For many, night is the signal for conviviality and entertainment. As if the glare of daylight inhibits emotions, night is nearly everywhere viewed as a time of reverie and socializing.
For the solitary and the reflective, night closes the labored schemes and necessary relationships of society and daytime. Night closes another output of work, study, service, or necessity, temporarily withdrawing from relationship to a particular structure in the world of culture.
But night is traditionally different. Night is for summing up, assessing, for reflecting. Night offers the potential for depth and strength of thought that the glare of daytime resists, the opportunity for thought that is free to associate with other thoughts without the definitions of social conformity and structure.
Human beings are not nocturnal animals. Our best creations of reason and material things are contrived in daylight and the revelation of detail. Conversely, night allows impressions to assemble and rearrange themselves in the mind without reference to logic and reasonable functionality. We are not nocturnal animals in the sense of honing survival skills for that arena called night. Our worldly skills are for daylight; night is for a different set of skills, for our ability to reflect, imagine, and wonder.
With sleep, exploration and reflection can continue, as our mind plays imaginatively with the matter of the day or recycles older themes promoted by day’s subconscious murmurs. At the same time, night gives us the conscious opportunity to mitigate the harshness of the matters of the day, and render them harmless for our dreams.
Night is as subjective as it is silent. What happens in the mind at night is not final or absolute, only tentatively awaiting refinement overnight, a transition to wholeness. But silence must underlie the whole process in order for it to succeed. Silence and night wrap themselves round like two parts of the taiji, the yin-yang symbol.
How can the process of reflection undo the constrictions of daytime stresses and structures unless there is silence to dissolve them? More noise would only constrict the mind. Silence at night is enhanced by complementary music or scent or shadow or the absoluteness of no sound. Our silence should reflect our night: sometimes faintly illuminated, sometimes utterly dark.
As night and day are counterparts of illumination, so too are they counterparts of perspective. Day is objectivity and night is subjectivity. This complements social roles: in daytime we wear a mask, a persona of service, labor, and dedication to externals. At night the mask is laid aside. For many, the mask laid aside means abandonment of duty and therefore purposelessness, but for the solitary it is a welcome recuperation from a false persona, a constricting objectivity, a constriction of self.
And we can further assign objective and subjective to day and night as metaphors. What we must avoid, however, is equating night with darkness in the sense of impenetrability, ignorance, or turpitude. Better to anticipate night as an unfolding, a logical turning like the face of a moon or star, a resting from the strained attention of tired eyes.