Hello Darkness, My Old Friend …
A report from the light side of darkness
First of all: This is a personal and therefore subjective report about my 14-day darkroom meditation in the Tao Garden in February 2012. That means that my experiences and experiences are my experiences and experiences and everyone else will probably have a completely different journey. So my report does not make any universal statements about what is possible and can happen in the Darkroom.
In February 2012, the opportunity arose to fulfill my long-cherished wish of a darkroom retreat, respectively a dark meditation. Years ago I had seen a report on television about this practice, which has been widespread in many cultures for a long time, and I was fascinated by it. I wanted to try this intense experience myself. At the beginning of 2012 the circumstances and finally the stars and not least my bank account were favorable, so that I could allow myself this journey in the double sense.
Phenomena in the run-up
The darkroom cast its shadow ahead. A not unknown phenomenon, as I should learn later. Already weeks before departure I had the feeling of wanting to clarify and settle things. Subtle at first, this feeling increased until, about two weeks before departure, I clearly associated it with my upcoming trip to the shadow realm.
The need to tidy up and sort things out was finally marked by such intense urgency that I was already worried about the upcoming flight. At the Tao Garden, however, I then learned that the darkroom is to be considered a certain caesura – a fact that, unnoticed, my subconscious apparently made completely its own – and that many are seized by this need for clarification in advance.
So after I had cleaned up my inside and outside and only a few, at first seemingly insignificant and also no longer to be clarified things remained, I set off on my journey. From cold Nuremberg via Berlin and Bangkok to Chiang Mai. After a short acclimatization, a cab finally brought me to Mae Doi Saket near the Kuang Check Dam in the northeast of the noisy big city.
Oasis “Tao Garden”
Generally open to subtlety, yet critical of the pitfalls of imagination as far as my own perception is concerned, the Tao Garden amazed me with its distinctly different energy. I had the impression of entering a different vibration when crossing the threshold to the Tao Garden. Several times I crossed the threshold to assure myself of my perception, and to this day I am convinced that the sensation of changed, intense and good energy was not based on imagination or wishful thinking.
Immediately I was captivated by the wonderful facility, which of course is designed according to Feng Shui principles. Friendly I was welcomed and provided with all the necessary information regarding the darkroom. Since there were still a few days left, I first moved into a pleasantly cool, comfortably furnished, clean room. The countdown began …
In the morning we enjoyed the exercises and meditations with Mantak Chia and during the day we had the opportunity to deepen our practice alone or with others and to focus on the darkroom as well as the training and education. Fatal and a test of mental strength was the fantastic and varied meal at Tao Garden, as one was required to stress one’s system as little as possible in the run-up to the Darkroom, or rather to begin unloading it.
For this purpose, a hydrocolon therapy was also recommended, which was performed by an expert hand, supported by Chi Nei Tsang massage. Initial astonishment quickly evaporated because of the professionalism and friendliness. What remained was, well, little, apart from a deep sense of relief …
Moving into the darkness
Finally, the big day arrived and the participants moved into their rooms in the darkroom. One of the large and spacious two-story apartment buildings with a courtyard had been made completely light-proof with black foil for this purpose. Balloons had been placed at strategic points, in front of the stairs and at the water fountains, to serve as guideposts in the dark. In addition, all corners and edges were padded with mats to prevent possible injuries.
Double and single rooms were available, and I was initially booked on a double room. My roommate, as well as several other participants, arrived later in the day, a rather inadvisable procedure, as it gives one no opportunity to prepare mentally and physically for the experience ahead.
There was a general atmosphere of serenity coupled with eager anticipation, as it was clear to everyone that they were embarking on something special here. And of course, everyone had brought their package of expectations or ideas with them. Even if one should free oneself from these as much as possible in order to give the experience its own space, this is of course hardly completely possible.
Orientation in the dark
Like some others, I made strategic explorations of the house to memorize essentials before the lights went out for me in the evening for 14 days. I counted stairs, deposited what little luggage I had handy and memorized its placement, explored the toilet and shower, and memorized the location of my room and the path and steps to the stairs. All guided by certain fears of initially having to contend with disorientation – fears which, however, quickly turned out to be unfounded in the end.
After an introduction of the participants and an introduction by Mantak Chia, there was a last dinner by sight and then the lights were extinguished. A strange feeling set in, because after all I would not see any light for the next 14 days – this fact penetrated the consciousness in all clarity. However, no fear was to be felt, rather joyful curiosity for what might come there. Besides one could leave the Darkroom at any time, should it be necessary.
In the course of the years I had read a lot about dark meditation and had corresponding ideas, not regarding the content of the experiences, but regarding intensity and temporal course. The lack of light affects various biochemical processes in the body, which ultimately lead to the accumulation of dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, and its interaction with the pineal gland.
The pineal gland, which reacts to light stimuli, was already regarded by Descartes in a certain sense as the interface between soul and body. In this respect I assumed that with longer stay in the darkness also the experience gains in intensity. This was indeed true, but in a completely different way than I had initially assumed without expectation.
The first two days in the dark were surprisingly uneventful, in both a positive and negative sense: My biggest practical problem was getting the toothpaste onto the brush. It wasn’t until the third day that I was able to overcome my functional bondage and came up with the idea of putting it directly in my mouth. Food wasn’t a problem either, as it was brought to the darkroom in bite-sized pieces and in convenient stacking cans by the caring staff at meal times.
On the other hand, no great effects were noticeable yet, apart from the fact of consistent practice and the opportunity to get a full night’s sleep. The days were filled from waking up at seven in the morning to the first physical exercises followed by breakfast. This was followed by intensive Kan&Li practice, lunch and a short break. Then it continued with Kan&Li, a break, dinner and finally each day was finished with Tao Yin, the six healing sounds and dream yoga around 9pm.
Self-discipline is required
At first the program seemed almost too much for me, but the constant occupation ensured that lengths or mind trips of dubious content did not arise. This was especially evident on Sundays, where the program was severely limited, and without self-discipline, one can certainly start to brood in a negative sense, when the mind starts to wander and one does not keep oneself centered.
Finally, the dreams intensified significantly, were of appropriate, strong and alchemical symbolism. Also simply vivid and intense dreams increased, although I was not granted to experience a lucid dream.
Towards the end of the week I experienced quite unusual optical phenomena. Thus during the rest phases, but still in the waking state, intense optical perceptions appeared. One day was characterized by lush and fresh vegetation – large leaves, lianas, thick leaf veins, simply strong plant life.
The following day was dominated by insects: Grasshoppers, beetles, but also spiders showed up. The next day surprised me very much, scenes with Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Elmer appeared in quick succession – although I had consumed Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse almost exclusively in my childhood.
These phenomena were clearly perceptible, but seemed as if they were projected on a gauze veil at a distance of about two meters, the colors were not quite as brilliant as in my dreams and the contours were somewhat blurred. Moreover, they only showed up when my eyes and gaze were relaxed. Trying to look closely made everything disappear. I was also not visually or emotionally flooded by the perceptions, so they were not hallucinations in the sense that I thought things were real.
Another phenomenon was that the few things, especially job-related, that I had not been able to clarify in advance of the darkroom, pushed themselves strongly into the forefront of my consciousness. So much so that it was only in retrospect that I noticed how relaxed and calm I actually was. But sometimes the thoughts went round in circles for what felt like hours, until I got a grip on them through practice and their intensity subsided.
The first weekend announced itself by a strange feeling of sinking deeper. Friday and Saturday I had the distinct feeling of going deeper into the experience, although the visual phenomena had ceased after the comic episode.
Instead, depth dimensions of the exercises, especially of the six healing sounds, that could not be put into words, appeared. I grasped their systematics, their complexity and the reference to me personally very clearly and beyond the analytical understanding much deeper.
Finally, some complaints appeared – strong lower back and jaw pains, but in retrospect I assume that they were rather “restoring pains” and a consequence of the deep relaxation that set in. Nevertheless, I was sorry for two or three days of the second week.
On the other hand, another astonishing phenomenon occurred. When I went into my room one evening and closed the door behind me, I had the faint but distinct impression that it was getting darker.
It must be said that one was required to wear a blindfold. This signals to the eyes and the brain that there is nothing to see. Because after a few days in darkness, I noticed very clearly how hungry the brain is for information when you open your eyes in the dark. It was almost physically perceptible how something was reaching outward into the dark, looking for some input.
The Light in the Darkness
So I wore the blindfold, and with my eyes closed, I felt like my visual field was getting darker as I closed the door to the room. Thinking I had fallen for a particularly subtle and unexpected projection of factual knowledge, I opened and closed the door several times, but the impression persisted. Finally, I left my room to look down from the wraparound first-floor gallery to the open gathering space in the center of the building.
To my amazement, there was a distinct impression of brightness. The columns of the room, the mattresses and other inanimate objects stood out clearly bright against the intrinsic gray of my perception. The inherent gray is the non-black impression of darkness that one feels after a long time in the absence of light. It is the result of the metabolic activity of the retina, so that one cannot see black in the actual sense.
Again the experience that this perception of the so-called “aura of things” disappeared when I looked consciously. Only a slight relaxation in the gaze and a certain “looking past it” made this perception possible, analogous to the phenomenon that one can see faint stars more clearly if one looks past them slightly. In Taoist terms, this experience could be described as “see, but don’t look”. I remembered a sentence by Douglas Adams: “Flying is easy, you just have to throw yourself on the ground – but miss.”
What was fatal, however, was that this aura of things, while correlated with the physical location of the objects, certainly had a certain margin of what felt like 30 centimeters. So one should not rely on it, otherwise it can easily happen that one, as happened to me, literally runs in front of the wall.
In the following days, the phenomenon intensified to the extent that I could now also perceive people. Interestingly, however, they appeared darker against the background of my own gray. This went so far that I could perceive how many fingers someone held in front of my face – with blindfold and closed eyes mind you.
Finally, the second week was also coming to an end. It wasn’t that I really wanted to go out, but I longed for a deep breath of fresh air. Yet the climate and air in the darkroom was pleasantly cool and odorless throughout. But I was missing a certain freshness, so I looked forward to leaving with a mixture of joy and melancholy.
Intense rebirth in the light
It was to become apparent that re-entering the world had been significantly underestimated by me. I was quite physically challenged by the practice in the darkroom and also felt fit. I had packed and shouldered my backpack and was waiting for my guide to accompany me out. I left the darkroom on Sunday evening through a corridor about five meters long, covered with plastic tarpaulins, which definitely had something of a birth about it.
I continued to wear the blindfold and over it my sunglasses. The further I walked down the corridor, the more I felt my legs weaken. When I finally felt the first balmy evening breeze on my skin outside after 14 days, a feeling of vulnerable openness and weakness flowed through me.
My guide first took me to an apartment where I could put down my things. I risked a brief first glance under the blindfold into the dark room and immediately had to deal with the next sensory overload. I rested briefly and then felt my way out into the wonderful garden and looked for a quiet spot.
Little by little, I lifted the blindfold again and again and found that my eyes and sense of balance had to make friends again. This manifested itself in the fact that I was seized by a kind of deep, cellular vertigo. While after a glass of wine I tend to have the feeling of describing a great circle, here the sensation was as if every cell was spinning – interesting and unpleasant at the same time, but not so bad as to make me feel sick.
At the same time, I had the very concrete physical sensation of parts of my brain rebooting, especially just behind the left temporal lobe, continuing backward to the visual cortex. The twilight of the early, but nevertheless already quite dark evening was very congenial to my weaned eyes and allowed to recognize many things only dimly. But already here I was particularly struck by the perception of contrasts.
The next day was a roller coaster of emotions. In particular, since there was no direct contact person left in the Tao Garden or still in the darkroom for the third week, a feeling of loneliness and being lost spread. This alternated with the joy, which brought me to tears, about the things I got to see. In particular, flowers, blossoms and insects enchanted me greatly.
It was interesting to experience what levels of optical perception there are. Starting with the perception of static scenery, such as the rice field right next to Tao Garden. Stage two was when something or someone moved through my visual field. Again, this was accompanied in the early days by the distinct sensation that the object in the outside world was moving in the opposite direction through my visual cortex.
Third level was finally the direct encounter and communication with people, especially the perception of faces, which held an amazing depth and meaningfulness. While the first three levels were still a passive influx into the optical system, level four was quite different. Functionalizing my eyes in the sense of actively taking in information by reading was an effort I had not expected.
To this day, I have to struggle with stages 5 and 6, namely, on the one hand, watching television, which physically deterred me for weeks, but can be easily avoided. But especially working on the monitor as the final level of visual effort was at first almost impossible, because I had the impression that energy and information were being pressed into my brain by force – difficult to find a suitable way of dealing with this in today’s world.
There would still be a lot to say, but all these would be ineffectual attempts to put linguistically intangible things into words. In any case, these two weeks belong to the most intense, most interesting and in the temporal perception shortest 14 days of my life. I will certainly repeat the Darkroom, possibly also try to stage it at home – knowing that a fair amount of self-discipline is necessary to maintain the center.