Ten Day Dark Room Retreat Practicalities
As many of you know, back in May I entered into a 10 day and 11 night dark room retreat.
I have another blog that shares more about the transformative and life changing experience of living in the dark for 10 days, but I want to start with this blog about the practicalities of what a dark room retreat is like.
Above you will find a Facebook Live video that delves into the “how” of a dark room retreat. It was my first FB Live video and we had some technical hiccups that are just par for the course. So, I’d recommend starting there to hear about the experience as it gives a raw and heartfelt accounting.
But some have said that the technical glitches made it hard for them to stay with the content, so I created a cleaned up video that answers all of the same questions, just in a less distracting way. That video is below.
I’ve found that these more practical questions often need to be answered before many people can take in the deeper spiritual transformations that I experienced. Literally I’ll be describing to someone the deepest insights from the retreat and they will still be trying to grok the physical reality of spending that much time in the dark. So, this blog and video should answer a lot of questions and alleviate that tension.
Here are the main questions that I get asked about the practicalities of this incredible experience. Next week I’ll be posting another video and blog that goes into the whole transformative experience.
Q: Where did you do this dark room retreat?
A: I went with the dark room at The Hermitage Retreat Center in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan.
Q: What was the room like?
A: The approximate 10’ x 10’ room is beautifully constructed with river stones and built into the hillside. The entire property is consecrated to Green Tara and the room has a powerful grounding energy. There is a bed, a meditation platform, a chair, a sink, a shower and a compost toilet.
The toilet did smell a bit from time to time, but it was something that I got used to. The shower provided hot water mid day when the solar panels heated up. The entire property is off grid.
The room also has fresh air pumped in 24 hours to accommodate for oxygen usage.
Some other dark rooms in other places are more like regular retreat rooms that have had all the windows blacked out and all light sources eliminated. I like the grounded earthy feeling of this room.
Q: Were you alone or were there others there or in other rooms?
A: I was alone. They currently have one dark room on this property and it is designed for 1-2 people. There is 1 bed.
Q: What prompted you to do this?
A: I do have another video that speaks directly to this. You can find it here. But in short, it just resonated deeply with my practice of Self Realization. Our visual references in the world reinforce the illusion of the separate self. Eliminating those visual references helped break the habit of false self identification. I was interested to experience even more deeply what is the eternal nature of being when the mind-constructed self is emptied.
Q: How did you prepare?
A: Before going into the 10 days and 11 nights of dark I went and spent 6 days in silent retreat with one of my teachers. That retreat helped clarify and highlight the real areas of resistance to truth that I still hold. So, I was able to go into the dark room with a really honest understanding of what still needed to be released.
After that retreat I immediately got on a plane, flew to Guatemala and upon arrival went straight into the dark room.
What I went in with was the deep recognition that my heart was still defended in so many ways and that my pride was getting in the way. There was a deficit of humility in my life, my practice and my work as a guide. “I” was trying to control the experience of love. “I” was the one who would eventually “get this”. “I” was not humble to the true depth and beauty that I was seeking and that “I” would never truly be able to receive.
I went in with the prayer, “May I be filled with a love that is beyond my conditioned love. So that I can live truly free as that love. So that I may surrender the false self completely and live in absolute devotion to Divine Love.
So, I highly recommend going into the dark room experience with some clearing and vulnerability already in place.
Q: How long did it take to settle in?
A: After going in with a candle lit to get oriented to the space, you finally blow out the candle. It’s kind of like skydiving. It seems like such a good idea until that plane door opens and you are faced with possible annihilation. But, you do then blow out the candle and man is it dark!!!
As a defense mechanism the ego tends to want to sleep a lot the first day or so. It wants to combat its discomfort and panic. It doesn’t know what to “do” with all that lack of stimulation and finds it easier to avoid it as much as it can. Sleep does that.
But after a few days there tends to be a normal routine that forms and the dark is accepted as the experience that has been chosen. My routine was typically to sit in meditation on the meditation bench, then to move to the chair for some more meditation. then I might nap for a short time. Then some exercise or yoga. It was funny trying to walk in place with arms swinging and being positive that I was not moving, only to find myself soon bumping into something that I was initially a good 6 feet from when I started.
Then I might shower every few days and there were two meal breaks a day.
Q: How did you eat and what?
A: There are two meals a day. One late morning and one sometime in the afternoon. They are delivered through a double door box built into the wall. They retreat staff knock twice on the door, then open their outside door and put the food into the box. they then shut their door and knock twice more to let you know that you can open your inside door without letting in light.
The food at The Hermitage is all beautiful and lovingly prepared vegan food. It is served in a single bowl with a lid and delivered with a single spoon. And when the sense of sight is restricted, the other senses are heightened. So, when that meal arrives twice a day and the lid is taken off the bowl, oh my!! The smell is heavenly.
Q: Did you keep track of days?
A: I did. Not obsessively so. But I found it mildly useful to have a sense of the passage of time and how much longer I had to take advantage of. I think that was the main thing… Wanting to know how much longer I had to work with while deepening my mediations.
I was able to keep a general sense of time because in this dark room, you can still hear the birdlife of the jungle outside. So, I had a sense of the end of day when the birds would turn into crickets. And, when I would wake up in the morning, I didn’t know if it was 1:00 AM or perhaps 6:00 AM. So, I listened for the birds. If it was still crickets, then I knew that it wasn’t daybreak yet.
I can tell you that waking up on morning #6 and realizing that you’re half way through provides only a fleeting moment of relief, which is quickly followed by the realization that you’re still in for 5 more days!
Q: Did you ever want to abandon the experience and quit?
A: I did not. Although it was sometimes difficult, tedious or boring I had made the commitment, much like we commit to our practices of meditation or devote ourselves to truth. Just like life, it isn’t always easy, but dedication and discipline go a long way in this journey of Self Realization.
As well, the entire experience gave me the opportunity to keep meeting the one who is bored, the one who wants it to end, the one who wants it to be different, the one who believes that his happiness is dependent on external conditions. Whenever I would get antsy or frustrated, I would simply drop into my meditation and meet the eternal self that has no such conditions for peace.
Q: What where the practicalities of living in the dark?
A: A lot of what we’ve explored here answers this question. But I’ll add a few things. One thing I had to laugh at is that you have no idea how much toothpaste you are squeezing onto your toothbrush! So, you learn to just put the toothpaste directly into your mouth. Also, you learn that before you try to get to a specific place in the room, such as the sink or toilet, you have to first be clear on where you are. So, you tend to back up against a familiar place, like the bed, and then you know that the sink is about 8 steps in a particular direction. Although I was surprised by how often I thought I was headed in a particular direction only to find myself arriving in a completely different part of the room than where I thought I was headed. Basically you always walk with your hands out in front of you to mitigate mistakes.
Q: How will this help you in working your students and clients?
A: Although I get into this more in the next video, I’ll give a short answer here. One of the biggest transformations that occurred for me was a tremendous opening of the heart as the controlled image of self fell away. This beautiful and less encumbered access to the love that we all are, has made my interactions with my clients and students so much more intimate and compassionate. When we can truly get out of the way and let the love move through us, all of our relationships get much more honest and real.
As well, I gained a profound embodied understanding of the how the illusion of self, that we habitually believe is who we are, is generated, maintained and reinforced. I can now guide my students with a much deeper clarity regarding who they are and who they are not. The difference between truth and illusion is radically more apparent.
Q: Did this change your meditation practice?
A: Dramatically. My mediations now are largely free of the ego self that wants to hijack the meditative experience and “benefits” for itself. Now the meditations are less about seeking truth and more about abiding truth. I AM is less of an experience that is being sought and now just IS that truth of BEing that is rested in.
Q: Did you record your thoughts and feelings?
A: Yes, I went in with a journal. There were a few things that I really wanted to remember and continue to reflect upon after I emerged. So, I would write next to my thumb on the margin of the page, then move my thumb down ad write the next line. I always made sure that when I finished writing that I would turn to a fresh page. So, the next time I wanted to write I knew that the page was clear.
Q: Was it dark the whole time?
A: This question comes up a lot! People ask, “So, it was a dark room retreat. How many hours a day of dark? Total pitch black dark 24 hours a day the entire time. Except when my mind lit up the room! I cover that in the next video.
Q: Did you ever sing to yourself?
A: I love this question. But no. Because I wanted it to be a more pleasant experience! Ha!
But after day 4 I did start talking out loud to God for hours on end. I’d never done that before and to be honest, that is what really opened up the heart! It was the on my knees, tear-full confessions and out loud surrendering of ego that really opened up an honest dialogue with Source, with God. When you’re sitting in the dark with God somebody has to start the honest conversation, and it usually isn’t God. This too is covered more in the next video and blog.
Q: When coming out, was it hard to be with people or the activity of life? Was it hard to integrate back into the world?
A: No. It wasn’t. Primarily because the conditioned person who would have had a story to tell about the liking or disliking of the different parts of life got left back in the dark. I emerged as pure loving awareness free of the constructed and conditioned self that would so habitually assess and interpret the world from the egoic perspective.
The last morning of the retreat, you emerge at daybreak. So it is a gentle re-emergence and it doesn’t hurt that you emerge onto the beautiful and peaceful property of The Hermitage Retreat on Lake Atitlan where, if there are people around, they are most likely in silent retreat themselves.
Q: Have you found that the impact of the experience has lasted?
A: Blessedly yes. Life today is lived as the infinite loving awareness that we all are, which exists prior to and beyond the noise of the conditioned self. The mind is very quiet since the retreat, now almost 3 months ago.
This may sound somewhat spiritually fluffy. True Self realization can often seem like such an idealized and unreachable state. But from this place it is clear that it isn’t a state of being at all. It is our original truth of being.
The daily conditions and circumstances of life are now met with authentic love and peace. The love, peace and grace that we already and eternally are. The love, peace and grace that we’re all seeking to find, even if we don’t know it. The old habit of identifying with the mental and emotional image of self still arises. The density of that illusion of self can take awhile to truly quiet down. But we learn to not give it any real attention. And like an unwanted guest in our house, dutifully ignored, it tends to depart and leave us in peace.
If you have questions or are interested in receiving guidance to your own true nature, please reach out for a free 30 minute Discovery Session.