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Seeing in the Dark

This brief article aims to link ancient Shamanic teachings and beliefs with the current sciences, attempting to show how both intersect.

“Dark is the night, bright the perception of the stars. Bright is the day and dark the sunlit perception of the stage of life, the heavenly vault obscured”

As mentioned in a previous Blog, shamans were often described as Dreamers, Hollow Bones capable of 'seeing in the dark'.

As our ancient ancestors were cave dwellers, the caves being inherently dark, it's also no surprise in a way that their skills of 'seeing in the dark' naturally developed. It is not as if 'seeing in the dark' was something that was possible 'then' and no longer is applicable or feasible 'now'. It is also not something which is 'supernatural', it's completely natural. As I will endeavour to highlight, everyone is capable of 'seeing in the dark'.

Eyeballing Shamanism

In order to eyeball Shamanism or in other words have a closer look at the validity of this 'seeing in the dark' business, it's important to start off with a little venture into anatomy.

Evolutionary, over very long periods of time, humans have changed a lot in their outlook as well as genetically. However, the structure of a human hasn't altered in major ways. We are still made up of the same 'components' as our ancestors, even whilst living more sedentary, more comfortable, modern lifestyles.

One of the common structures shared between our ancestors and us, amongst the many to choose from, are our eyes. Those little individual units of structured windows into life have within them intricate, smaller structures which determine how and what we see in life and also when and how. Apart from the breath, the eyes' perceptions influence the functioning of our minds.

For example, at the back of the inside of our eyes, we have the retina which receives the light from the front of the eye, the cornea and the lens. As the light reaches the back of the eye, there are two main structures capturing light as it comes in.

First, there are the 'Cones' , the structures which are used for 'day-vision'. They are less in number within the tapestry of the retina than the 'Rods' and they function better with more light.

The 'Cone' vision allows for 'detailed' perception during times when light is amply available. Aside availability of light, vision is also 'fast' by the Cones. The Cones need to be hit by at least 100 million photons to become activated.

The night vision structures, the 'Rods' on the other hand surpass the 'Cones' of our eyes in numbers, multiple times over. The Cones number about 6 million whereas the Rods top 120 million. The more prevalent 'Rods' are sensitive enough to respond to 1 photon of light, which is terribly more light sensitive than the Cones needing their 100 million photons to be activated.

What has changed a lot as compared to our ancient Ancestors is our modern revolution into a 24 hour day. Light is available 24 hours a day, the night in the West being lit up with artificial lights. This artificial light during the night is not just alongside the roads where we drive but also in cities and within our homes.

For all the modernisation this has brought, it has also cancelled out the darkness of the night. Not only has it been shown that the presence of light for example within the bedroom has knock-on negative effects on essential hormone production during the night in our brains, it has also created 'light pollution', making it more difficult to explore in urban settings the difference between 'seeing' during the day and 'seeing' in the dark. To go further, in our artificial lifestyles we have become increasingly separated from the natural cycles of life.

It is then also no surprise to see a 'fast paced' life in societies in which people are continuously exposed to light, natural and artificial. The eyes' 'Cones' work overtime and work fast with the impulses also being transmitted to the brain rather fast. There is less of a counter-balance with the 'Rods' in the evening or at night, a period of time where one would 'switch off' whilst still awake. For example one could just take time to lie in the grass - or stand up - and look into the darkness of the vault of the sky; look at the stars and the moon, experiencing the natural stillness of the night only broken by the natural noises of night animals.

With the eye 'Rods' being very sensitive to the smallest amounts of light, it is possible to pick up extremely subtle light in the dark, at night or otherwise; light which one wouldn't normally be able to pick up during the day or wouldn't think of looking at. For example, have you ever looked at the stars when it's pitch dark outside, dead quiet with only the rustling of a few leaves around you? The stars provide just a little light when the sky is clear. Then, have a look at those distant stars and let the light come to you rather than allowing your eyes to try to grab them. Leaving your eyes relaxed into their little sockets, what do you see when you look at the stars? There is nothing to 'do', just be with the vastness of what is all around you and millions of miles in front of you. It's just humbling to see life from that upward perspective rather than from the one looking forward or looking down at the ground.

Training your mind to perceive something different and natural

To then 'see in the dark' during the day, a level of blocking out of light is going to be required. This can for example be done by drawing the curtains in a room and by putting on a black eye-mask etc.

If the nervous system is so used to be on the go all the time and the habit is to 'do' things all the time, it may be very difficult to relax or try something different. The nervous system may end up behaving a little like a hamster on a treadmill. In order to give the nervous system a different experience, it's worth trying to 'see in the dark' during the day with curtains drawn and black eye mask on. Slowing your breath, what do you experience with your mask on? Both breath and vision being partly responsible for the active, fast beta brain waves, when vision is cancelled out and the breath slowed down, leaving the Cones in the dark about what's happening, how does it feel? Do you feel different to when your eyes are 'seeing light'? In the beginning, it may not be easy to pick up the subtle differences.

I guess this is part of the reason why shamanic journeying is often done this way. In order to calm down the mind, blindfolding soothes the system so there is a way into the softer, slower, calmer brain waves. The slower alpha, theta and delta waves are not only linked with sleep states, they are more receptive to healing work than the active, fast beta brainwaves. During our sleep states, those are the brainwaves which are active, not the beta waves. It then is also not difficult to see why the ancient shamans were called 'dreamers', those able to 'slow down their brainwaves' and help others in doing the same, whilst 'seeing in the dark'.

In ancient cultures, the shamanic healing work happened at night around the fire and whilst dancing. Dancing is the topic for another blog on shamanism.

In the Universe all around us, there is a simultaneous occurrence of the Newtonian physical laws as well as the quantum mechanics laws; which are very difficult to grasp. What applies to the Universe also applies to our computers but most importantly, it applies to us too.

For example with our computers we know that if we drop our computer, there is a good chance that gravity and acceleration will have ensured that the drop caused damage to the hardware. In our computers, what not many people stop to think about, quantum mechanics laws and practical applications are ensuring that we have very easy ways of using our computers just about anywhere. Not only have computers as well as the mobile phones become much smaller than the immense computers of the early days but the advances in the last 100 years have enabled enormous progress in IT. Quantum mechanics laws are applicable and integrated within the modern information technology, enabling the computers to get increasingly smaller and more powerfully functional. The inherent 'conflict' between Newtonian solid structure and quantum mechanics fluidity of information doesn't seem to arise as much in computer systems than it does when one tries to consider this application in human beings.

This is one of the biggest puzzles for humanity; how this newtonian physics and quantum mechanics intersects in a human being. One can easily see this 'out there' and it's extremely difficult to apply it 'in here', in the human form.

When one looks at just the simple structure of the eyes' retina, the difference in function between the multi-million light catching 'day' Cones and the single photon capacity 'night' catching Rods may be a good entry point into two different modalities of experiencing life. In rejecting the darkness of the night and its gifts, one also rejects the exploration of a 'lived' quantum mechanics experience of life outside the experience of computers etc. Like both eyes are 'interconnected', light and dark are interconnected and so is newtonian physics and quantum mechanics.

How do you look at life? What is your main modality in life? Lot of light? Do you look at the stars at night from a place of total darkness around you? How do you feel when you experience darkness? Does it fill you with fear? Does it fill you with awe?

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