The trees begin to undress. The days shorten. As we rise and set in darkness, a distant yet familiar impulse echoes at the back of our mind, calling us to prepare for hibernation. Last month’s Fall Equinox brought balance between day and night, bridging the hours of darkness and light into subtle equilibrium. Although we have been culturally conditioned to fear darkness, the change of season presents a rite of passage into a new cycle, a new beginning. We leave behind the vibrancy of Summer as Fall welcomes us with a cool yet grounding embrace, encouraging us to turn inward, rekindle our relationship to darkness and immerse ourselves in its particular beauty.
Shadow and darkness have indeed long held negative associations. Derogatory connotations stemming from religion, culture and story have resulted in centuries-long ostracisation and villainisation of darkness. Children are taught to be afraid of the dark through chilling bedtime stories of supernatural beasts. Antagonists in literature and entertainment are portrayed in black, as dark and evil. Hell becomes analogous to darkness while Heaven is light and good. Our shadow self represents all that is hidden and toilsome. Even in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we find shadow portrayed as a metaphor for everything we should avoid. It seems apparent that in this eternal duel, shadow has inevitably drawn the short straw.
The polarisation of light vs dark or good vs evil exists unconsciously in our brain, tucked away in the depth of our subconscious, obscured in symbolic form. Culturally reenforced for centuries, this duality traces all the way back to our ancestors. Birthed from hunter-gathers in the Northern Hemisphere, it reflects primitive man’s fear of darkness and the unknown. In the wilderness, after the sun had set, our ancestors became vulnerable prey to animals lurking in the night. This scenario played over thousands of years, engraining these belief systems and permanently altering our perception of shadow. On the other hand, hunter-gatherers lived at the mercy of their environment and were consequently aligned with its cycles, both the change of seasons and the daily transitions of day into night. Harmonising with the sun’s rise and fall movements nourished a relationship to nature that was sacred and pure, something we lost as a result of our ongoing quest for light. Our relentless pursue of brighter environments along with the technologies facilitating that purpose have almost eradicated shadow from our lives, estranging ourselves from its hidden mythologies.
"We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates. Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty." - Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
We turn to the East to Japan who, on the other hand, has long understood the wisdom of shadow, successfully nurturing their appreciation of it through decades of humble living and subtle lighting structures. They found beauty in this dualistic dance, as is gracefully portrayed by Junichiro Tanizaki in his 1933 essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, a poetic dive into Japanese arts, tea ceremony and Wabi-sabi. Born from the tradition of tea ceremony or ‘Way of Tea’ (Wabi Cha), Wabi-sabi was birthed by Sen Norikyu in the 16th century and continues to bewilder our Western society with its simple and delicate nuances. Wabi-sabi celebrates the absence of light, finding beauty in shadow, stillness and imperfection, prioritising natural materials in their unfinished and unpolished form.
An aesthetic philosophy that stretches into a spiritual practice paramount to Japanese culture, Wabi-sabi proposes an escape from stimuli, finding refuge in small, delicate and precise movements imbued in ritual and meaning. Echoing Fall’s inward pull, it reminds us of shadow’s sensitive ability to move us beyond materiality, leading us into mythological, poetic and emotional realms. Alienated from our primary sense of sight, we’re compelled to fall back onto our intuition and deeper knowing. In our perennial quest for absolute control, we could all benefit from jumping outside our comfort zone and into the dark.
Synonymous with mysticism, fantasy and alternate worlds, darkness opens a gateway into what is hidden, mysterious and unexposed. Stories are told at night as darkness gives free rein to our imagination, our dreams and nightmares offer a window into our psyche and our shadow holds the key to much of humanity’s healing. We’re taken back to our mother’s womb, the dark waters from which we came to exist that represent the the apogee of creation, intimately woven with fertility, sexuality and creativity: only in darkness may we give birth to light.
Going back to light and dark’s quarrel, Japan has found value in this dichotomy, embracing both polarities and discarding the separation our modern society has placed between them. They have understood that there can be no light without shadow, nor darkness without light, nor winter without spring. This periodic dalliance is simply a reflection of a universal dance of opposites, the ebb and flow of nature’s oscillating currents and the natural order of things. Bringing forth themes of rebirth and resurrection, this polarisation mirrors life’s transient and fleeting nature, as is authentically embodied in Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi inspired us to embrace duality, give up on the internal conflicts in our beliefs and narratives and instead harness the wisdom of shadow into our values, food ethos, experiences and design. We transmute and shape-shift with the seasons, using our large interior space and indoor fire place to offer unique hospitality experiences that sway with nature’s tide-like pulses as we greet Autumn’s spirit with open arms.