Sark, a small island between England and France, is the world’s first “Dark Sky” island. It has no vehicles—the 650 people who live there travel by bike or foot—and there are no street lamps. When night falls the only thing to illuminate the island of Sark is starlight.
Intrigued as to how living under the light of the stars impacts health and behavior, psychotherapist Ada Blair decided to interview Sark’s residents. She uncovered that the people who lived on Sark truly felt that being in touch with the night sky benefited their well-being. Writing of her findings for The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), Ada says that the shared night sky gave Sark’s residents a deep sense of community:
[Among my interviews] residents made comments like “last summer we were lying on the field outside the Island Hall with everybody looking up during the meteor shower … people had sleeping bags, thermoses, and hot chocolate.”
And while small talk elsewhere may involve the weather, Ada says on Sark it becomes:
“Did you see the Milky Way above the Seignurie last night. Wasn’t it amazing?”
Not only do the stars bring community together, but the residents believe they improve well-being. Ada shares:
There’s a widespread belief that observing the night sky results in positive (and sometimes transformative) feelings. According to one resident, “This huge mass of stars in the sky, it makes you feel a lot better … you look up and you look out … it just draws you out, you concentrate on something else.”
Sadly the experience of turning our gaze to look up at the skies is one that is increasingly lost on our generation. While Sark may have dark skies, much of the world has become illuminated by unnatural light. Journalist, Ron Judd, in an article for The Seattle Times, says:
Today, 99 percent of Americans never routinely see a true dark sky. And by 2025, experts say, Americans will be lucky to have two or three places left inside their borders where one even exists.
We can help by reducing our own light pollution, but we won’t even see the stars unless we step outside. According to a study by the National Recreation and Park Association, only 38 percent of those aged 55 and over spend at least an hour outside when they venture outdoors. That percentage drops to just 25 percent for those under 35 years old. In fact, one in 10 American adults do not even go outside on a daily basis. Why? Because they are working, or in front of a computer or a TV screen, says the report.
It’s a stark contrast to how humanity used to interact with the stars, says Ron:
In the old world, you walked beneath the stars nightly because you had to, and the constellations became your compass, your friends, even your deities. In the new one, you don’t because, well, you don’t.
By failing to look up above, we miss the prompt to ask ourselves deep questions, says David Ingram, who heads a Seattle-based group of dedicated dark-sky advocates. He expands upon this within The Seattle Times article:
“The sad truth is that the current bunch of us will be the first in the history of the planet to go most or all the way through life failing to grasp our place in the universe. Because we simply have never seen it. You can put anybody—I don’t care who they are—out under the stars for 30 minutes, and they start asking the big questions. Where else does that happen? You don’t ask big questions in a restaurant.”
Some of those big questions Karel and Iris Schrijver attempt to address in their recent book, Living With the Stars: How the Human Body Is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets, and the Stars.
Speaking to National Geographic, Iris says that, yes, Joni Mitchell is right—we are stardust:
Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today. It directly connects us to the universe, rebuilding our bodies over and again over our lifetimes.
We are made of stars, and yet we have stopped looking to them for inspiration. Ada says that we have even come to disregard the sky as part of nature. Yet “IDA states the sky is one half of the entire planet’s natural environment,” she reminds us.
So this evening let’s turn off the lights, close the laptop, grab a friend, step outside, and cast our gaze skywards. There are 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and one billion trillion stars. Seeing stars connects us to each other, it connects us to nature, and it connects us to something far beyond our grasp. Surely that’s enough to keep us occupied for an hour.
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality, Wisdom, and Wellness channels on Wanderlust.com and YOGANONYMOUS. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, and full-time dog walker of Millie.