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discovering your soul in darkness
Find here a couple of my take aways of building The Hermitage and hosting Darkness Retreats for more than 500 people in the last 10 years.
What is regularly underestimated is the process of how long and how much fine tuning it takes to get the premises completely darkened.
Ideally you don't build one door but two doors. So you first enter an anteroom through one door, which then leads into the actual darkroom.
IN CASE OF
There should always be some device for emergencies, be it a button that triggers a signal.
All the more so if the actual location of the Darkness Retreat is further away from other locations on the premises. Furthermore, it is of course central that the person can always - and easily - leave the Darkness Retreat by herself. This must be clearly discussed with the person at the beginning.
Since it happens again and again, it is also important to address that the person can always leave the retreat earlier than planned.
Despite the small niche, I'm getting more and more inquiries from people who see the potential to offer Darkness Retreats who haven't even been to Darkness Retreat themselves. I consider this to be inauthentic and dangerous. Because the processes that can be triggered often go very deep. That's why I'm convinced, and I'm going to initiate this myself, that we need a training, a qualification, so to speak, for Darkness Retreat facilitators.
It is important that you yourself as a facilitator have experience with shadow work, such as inner child work, a therapeutic background or training in this, family constellations, or trauma work. Because besides all the enlightening moments and creative breakthroughs, it is almost inevitable that pain, sadness, fear and trauma will also surface through the Darkness Retreat. And this has to be taken into account in the preparation, during the retreat and in the follow-up.
Imagine it or not - as I’ve visited quite some places that offer Darkness Retreats - I’ve experienced bad mattresses, non filtered water, the room itself being way too small, the toilet smelling badly, and instead of personally guiding you out of the darkness, there was simply an alarm put.
Also, often both preparing the people for the experience, being available during and after is often not really supported.
So people are literally left alone. Which does not necessarily help them integrate this peak experience the best way possible.
You can do that better.
This is even more important if you accompany the person in the Darkness Retreat, i.e. you are available as a contact person once a day, so you can communicate but you are separated both spatially and energetically.
In addition, this double door enables the person to lock himself in or, in case of emergency, to leave the Darkness Retreat by herself.
Furthermore, all measures for bed, shower, furniture should be designed to exclude injuries.
I recommend a separate shower and toilet, separated spatially and also by a door, because the sense of smell is refined considerably.
You should not skimp on the mattress either and definitely offer a hot shower.
Clean - preferably filtered water - is an absolute must.
For food serving, I suggest a double pass-through.
The size of the space itself should also be considered. A healthy mix of cost efficiency and coziness must be found. A balance must be struck here between the clients' demands for luxury and the very idea of engaging in a special retreat.
THE DOOR THAT LEADS TO
VENTILATION IS CENTRAL.
Safe, regular ventilation must be ensured, even and especially when the electricity goes out.
At the beginning I didn't have that on my mind, but you really have to measure the cubic meters of air and then technically, depending on the construction, you have to guarantee that enough air flows through.
And you have to consider that twice, with electricity and without. This is usually done via tubes.
I cannot recommend air conditioners in any case, since here both the noise disturbs, and with longer stays the room climate can become unpleasant and above all also cold.
If you really want to build the rooms in the ground - as we do - then you have to protect them from moisture, but also from animals in the ground.
Because, many people are allergic to mold, you have to be very careful about that. And, of course, it has to be earthquake-proof.
And also in colder climates the retreat rooms must be regularly dehumidified.
THE IMPORTANCE OF
I myself regularly turn down people who are interested in the Darkness Retreat. It is not simply that one has some meditation experience, or once had a psychedelic experience.
A Darkness Retreat is for most people a very intense - I would say initiatory - experience.
For this, you have to be stable and not have any psychological problems, and ideally you also have many years of meditation experience.
And, yet, with all prior knowledge, you can never know what will happen. It is always a departure into the unknown to spend a longer time alone in darkness and isolation.
Even though it's still a small niche, we always have more requests than we can accommodate and that's where it's important to have good preliminary conversations to make it clear that any Darkness Retreat - even for those very experienced in meditation - is an intense affair.
Because, the potential for healing in the darkness is immense, but a lot of material - especially traumatic material can come up that then needs to be processed.
The commitment to the experience - the preparation, during and after is often underestimated.
Just being alone with yourself - in the dark - is extremely demanding. There is no support - as there is with plant medicine. You are simply at your own mercy. You can't just compare that to a Vipassana retreat.
It's really about letting go of all the concepts and ideas that you have about going into the darkness.
Many people simply think they are further along in their personal development, clarification and identification than they actually are. In my experience it is better to cancel people who can then simply come back later. And I recommend to start slowly. It's better to go into the darkness for 2-3 days than for 10 or even 21 days at a time. Longer is not necessarily better.
Because right here people feel a lot about the information they've read or seen to start right away with longer retreats. In my experience, it's more of a sequential and spread out over several years process of people going to the Darkness Retreat over and over again.
And it's not just about the biochemistry, so people take for granted that they're going to have strong quasi-psychedelic experiences where after melatonin, serotonin, pre-DMT and then DMT is released. Many derive an expectation from that that tends to get in the way.
It's about meeting yourself where you really are. And that is always challenging, but also enriching.
A warning to "spiritually experienced" people. Often, it's those who don't come with a lot of Buddhist or similar concepts that have the most profound experiences. Because, ultimately, it's always about going past the concepts directly into the experience.
It's about becoming gentle with yourself. That is what the real healing is about.
In my now 10 years of experience accompanying people before, during and after the Darkness Retreat, it is central to prepare the person for the fact that ultimately you cannot prepare.
You are then really alone in the darkness with yourself, your thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Still, I think you should tailor to the individual whether someone isolates themselves completely, or whether you offer, for example, a short check-in once a day where you briefly engage in dialogue with the person.
Since I get so many requests from various backgrounds and I built up the retreat center here at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, these are obviously just approximations.
I reckon that bootstrapped, if you got a space and you got rooms, that per room you should count somewhat 5-10.000$ per room to really make it suitable.
Especially to isolate it against sound is very important.
But also to really get all light noise out is underestimated. To be honest, per room, I reckon you should plan somewhat three to six months until a room is suitable to host people.
It needs a lot of fine tuning that is very specific to the location. To make it really light and sound proof is a tricky issue.
My estimates - with local prices in Guatemala is at least $30.000 per darkness retreat room on our existing property.
Especially the time where you need experts’ advice is high and on top of that you need to count the material costs.
Finally - and that might be just my very own taste - I don’t recommend to make it 100% soundproof.
Some sounds that you hear, like the birds, I feel are actually very supportive of the process in darkness. The other way around I don’t recommend hosting this type of retreat near a road with too much noise pollution.
DATA, FACTS &
ABOUT THE HERMITAGE
The Hermitage is a family owned retreat center founded by Severin and Emma Geser, who are both commited meditation practitioners and qualified meditation and yoga retreat leaders. They live with their children on the shores of Lake Atitlan and offer their beautiful property up for all those looking for solitude and peace.