On certain late nights, being outside is more favorable than staying in. During those nights, the sky awakens. Stars collide. Constellations form. Myriads of horoscopes become alive in the vast, endless space covered with dots of light. Curious minds are already at alert, moving outside to their telescopes and blankets, staring in awe of the beauty of work nighttime is.
But what if this wasn’t just an allusion to darkness, constellations, and negative connotations?
What if the night held more in store for us that we just aren’t willing to come to terms with and accept? What does nighttime really mean for us beyond the ambient period where our bodies slowly drift into the next day through sleep? In short, what is nighttime and how can we rethink its meaning for ourselves?
Tunde had these questions running circles around his brain whenever he found himself laying flat on the ground on his blanket, staring at the never-ending space with curious eyes. Growing up in a predominantly Evangelical-Christian-Nigerian home, there was not much room for exploration outside one’s own faith and presumably, finding one’s own identity outside the prescribed ‘normal’.
To his parents and others in this school of thought, you should always be back home before 9 or even 10 latest. After 11 was pushing it, anything past 12 and you’re now labeled as a ‘child of the night’, “onirin besebese” (walking aimlessly), or my mother’s favorite extended Yoruba quote “Ìjàkùmọ̀ kì í rìnde ọ̀sán, ẹni a bíire kì í rìnru” (the jackal does not move around during the day. A cultured person will not go around at night).
What never made sense to him was the timeless terror of the dark, of nighttime.
For as long as human history exists, there has always been a shared universal fear of the dark. Prehistorical texts refer to this being as a result of the unshakable fear of the sun ceasing to return, the spinning tales of ghosts, demons, and unseeable evil lurking within shadows, having been face-to-face with these perils. Nighttime is also perceived to be a period of liberation and escape, as it gives a sense of secrecy. As a result, humans carry out their desired activities that would be seen as “immoral, unjust, or bizarre” in plain daylight.
Alluding to religion, fears can be deduced from how we speak about death in scriptures. In Psalms, we can observe the “valley of the shadow of death” and in Babylon, Lilith, the hag of the night was known to terrorize desert inhabitants.
These are all key methodologies that have shaped, for centuries, how we as humans have shaped our relationship with nighttime and darkness. Having existed for so long, it is ‘etched’ into our subconscious to fear the dark. But what about the sense of liberation and curiosity the darkness brings? The silence, peace, and calm-after-the-storm effect resonates within us? If half of the world comes alive at night, why are we negligent towards engaging with it?
There are certain key aspects of the night and darkness brings, some of which are, but not limited to:
- Bringing us to face with ourselves, our own subdued thoughts and views
In its own way, darkness is a filter that separates us from the rest of the world, leaving us to see ourselves and ourselves alone subdued by nothing. For me, most of my self-destructive thoughts awaken in my mind at night. I grew up thinking not addressing them would make them go away, but this only accumulates more thoughts and gives more reason for them to torture you. Address your thoughts, talk to yourself, open those doors, and face whatever thoughts come. People who carry their repressed feelings and thoughts from the night before usually suffer from them during the day. Sometimes being alone at night, by taking a walk or just sitting on your bed and reflecting can help achieve this. It also doesn’t have to be a personal experience, this can be done with others too.
2. Giving us a pause from reality
Life is fun and exhausting at the same time. You work, eat, sleep, learn, drive, walk, do a range of different things during the day that wears you out. While this may not apply for those whose days begin at night, nighttime is usually the best time to not just sleep, but pause. This pause can come in the form of things you do already, such as staring at the view from your balcony or window or even chatting with a neighbor or friend. Being able to take two steps back to reflect and rejuvenate allows you to take those four steps forward to succeed and accelerate.
3. Creating a space for us to appreciate the beauty of the earth, lights out
In most countries, depending on the season, nighttime is usually the best time to gather or go outside to see either the stars, the formation of the clouds, or nature in its purest form. One of the favorite things a friend and I did together in high school was to stare at the descending of the sun on the horizon after dinner, watching the arrival of the night like a rocket landing. As normal as this may sound, a lot of us don’t always feel the need to do this. Get a couple of friends together, a blanket, speakers, some snacks, find a perfect location with a vast view of the unknown, and vibe out with the stars or just reflect while staring up. It’s not mandatory, but artists such as Jhené Aiko or instrumental music can create a sensual, open environment for self-introspection.
4. Providing a sense of privacy, a secret environment where we can carry out our most desired acts
This is the part of the article where certain readers will assume I am promoting sinful acts. Technically, it’s up to the readers on what these ‘desired acts’ mean but I promote whatever your desires may be, as long as they:
- Do not involve hurting or inflicting pain on others,
- Do not lead to damage or destruction of the environment
- Do not promote self-harm
Anything outside this spectrum is acceptable for me and I cannot dictate what is right or wrong. What I do advocate for though, is for the mental, spiritual, and physical liberation of one’s self from the shackles of society’s norms, individual judgment, and expectations on the human condition. We as a species have been living in fear, negligence, or disassociation of ourselves from the dark and the night, causing us to only to have a half-lived experience.
It is key to note, however, that nighttime differs depending on where one lives, as robberies, crimes, or certain injustices sprout out during that time. However, it is possible to find solace and self-introspection in the face of adversity, which is one of the overarching ideas promoted in this article.
In short, these are my takes on how you can rethink and redefine your nighttime experience:
- Control your own night to whatever extent you can. Be prudent and carry yourself to explore things you can’t do in the sunlight, as long as you follow the 3 don’t’s.
- Never avoid addressing your innermost thoughts, they’re an extension of who you’re not letting yourself be. Always take time to reflect and do introspection on the day, your thoughts, life, or anything in general.
- Disassociate nighttime with negative connotations and the idea of it being unsafe, as it is truly only at night where we experience the other half of the world’s promises. These are, but not limited to: vast, endless beauty of nature, solace and secrecy to carry out repressed wishes, and the space for self-discovery and expression.
Nighttime is a beautiful period and I hope you stretch yourself to do things beyond your ordinary at night.