A few weeks ago I was listening to the radio and John Tesch told me about an experiment a man had done to see if he got better sleep with no artificial light after sundown. Yes, that means no lights, no TV, no computer, and so on. I am a huge fan of simplicity, and a crummy sleeper from way back, so this idea appealed to me on many levels. Lest you think that I do whatever I half-hear John Tesch tell me to do to improve my life, I did not immediately pull out the candles. No, I needed to research this idea first, and it was then that I came upon the fine blog of J.D Moyer. Mr. Moyer and his family have twice gone without artificial light after sundown, once in the month of June, and once in the month of February. He has a young family, and they cosleep as I did with all of my kids, so his desire was for more and better sleep for himself and his family, and it worked. It is an excellent blog post that includes a link to a lengthy, but worthwhile, New York Times article.
It was after reading his blog detailing his family’s experiment, and the positive results, that I dragged out my candle collection. I commenced that night, turning off all lights and the computer at sundown. I told a few friends what I was doing, and they seemed scared for me by the mere thought of me being in nothing but candlelight for an evening. I assured them that “real light” was just a switch away. Yes, I was looking for better sleep, but my reasons for undertaking this ongoing experiment went a lot deeper. You might say that the reasons went clear down into my very soul and I felt as if I was strongly being called to return, or move forward, into a higher level of simplicity, and away from the many distractions of today’s world. I was being called closer to God.
There were also practical reasons for my decision to start this experiment. If you search through my blog you will find that my son and I live in a little cottage in the woods. I love the solitude and nature all around me. However, the cottage gets very little natural light inside, so my electric bill has been obscene no matter how careful we are. Since I heat the cottage entirely with wood in the winter, and the stove is gas, the power bill is all lights and appliances. At the same time, I use my cell phone as my sole source of internet, and I had gone over on my data plan two months in a row, which hurt a lot. I realized that my dedication to my Facebook owners page was the culprit, or more to the point, my ego, and my desire to see the page grow. The Facebook page was also pulling me away from real pages, in actual books, like the Bible. I needed an excuse to step away and this was it.
At the same time, I was suddenly dealing with chronic pain coming from what I found out to be extensive arthritis in my spine. The pain was so obnoxious that a prescription strength anti-inflammatory medication was needed, as well as physical therapy. My physical therapist tells me I have excellent flexibility, which comes as no surprise, but my core muscles are weak. Blame it on having carried seven children. That is what I do. 😉 I am a nurse, so I know that being chronically tired because of poor sleep makes any pain feel magnified, so I wanted to see if I got better sleep without artificial lights, and if I would have less pain as a result of getting more sleep. It seemed that weakness of my core, both physical, and spiritual, were my biggest problems, and something as simple as turning out the lights at sundown might be the cure.
The first night, and every night since, has been heaven. At sundown, the candles are lit, the computer goes off, and I read the Bible for a while. I may sit up to do some reading, or I may dance to music by candlelight. Some nights I do not feel like dragging the candles upstairs and downstairs repeatedly, so I just get into bed to read. I am usually yawning and ready for “candles out” within 30 minutes to an hour. I do sleep better and those periods of quiet wakefulness that Mr. Moyer mentions are truly lovely. Some mornings I am up by 5 a.m., but I feel well rested, and I enjoy an hour of quiet, and a cup of coffee, before my son wakes up. To my literal relief, with each passing day, I have less back pain. In fact, it has been almost non-existent the last day or two, and because we vacationed last week, I was less than faithful to my core strengthening exercises. My middle of the night cravings for a couple of homemade cookies seems to have vanished, as well.
The most important aspect of the experiment has been my realization of just how thirsty I was spiritually, though. I drink up the Bible when I read it each night and I discover more than I ever have. I am also reading several devotional masters from throughout the centuries and so many speak of simplicity in a way that resonates with me more deeply than ever. Mr. Moyer spoke of missing TV. We don’t have cable TV–only DVDs and I rarely watch one just for me. I feel like I am missing nothing and gaining everything. I have gained freedom from something that I was allowing to enslave me–the computer.
I notice much more. Did you know that it is getting darker earlier each night now? “Of course it is,” you are thinking, but have you really noticed? I listen to the other rhythms of my body more instinctively now, too. If I am hungry and want dinner at 4:30 p.m., that is when I have dinner. Everything simply feels better by candlelight and if I go to sleep at 9:30 p.m., so what? Gone is the fear that if I go to bed early I will be up far too early. It just does not matter anymore. My son loves it, too. He is an early to bed sort of guy, so it suits him fine as long as there is a small night-light left on in the stairway. I sleep much better without the night-light, but him screaming “Mom, there is no light!” at 3 a.m. is far more disruptive, so… I had no idea I was that sensitive to even a tiny amount of artificial light, but it seems that I am. I was happy before, but I am happier and think better in the afternoon now.
I am old enough to remember when unplugging meant turning off your TV, or using an acoustic guitar instead of electric if you were a musician. Now we live in an age where entire blogs are devoted to the art of “unplugging,” and articles are written in magazines and newspapers. Many articles detail the procedure as if it were akin to quitting heroin or crack. We have to prepare to unplug, we have to notify people, we can expect this or that feeling on day three, and on and on. Life it too complicated if we need instructions on how to turn off our computers and cell phones for a few days. Life is far too complicated if we are all deeply sleep deprived and overly stimulated and fat because we are attached to one device or another all day and night long. Life is too complicated if the thought of reading by candlelight is scary. Gads! What are we all doing to ourselves in the constant attempt to be heard, and seen, and to accomplish…what is it again? To have more?
No, I have had enough and have just enough. I want no more than that, and less is even better. I have no desire to possess anything more than good health, a good attitude, and good relationships full of love. My relationship with God must come first, and I am glad to have been reminded of that. Being well fed spiritually, and well rested physically, makes me so much better able to love all of the wonderful people in my life. Thank you, God, for sending John Tesch and J.D. Moyer my way.
Gifts and blessings are delivered in so many forms. My most recent gifts came via electronic devices, both of which I am about to turn off for the night. You might consider doing the same for a time. I have found it to be a joy filled, delightful, experience. If you do decide to try this experiment, please report back to me with your results. I would love to hear anything, even something as simple as someone noticing the stars for the first time in years.