19 January 2016

On the lightness and darkness of being

I’ve heard people say now and then that instead of cursing the darkness one should light a lamp.  Makes a lot of sense when you take it metaphorically.  There’s little to gain by bitching about ignorance, especially if one is reluctant to explore whatever avenues are available for knowledge acquisition.  We don’t have the moral authority to complain about what’s missing if we are not ready to use whatever is available.  We can’t talk about rights if we are irresponsible. 

Pic courtesy dgenergysaving.com
When you take the line literally, it is not so easy. Sure, almost everyone can afford a candle, oil and wick for a pahana, the clay lamp one lights at temples or even a kerosene oil lamp. Perhaps this is adequate, perhaps not, depending on lifestyle preference, habit and perceptions of what’s important in life.  On the other hand, many of us do go overboard. We just can’t have enough of a good thing; we seek and obtain more than we need and end up hurting ourselves.  And then we complain. About bills.  The soaring cost of living. Things like that.

We can demand that the cost of electricity be lowered. We can bring down governments hoping that replacements would lower the cost of living.  All legitimate and in certain cases justified as well.  We can also do the little things. 

The Ministry of Power and Energy has come up with a neat booklet which is given to each consumer at the point of monthly payment. It gives in simple language various energy saving methods. This is not the first call for energy conservation.  Moreover, conservation is just one element of the discourse about energy.  Still, if we take the line about darkness and candles seriously, we might actually stop whining about the high cost of living and doing the little things that help us cope with the situation.  We must not forget that just as we can refuse to light a candle and continue to curse the darkness, we can continue to curst the glare without turning off unnecessary lights.       

Of all the advertisements seeking to encourage the citizens to conserve energy, the most effective was one where the recipient of the communication was asked to turn off a switch right then and there.  At any given moment, particularly after twilight, you are likely to discover that there’s at least one unnecessary light burning wherever you are.  The principle can be applied to all kinds of things, not just power usage but usage in general.

In other words the adage ‘don’t curse the light; light a candle’ can be flipped to good use.  A few simple exercises would help figure out how and where wastage occurs.  Jot down each purchase made along with amount spent.  Do this everyday.  Add up your daily expenses.  After a week, sit down with a pencil for half and hour and cross off what you feel were things you could have done without or pencil in cheaper alternatives that would have served the relevant purpose just as well. 

Look around you. Make an inventory of all things big and small. Cross off all things you’ve not used in a long time and things you can very well do without.  I am sure you’ll be surprised by how little you really need.  I am not recommending renunciation across the board, but an un-cluttering of living room which, I believe, helps un-clutter the mind.

Some months ago I wrote about light pollution.  Those living in highly urbanized areas rarely get to enjoy silence. Or darkness.  As a result they miss the poetry of silhouette, the play of half-light on object and the movement of shadow with wind.  I am sure some would argue that such absences are more than adequately compensated for.  It’s up to the individual I agree.  In that article I recommended a twisting of accepted knowledge. I suggested that light be seen as clutter.  I recommended the turning off of unnecessary light not just for purposes of conservation and saving but for enhancement of the sense of well being. 

Indeed anything that falls into the ‘too much’ category can be described as clutter.  And they need not be material artifacts.  We sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees.  We hang so many pictures on the wall that none of them stand out. We end up being blind to particular picture as well as the wall.  If ‘wall’ is mind, then we seem to acquire so many superficial things that we can’t find that which we desperately need at any given moment because there’s just too many things to wade through. 

We are not helpless.  There are things we can do. We can turn off each unnecessary light. We can gift things we’ve hardly used or are unlikely to use again.  Things we can do without.  We can choose not to purchase or in any ways acquire things we can well do without. We can curse the cost of living or we can opt not to buy that which we don’t need so that we have enough money left to pay for what we cannot do without.  We can curse the burden of living or walk away from the traps we’ve willingly walked into.  We can light a candle to dispel ignorance, we can turn off the light that we do not need. We can choose to be crushed by things we cover ourselves with or enjoy the lightness of divesting ourselves from such meaningless trappings. 

Light has many meanings.  There are times, therefore, to turn a switch off.  There are times also for weight reduction.  All in moderation as my incomparable teacher, Budun Wahanse recommended. 

This article was published in the Daily News, January 19, 2011. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com