Inside the darkroom retreat movement
August 20, 2016 1:00 PM   Subscribe

"A darkroom retreat is the modern day version of a yogi meditating in a cave in total darkness for an extended period...We got to reconnect with something the modern human race has completely lost touch with: just BEING. Not DOING anything…just being."

Darkroom Retreat : deep rest for the self-healing psyche - a book by Andrew Durham featuring detailed instructions for making a DIY darkroom (and a lecture by the author)
Visions from the Peripheries - Tibetan Buddhist dark retreats
Silvie Dymáková - Týden ve tmě (Week in the Darkness) - a darkroom retreat experience captured on thermographic camera
The Hermitage in Guatemala and other darkroom retreats around the world
Interview with Martin Lowenthal, author of Dawning of Clear Light: A Western Approach to Tibetan Dark Retreat Meditation (excerpt)
posted by velvet winter (42 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
god how am I going to get any work done while metafilter's throwing an ontology party?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:50 PM on August 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


I already do nothing enough as it is. Making a darkroom in which to do nothing sounds suspiciously close to doing something.
posted by ejs at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2016 [25 favorites]


from the article:
DMT is a naturally occurring hormone in humans. After a period of extended darkness, the pineal gland uses the excess melatonin and converts it to DMT, which is thought to be responsible for the psychedelic, mystical experiences people report after extended periods in the dark. DMT – or a very similar compound – is also the active ingredient in many psychotropic plants like ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms. These plants are widely used in Native American shamanic and spiritual practices and have been known to cause visions, hallucinations, and euphoria.
This is surprising to me. I've always thought that the so-called "prisoner's cinema" under discussion here was an effect of long-term isolation and generalized lack of stimulus, rather than being something generated by extended darkness alone.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2016


All this makes me think of is the disaster that was Altered States.
posted by constantinescharity at 2:16 PM on August 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is surprising to me. I've always thought that the so-called "prisoner's cinema" under discussion here was an effect of long-term isolation and generalized lack of stimulus, rather than being something generated by extended darkness alone.
This smells strongly of psychedelic lore, so I'd be cautious about taking it as biochemical truth without some supporting research to back it up.

That said, even a brief 20-minute meditation in the dark after enjoying some good cannabis can produce a strongly psychedelic experience. A week in the dark is probably a very interesting experience, regardless of the biochemistry.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:23 PM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


DMT – or a very similar compound – is also the active ingredient in many psychotropic plants like ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms.

Um... I'm not an expert but I think most of this is wrong.
Ayahuasca is not a plant, it's a concoction made from a banisteriopsis vine and a leaf known as psychotria viridis.
The active ingredient in peyote is mescaline. In psilocybin mushrooms, as the name hints pretty strongly, the active ingredient is psilocybin.
posted by crazylegs at 2:28 PM on August 20, 2016 [28 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about developing photos, which is meditative in its own way.

Unfortunately for me, I am unable to do this. I'm 6'1" and 140lbs when eating enough everyday. 9 days without food would probably force me to the hospital.

Also, I think there is a bit of a mistake here, but please correct me if I'm wrong: while psychedelic mushrooms have psilocybin and psilocin (4-PO-DMT and 4-HO-DMT respectively), these are not the same as 5-MEO-DMT, which is typically what people refer to as "DMT" when you are trying to buy it on the street, or extract it from a type of bark. You wouldn't try to extract those from mushrooms and smoke them, where as smoking 5-MEO-DMT is what gets you that really intense trip.

Has anyone here been to a float tank? There's a place in Portland called Float On that I've been wanting to check out for years, but I can't tell if it's worth the $65 for 90 minutes.
posted by gucci mane at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


I used to float during the last floating fad, in the early 80's. It's worth a try. By the 90-minute mark you will have had quite an experience, likely including something like hallucinations, if you're interested in altered states (not Altered States).
posted by kozad at 2:47 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


gucci mane: I hear it's great and also unsanitary because they don't empty / scrub / refill after each customer.
posted by idiopath at 2:48 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


This sounds a lot safer to me than an ayuhuasca retreat. Nine days is pretty hard core.
posted by bukvich at 2:51 PM on August 20, 2016


"We got to reconnect with something the modern human race has completely lost touch with: just BEING."

The entire human race except, you know, at least one major religion.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:51 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


Unfortunately for me, I am unable to do this. I'm 6'1" and 140lbs when eating enough everyday. 9 days without food would probably force me to the hospital.

Only some of the darkroom retreats operate without food. Others provide meals through a special window. One day I, too, hope to build a space to do this, and I certainly don't intend to do the retreat without any food!

I often meditate at home for long periods of time in a closet space that I've made pitch-black with floor-to-ceiling black velvet curtains, so I find it fascinating that there's a modern movement to extend this concept into a full retreat space.
posted by velvet winter at 3:02 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I floated in the 80's and have started again since it became a thing again in Vancouver.

My twenties self found floating mildly anxiety-producing, although I did it lots anyway. I didn't ever experience hallucinations. My mind would flitter, sort of an amped up version of ADD symptoms.

My late-forties self finds floating VERY relaxing and pleasant -- no anxiety at all. But, still no hallucinations.

Float tank systems have improved a lot, and they don't use as much chlorine or whatever as they used to, which may have a lot to do with why I enjoy it more now.
posted by lastobelus at 3:06 PM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


In the book Magic and Mystery in Tibet, the author talks about (and shows a photo of) a person who has been meditating in isolation in a cave for the past two years. She says (as far as I can remember) that he has come to town to pick up more supplies, and when he's done with these errands, he'll go back into the cave to meditate for the rest of his life.

It's a remarkable book in spite of its many serious flaws. The image of the solitary hermit is an engaging one, even if it is an exaggeration in this case.
posted by teponaztli at 3:21 PM on August 20, 2016


In my experience with floating, patrons are always required to void, shower, and scrub down (with exfoliating scrubs) in facilities provided by the float spa. The tank was filled with saltwater at body temperature, and after your float you showered again - accordingly I never found the experience unhygenic, maybe it differs by spa.

I've never had any hallucinogenic experiences in the tank - really just much more of a relaxing experience, almost making it extremely easy to meditate in a ways - in later sessions I turned it into amazing power-naps. I'd get in the tank, fall asleep within 5 minutes, and wake up to the attendant turning on the light in the tank, and the for the rest of the I'd feel both relaxed and refreshed, yet full of energy like my day's anxieties had been washed away.
posted by Karaage at 4:35 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


kozad: "I used to float during the last floating fad, in the early 80's. It's worth a try. By the 90-minute mark you will have had quite an experience, likely including something like hallucinations, if you're interested in altered states (not Altered States)."

If it's not going regress my genetic structure into that of a Gorilla's, it's not really worth my time.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 PM on August 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


Sooner or later, somebody will genetically engineer a banana with ergot alkaloids in the peel, just to de-debunk a piece of old psychedelic lore. If they go with a novel psychoactive compound, it will end up being known as "bananadine", in the same way that those stupid-looking wheeled trays became known as "hoverboards".
posted by acb at 5:28 PM on August 20, 2016


A lot of people recall Altered States...but what about Simon(1980)? Starring Alan Arkin, Madeline Kahn, Fred Gwynne and Wallace Shawn. (AV Club)
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:38 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lazycomputerkids, I saw that in the theater as a wee lad! The evolution scene was amazing but the ending freaked me out.
posted by ejs at 6:14 PM on August 20, 2016


Never hallucinated, but would like to? The place I go to, it's an Epsom salt bath. No idea how sanitary that is, but it's the only way to get a decent shot of magnesium via Epsom salt bath in NYC. (Unless you've got a lot of money and a giant tub.)

I do find it to be contemplative, but I also try to go after eating a bunch of pot. Maybe I'll try mushrooms.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:14 PM on August 20, 2016


god how am I going to get any work done while metafilter's throwing an ontology party?

Ain't no party like an ontology party, because how can you be sure when an ontology party has ceased to be? I mean, how can you *really* be sure?
posted by uosuaq at 6:28 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


Also, I think there is a bit of a mistake here, but please correct me if I'm wrong: while psychedelic mushrooms have psilocybin and psilocin (4-PO-DMT and 4-HO-DMT respectively), these are not the same as 5-MEO-DMT, which is typically what people refer to as "DMT" when you are trying to buy it on the street, or extract it from a type of bark.

Correction: "DMT" is N,N-DMT, not 5-MeO-DMT.
posted by Backslash at 6:45 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


i do this every night, it's called going to bed, it's gr8 and everyone should try it
posted by poffin boffin at 6:51 PM on August 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


Correction: "DMT" is N,N-DMT, not 5-MeO-DMT.

Yeah when people say DMT they usually mean... DMT. 5-MeO-DMT is non uncommon but more potent and subjectively somewhat different.

Psilocin is, as gucci mentioned, 4-HO-DMT. So it is chemically related to both but the effects are quite distinct from either.
posted by atoxyl at 6:55 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ahh, my bad then. I was under the impression that when people wanted to buy DMT to smoke/get from a bark that they were primarily speaking about 5-MEO-DMT.
posted by gucci mane at 7:08 PM on August 20, 2016


(I should have added that I'm not a chemist and I haven't smoked DMT in about 5 years.)
posted by gucci mane at 7:10 PM on August 20, 2016


Before I sign up, can anyone tell me if they have WiFi?
posted by 4ster at 7:30 PM on August 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


hosted by famed, and quite controversial, pranic nourishment pioneer Jasmuheen.
Oh shit they're Breatharians
posted by milk white peacock at 7:39 PM on August 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh shit they're Breatharians

Yeah, I found that off-putting too. I definitely wouldn't go to one of their darkroom retreats, even if I like reading about them. I much prefer Andrew Durham's more accessible, down-to-earth DIY approach.
posted by velvet winter at 7:53 PM on August 20, 2016


I prefer my back porch every night from ~10 to midnight. It has beer.
posted by mannequito at 9:30 PM on August 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've hallucinated many times while meditating in a dark room, but ususally the point is to not be attached to thoughts or feelings and just let them go. So I usually find it more distracting than anything. Not that hallucinations can't be fun, but it seems like trying to meditate to get them seems counterproductive to the other goals of meditating.

I do think it's neat how downright psychedelic really ascetic monastic traditions can get, though, from Tibetan Buddhism to the Christian mystic stuff.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:07 PM on August 20, 2016


The woman in the video who takes in the thermographic camera does great drawings during her dark week.
posted by Coda Tronca at 2:08 AM on August 21, 2016


...modern day version of a yogi meditating in a cave in total darkness for an extended period – but without the unpleasant reality of an actual cave with things like snakes and scorpions!

Whelp, there goes my hopes for that article. There is the occasional rattlesnake near a cave entrance, but scorpions are terrestrial & I've about never encountered one beyond the daylight zone of an actual cave. Pseudoscorpions, (Amblypygi) live I the dark zones of some tropical caves but are utterly harmless.

What you do miss by not seeking total darkness in an actual cave is the pleasant reality of thier beauty, remoteness & sense of accomplishment of getting there. I have never spent days in a cave, but on most of the trips to larger caves, we usually take some sort of lunch break that inevitably leads to everyone agreeing to turn their light off for a bit & rest. Spending 20 or 30 minutes in the darkness & silence of Mother Earth with a few of your close friends is an incredibly nourishing & spirit-sustaining act. It doesn't require giving any yogis huge sums of money, & generally doesn't require world travel, so it's a thing you can partake of on the regular on the cheap, if it's a thing you desire spiritually. (cave safely)
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:37 AM on August 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


You people with your darkrooms and your floating tanks...

The true primal experience can be had in the far corner of a dark room in a tent fort.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:08 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Truly hardcore meditators get dead-end corporate jobs in open-plan cube farms. They quietly stare at their spreadsheets through half-closed eyes while their three bosses yell inane requests at them.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Spending 20 or 30 minutes in the darkness & silence of Mother Earth with a few of your close friends is an incredibly nourishing & spirit-sustaining act. It doesn't require giving any yogis huge sums of money, & generally doesn't require world travel, so it's a thing you can partake of on the regular on the cheap...

I would love to do that. Often. However, as a non-driver who does not (to the best of my knowledge, at least) live near any caves that are accessible via public transit, and has few friends with compatible schedules who both drive and share my interest in caves, it's something that is mostly - if not entirely - out of reach for me. And even if I had the funds for international travel, I wouldn't use them to travel to a darkroom retreat like the one the author attended, much as I enjoy reading the stories of people who have. I'd use the funds to buy or rent a home that would be suitable for adapting into a darkroom space with the help of Andrew Durham's DIY plans, and create one myself.

Truth be told, I've been trying to do my own version of something like this for over 15 years (I have a project called the Black Tent Temple Project), and it is frustratingly difficult to find a location for it that could work for the long term, especially when you have very little money and live in the US. So, for me, the pitch-black closet lined with black velvet drapes is as close as it gets.
posted by velvet winter at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


velvet winter, if you are actually interested, the Oregon Grotto of the NSS meets in Portland. Most grottos welcome beginners & host beginner trips, & cavers generally ride-share on trips, to save gas, etc. In your area, there's mostly going to be lava tubes, but to the south, there in some limestone in the general vicinity of Grants Pass. There may be more out there -- I don't know much about the karst of the Pacific NW, except that Victoria island also has lots of limestone caves & the Marble Mountains in far northern California have some spectacular caves in marble. A group very recently did a study of the ice caves under the glaciers on Hood & it was fascinating stuff.

I'm also in the process of planning a darkroom for, you know, photography, but I'm sure when it's done, it will be a haven.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:24 PM on August 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Devils Rancher. I am interested; whether or not I can actually pull it off with my demanding work schedule is another matter entirely. Nonetheless, I'm filing this info away for future reference, in the hopes that someday my life will get easier and I'll be able to make more room for things like this.
posted by velvet winter at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


For the purposes of messing with ones own mind, is there a significant dufference between being in a pitch black room and being blindfolded?

I ask because I am on a budget.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 7:17 PM on August 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Spending 20 or 30 minutes in the darkness & silence of Mother Earth

I agree with this, and have sort of felt it. Once I spent several hours as the top belay for a couple of people who were 200' below, waiting for them to come back. That was... odd. It was a narrow elbow, and the air was filled with tiny water droplets.

On the other hand, spending 20 minutes with someone named Darryl screaming "we're lost! we'll never find our way out!" is not entirely relaxing, and didn't really improve my experience of Mother Earth. (We were lost, but it was still really cool and we couldn't have moved very far from the way in. ) I can't recommend it.
posted by sneebler at 12:23 AM on August 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Shut the FUCK up, Darryl.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:33 PM on August 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a gay man who was alive and sexually active in the pre-Grindr era, I read "darkroom retreat" very differently. Although I suppose it could be fairly meditative, too.
posted by LMGM at 1:35 AM on August 23, 2016


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