books miscellaneous

90 second book review: Waking up to the dark

At last a book that made it into my to read pile from something other than a podcast (although I must admit that I think I at least heard of the research mentioned at the start of the book on a podcast at some point): Waking Up to the Dark – Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age by Clark Strand.  This book was the subject of a discussion group at my church last week, so I grabbed it and read it the week before so I could sit in on the discussion.  It’s rather hard for me to categorize this book, so I won’t.  It’s very clear Mr. Clark is a mystic, but I can’t really say of what type.  He’s a Catholic buddhist maybe?  Do those exist?
The book starts with a exploration of some sleep research conducted Ekirch and Wehr about sleep patterns when artifical light is taken away.  What they found was that after some time (a few days to a few weeks), all of the study participants fell into a similar pattern: lying still, falling asleep for a few hours, waking into a near meditative state, then falling back to sleep for a few more hours before dawn.  While this research has been called into question, Strand uses it as a launching point to make his case that light is the source of all that is wrong in the modern world.  Light, and one of its specific byproducts: an over abundance of consciousness.
When I first came to Strand’s thesis, I was a little suprised.  I knew from the Preface and a few of the stories he shared that he was deep into Buddhism and as such it seemed strange to me that he would claim that too much conciouness was a bad thing.  My impression is that Buddhism seeks enlightment in the form of a universal conciousness; a conciousness that is one with all.  However, what I think he really meant to get across was that too much rationality, or to much “doing mind” (as opposed to “being mind”) is the problem and the byproduct of artificial light.  I may be wrong, but if that was his point, it seems far less shocking to me.
But it does bring me to my biggest criticism of the book: definitions.  Throughout the book I was never quite sure what Strand was talking about.  He takes a left turn midway through and starts relating his mystical encounters with the embodiement of the dark, a 17 year old auburn haired girl whom he has “visions” (not sure he would call them that) of repeatedly, eventually engaging in dialog.  I think he was trying to draw some analogy between how modern society has suppressed the feminine as an analogy to the suppression of the dark…but I could also have been missing the point entirely.
One point I did not miss, and is the source of my other criticism of the book, is the overt environmentalism.  There are several places where he leaves the spiritual realm and talks directly about how we are running out of oil and killing the planet.  It seemed strange to me that for most of the book he argues that there are forces at work which are larger than humanity and that, despite our best efforts, we will ultiamtely succumb to while at the same time arguing that humanity also has the capability to ruin everything.  Again, I might be missing the point, or making to much of a black and white distinction, but it would seem to me that we are either masters of the universe or just along for the ride.
Despite these two criticisms, I did enjoy the book and would reccomend it to anyone looking for something that comes from a fresh perspective.  I think Strand calls for a return to balance – between light and dark, between masucline and feminine, between doing and being.  That resonates with me.  In the end the lack of clear definitions make the book similar to long form poetry: each reader will interpret it in their own frame of reference, taking away their own meaning.  If you are looking for a quick read (less than 150 pages) that will get you thinking, Waking up to the Dark delivers.  Although what it delivers may be completely up to you.  Strand certainly looks at a number of things in a new….light 😉

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