Recently I spent 10 days in a dark room retreat in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan at The Hermitage Retreat Center. That’s 10 days and 11 nights in a cave like room with zero light. Totally pitch black.
There was one experience that occurred in the dark that was particularly profound and which provided a powerful and unshakeable insight into the nature of the unstable self image we have created in our minds and which is a complete illusion.
My blog about the actual practicalities of living in the dark for 10 days can be found here.
The first 4 days my dark room retreat I experienced some basic mind generated visuals such as geometric patterns and colors much like what you might “see” if you close your eyes and press your fingers against your eyelids. You can generate all manner of patterns, colors and lights. This was interesting and mildly entertaining. I had heard that with such an absence of light there could be hallucinations of varying degrees.
However, that all changed after 4 days of relative darkness. The evening of day four I had a powerful spiritual breakthrough that was precipitated by me finally “breaking down” and starting a very honest, vulnerable and surrendered conversation with Source.
I call that Source, God. A word that was so repugnant to me in my youth in its traditional sense, and yet today represents an embodied and deeply cherished knowing of One Loving Awareness and Consciousness.
So, there I was, four days in the dark. Just me and God and not much was happening. Where was the big experience, the big opening, the big wave of Ahh-ha awakenings? Well, it turns out that when it’s just you and God sitting in the dark together, someone has to start the conversation and it typically isn’t God. I was waiting for something big to happen and, besides my deep meditations, I was not really participating nor addressing my own internal barriers.
The message I felt from God was, “Look, I’ve got eternity. If you want to have an honest conversation, I’m right here, everywhere. Always have been and always will be. But you’ve got to get real and let go of this prideful self that thinks you can do this whole ‘be filled with love thing’ on your own.
You want to truly open that heart of yours? Let’s talk about what your life is really like living with a closed heart and all the challenges you face in letting the love in. But you have to start. And I’ll give you a hint…. I’d recommend starting with humility and a really good confession of truth.”
And that’s when the retreat really started to get real. Soon I found myself on my hands and knees in humble devotion, crying tears of grief and aloneness while confessing, “I don’t know how to do this alone. I can’t fill myself with love. I’m surrendering my illusion of control and laying my pride down. I’m giving up all small ideas and images that I’ve believed myself to be and that I thought could control the experience of ‘getting’ all the love that I desire. I can’t do this alone. This love I’m surrendering to is infinite and my sense of a separate prideful self simply can’t contain it.”
And in that confession an answer came back directly into my surrendered heart, “You’re right. You can’t do this!! Not while hanging on to the illusion of being a self separate from Source. The illusion you hold of yourself is too small and constrained to realize the truth of the infinite and imperishable love that you already are and always have been. YOU, as the conditioned image and identity that you hold of yourself, cannot know your eternal and imperishable truth.”
There, surrendered in tearful mess of devotion, I was met with a torrent of love and infinite aliveness that began to fill what had so long felt so empty.
There is much that I can share about the impact of surrendering the illusion of self to the truth of eternal love. And that will come in a future blog. Right now I mention that shift in relationship with God because the choice to release the ego identity, that exists solely in a mind and body, is what triggered the ego’s very curious and dramatic response.
There I was in the pitch black finally letting go of the identity of self that I’ve been tentatively releasing for years on this path of self realization. That night, the surrender got very, very real and the mind had a very interesting response.
The room began to light up, to appear. I could see the entire room quite suddenly and quite clearly.
When I began my dark room retreat 4 days earlier I had gone in with a candle to orient myself to the space. So I knew that the walls of the room were constructed of these beautiful river stones. I had a sense of the size and shape of the room and the height of the ceiling.
And suddenly I could see the wall to my right some 6 feet away lit softly with a gentle red light. The river stone wall in front of me was washed in a soft yellow light and the wall over to my left was splashed in a soft green light. Behind me there was a soft blue glow. As I looked up I could see the ceiling and below me I could see the floor. There I was no longer in the dark, but in a beautiful stone room all lit up for me to admire.
But of course I wasn’t seeing the room. It was, after all, completely pitch black. No light. Dark. I was hallucinating the room from memory. And sure enough, if I closed my eyes there in the dark, the room didn’t go away. I could still “see” it with my eyes closed. And it kept changing.
Built into the wall in front of me was a beautiful hearth that I knew wasn’t really there. And when I glanced to the wall to my left, it was no longer a flat wall, but was now a slope of stones tumbling to the floor. And the ceiling shifted into a huge vaulted ceiling that sometimes opened up to stars.
I had asked my mind to surrender it’s images of self into the formless nothingness and it responded by creating “something” out of the nothing. This is what the mind does when faced with surrendering it’s definition of self.
This continued off and on for the duration of my time in the dark. The room kept shifting and reconfiguring itself. At times while sitting in my meditation the walls would close in and I’d find myself sitting in a cozy 4’ by 4’ space. Other times the room would become quite large and cavernous.
But what really got interesting was that I began to see beams and other obstructions in the room. I could see a lightly lit wall, but only about 3/4 of it. There would be a black strip across the top which the mind interpreted as a beam. And then, for some reason, I began to see beams in the middle of the room that angled from the ceiling to the floor. It made for a room that was “constructed” of sometimes expansive space, sometimes confining space and usually filled with various obstacles.
Now I knew 100% that I was hallucinating the room. I knew with absolute certainty that the room was about 10 foot by 10 foot with absolutely zero obstructions. The space between walls was 100% empty. I had spent 4 days learning that between the bed and the sink was about 8 feet of empty space that I could walk through safely. Between the mediation bench and the shower was another obstacle free span of empty space.
I knew these truths! And yet, there I was presented with a very real looking hallucination and when I would go to walk across the room, I found myself instinctively hesitating, avoiding, ducking and wincing in expectant collisions.
So, what was happening? It turns out that the mind really doesn’t like emptiness or a lack of structure. I really wants to “know” what it’s dealing with. It wants to have a handle on things and to know what’s “out there” so that it can navigate a world of form. In the absence of light, the mind deciding to make up a room. And here’s the thing, the mind has no interest in truth. It doesn’t care that it is making shit up. It actually feels more comfortable working with a hallucination that creates some structure, even if it isn’t true. The mind is more comfortable with an illusion of it’s own creation that it is with the truth of emptiness.
And it was buying it’s own illusion! I was walking with real trepidation across what I knew to be an empty room just because the mind decided to imagine it’s own reality.
Perhaps this is starting to sound familiar.
This direct experience of how the mind creates its own reality in order to deal with emptiness showed me in stunning detail why we all struggle with accessing and knowing our TRUE Self.
Here’s the remarkable parallel. At some point when we were infants and toddlers, we began to get a sense that we existed. There seemed to be a “me” in relationship to “others” and the world in general. There was a “me” and a “mom” and a “dad and a “dog” and a “house plant” etc…. And it became apparent that it was going to be handy to define this “me” and figure “me” out so that I could accurately and successfully interact with the world “out there”. There’s a “me” in here and a world out there and I better get a handle on the story of me.
Basically we were presented with the universal and existential question, “Who am I?”
For the vast majority of us, that question was not answered with any teaching of truth. Although as children we were quite close to our true nature as infinite loving awareness free of story or ego identity, we did not have a cognizant knowing of truth. We were truth, we just had no way of “knowing” it. And we typically didn’t have teachers to show us the infinite truth of our eternal BEing. In fact we had parents, siblings, teachers, society, authority figures and media reinforcing the idea of a very separate and fragile image of self.
So, just like during a dark room retreat, with a total absence of light, the mind made up (constructed) a room… When we were seeking to know self, in the absence of truth, the mind constructed a self. And that construct of self has spent a lifetime reinforcing it’s own illusion of itself.
This image you have of yourself that exists in your mind, is an illusion, a hallucination. And just like the beams in the room, it feels very, very real. I only had a few days to construct a hallucination that I knew wasn’t real and yet was still reacting to as I walked across the room. We’ve all had lifetimes to construct a very dense hallucination of self. And we wonder why it is so hard to abide our true nature and let go of the illusion.
Are you tired of walking through life ducking, hesitating and reacting to the illusion of self with all of it’s hallucinated limitations? The fears are just beams that your mind creates. Any sense of unworthiness or anxiety over our self image is just a dense thought form. The ever changing image and imagined sense of self is no different than the ever changing room that my mind was hallucinating. You wonder why your story of self won’t stabilize? Because your mind is making it up and the mind is always creating and re-creating the illusion of self and has zero interest in truth.
Remember, the mind created a room that I knew wasn’t real. But it felt more comfortable with an illusion of its own creation that with a blank space.
You created a “you” because you didn’t know the eternal truth of you. You created a “knowing” because the mind really doesn’t like not knowing.
Now here’s the really FUN part. When I noticed myself instinctively ducking around hallucinations that I knew weren’t there, I made the conscious choice to stop being controlled by my mind’s imaginings. It was incredibly liberating to “see” the obstructions and choose to walk right into them, and through them. It was wild to walk my head right into a beam and feel no pain. Or to punch my hand through a stone wall that I knew to not truly exist.
The mind will continue to throw up conjured images and ideas of self. It’s what it does. It endlessly creates things out of nothing. It’s how we build skyscrapers, tell stories, make movies, discover medicines and evolve technologies. The mind is a remarkable tool for imagining things into being from thin air. It becomes quite obvious that that same mind is really not the right tool for knowing self. For imaging self – absolutely, the mind is unrivaled. But remember, the mind has no allegiance to truth, it just makes things up constantly.
So, we learn to see the illusions of self image that the mind creates and to just walk right through them as the hallucinations that they are. We don’t wait for the image of self to stabilize, we learn that we are the imperishable and eternal peace, presence and awareness that has always been here with us when we stop believing the mind’s hallucinations.
This is why we practice stillness and mediations that inquire into the nature of the illusion and the nature of that which is ever present beyond the illusion. This is why we are well served by, what I call, swimming in truth. That is, to study and learn from our teachers on a regular basis and to sit in stillness with the truths to which they are pointing.
The illusion of self is powerful and seems so very real. Within our stillness we can listen beyond the noise of conditioned mind and feel into the eternal truth of Being.
Do you want to be free of the hallucinated clutter of unstable self image and navigate your life free and clear of the hallucinated stories of self? With devotion, practice, discipline and a commitment to learn consistently from your teachers, it is possible to be absolutely free.
As a Self Discovery Guide, this is what I do. This is my purpose and my devotion. It is my love to guide people back home to the absolute and powerful truth of who you really are, what you’ve always been and what you will always be.
You are the unchanging and imperishable loving awareness within which all transient hallucinations of self come and go.
If you would like to discuss what doing a dark room retreat could mean for you, please feel free to reach out and scheuld an ppointment with me.