hygienic darkroom retreat

profound rest for the self‑healing psyche

by andrew durham


In civilization, we are:

  • over-stimulated and distressed. We need relief.
  • exhausted. We need rest.
  • hurt and sick. We need recovery.

How? By hygienic darkroom retreating: profound rest for the self-healing organism. It is a rational method of switching off the world, with its noise and demands. One takes refuge in the deep self, supporting it in healing itself by itself. This book is a complete manual for understanding and doing it.


how it works
  1. The psyche, as an organic system, is self-healing.
  2. The primary condition of healing is profound rest.
  3. The most profound psychic rest occurs in extended total darkness as a physiological response

Because the process of healing is automatic, it is foolproof. The psyche needs darkness for rest like lungs need air for breathing and eyes need light for seeing. It knows no substitute. Healing happens involuntarily—by itself—when we voluntarily provide ourselves sufficient conditions of rest. This is fully developed in hygiene > secret. It is contextualized in
psychology > hygienic psychology.

Through abstract theory and concrete practice, this book tells how to provide all the conditions of rest in perfect proportion. Most importantly, it introduces the passive, hygienic attitude toward healing. Merely knowing it opens the door to super-intensified healing, ie, miracles. When you are ready, you can walk through it.

The book reveals what healing requires detail. It inspires you to heal and to support others in doing so. It includes designs for darkroom components. Their precision enables even amateur craftsmen to get them right.

1. caring for health by respecting life’s self-preserving nature and providing its normal conditions.
2. the biological science of health
3. hygienism; Natural Hygiene
Natural Hygiene
the two-century-old school of health that exemplifies and champions hygiene
what is biologically appropriate (not merely usual or average)
the faculty of consciousness, including:
  • forms of intelligence and associations
    • moving: sensation / physical / instinctive / gut / reptilian
    • feeling: perception / emotional / intuitive / heart / mammalian
    • thinking: conception / mental / intellectual / brain / rational
  • parts (used as both adjectives and nouns)
    • unconscious: coordinates processes fundamental to existence like metabolism, cell division, and blood oxygen levels. It cannot become conscious or directly controlled except, to an insignificant degree, through intense yogic practices, techniques like hypnosis or biofeedback, or psychoactive substances. Synonyms: autonomic, involuntary
    • subconscious: acquired automatized knowledge, which can be made conscious, like walking, emotional associations, cognizing words, and dreaming
    • conscious: ordinary waking awareness, as when reading this book or running an errand. Primarily used to direct attention. Synonyms: will or volition
  • scales
    • cells
    • tissue
    • organs
    • systems
    • the organism as a whole
of or relating to the psyche in general (not occult powers).
    For example, I refer to psychic illness rather than “mental” illness. Psychology is not just the study of the mind, but the psyche: the entire faculty of human consciousness. This includes emotional and physical aspects not reducible to the mental one.
a way of life; everything that happens with people in a given group in the course of living.
    I once used the word, culture, for this. Then John Zerzan explained to me that culture is recent: an aspect of civilization. I wanted a single word which would include all approaches to human existence. Lifeway is a compressed term for “way of life” common in anthropology.

Here is a note on my use of words.

I don’t use neologisms. I don’t use words in any special sense. Virtually any dictionary will clear up confusion you may have while reading. Read through the senses and the etymology as well.

My usage is sometimes unusual because I take pains to recover the original or essential meanings of words using etymology and historical usage. Popular use and manipulation by elites constantly degrade the true senses of high-level abstractions. Words become corrupt or acquire unfortunate associations. Language is artificial and must be maintained.

I consider this half the job of intellectuals and our audiences alike. The Oxford English Dictionary exemplifies this effort. Editions of American Heritage Dictionary and Webster’s from before 1970 are excellent. Beware of newer lexicology. It is both better and worse than ever due to extreme divergence of philosophical influences in the last 40 years.


To retreat, one needs three things: knowledge, materials, and support.

  • knowledge:
    • of hygienic theory
    • of practice of hygienic darkroom retreating
    • of hygienic attitude
  • materials - darkroom - personal belongings - food - time
  • support
    • hygiene is the basis on which sick people can help each other without making things worse
    • our problem is social. It is solved with increasing degrees of cooperation as we become more capable of doing so

Meet these requirements by reading this book, preparing for a retreat, and retreating. Your first retreats are gratifying warm-ups. You will get relief, sleep, and healing like you never thought possible. And you will get better at it. This prepares you for the ultra-effective medium and long retreats.


A darkroom is a bedroom, suite, or house that is perfectly dark. Sealing a room like this often requires additional ventilation measures. A darkroom can be basic or deluxe. To summarize the practical point of this book, I advocate arranging basic darkness in your bedroom now, deluxe darkness in a remote location later.

Basic darkness means perfectly dark, well-ventilated, reasonably quiet, and comfortable. This provides: darkness for nightly sleep; a place to familiarize yourself with extended darkness at your own pace; and a place for your first short retreats.

Deluxe darkness adds extra features, comforts, and space. A dedicated darkroom is built in a small fully functional house in a quiet location. Like all houses should be but are not, it is perfectly and easily darkened. More in design.



Darkness is instinctive. We sleep in it at night and nap in shadows. We use our hands to cover our eyes when overwhelmed. When injured or sick, we take longer refuge in caves and shelters. We and many other animals always have.

Absolute darkness is natural. Our natural habitat is tropical forest. At night its floor is pitch black.


Spiritual traditions have used darkness for millennia. They tend to view it as the ultimate environment for self-discipline and gaining unusual knowledge. Egyptians and Maya have used it in pyramids; Christians in catacombs; Sufis and Taoists in caves; Tibetan Buddhists in cells of monasteries.

Indigenous traditions do likewise: Amazonian shamanism uses darkness in ayahuasca ceremony. Welsh shamans and Navajo, Maya, and Kogi Indians build special dark structures. They hold darkness in high regard as essential to self-discovery. They also use caves for healing.

Western science has studied sensory destimulation since the 1950s for astronautics, health, and mind-control. Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing tradition, uses extended periods of darkness for rejuvenation. By reports, a darkroom retreat is nothing less than the fountain of youth.

Unfortunately, the partially or completely active nature of these approaches to darkroom retreating compromises them. This means they depend on an active will, the faculty most in need of rest. Hygiene is passive, allowing the distressed will to finally rest and recover. Hygiene primarily depends on the autonomic self—omniscient, omnipotent, and infallible—to accomplish the work of healing. This removes structural conflict in the method, promising limitless results.

Hygiene completely secularizes the use of darkness for the specific purpose of healing. There is nothing mystical, disciplined, or complicated about this approach. It is rational, safe, and natural: a reliable miracle.


Medicine led us to believe hygiene is just cleanliness (see hygiene > history. In fact, hygiene deals with all aspects of health. Any good dictionary proves this. Hygiene is broad and deep.

We know the word today because of Natural Hygiene. This is a radical school of natural health originating in America in 1832. It led the global natural health movement of the 19th century. Hygiene respects the self-preserving nature of life. It observes that organisms both maintain and recover health under normal conditions of life. So it studies organic self-preservation and how to provide its conditions.

Normal conditions of life include fresh air, sunlight, natural food, work, friendship, and cleanliness by regular bathing. Hygiene taught the modern world the enormous benefits of these simple, free, natural, pleasant influences. This significantly raised health standards worldwide. Its motto is “Health through healthful living”. It has only lacked a psychology and an appreciation for trauma as the cause of all illness; this book corrects that.

Hygiene identifies disease as the process of healing. Disease is the normal organic activity of repair, elimination, and re-energizing, but distressed by abnormal conditions. Thus, disease is not an invading entity to be fought. It is a beneficial process to support by restoring healthy conditions and practices. It is a set of clues to precisely guide this caregiving. %%%% The fundamentals of hygiene help us reconnect with our own common sense about healing. They guide us past incorrect assumptions we likely have about it. First, learn these absolute basics. Then you can learn the concrete details of a darkroom retreat and approach it with confidence. Moreover, hygiene provides guidance in all aspects of healthful living.


My parents had taught me the importance of eating well through their interest in natural diet. When I was 9 years old, I got sick and realized it was from the junk food I had eaten the day before. Diet became my religion for 30 years.

Natural Hygiene came knocking three times. The first time was in 1989 through my dad’s second wife, Jennifer Justice, also a truthseeker. Among her fascinating books I found the ecstatic Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. Again in 1992 through a great friend, Sterling Voss. In the greatest letter anyone ever wrote me, he told me about Fasting Can Save Your Life by Herbert Shelton, hygiene’s systematizer. Finally, in 2001, through friend and colleague, Frederic Patenaude. He was the editor of Just Eat An Apple magazine and author of The Raw Secrets. These publications were about the raw vegan diet.


I worked and was housemates with Frederic Patenaude a total of three years off and on from 1998 till 2003. We worked at Nature’s First Law in California; Tree of Life in Arizona; and at his new office in Quebec. Frederic had started in hygiene not with the works of Herbert Shelton, but the old French hygienic master, Albert Mosseri. Frederic read all his 20+ books and was in contact with him till his death in 2012.

Slowly, I absorbed the essence of Natural Hygiene’s radical perspective through Frederic. By this, I mean he got it through my thick skull with his calm, relentless, crystalline arguments. I was challenging but sympathetic, so I kept asking and he kept answering. It took time because I started out quite lost. A mess of alternative dietary ideas floated around my head since childhood. Something finally clicked and I started studying hygiene on my own.

Frederic’s dedication and great knowledge made him immovable where I was merely stubborn. I can only hope to return the favor with the current work. It illuminates certain mysteries of diet that frustrated us. Like why some people can stick with eating healthy food and others can’t (see hygiene > capacity). And the greater mystery of metaphysical suffering that we, like so many others, failed to solve with diet.


I first heard about darkroom retreating in 2004 from my former guru, Purna Steinitz. An American Hindu, he had heard about its use in Ayurveda. He told me, “Apparently, after a few weeks of it, one comes out completely renewed.” I found the idea very strange. A budding hygienist and attracted to spirituality’s Apollonian upper world, I thought we needed light. But like a lot of earthy things Purna said, the idea of renewal in darkness stayed with me.

A year later, I moved to an ecovillage in Oregon. I hit it off with the old village maintenance man. Name of Finn Po. Scrawny guy. Lots of energy. A hippy from birth since his dad was a beatnik. Wizard-level resourcefulness. Full of wry optimistic sayings as well as good-natured quips about people’s hang-ups. Drinks his own pee and lives in a tiny geodesic dome he built out of garbage 20 years ago.

Naturally, Finn also had a darkroom.

“Tired of enlightenment?” he asked. “Try endarkenment.”

I said, “Ohmigod, Finn, really?!”

“It’s the way of the future. Don’t be the last to know.”

“What’s it like?”

Eyes closed, arms wrapped round himself, he said, “It’s a luxury.”

“How do you do it?”

“Ah, just git in the room.”

A benevolent Pied Piper and the coolest 60 year-old around, he had inspired all the village’s youth to try a retreat. After listening to him rhapsodize about it all winter, I did, too.


But as Finn says, I was just getting started. It would take two more years, the shock of leaving my guru, and another successful retreat for me to grasp the significance of retreating in darkness.


How did all this begin?

My parents were thinkers and somewhat unconventional. They taught me about philosophy, health, design, and music. I took all of it more seriously than they expected. They were distant. My intense older brother became as big a force in my life as they. For me, our house was more training camp than home. Other influences and people helped smooth it out.

I felt awed by life at 2, happy at 3. School started and a part of me died. About halfway through, I read The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It impressed me. Later came Do You Really Need Eyeglasses?, which introduced me to palming. My father’s hero, Frank Lloyd Wright, showed me a future without school.

By age 15, I felt morose and alienated. But something from childhood was stirring in me. One day, I was slumped in front of the TV. One of the tiny people living inside it mentioned the importance of loving oneself and being happy. The timing was perfect. My mood was like the Death Star and this advice was Luke Skywalker’s photon torpedo.

In a moment, I was overcome by rapture: sublime joy in apprehending our perfect, beautiful universe. I had felt it at 3 and 4 years old. Now it was bigger. This perspective and feeling lasted three months. When they faded, so did my previous interests. More than anything, I wanted to understand the cause of joy. I wanted it back.

I finished high school. Barely. I started living out of a backpack. For 21 years, I independently investigated this mystery. I experimented with the elements of my legacy: philosophy, health, and design. Toward the end of this period, I did my first darkroom retreats. Soon after, in late 2008, the answer came:

A slight increase of vital energy from adolescence had caused a temporary, partial restoration of my damaged psychic integrity, revealing an enrapturing universe. So a massive increase from profound rest in darkness would cause permanent and complete restoration.

With this breakthrough, my search ended. Testing of my discovery began. I and 28 clients have tried it. Their results echoed my early ones.

Over the course of my 25 retreats of 2–7 days, noticeable restoration of my psychic integrity and function has occurred. My body’s scent has improved. I regained some access to my long-buried sexuality. From one retreat, I woke up feeling like an adult for the first time in 41 years; this feeling has not changed. Alongside my childish panic in the face of challenges, an adult now thinks through them. In retreat, symptoms of fibro-myalgia dissipate. Flexibility returns. I wake up just knowing things that have always mystified me and feeling resolved about issues that have frustrated me for decades. Insomnia, exhaustion, and suicidal thoughts and feelings evaporate. Clarity, energy, relaxedness, even joy return for weeks at a time. Basic functioning lasts two months. All these came to me after going years at a time without them.

Besides this supporting evidence, no data contradicting the basic idea has yet emerged. Interest in darkness is growing worldwide. I met an internationally recognized psychology professor with decades of experience as a flotation researcher. She unqualifiedly agrees with my theory and wants to do research with my exact method. Wherever I go, people are as struck as I am by the simple logic of this idea and want to try a retreat.

As Finn says, what else can go right?



This book is for:

  • those who appreciate good arguments and reasonable tests thereof
  • those who suffer in any way—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, ecologically—and need hope and a way out
  • those who sense hygiene’s greater potential
  • self-experimenters and self-explorers who don’t necessarily have terrible problems, just yearning, curiosity, wonder, or a wish to find their next steps.
  • those who wish to understand why humanity is in such rough shape and what to do about it

Darkroom retreating is for anyone to whom it makes sense and who feels moved to do it, whether to heal from acute illness or just see what it’s like. Much if not all physical illness is psychosomatic and therefore amenable to self-healing in darkness.

However, darkness is no escape. Sometimes illness needs to be addressed in other obvious ways first. But just knowing about darkroom retreating can be greatly encouraging in doing so. It helps puts things in perspective. And acquaintance with hygienic principles is invaluable to healing from any illness.

how to use this book

Above all, this book presents an idea for consideration. For now, doing a retreat is not at issue. To do something like this, you must know how and you must want to. To want to, you must believe in it. To believe, you must know enough about it to find it true. So first, learn the idea. Natural motivation comes from rational belief. Invest your time in knowledge by reading every word of this book, cover to cover. As Finn says, “Nothing costs more than what you don’t pay for.”

Once you are motivated, use the book as a manual for making basic darkness for yourself at your own place. Download the companion darkroom retreat zip file to get all the plans for components. Or find a retreat center. See prepare for resources.

Help from others may or may not come. You are the one you have been waiting for. The need for self-reliance applies to darkness more than anything else I’ve ever gotten involved with. It has been hard for me to recover enough of a self to rely on, to ferret out remnants of it I didn’t know I had. But bit by bit, “a little here, a little there”, the task is being accomplished.

The full application of the idea of hygienic darkroom retreating consists of doing retreats of increasing length alternated with periods of making the radical changes in lifeway one becomes capable of in darkness. This includes studying and applying the rest of hygiene. Continue until your psychic integrity and physical health are completely restored. Live.


Chapters are mostly practical with a dose of theory to start with.

  1. hygiene: the general theory underlying the restful use of darkness
  2. darkroom retreat: the inner workings of profound rest
  3. psychology: the further radicalization of hygiene
  4. format: ways to use darkness in retreats and daily life
  5. protocol: what to do in a retreat
  6. prepare: orientation, menu, packing list
  7. design: darkroom specifications
  8. make: general descriptions, plans, and instructions for building darkrooms
  9. air: ventilating, silencing, and heating a darkroom
  10. darkness: refined darkening techniques
  11. water: simple kitchens and bathrooms for darkrooms


  • faq: frequently asked questions
  • bibliography and influences
  • acknowledgments, services, license, bio

Note: underlined words in paper book are clickable links in the e-book and online. When italicized, they are crosslinks to other chapters and sections of the book. Usually, the link text indicates the link target, like this:
chapter > section > sub-section.

This book is online at leanpub.com/darkroomretreat/read and my website, darkroomretreat.com. There, you can also read:


Thanks for reading. Please copy and give out this free book as much as you please. See license for more options.

If you have comments or corrections, email me or open an issue at github. This is free content and an open source project contained in a public code repository. If you know distributed version control, fork the project, and submit a pull request.

In addition to this book, I can assist you by email, skype, and in person. See services for details.

I continually update this book. Especially before building, download the latest version of the book and review relevant sections for new plans.


Now on to how darkness completes the life-restoring perspective of hygiene.

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