I have chosen a life of adventure. I have stayed with tribes in longhouses in the jungle, trekked across deserts on camelback, slept in caves, camped for weeks on uninhabited islands…all of which have brought much richness to my life experience. Yet when asked what is the most profound experience of my life, I am tempted to choose the weeks that I have spend in complete and utter darkness, 24-7. The Darkness Retreats.
A darkness retreat is to take oneself out of everyday living and retreat into a special location into which not one single shaft of light can enter. I was lucky to join Master Mantak Chia twice on his darkness retreats whilst I lived and studied at his resort in Northern Thailand. Like a blind person, you feel you way from your private sleeping quarters to the main area where we undertake guided meditations and practices every day. All of your practices, teachings, meditations, eating, bathroom-duties and sleeping…everything is undertaken in pitch pitch darkness.
At first this consisted of a lot of stumbling in the dark, getting lost or taking a very long time to do anything. However, something incredible happened; after two or three days I found that I could see without seeing! Some new sense had arisen, and I could only call that sense “faith”. Perhaps this is what they call “blind faith”! Somehow when I completely trusted, I could simply reach out and take hold of something as if I knew it was there. If I started to try to find things, I would get lost again…it only worked with complete trust and surrender!
Time did strange shifts in the darkness. It stretched on into eternity, but not in a boring way. I was so relaxed I felt that I was shimmering in bliss. Each moment was boundless and vast. I remember one time sitting on my bed in meditation pose ready for the three-hour lunch break. I sat, focused on the state of bliss, and then…ding ding: the bell went! I could not believe three hours had passed!
Another huge joy was making sound. Singing and toning is a huge joy for me anyway, but in darkness when the chanting classes came along (which I had the pleasure of leading) it was exquisite! Out of the vast silence and darkness, each sound was birthed into being and dissolved back into that same abyss. It was like watching existence creating and destroying itself!
Eating was also a deep pleasure. Food was delivered by staff wearing infrared goggles (they could see us but we could not see them!). The smell of the food was magnified. I ended up eating with my hands because you could not see how full your fork was loaded!
I discovered a special affinity to what in Taoist Nutrition is called “yin foods”…root vegetables were superb. My favourite was mushrooms, not a food I usually choose. Perhaps because they are grown in the darkness they have a special resonance. I would taste the food in my mouth and watch it being chewed until it no longer existed.
But the highlight of this whole rich experience was the taste of love. I’m not talking about some love story I had in the darkroom, but a meditation experience. When I could not see my physical boundaries everyday reinforcing my belief in my separateness, my whole self-experience shifted. In fact it shifted beyond the usual limitations of self.
The result of this perception of expansion was an experience of love that I had never previously known in my limited perception of reality. I remember lying on the floor in meditation, and suddenly I was aware of all other people in the space, as if I could just feel our energy bodies, or our auras pulsing together. And there was no separation between them, as there is with physical bodies. It was like one big ocean of presence. Instead of being made of water, the ocean was made of love.
I found myself crying in bliss…a huge sense of relief. And something familiar…as if I had finally returned to that which I had always somehow known. Home. A return to love; not a love that belongs to anyone or anything, but The Love that we always were, and just somehow forgot.
Like an ocean, a womb. The primordial womb. Is this the place we came from before the life of separate form and separate self and separate personalities? Just a vast sea of love, waves of blissful loving presence. Is all of “separation life” just a journey outside of this, in which we forget our true nature as Love and spend our whole life searching again for that Love? Is this what we return to after we have let go of the physical form? There is no fear in this vast love. It is impossible.
Naturally I did not want to come out of the Darkness Retreat! Couldn’t I just stay in this bliss forever? But my time had come to be born again into the world of vision and sight. We all left at night-time whilst wearing sunglasses, as even the night could seem too bright. Two people from the outside would hold you (the midwives!) as you cannot stand up at first. When vision floods into your eyes you fall over like a drunkard!! I guess that we had started to use different neural functions to guide our walking in the darkness.
At first I wanted to scream like a newborn baby! And cry “No! No! send me back in!”.
But then…the wonder. For your vision is extraordinary after a period of deprivation. And the sadness of being thrown out of the bliss is replaced by a fascination of all that you see. I remember my friend and I finding a frog on the pathway and we stared at it for ages in wonder and awe as if we had never seen such a creature before.
The next morning I was awake at sunrise and was blessed with a crimson streaked sky. I wept at the beauty! It was as if seeing for the first time. Astounding beauty! It took me nearly an hour to walk the short distance to breakfast because I was transfixed by the vein on each leaf, the hues of colour across a flower petal and the shafts of sunlight in the trees.
At breakfast it felt so painful that I was so far away from each person at my table. So separated by the edges of our physical bodies. Acting like strangers, when really we are all waves on the same vast ocean of love. But how can I explain that to the person next to me at breakfast?
The darkness retreats have changed my life forever. I feel that I have been privileged to get a peek behind the curtains of the stage of life. Since that time I have dedicated my spiritual journey to revealing that Love within this experience of limited form. This, I believe, is one of the deepest purposes of Tantra and Tao, and all of the practices that I have found which bring a deeper sense of that Love are those which I continue to use. I have come to terms with being here in this world of apparent separation, knowing that the deep longing for love is the calling back to the True Nature, to the Source.
Join a Darkness Retreat this Autumn in India!
We have received so much from Darkness retreats, that we want to share one with you!
Guided by Shashi Solluna, Universal Tao Instructor and Om Mokshananda, a Yogi who has built his own personal Darkroom. This retreat will consist of Tao and Tantric meditations and full darkness living.
Find out more via our facebook event page.
Or fill in the form below for more information or to make a booking. Places are very limited for this special retreat.[contact-form to=’email@example.com’ subject=’Darkness Retreat’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Gender’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’Female,Male’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form]