Dark Retreat: Embracing Darkness to Find the Light Within

March 1, 2023

by Ravi Raman

dark retreat

What do you do when faced with a significant decision for your life, career or business?

Do you seek external counsel and advice through conversations with friends, family, colleagues and mentors; set off on internet search binges or take it a step further and hire a consultant – or call up that super opinionated friend – to just tell you what to do?!!!

Or do you do something very different? Do you cut off distraction, find seclusion and seek clarity that arises from a deeper part of you?

Are you even aware that such a part of you even exists?

How “darkness” went viral

Aaron Rogers made headlines recently. It wasn’t for his play on the field. It was for his approach to deciding whether to extend his NFL career or call it quits. Aaron is a controversial figure on and off the football field. I’m not here to comment on those opinions! Instead, I’d like to point out the process he is using to make a crucial decision.

The financial stakes are significant. He stands to earn $60M guaranteed for a single year of play, not counting endorsements! However, his choice isn’t clear-cut. There is more than money at stake. The health implications and risks of playing football are very real. There are indeed other complicating factors we can’t know about impacting the choice.

Someone as famous and well-connected as Rogers must have a thousand voices whispering (some perhaps shouting!) opinions into his ear.

It was a shock to the internet when he recently revealed that he would spend four days in solitude, on a “darkness retreat,” to support his decision-making process.

Rogers emerged from his hobbit hole this week.

Did clarity emerge?

Here is what he said on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast after completing his dark retreat:

 “But I’m not looking for somebody to tell me what the answer is. All the answers are right inside me, and I touched on many of them — and definitely the feelings on both sides — during the darkness, and I’m thankful for that time. There’s a finality to the decision, and I don’t make it lightly.

He then shared that he initially faced “one scary option and one unknown.” Through the dark retreat, his perspective changed:

“The scary was retirement, and the unknown was going back and playing and what does that mean? Is that Green Bay or somewhere else? If that’s somewhere else, what is it like being somewhere else? Now it feels like there are two very beautiful options that both feel really nourishing and special.”

How this realization will impact his decision-making is anyone’s guess. However, the implications of seeing a choice as picking between two very beautiful options is a world apart from having to choose between the scary and the unknown!

What is a dark retreat?

I’ve never been on a dark retreat. However, I have been on several meditation retreats and more yoga experiences than I can count. The closest I’ve come to a darkness retreat is a random meditation practice done in the absolute darkness of my basement or a session in a sensory-depriving float tank. Yes, I’ve spent many nights camping out in remote locations, but those stars can be shockingly bright!

Rogers attended a 4-day retreat in the Southern Oregon Wilderness at Sky Cave Retreats. Other retreat centers offer such experiences, including the Dark Retreat Earth Domes, the Chamma Ling Center in Colorado or The Hermitage in Guatemala. I expect many more options to surface in the coming year in the wake of recent publicity.

The history of embracing the dark to connect with one’s true nature is rooted in Tibetan spiritual traditions. Forms of Buddhism and the Tibetan Bon tradition utilize the dark to provoke insight and inner vision. I can only imagine that other cultures have explored similar practices. It is an advanced practice for those who have been on a spiritual path with previous meditation and retreat experience.

Benefits of a dark retreat?

Having never attended a dark retreat, I can only parrot what others say. Entering the darkness is said to support the revealing of inner light, illuminating one’s true nature and bringing clarity to the surface of the mind. As these retreats include meditative practices, I imagine some of the benefits one experiences in deeper states of meditation also apply.

No doubt, this revelatory experience and clarity are what Rogers is seeking on the cusp of making an important life decision. It’s also what I find so interesting about this viral story. It’s not that I am itching to lock myself in a closet for several days; it’s that we have a very public example of someone who has chosen to turn inward in search of the answer to a very meaningful quandary.

Turning inward for insight and clarity

Darkness is just one avenue for exploring the mind’s potential and what lies beyond it. High-performers ranging from CEOs to Navy Seals understand the value of tapping into the hidden capabilities of the mind, including the powers of intuition and insight, in service of their work.

As an Executive Coach, I center my practice on helping clients understand the mechanics of how the mind works and the untapped (yet fully formed) capabilities that lie within to serve whatever issues (or choices!) one is faced with at the moment. I don’t teach meditation but instead explore – both conceptually and through experiential activities – how the mind and its deeper capabilities really work. The results are astounding and a testament to how capable your mind can be if you are willing to explore and trust it.

Retreats (darkness retreats, meditation retreats, yoga retreats, etc.) can be excellent tools. Still, ultimately they are just pointing at something we all already have, a profound capability for wisdom, insight and realizations that can move us (and our teams and companies) forward.

This is the real lesson here. It’s not that you must go and spend a week alone in a cave (unless of course you are “called” to do so!), but that you might benefit by being more curious about how clarity and insight can arise from within a deeper part of yourself.

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