For thousands of years people have been going into isolation or different kinds of retreats in darkness in order to connect deeply with themselves. We hear stories of monks dwelling in caves for weeks or months in deep contemplation, or housemakers taking to 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreats in the style of S.N. Goenka. In such retreats we can gain insights and understandings of the true meaning of life and who we really are. Being present to our feelings, thoughts and physical sensations without distraction from external stimuli brings us back to the essence and connection with our soul’s whispers.
People often ask me why I do this retreat so I decided to write down and share some of my experiences. I did my first 7-day Darkness Sitting in December 2016 in Southern Estonia. The place was built by Thule, an amazing witch who designed the chamber of the retreat very thoughtfully in the forest on her property. Far away from any neighbours, quiet and embedded within the powerful natural energies of the forest, animals and plants, the room is covered by the Earth to mimic the sense of a womb. The retreat always starts in the evening with Thule explaining all details about the room, the does and don’ts. The place is spacious with about 50m2, a double bed, chair, sink with clean water, some shelves, a kettle for boiling water (with the light button removed) and a toilet in a separate room inside the building. In this particular retreat you go in alone and you bring your own food supply for the duration of your sitting. I like it as in some other retreats where the food is being served you can track the time of the day depending on when the meal is being served. I found that preparing my own meals is great way of tuning into the natural rhythms of my body’s needs. Sleeping when I feel tired, eating when hungry and exercising when energised.
After the initial introduction, Thule allows another hour of candle light to unpack food and clothes thoughtfully so I can find everything easily in the darkness. And I have to mention here how important this is. Imagine you can’t see? You are in darkness and you want to prepare some food or get something to drink. Now it is vital to remember where to find all the equipment from where you left it last time. Even simple things, like pouring hot water into a mug or peeling fruits becomes quite a challenge. After one hour Thule is back just to announce that the retreat begins and that she will knock the door on the evening of the 7th day to bring me back. She leaves the room, and after a few more minutes I put out the candle light, diving into the sea of darkness. After my first meditation I go to sleep.
After waking up my days are divided into different activities but most of the time I spend on the mat meditating, doing yoga or exercises. I also brought my trigger point roller and balls for autotherapy and tension release for my body. Sitting in deep silence and pitch black darkness for hours reveals many beautiful inner mysteries. There is a sweet and soothing feeling of stillness within and a new level of sensitivity which made me realise that there is in fact no such thing as silence. The vibration of life is always present and listening to that inner soundscape of our body-temple which send us messages each and every second brings deep satisfaction, fulfilment and states of bliss, joy and ecstasy for being alive. Tuning into the sound and vibration of my own heart, sensing the breath filling up my lungs or simply being in stillness are the precious moments and reasons for being in darkness.
Another beautiful gift of it is that it teaches me non-attachment and acceptance. In such environments one will experience the full range of feelings, emotions, thoughts and traumas that might be coming up. After a few days the pineal gland starts to release DMT, a substance that can bring up many interesting and insightful visions of a psychedelic nature that appear in front of your eyes while gazing into the darkness with eyes open. Before going into darkness I would recommend to have done at least one Vipassana retreat or any other 7-10-day meditation retreat to be able to stay present and understand that nothing is permanent in this life. Everything is in flow and changing, like the seasons, after winter always comes spring and summer. This is an essential principle of spiritual life and non-attachment, helping us to live more peacefully and less driven by the ego, without chasing for happiness or escaping uncomfortable feelings of pain, sadness or anger which we are faced with in our lives and which are in fact essential for our growth, transformation and maturity.
As the days pass by and one settles into routines, time slows down and many thoughts come up: "Will Thule remember me? "; "Is it ending soon?";"How much more time is left?"; "Is it day or nighttime?". Our minds create thousands of thoughts each day that we are often unaware of, and thought is powerful as we often manifest the things in life that we think about most. And here comes again the power of presence and observing thoughts without judgment or labels, just watching them as passing clouds in the sky.
Finally Thule knocks on the door. Leaving the room is an important moment, it must be done at night with not much day light. After so many days in darkness the eyes are very sensitive so it is better to reduce exposure to light for some time. Coming out of the chamber and seeing the beauty of the sky, stars and trees brings lots of joy, gratitude and bliss. Taking a deep breath and touching the earth, being thankful for this life and this moment. The last part of retreat is a ritual of sound healing, massage and a steam sauna prepared by Thule and her partner Eric.
I found this retreat to be deeply nourishing and transformative for me and so I do it every year in the winter when nature is in hibernation and slowing its rhythms which helps me stay more tuned in and receptive to myself. Every time I leave the retreat I feel more at peace, thankful and accepting of life with all its aspects. If it is your first time I recommend starting with a 2-3 day retreat and maybe the next one can be a longer 7-10 day one.
Light is only possible with darkness. If we are able to embrace the dark sides of our being, our shadows, pains and fears we will be able to also fully experience and live the happy, blissful and ecstatic parts of it. None is better than the other, they are both different sides of the same coin called LIFE.
"We are here to create miracles. We are here to co-create with the divine. But first we must quiet ourselves and listen for the instructions that await us. Now more than ever, we need the darkness to teach us how to dance in the light"
Anodea Judith - the world’s leading expert on the chakra system
"When you go into the dark and this becomes total, then darkness soon turns into light. Darkness gives our mind and soul the freedom to wander in the vast realms of psychic and spiritual experience. When you enter this primordial state you are reunited with the true self and divinity within. You literally 'conduct' the universal energy. You may see into the past and future, understand the true meaning of existence and begin to understand the order of things.”
Mantak Chia - Taoist Master
"Darkness is a much deeper phenomenon than light. Light comes and goes, darkness remains, it never comes, it never goes. It has been there all the time; just because of the light you could not see it. How can you see darkness while light there? The light prevented your vision. Feeling yourself full of light may be an ego trip. Feeling identified with light, you may simply change your identity but the ego remains. But 'blowing out the candle' is blowing away the ego; and the vast darkness is bound to create in you a similar vastness of humility, humbleness, egolessness. Darkness has a silence and darkness has a depth. Darkness has peace. It leads you absolutely into the unknown and the mysterious. So to me darkness is one of the greatest mysteries in existence, far greater than light. Once you have discovered it you have discovered something that is eternal, something indestructible, something which is more than what you know of life".
OSHO - Enlightened Indian Mystic