- Where can I go to retreat?
If you can, I recommend making darkness happen first in your own home for sleeping, then for a 4-day retreat, maybe 8. Once you’ve learned the ropes, make another darkroom in the countryside or go to a public darkroom for a medium retreat (3-8 weeks). There are 50 of them worldwide and counting. Most are spiritual and therapeutic centers. I think most will support hygienic retreats if you ask and know what you are doing.
Do you eat in a retreat?
Yes. Food and water are always available. I recommend fresh fruit and tender leafy green vegetables, in accordance with the frugivorous nature of human anatomy and physiology.
How many people retreat at once?
One. The point of this retreat is to rest, heal, and recover oneself. There is nothing more stimulating and distracting than other people.
How do you do things in darkness?
Very slowly. And after becoming familiar with the room and making memorable places for your belongings before turning out the lights.
Could you just retreat with a sleeping mask?
No. The skin has enough light receptors to awaken you from sleep. Masks do not stay in place, so they leak light. They are not comfortable for extended use. And you still need a properly ventilated room, minimally furnished to eliminate dangers, distractions, and associations.
Sleeping masks are good for travel, naps, and sleeping until your bedroom can be darkened. Also, for walking through a semi-lit space between a darkroom and a bathroom in dwellings where this is necessary.
Is it like meditation?
In essence, no. On the surface, the two processes have some similarities. Each involves less physical activity. Attention gravitates from the world to oneself. But what goes on inside oneself radically differs.
Meditation is active, ie, the will drives the process. Willed activity is the primary process that goes on. The purpose of meditation is to make the unconscious conscious, or to compel the conscious to submit to the unconscious. It is a quiet internal war.
Darkroom retreating is passive, ie, the unconscious drives the process. Unconscious activity is the primary process that goes on. Willed activity is secondary, The will is servant. The purpose of retreating is to rest so the being can restore itself to wholeness naturally. It is peaceful.
These subtly different drivers and purposes have massive effects on one’s experience and results. As extraordinary as the process and results of meditation and spiritual practice can be, they still pale before the power of the autonomic self.
Is total extended darkness safe?
Yes, if you do it correctly. This is uncomplicated. Dangers are easily avoided if you know what they are. I have identified four ways to retreat incorrectly. See my warning.
Wouldn’t you go crazy staying in darkness that long?
Just the opposite. We are already crazy. We heal from it in darkness. Our craziness does become more apparent in darkness as the organism heals from it. This can be uncomfortable, painful, and frightening, like the traumatic causes of craziness. But simply having feelings is not dangerous. The room is safe and comfortable. Supporters are at hand.
You would only go crazy in darkness from being forced or trapped there, as in prison or a caving accident. A retreat is a choice based on reason. You and your supporter each have a key to the door.
Do you get bored?
Yes. It is a very good sign. Sometimes your autonomic self works on something so damaged, painful, and draining that the psyche has had to completely shut off feeling to it. It becomes an internal black hole. Boredom means you are approaching it and that recovery of a lost part of yourself is imminent.
Four days is a long time to do nothing.
If you mean sitting around “doing nothing” under regular circumstances, yes. But that is an activity. It doesn’t count. Darkness is different. We enter a different state of mind. You are incredibly interesting. You will rediscover this when you finally have enough time in the right place to be with yourself while doing nothing. Everyone is a little worried about this at first. But after days of delicious sleep and time to themselves, most wish they could stay longer.
We’ve been told being idle is bad. But neither is being productive all the time a virtue. Generally, people overwork and overconsume. Enough, already. Moreover, we’ve all spent more than four days doing destructive things. Doing nothing would have been a big improvement, to say nothing of the secret benefits.
Civilization has taught us that will is the only useful driver of activity in the being. But without autonomic activity, we would be poisoned to death by our own internal waste in seconds. Still, we are told if we are not busy, then we are bad. Only doing things by wilful effort is respectable. Nevermind that when it comes to restoring psychic integrity (every animal’s greatest value), the will is nearly helpless and the autonomic self is infinitely intelligent, capable, and graceful.
If you mean it sounds pointless or dreadful, in fact a retreat usually begins with a sense of relief. Discomfort may come. But then you make contact with your autonomic self again, and this is extremely meaningful and enjoyable.
I could never do a darkroom retreat.
At the moment, your doing a retreat is out of the question. You cannot do it if you don’t want to, you cannot want to if you don’t believe in it; and you cannot believe in it if you don’t know enough about it. So, for the time being, forget about doing it. The only thing that matters is, does it interest you enough to learn more about it? If so, then I can recommend a good book on the subject.
Isn’t total darkness unnatural? Shouldn’t we be exposed to stars and moon at night?
No. First, our natural habitat is tropical forest. Its dense canopy makes the forest floor perfectly dark at night. Even when sleeping in the open, the amount of light from stars and moon is surprisingly little compared to artificial light.
Second, covering our eyes, seeking solitude, and taking cover when traumatized—shocked, exhausted, or emotionally overwhelmed—is a reflex. We have to be conditioned out of it by force. Taking extended shelter like a darkroom retreat merely supports this reflex when the trauma is great enough to require it.
Shelter is an instinct that intensifies with trauma. Large uncovered windows came to popular architecture very recently. Traditional shelter, civilized and indigenous, is dark or easily darkenable.
Our obsession with building—the principle activity of civilization for 13,000 years—indicates a people in search of extreme sanctuary to self-heal from cataclysmic trauma. When we get especially frustrated, we even have wars to destroy buildings and build new ones. Nothing could be more natural to us in our damaged state than total darkness.
Extended darkness could be good for some people, but there are many ways people can heal their pain. Nothing works for everyone.
This would mean that:
- the deep healing necessary in cases of major trauma can occur without profound rest
- profound rest can occur in semi-darkness and other compromised conditions
- or psychic trauma is not the primary cause of metaphysical suffering
- or the human organism has no specific needs for recovering from such pain. This, despite its specific and universal need of rest for recovery in all other cases. As well as its specific need of air for breathing, light for seeing, food for eating, etc.
- the many other ways alluded to all make sense and work
The evidence indicates otherwise. Relativism makes fashionable philosophy but poor physiology.