the day would be incomplete. Yin requires yang to be a complete whole. I believe we are always dreaming and it's primarily in darkness when asleep that we see our dreams. Similarly,stars are always there, and it's only in darkness that we see them. One night in Zion National Park I embraced the darkness and saw an incredible beautiful star-filled sky because of the darkness and clean air. I embrace the nightwhen I'm outside because it gives me the opportunity to see the stars which enhances my feeling part of the cosmos and enhances my awe. Other reasons I embrace the night include that life seems to slow down during the night, I'm tired from the day and ready to relax and have a good night's sleep, I enjoy feelings of gratitude that arise, I look forward to dreams that may surprise me, and I get to lay down next to the lady I love.

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    On Jan 1, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    We all emphasizethe value of light, knowledge, and to move from darkness to light. All wisdom traditions relate to darkness as ignorance and as light as knowledge.Author Bear Guerra presents a different way of looking at darkness: Dark Skies Show Us Stars. By accepting darkness we get connectedwith natural world. The world we live in has been highly commercialized and unnaturalizedtaking us away from the natural world. We are drifting away from the natural rhythmsof day and night, light and darkness.I agree with the author when he writes,' without darkness we are noy just incomplete, we fail to dream." I happen to live in a community where I can see the stars twinkling in the dark sky. Such experiencesget me connected with natural world in which there is vastness and depth. I feel an integral part of the universe and feel the oneness of life. I feel the Divine Presence that liberates from my ignorance and makes me whole or holy. Such natural experiences are illuminating dispel... [View Full Comment] We all emphasizethe value of light, knowledge, and to move from darkness to light. All wisdom traditions relate to darkness as ignorance and as light as knowledge.Author Bear Guerra presents a different way of looking at darkness: Dark Skies Show Us Stars. By accepting darkness we get connectedwith natural world. The world we live in has been highly commercialized and unnaturalizedtaking us away from the natural world. We are drifting away from the natural rhythmsof day and night, light and darkness.I agree with the author when he writes,' without darkness we are noy just incomplete, we fail to dream."
    I happen to live in a community where I can see the stars twinkling in the dark sky. Such experiencesget me connected with natural world in which there is vastness and depth. I feel an integral part of the universe and feel the oneness of life. I feel the Divine Presence that liberates from my ignorance and makes me whole or holy. Such natural experiences are illuminating dispelling my inner darkness and separateness. It is a paradoxical statement: Darkness enlightens me!
    Reading such illuminating writings and sharing my learnings with close friends and with my students taking classes with me helps me stay on the spiritual path. It is an enlightening and joyful journey.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'


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    On Jan 1, 2021 susan schaller wrote:
    I and my life transformed when Death, total darkness, and the accompanying pain, physical and the grief for my soon to be motherless twins, turned me to choosing life. Suicidally depressed since 5, I fantasized about death, but only when the dark of actual death hovered all around me did I see the reality of the choice we have, hourly, to reach out to life or die. My world is no longer about black and white, but the dark revealing stars, and the light more beautiful when dancing with shadows.

    2 replies: Elainne, BJ | Post Your Reply

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