Spending a Week in Total Darkness

In October of 2020, I spent six and a half days in total darkness.

The experience was nothing short of profound. While I tried not to go in with many expectations, there was certainly a large part of me that wanted visions, emotional and physical releases, and insights into the nature of reality. I got all of the above in massive amounts. Below, I’m going to talk a little bit about my time in the darkness, and give a few pointers to anyone looking to do their own darkness retreat.

This is a very abridged summary, as much of what I went through was deeply personal. However, I think it will give you a basic idea of what might happen if you choose to do your own darkness retreat.

Visions:

  • These started with a subtle pulsing flash on day two. By day four, the darkness had been almost entirely replaced by a dull all-encompassing red light that rarely faded. Additionally, I saw images of the wilderness. They initially were less vivid than the imagery one would generally experience in a night time dream, but far more so than the images in day dreams. This changed during the fifth day, at which point just about ever waking second felt and looked like a medium-high dose psychedelic journey.
  • There were several multi-hour periods in which my visions turned demonic. I’m not going to go too far into this. I will say however that Joseph Campbell seems to have been right in saying that the caves we fear to enter often hold the treasure that we seek.

Emotional releases:

  • On most days, I cried harder than I have in years. This was a pretty big deal for me, as I went through a multi year period in which I couldn’t cry to save my life. This period of repression has made me deeply grateful for every tear that I shed.
  • These crying sessions in the darkness were often preceded by extended periods of frustration and boredom. They were followed by periods of intense relief. All in all, they deeply strengthened my belief that we all carry repressed emotion, and that this emotion negatively impacts our state of mind until we give ourselves a chance to feel it. Of course, it is all too easy these days to stuff one’s mind with endless streams of facebook posts and instagram photos, and thereby prevent yourself from feeling that which you have been holding back. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why rates of anxiety and depression have been skyrocketing for the past decade.

Physical releases:

  • At several points towards the end of the retreat, my body started shaking violently, particularly around my perineum. This shaking was so intense that at certain points, I worried for my safety. However, it always passed. Looking back now after several months of integration, I would say that this shaking was caused by the release of some type of energy or emotion that desperately needed to find its way out. It’s tough to say though, and I don’t know for certain.

Approximate Day By Day Breakdown

Day 1

Strong emotional release after hours of boredom and frustration. I sobbed long and harder than I had in years. Vivid dreams, which would return every night during the duration of the time in darkness. High pitched noise is usually present when meditating (the noise had started to become noticeable during meditation sessions prior to going into the darkness).

Day 2

Another emotional release. A faint pulsing light in my field of view.

Day 3

Pulsing intensifies.

Day 4

Strong emotional release. Colored lights come into my field of view toward the end of the day, approximately equal intensity to that which would be generated if a candle was held a foot away from closed eyes. High pitched noise increases in intensity.

Day 5

Vivid red light in vision nearly all the time. More frustration, followed by more releases. Frightening visions toward the end of the day, with red light in the background.

Day 6

Visions of the faces of my deceased paternal grandparents, and other teachers and friends who I’ve known over the course of my life. Journey to the innermost cave. Visions of skulls, lit by a blood red light. Intense shaking in pelvic region that lasted for an extended period of time. While this is happening, my head feels as though it is being pulled towards my left shoulder by a strong, invisible force. It feels as though I’m being cleansed of something that I desperately wanted to be cleansed of. But there is also some fear that I might be being possessed by some sort of demonic force. Shaking, pulling, and visions eventually end, and I go to bed.

Day 7

I relieve important moments from my first romantic relationship. My Mom comes in around 3:00pm, informing me of a family emergency. I decide to end the session a day earlier than I had planned.

Aftermath

Though the time in darkness was incredibly challenging, and at some points downright hellish, it was well worth it.

The dates of my retreat were October 7th to October 13th, 2020. I’m writing this on December 14th, 2020. I wanted to wait a while before putting the retreat into words, so that I could get a good amount of experiential evidence on the effects of the darkness. I didn’t want to write anything that incentivized people to do anything that ended up being unhelpful (or harmful).

Now, I can say with quite a lot of confidence that this experience shifted my life for the better. Though I still have subpar days, and periods of frustration, my average state of mind is significantly higher than it has been in years. I feel far more peaceful, far more at ease around other people, and far more able to express myself creatively. The improvements in these aspects of my life were well worth the boredom, suffering, and fear that I had to go through in the darkness. 

Resources for Those Wanting to Do A Retreat

Weirdly enough, there are very few darkness retreats in America, and the only close one that I could find was booked until May.

That being the case, I blocked out all light in my basement to to my retreat, and my wonderful mother agreed to facilitate for me. (Thanks for keeping the fridge stocked with fresh vegetables Mom). At this point, you might be wondering “How did he get food from the fridge without exposing himself to light?” The answer: by getting very good at feeling my way around my house while wearing a Mindfold . A Mindfold is essentially a sleeping mask on steroids, and blocks out 99.99% all light if worn properly. I’d still recommend keeping your eyes closed when wearing it though, as the occasional photon found its way in when my jaw moved while I was eating in a light filled room.

While blocking out a room in your house might work for some, others will probably want to do this in a space that was specifically set up for it. I spoke to the facilitator of the darkness retreat that I linked to above, and he seems like a really great guy. I’ve also heard that this retreat in Germany is a wonderful place to go (and am including an in-depth interview with a person who did a retreat there at the end of this article.) Aside from those two, there seem to be a decent number scattered across Central America, Europe, and South East Asia, though again, none that I can personally recommend.

Another’s Experience in Darkness

If you’d like to hear an extensive interview with another student of the darkness, check out this episode from The Aubrey Marcus Podcast. In it, the host (Aubrey) gives a detailed account of his retreat, and the insights that he gained from it.

Conclusion

While it seems that many of us instinctively know that there is something within ourselves that we need to face, most don’t really know exactly how to do so. For many, I think dark retreats could be the answer.