Tag Archives: light

Light, mist and intuition

Walking across the hills on Christmas day, the light was unusual. There was a thin mist or low cloud, with the sun coming up. The light was diffuse. Everything around me seemed quite colour intense while things further away had a washed out quality. There weren’t many shadows, and what there was served to emphasise what was nearest. This kind of lighting creates a strange, otherworldly feel.

What struck me, was this is how I’ve been colouring Hopeless Maine landscapes since the autumn. When I made the decision to approach colouring this way, it was about what I thought would work for the storytelling, and what I could consistently do. When it comes to conscious thinking, I have a really poor visual memory. Unless I concentrate on something, I won’t consciously remember what it looks like. However, I’ve clearly seen that misty light effect before. Some part of me probably knew and remembered.

For me this is an example of how apparently magical intuition often isn’t so inexplicable after all. We take in so much data, we can’t process all of it consciously. What comes in unconsciously will act upon us without our knowing it. This is part of how our environments shape us. When it happens this way, it is a blessing. We turn out to know more than we thought we did, we have inner reserves of wisdom and experience to draw on that come out as a feeling or an idea, not something we can immediately explain and evidence.

However, what else gets in, to inform our feelings and shape our responses? It depends a lot on what we expose ourselves to.

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Peace, love, light and backstabbing

Let me start by being clear that I take no issue with anyone who is drawn towards peace, love or light. These are all good things. Looking back, I see that many of the people I’ve really struggled with have been all about presenting with peace, love and light. The trouble with this approach is that it doesn’t give you any space to deal with difficult feelings or conflicts. What happens then seems to come out sidewise.

If you can be honestly cross, upset, frustrated, envious or anything else that isn’t lovely, then you can deal with life. It may be tempting to want to be some kind of higher, enlightened being that feels none of those ‘negative’ emotions, but that’s not realistic. Also, those emotions are there for a reason. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them. They are there to protect us and help us learn. Try and suppress those feelings, and you won’t be a better person, you’ll be a person with a problem shadow side whose repressed aspects keep trying to pop out.

It is, without a doubt, better to acknowledge what you’re feeling, however awkward it is, and then deal with it from there. Ignoring the difficult stuff just builds you a bigger problem.

If you buy into the idea that you are, and have to be, an utterly lovely person, you put enormous pressure on yourself. If that slips for even a moment, you have to justify the slip. You may be tempted to figure out how it’s all someone else’s fault – so that you don’t have to own it or feel responsible. This is how we get from peace, love and light, to backstabbing.

If you can’t own your own feelings and have to make someone else responsible for them, of course you give away power. You make it harder to change. You distort your own reality so that your anger is their anger, your resentment is their unfairness. Your jealousy is their manipulative and power hungry behaviour. If you’ve done a good job of your peace-love-light image, the people around you may support you in this rather than help you recognise what’s going on, and for the longer term, that just helps you dig yourself into a deeper hole.

With the benefit of distance, it’s a pretty horrible thing to have seen a person do to themselves.

Looking back, I’ve taken some emotional bruises from people who’ve acted this way. But, I learned and adapted and moved away from those interactions. I was able to acknowledge and deal with my own feelings about those situations. I can feel sad, or cross, or angry, or bitter or resentful without compromising my sense of self, and that’s a great help to me. I can recognise when I’ve been crap, inadequate, or just plain wrong. I’m able to have a realistic relationship with my own experiences. All of the good relationships I have allow me this.

I don’t know what happened to the people who got angry with me but couldn’t own what was going on for them. It’s been easy to let them go and step away. I know from periods in my life where I’ve not been free to express and deal with my own feelings (pain, fear, grief, shock) that it is really expensive. If you can’t live your truth, everything is distorted around that and it becomes exhausting. If they’re lucky, my absence freed them from that, at least with regards to me.

The thing about peace, love and light is that you can only really make them work if you’re also prepared to deal with conflict, loathing and darkness, because nothing exists in perfect isolation from everything else and everything casts a shadow sooner or later.


Light, art and wonder

On a few occasions now, Tom has taught art in a spiritual context. Why? Because if you approach it in the right way, then trying to draw something leads to a depth of engagement with it. Most of the time our eyes slide off surfaces and our brains see what we think is there, not what is actually happening. Slowing down to really look creates an entirely different engagement with the world.

For the first half of this year, I spent most of my afternoons as a graphic novel colourist. While I’ve always been interested in visual art, I’ve never worked on this scale before, and it taught me a lot. One of the things it taught me was to really look at light. The quality of light has a huge influence on how everything appears. Twilight is wholly different from noon. Indoors lighting with candles is very different from being outside, and so on and so forth.

One of the direct consequences of doing the art, was a radical increase in how much time I’ve spent paying attention to the sky. I have discovered that a lot of the time, what the sky really does is wilder and weirder than anything I would dare to put on a page. Skies that look painted, and where the ‘brush strokes’ are visible. Skies full of wonderfully improbably colours. Clouds in shapes that are far too representative.

Light affects mood. Cold and harsh light has a very different emotional impact to warm light, and while we might not process that consciously, the impact is with us every day. Natural light has a different effect to artificial light. Having periods of fading light, twilight and gloom affects me in significant ways. We tend to wipe out the lower light periods from our lives with artificial light, and we don’t get as much proper darkness as we should.

Colour of course is nothing more than light bouncing off things and interacting electronically with tiny sensors in our bodies. Your distribution of rods and cones affects what you can see, if you can see. Some of us see more colours than others, some of us better process light than others. There are some people who don’t see colours in the same ways as the majority, and others for whom a colour is also a note, or a smell or some other thing. Colour is a very subjective thing. We all have emotional responses to colour that have elements of personal experience in them. Whether red is sexy or angry for example. Whether pink is girly, or a strong colour. Whether lots of white is soothing, or maddening…

When we come to a place, or an image, we bring all that personal history of colour with us, getting an experience purely our own. Trying to make a visual thing impact on people in specific ways is nigh on impossible, but art isn’t really about what’s possible, when you get down to it.


Sleeping with the seasons

Getting up in the dark is one of the things I find hard about this part of the year. I’m invariably sluggish, rising at the call of the alarm clock, and reluctant to face a day that hasn’t really shown up yet. In summer, I become a much earlier riser, often active by six. It’s not about indolence or failure to be a morning person, my body resents getting up in the dark.

Of course this whole business of having to get up in the dark to go to work and school is relatively modern. Back before electricity, before gas lighting, and street lighting and the industrial revolution, people more usually got up with the light, because there wasn’t much point doing anything else. Only in emergencies or those few lines of work calling for overnight vigil, would people be getting up before the sun.

It’s a fine example of the double edged nature of progress. Yes, having energy for lighting makes it possible for us to do so much more. And what do we do? We work longer hours. We work night shifts. We haul reluctant teenagers up at times their bodies are especially clear just aren’t a good idea. We live by clock time and not by the inclinations of our own bodies.

If you don’t have modern artificial light, there’s not much work you can do in the near darkness of firelight, and you need good quality candles to be able to read, or do any of the more fiddly crafts. In the absence of light, winter evenings must have been a time of conversation, music, storytelling, or just gazing absently into the fire. Progress means we can now each sit in a brightly lit room and stare at the screen of our choice to find out what everyone else’s evening meal looked like. I’m not sure in what way this counts as progress, I am increasingly confident that we are no better off for these uses of our technologies.

This morning I had the luxury of being able to rise with the light. It creates a more relaxed pace. I work more effectively when I feel settled in myself, starting later can mean getting more done. However, our culture has little interest in effective work, or efficient, or clever work. What we celebrate is hard work and lots of it, where putting on the lights to work longer is simply the way it has to be. Where being ever less natural is seen as a virtue. These are things we need to be questioning.


Peace love and joy, or else!

I know plenty of people who are all about the peace, love and joy, and express that by doing it, by keeping away from drama, accepting what they get, being nice to people, being tolerant, not picking fights and so forth. That’s all lovely, and consistent and there’s nothing much to argue with.

Then there’s this whole other thing I run into now and then, where people get angry if you aren’t lovely enough. They don’t want negativity and darkness, they want light and positivity, dammit! How dare you come along and suggest that the world isn’t perfectly lovely? How dare you not be exuding joy? Everything is perfect and lovely and good and how dare you piss on my bonfire by inviting me to consider that it might be different. I hate you. Leave me alone. You’re ruining my day.

I can’t help but feel if other people’s shortage of peace, love, light and joy makes you angry, then something is awry. Spirituality is not a magic bubble to escape from all the woes of the world. It’s not a special blanket to insulate us from all wrongs. If you’ve got the inner poise and compassion to be full of light in face of life experience, all power to you. If the pain and injustice of the world makes you sad and angry – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, there’s a world of difference between getting angry over the sources of cruelty and injustice and getting angry about having your nice bubble burst.

There will always be death and suffering. While we are mortal, there will be loss, grief and pain. While we are struggling to be better humans, there will be cruelty and injustice. Having a sense of light and love being present in the world is not about getting to pretend that the bad stuff doesn’t happen. The light and love in your world is the light you carry inside you and the love you bring with you. If it all starts to feel a bit dark and grim, the most likely reason is that you’ve gone beyond your own capacity, somehow.

While we can turn to each other for love and support – and should – it is down to each of us to carry what love and light we can. We all have low ebbs when we need someone else to inspire us, but that’s different from requiring everyone to be full of love and light. If there is only darkness outside your bubble, if you are furious that other people aren’t helping you feel good about the world, and sick of them bringing you down with their negativity… look in a mirror. If you can’t find a spark of warmth, a flicker of compassion, a whisper of hope… for yourself, for them… where on earth is it going to come from?


The landscape of light

So here we are at the turning of the year, the mistletoe has been cut in various places, Druids have been out and about at Stonehenge, and soon the days will start that slow process of getting longer again, at least round here.
I realise that the impact of the wheel of the year is bound to vary depending on how far you are from the equator. I struggle to imagine living closer to the arctic circles, with the long night of winter and the long day of summer. I rather suspect that would drive me nuts, but evidently plenty of people manage to live with it. I find it equally hard to imagine the stable nature of light and dark nearer the equator. I‘m too involved with the cycle I was born into.
The balance of light and dark across the year, and the shape of the seasons is closely tied to the land we live on – or at least where that land is in relation to the shape of the planet, its tides and climates. Here in the UK, the Gulf Stream keeps us warmer than neighbours to the east at the same latitudes. Where Tom came from a lot of weather tended to come down from the Arctic over the winter months, making for a very different kind of winter. I’m conscious of the warming effect of the River Severn too, not needing to get that far away to notice a temperature difference.

The shape of the hills affects the patterns of light and dark too. For me, down by the river, the coming of first light and the timing of the sunrise is affected by the Cotswolds. The sun has a great big hill line to get over before I’ll see any sign of it. It sets over the Forest of Dean for me, too, that’s another hefty hill range. For a person living in the shadow of even bigger hills, or mountains the patterns of light and dark will be even more influenced by this, and living on an open plain is a whole other experience.

It makes me realise just how local the experience of the shortest day is bound to be, because it’s going to be a lot shorter for those of us with hills, and all those other variables.

Today I am celebrating being where I am, wet and grey though it is. It’s not like anywhere else. Nowhere is.


Against a dark background

On Friday I saw a memorably dramatic rainbow – the consequence of especially strong light against a really black storm cloud. The vivid colours owed everything to that combination. This is often the case. The combination of sunlight and cloud shadow at play across the hills creates the most dramatic views. It’s the clouds that make the sunsets rich and memorable too. Take out the darkness, and light on its own often doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This is one of the themes at play in Personal Demons, and Hopeless Maine generally. The light shows up better against a dark background. This is a literal truth with regards to the art – the glows, moons and magical lights are so much more vivid when there’s contrast. (www.hopelessmaine.com if you have no idea what I’m talking about). It’s true from a writing point of view as well. It’s difficult showing off courage, heroism or integrity to good effect if the setting is in pastel shades and mostly fluffy. The deeper the darkness, the more brightly lights shine in contrast to it.

Fiction is not the same as real life though. I am currently tempted to get that tattooed onto my forehead, because the inability of people who ought to know better to get their heads round this one is driving me crazy. Again. Fiction has narrative shapes and a coherence that life frequently lacks. On second thoughts, can I please be allowed to tattoo the words ’fiction is not the same as real life’ onto the forehead of the next person who hits me with this rubbish? Gah. Moving on…

In fiction seeing those contrasts between light and dark is rewarding. It emphasises story and character. Mostly in real life, experiencing the contrasts is an absolute bitch and I for one would be happy to give it a miss more days than not. Yes, the compassion of some shines out a lot brighter for the background of everything else. Yes, the wisdom of some shines forth in just the same way. Yes, I have a growing perspective on the difference, and no, I did not really want any of the dark half of the experiences that have shaped my opinion. I’d have been quite happy going through able to trust and think well of most people. It’s that old innocence/experience quandary again. I miss the state of innocence when I believed that the world was a better sort of place.

What I want is the world I used to believe existed, where trust was not the province of the naïve, greed was not good, and trying to do the right things for the right reasons counted for something. A world in which truth is respected, and people respect themselves enough to want to be truthful. A world in which money is not the be all and end all, and power is used to help, not to abuse.

And on that day, Satan will very likely be skating to work.
I keep coming back to the same issue, that I have choice, and I am not utterly powerless. That whole ‘be the difference’ mantra often seems to be an exercise in seeing how many different ways I can get myself kicked. But if I give up, I have given up and accepted that I can do nothing. I’m still not willing to do that, even though I am bone weary of the metaphorical bloody noses and rounds of getting crushed. I am so tired today, and so short of inspiration, and I feel like the cold has got right into my bones, and into my soul and the darkness of winter before me seems long and harsh too. But I’m not giving up. I’m not going to do anything of any great use today, I suspect, but just holding the idea, the possibility of getting up again and having another go is better than admitting defeat.

There are often more storm clouds than there are moments of beautiful light and glorious rainbows, but there are moments of glorious light and beautiful rainbows, and that is going to have to be enough.


A surfeit of light

One of the features of the modern age is our mastery of light. I’ve talked before about the suggestion that pre-industrial sleep patterns were very different, with two separate ‘sleeps’ and a time of wakefulness in the dark between them. I’m currently reading Lee Morgan’s fascinating book on witchcraft – Deed without a name. The author has flagged up another contribution to ideas around sleep and darkness. Our ancestors used to spend a lot more of their time in gloom, twilight, candlelight, firelight.

If we are awake, we tend to have bright light (romantic diners and dingy pub gigs aside).  Illumination has become normal, and goes interestingly alongside enlightenment. We live in an age that aspires to know everything and that tends to view everything as potentially comprehensible. If we don’t understand a thing, its because we’ve not yet got the right maths to measure it with, the right technology to observe it, the right theory to rationalise it. We bring everything into the light, where we can clearly see the edges.

Twilight is a place of uncertainty where a crouching man merges with the plant life and you can’t tell whether its mice or spirits making the noises in the undergrowth. Candle light and firelight fill the corners with dancing shadows, reinvent the world as mysterious and turn the familiar into the uncertain. Our ancestors had this as part of their normal, every day reality. Not all things could be brought into the light, and light was not available at the touch of a button to dispel all confusion. To a mind that encounters shadows, gloom and twilight on daily basis, the unknown is inevitable. The unknowable is a daily feature. To the person who lives with light levels they can immediately control, the sharp edges of the world are always visible.

We assume, I think, that the sharp edges and boundaries made apparent by our reliable light sources are real, and that the uncertainties of twilight are illusions brought on by an insufficiency of light. To our ancestors, those uncertainties were real. But here’s a thing. Our light is artificial. The gloom of twilight, the strange partial light of a full moon – these are real conditions. Darkness and shadow are real. Times of warped perception are real. What we have chosen to irradiate is a real and potentially meaningful state.

We throw light on things. We push away the shadows of superstition. We illuminate the issue. We cast it in a new light. We throw the spotlight on it. We put it under the spotlight. Darkness is ignorance. Darkness is superstition. Our man-made light is the really real reality and we believe in it. The light tells us that everything has edges, everything can be known. Yet the further the science goes, the more we see the dark spaces filled with something we cannot illuminate. The more physics I read, the less I feel I know and understand. Perhaps what the turning on of light must inevitably show us, is the sheer extent of the darkness.

Twilight is my favourite time of day. I love the way the light and shadows create a different kind of reality, one with softer edges and less certainty. I love spending time in firelight and candle light, and I wonder what would happen to my perceptions if I gave up electrical illumination entirely, and accepted either the darkness, or the candle. Would I think and feel differently? I’m inclined to suspect I would. In the twilight, mystery is natural, uncertainty is natural, doubt is natural. Perhaps we need a bit more of that to balance up what we’ve learned from switching the lights on.